2019 West Coast Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Saint Mary’s (31-23, 14-13)
2. Gonzaga (33-24, 16-11)
3. Pepperdine (31-24, 17-10)
4. Loyola Marymount (25-30, 15-12)
5. Brigham Young (22-28, 11-16)
6. San Diego (23-32, 12-15)
7. San Francisco (28-30, 15-12)
8. Santa Clara (26-26, 12-15)
9. Pacific (22-29, 11-16)
10. Portland (23-30, 12-15)
Team to Beat: Saint Mary’s
The Gaels in 2016 broke through to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time with ace Corbin Burnes leading the way. This year, they have a team that can get them back to regionals. Lefthander Ken Waldichuk (8-4, 2.05) and righthander/DH Kevin Milam (6-4, 3.88) give the Gaels a formidable one-two punch in their rotation. Lefthander Ty Madrigal (3-2, 1.90), Nick Madrigal’s twin brother, is set to move from his role as bullpen ace to the rotation, while closer Michael Hobbs (3-3, 4.23, 11 SV) returns to keep the bullpen strong. Milam (.3-2/.430/.455) leads a veteran lineup. Junior outfielders Ryan Novis and Joe Vranesh are poised for breakout seasons, which will bolster a lineup that already features four seniors. The Gaels’ pitching staff shouldn’t need much support, but they’ll benefit from an improved lineup. If everything comes together for Saint Mary’s, it could produce a postseason run.
Player of the Year: Kevin Milam, RHP/DH, Saint Mary’s
Milam is one of the most accomplished two-way players in the country. He last year hit .302/.430/.455 to lead the Gaels and went 6-4, 3.68 with 81 strikeouts and 25 walks in 85.2 innings on the mound. He’s a better prospect as a pitcher and his fastball reaches 95 mph, but the righthanded hitter also anchors Saint Mary’s lineup thanks to his powerful bat.
Pitcher of the Year: Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Saint Mary’s
Waldichuk last season won the WCC pitching triple crown, going 8-4, 2.05 with 118 strikeouts and 21 walks in 92.1 innings. He spent the summer in the Cape Cod League and enters his junior year ranked No. 188 on Baseball America's Top 200 Draft Prospects list. His fastball gets up to 93 mph and his breaking ball is his best secondary offering.
Freshman of the Year: Kyle Knell, 2B, San Francisco
After redshirting last season, Knell spent the summer with the Alaska Goldpanners, and hit .360/.467/.456 to lead the team. He’s now ready to take on an everyday role in San Francisco’s lineup. Listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds, Knell is a good athlete and has some thump in his bat.
Top 25 Teams: None.
Pepperdine last spring won the WCC regular season title for the first time since 2014, edging out Gonzaga. The Waves return 23 lettermen from that team, but have some key players to replace, including outfielder Jordan Qsar and shortstop Chase Lambert. They bring back an experienced pitching staff, led by senior righthander Jonathan Pendergast (7-4, 2.69) and lefthander Easton Lucas (2-3, 4.11), who is coming off a strong summer on the Cape. Senior outfielder Matthew Kanfer (.315/.342/.473, 7 HR) and DH Brandt Belk (.318/.361/.418) are back to lead the offense. If the Waves find a couple hitters to step up to complement them, they should once again be in the mix at the top of the standings.
Gonzaga finished a game behind Pepperdine in the standings and then went on to win the WCC Tournament to make its second appearance in regionals in three years. The Zags return a strong team that could again make a postseason push. Third baseman Ernie Yake (.322/.378/.386), the Zags’ leading hitter returns, as does senior catcher Austin Pinorini (.268/.377/.384). But Gonzaga will again lean on its pitching and defense. Last year, it ranked second in the country in fielding percentage (.984), a key to its success. The Zags are breaking in a new shortstop in junior college transfer Josh Bristyan, who comes with a strong defensive reputation. That defense will help their pitching staff, which is led by righthander Casey Legumina (3-3, 2.77, 13 SV), who will move from the bullpen to the front of the rotation. They also bring back righthander Alek Jacob (7-5, 2.88) and lefthander Mac Lardner (7-4, 2.95), who combined to throw 203.2 innings a year ago. Coach Mark Machtolf has built an unlikely juggernaut in Spokane, and Gonzaga will again be in the mix for a regional bid.
USD has not advanced to regionals since making six NCAA Tournament appearances in eight years from 2006-13. The Toreros have continued to produce pro talent and have a few intriguing prospects again this year, led by lefthander Chris Murphy (6-5, 4.20, 91 SO, 81.1 IP), but they haven’t been able to turn that into conference championships. USD should be better on the mound this year after posting a 5.97 team ERA last season. If the Toreros can get back to pitching the way they have in the past, they should have enough offense to make some noise. