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2019 Big West Conference College Baseball Preview

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UC Irvine shortstop Christian Koss

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

1. UC Irvine (32-24, 13-11)
2. Cal State Fullerton (36-25, 18-6)
3. UC Santa Barbara (27-28-1, 10-14)
4. Long Beach State (27-30, 12-12)
5. Cal Poly (30-27, 15-9)
6. Hawaii (27-24, 11-13)
7. Cal State Northridge (28-30, 13-11)
8. UC Riverside (19-33, 7-17)
9. UC Davis (18-35, 9-15_

Team to Beat: UC Irvine

UCI returns a deep pitching staff led by All-American righthander Andre Pallante (10-1 1.60).  Behind him, righthanders Trenton Denholm (4-8, 4.72), Louis Raymond (1-3, 3.48), Taylor Rashi (3-4, 2.97) and closer Jordan Bocko (5-2, 2.98, 8 SV) all return to give the Anteaters an experienced and talented core on the mound in Ben Orloff's first season as head coach. The addition of righthander Tanner Brubaker, who was the 2018 California junior college pitcher of the year, further deepens the staff and gives the Anteaters the pitching necessary to contend in the Big West. Christian Koss (.287/.343/.379), a sure handed shortstop with good range, will anchor the middle of the diamond along with returning second baseman Brendan Brooks (.308/.365/.349). The Big West isn't known for power production, but UCI does have to replace Ryan Fitzpatrick and Cole Kreuter, its two leading power threats. Konnor Zickefoose (.306/.374/.469, 5 HR) and third baseman Brandon Lewis, a junior college transfer, will help provide run production, while Brooks and Koss set the table. No matter how you slice it, the Anteaters will be relying on their pitching and defense to guide them to their first Big West title in a decade. Perennial power Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara both will have something to say about the championship, but UCI should be up to the challenge.

Player of the Year: Tommy Jew, OF, UCSB

Jew, UCSB's junior center fielder, returns after last season hitting .312/.386/.454 with five home runs and 12 stolen bases. He does a little bit of everything for the Gauchos and will be instrumental to their success this spring.

Pitcher of the Year: Andre Pallante, RHP, UCI

The junior righthander returns after posting a 10-1 record, which led the conference, and a stellar 1.60 ERA, which earned him All-American honors as a sophomore. He finished second in the Big West with 115 strikeouts and walked just 30 batters in 101.1 innings. With Pallante at the front of the rotation, UCI will be tough to beat on Friday nights.

Freshman of the Year: Kameron Guangorena, C, Cal State Fullerton

Guangorena was one of the top high school catchers in last year’s draft class and headlined Fullerton’s strong recruiting class, which ranked No. 16 in the country. Guangorena is a solid defender behind the plate and is one of the most polished hitters to make it to Fullerton in recent years. He figures to quickly take over a spot in the middle of the Titans’ lineup that he’ll hold on to for the next few years.

Top 25 Teams: UCI (25)

Other Regional Teams

Cal State Fullerton: The Titans have won six of the last eight Big West titles and made two College World Series appearances in that stretch. So while UCI enters the season with lofty expectations, knocking Fullerton out of first place won’t be easy. Fullerton welcomes back the double-play combination of shortstop Sahid Valenzuela (.272/.313/.358) and second baseman Hank LoForte (.339/.397/.445), as well as catcher Daniel Cope (.279/.356/.407) and center fielder Mason Berryhill (.295/.384/.362, 10 SB), giving it plenty of experience up the middle. The Titans are comfortable manufacturing runs, but after losing half of their 14 home runs, they’ll need to find a way to replace that run production. On the mound, Fullerton lost righthanders Colton Eastman, Tommy Wilson and Andrew Quezada, who last year combined to throw 290 innings, as well as closer Brett Conine. The Titans have never lacked for pitching, but they’ll need some new pitchers to step up. Sophomore righthander Tanner Bibee (3-5, 3.86) will take over on Friday nights and has the tools to succeed in that role. There will likely be some growing pains for Fullerton’s young pitching staff, especially against a difficult nonconference slate, but once they settle into their roles, the Titans should be ready for another postseason run.

Notable Storylines

The Big West endured a tough regular season in 2018. For the first time since 2012 it was a one-bid league, and Fullerton was the lone team with a top-100 RPI. The Titans were the No. 3 seed in the Stanford Regional but made the most of their tournament appearance, winning the regional and nearly beating Washington in super regionals to get back to Omaha. But that postseason run only papered over the conference’s subpar regular season. RPI doesn’t always tell the whole story, but the Big West last season had just three teams with overall winning records (Fullerton, Cal Poly and UCI) and only three teams with winning nonconference records (UCI, Hawaii and UCSB). The Big West figures to be better this season, but the conference has slipped in recent seasons.

