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2019 Pac-12 Conference College Baseball Preview

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(Getty Images)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

  1. UCLA (38-21, 19-11)
  2. Stanford (46-12, 22-8)
  3. Oregon State (55-12-1, 20-9-1)
  4. Arizona (34-22, 14-16)
  5. Oregon (26-29, 12-18)
  6. Washington (35-26, 20-10)
  7. California (32-22, 16-14)
  8. Arizona State (23-32, 13-17)
  9. Southern California (26-28, 12-18)
  10. Utah (16-39, 8-22)
  11. Washington State (16-33-1, 8-21-1)

Team to beat: UCLA.

The Bruins last year had the look of a team a year away thanks to its young core. Now that nucleus is back, ready to get UCLA back to Omaha for the first time since winning the 2013 national championship. The Bruins have a veteran lineup led by Chase StrumpfMichael Toglia and Jeremy Ydens that should make them formidable offensively and defensively. UCLA isn’t as experienced on the mound, but starters Ryan Garcia and Zach Pettway and closer Holden Powell give the pitching staff a strong starting point. UCLA also brought in a top-10 recruiting class, led by unsigned first-rounder Matt McLain that can make an immediate impact.

Player of the Year: Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State.

The reigning College World Series Most Outstanding Player and the early favorite to be the first overall draft pick this June, Rutschman gets the nod in a conference with some serious star power. The All-American last year hit .408/.505/.628 with nine home runs and provided premium defense behind the plate for the national champions. He’ll this year be the Beavers’ focal point offensively in addition to handling a strong pitching staff.

Pitcher of the Year: Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State.

The 2018 Freshman of the Year stood out in Omaha, where he won four games, including a shutout in Game 3 of the finals to clinch the national championship. Abel will look to build on that success and put together a more consistent sophomore season as he moves to the front of the Beavers’ rotation.

Freshman of the Year: Matt McLain, OF, UCLA.

Drafted 25th overall by the D-backs, McLain chose not to sign and instead headlined UCLA’s recruiting class, the best in the Pac-12. He does just about everything well and can help his team win in several ways offensively. McLain is a natural shortstop but will start his career manning center field, where his speed plays well.

Top 25 Teams: UCLA (3), Stanford (7), Oregon State (10).

Other Projected Regional Teams

Arizona: The Wildcats had an inconsistent season in 2018, particularly in the Pac-12, where they won series against Oregon State and UCLA, but lost a series at Utah. Ultimately, that caught up with Arizona, which finished on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. The Wildcats this spring will look to get back on track, led by an exciting lineup. Junior infielders Cameron Cannon (.321/.427/.549, 8 HR) and Nick Quintana (.313/.413/.592, 14 HR) will anchor the offense. Arizona needs some pitchers to step up after losing ace Cody Deason and closer Tylor Megill. The Wildcats brought in a top-15 recruiting class that is deep on the mound, including prep righthander Bryce Collins and junior college lefthander Andrew Nardi, both of whom figure to make an immediate impact.

Oregon: It’s been a tough few years for the Ducks, who have not had a winning record in the Pac-12 since 2015, which also was the last time they made the NCAA Tournament. Oregon has the pieces to get back on track, however. The rotation will be led by hard-throwing righthanders Kenyon Yovan (6-4, 2.98) and Ryne Nelson (3-1, 3.86), a one-two punch that may be the best in the Pac-12. Yovan last season fared well after moving from the bullpen to the rotation and this year Nelson will look to have similar success. Both Yovan and Nelson came to Oregon as two-way players, and Yovan (.233/.321/.371) is still hitting, mostly playing DH. But Nelson, who had played shortstop in the past, will focus solely on pitching. Offense has been Oregon’s weak point in recent seasons, and finding a way to score more runs is critical to its season. Third baseman Spencer Steer (.275/.381/.407) and outfielder Jonny DeLuca (.212/.270/.325) are coming off solid summers in the Cape Cod League and will be expected to take a step forward. Oregon also will look to its recruiting class to provide some instant impact, with at least a few freshmen stepping right into the lineup. Oregon won’t need to score many runs, and if it can find a solution for its offensive malaise, its pitching and defense can carry it back to the postseason.

Notable Storylines

Washington (35-26) last season made a strong push down the stretch, staying in the Pac-12 title race until the final day of the regular season and then putting together an NCAA Tournament run that ended with the program’s first College World Series appearance. The Huskies have recruited at a high level under coach Lindsay Meggs but replicating last year’s success won’t be easy. Washington must replace ace Joe DeMers, shortstop Levi Jordan and closer Alex Hardy. The Huskies bring back Mason Cerrillo (.341/.395/.404) and DH Joe Wainhouse (.306/.352/.603, 19 HR), their two leading hitters, as well as catcher Nick Kahle (.293/.392/.457, 6 HR). On the mound, righthanders Jordan Jones (6-4, 3.98) and Josh Burgmann (2-2, 3.19) will be asked to take on bigger roles. If Washington’s junior class, which came to Montlake with lots of promise, can take another step forward, the Huskies can again compete with the conference’s elite.

First baseman Andrew Vaughn’s spectacular season highlighted the first year of the Mike Neu era at California. Vaughn won the Golden Spikes Award after hitting .402/.531/.819 with 23 home runs, 44 walks and just 18 strikeouts. That wasn’t enough to push Cal (32-22) higher than fifth in the conference, however. Vaughn is back for his junior year and will again anchor the Golden Bears’ lineup. But Cal must find some new bats to protect him after losing Jonah DavisTanner Dodson and Tyrus Greene. Dodson’s loss also hits Cal on the mound, where he served as closer. The Golden Bears will be young this year, but if junior righthanders Jared Horn and Rogelio Reyes can step up on the mound and a couple young hitters step up to support Vaughn, they may surprise some teams. An additional X-factor is outfielder Brandon McIlwain, who sat out last year after transferring from South Carolina. He was a premium prospect out of high school but enrolled early to play football. He’s still playing both sports, but his professional future is on the diamond. Comparing him to Kyler Murray would be unfair, but McIlwain has that kind of game-changing ability.

Some expected a West Coast coaching shakeup a year ago, but the only change in the Pac-12 was in Corvallis, where Pat Casey in September announced his retirement. Because of Casey’s late decision and a clause that would allow him in June to reverse his decision and return as head coach, associate head coach Pat Bailey will this season lead the Beavers on an interim basis. It’s a unique arrangement, but Bailey had been on Casey’s staff for a decade and previously won a national championship with Division III George Fox (Ore.). With experienced assistants Nate Yeskie and Andy Jenkins still on board, Oregon State remains in good hands.

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Baltimore Orioles 2020 Top 10 Prospects Podcast

Jon Meoli and Kyle Glaser talk O's prospects, including Adley Rutschman, Grayson Rodriguez and D.L. Hall.

Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects

  1. Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State
  2. Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California
  3. Ryne Nelson, RHP, Oregon
  4. Kyle Stowers, OF, Stanford
  5. Michael Toglia, 1B/OF, UCLA
  6. Kenyon Yovan, RHP/1B, Oregon
  7. Erik Miller, LHP, Stanford
  8. Blake Sabol, OF/C, Southern California
  9. Chase Strumpf, 2B/OF, UCLA
  10. Cameron Cannon, 2B/3B, Arizona
  11. Nick Quintana, 3B, Arizona
  12. Hunter Bishop, OF, Arizona State
  13. Nick Kahle, C, Washington
  14. Andrew Daschbach, 1B, Stanford
  15. Kyle Hurt, RHP, Southern California
  16. Jack Little, RHP, Stanford
  17. Jared Horn, RHP, California
  18. Jeremy Ydens, OF, UCLA
  19. Ryan Garcia, RHP, UCLA
  20. Brandon McIlwain, OF, California

Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects

  1. Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
  2. Kevin Abel, RHP, Oregon State
  3. Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA
  4. Tim Tawa, 3B/OF, Stanford
  5. Gage Workman, 3B/SS, Arizona State
  6. Brendan Beck, RHP, Stanford
  7. Ben Ramirez, SS, Southern California
  8. Zach Pettway, RHP, UCLA
  9. Christian Robinson, OF, Stanford
  10. Darren Baker, INF, California

Top 10 Newcomers

  1. Matt McLain, OF/SS, UCLA
  2. Chandler Champlain, RHP, Southern California
  3. Austin Wells, C, Arizona
  4. Brandon Dieter, SS/RHP, Stanford
  5. Ethan Reed, RHP, Southern California
  6. Bryce Collins, RHP, Arizona
  7. Jesse Bergin, RHP, UCLA
  8. Sean Mullen, RHP, UCLA
  9. Jacob Pfennings, RHP, Oregon State
  10. Vinny Tosti, OF, Oregon

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Andrew Vaughn, California
Best Power Hitter: Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
Best Strike-zone Discipline: Andrew Vaughn, California. 
Best Athlete: Hunter Bishop, Arizona State. 
Fastest Runner: Garrett Mitchell, UCLA.
Best Baserunner: Braiden Ward, Washington.
Best Defensive Catcher: Adley Rutschman, Oregon State. 
Best Defensive Infielder: Alika Williams, Arizona State.
Best Infield Arm: Nick Quintana, Arizona.
Best Defensive Outfielder: Matt Frazier, Arizona.
Best Outfield Arm: Tyler Malone, Oregon State.
Best Fastball: Ryne Nelson, Oregon.
Best Breaking Ball: Kevin Abel, Oregon State.
Best Changeup: Bryce Fehmel, Oregon State.
Best Control: Zach Pettway, UCLA.

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