Long Beach was emblematic of the Big West’s struggles last season. The Dirtbags in 2017 won the conference title, their first since 2008, and reached super regionals, but last year were plagued by injuries and slumped to a 27-30 finish. Long Beach is positioned to rebound this spring. The Dirtbags were hammered right before Opening Day when righthander John Sheaks, their Friday starter, and catcher Cole Joy were both lost for the season to injury. During the year, they also lost infielder Laine Huffman, who was limited to 16 games, and outfielder Luke Rasmussen, who played just 10 games. They all return and Long Beach also welcomes back junior lefthander Zak Baayoun (9-3, 3.58) who emerged in the rotation. The Dirtbags have to replace two-way standout Clayton Andrews, closer Chris Rivera and second baseman Jarren Duran, but just staying healthy should lead to a much better spring at Blair Field.

UCSB has not returned to the postseason since advancing to Omaha in 2016, but the Gauchos have the makings of a regional team with Jew leading the way. UCSB will have a much more experienced lineup this year, though it must replace shortstop Clay Fisher. On the mound, righthander Chris Lincoln (2-3, 3.49) and lefthanders Ben Brecht (3-2, 5.09) and Jack Dashwood (2-6, 5.27) all have breakout potential and could make for a formidable rotation. The Gauchos have been recruiting at a high level for the last few years and have a talented roster. If a few of those players can take a step forward together, UCSB can get into the mix at the top of the standings.

With the retirement last June of Mike Gillespie, UCI has new leadership. Gillespie retires after a great career of 1,156 victories, five trips to the CWS (4 with Southern California and 1 with UCI)  and a national championship at USC in 2001. In 11 seasons at UCI, Gillespie led the Anteaters to the NCAA Tournament five times. Orloff, who was previously associate head coach, was promoted following last season. Orloff, the former Anteater shortstop is very familiar with the surroundings at UCI, having played there from 2006-09. He was a part of the 2007 CWS team and in 2009 was named Big West player of the year. He returned as an assistant coach in 2014 and for five seasons worked under Gillespie. In his first season back as an assistant at Irvine, he was part of another CWS team. Orloff, who is a tireless worker with a great baseball mind, will keep UCI near the top of the Big West.

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2019 California Collegiate League Top Prospects

This year's top prospects in the California Collegiate League are led by Vanderbilt's Spencer Jones, who has true two-way ability.

Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects

1.Christian Koss, SS, UCI
2. Andre Pallante, RHP, UCI
3. Zak Baayoun, LHP, Long Beach
4. Jack Dashwood, LHP, UCSB
5. Ben Brecht, LHP, UCSB
6. Chris Lincoln, RHP, UCSB
7. Dylan Thomas, RHP, Hawaii
8. Daniel Cope, C, Fullerton
9. Conner Cannon, 1B, Riverside
10/ Tommy Jew, OF, UCSB
11. Sahid Valenzuela, SS, Fullerton
12. Bradlee Beesley, OF, Cal Poly
13. Nick Avila, RHP, Long Beach
14. Tanner Brubaker, RHP, UCI
15. Eric Yang, C, UCSB
16. Armani Smith, OF, UCSB
17. A.J. Curtis, OF, Fullerton
18. Adam Fogel, OF, Hawaii
19. Brooks Stotler, OF, Long Beach
20. Jayson Newman, 1B, CSUN

Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects

1. Trenton Denholm, RHP, UCI
2. Cole Percival, RHP, Riverside
3. Chris Troye, RHP, UCSB
4. Tanner Bibee, RHP, Fullerton
5. Jeremy Yelland, LHP, Hawaii
6. Michael Weisberg, RHP, Fullerton
7. Adam Seminaris, LHP, Long Beach
8. Cade Smith, RHP, Hawaii
9. Jason Willow, 3B, UCSB
10. Darren Nelson, RHP, Cal Poly

Top 10 Newcomers

1.Kameron Guangorena, C, Fullerton
2. Kyle Luckham, RHP, Fullerton
3. Tanner Brubaker, RHP, UCI
4. A.J. Curtis, OF, Fullerton
5. Brandon Lewis, 3B, UCI
6. Michael Weisberg, RHP, Fullerton
7. Dallas Duarte, C, Hawaii
8. Basilio Pacheco, LHP, Long Beach
9. Elijah Green, OF, Cal Poly
10. Joe Magrisi, RHP, Fullerton

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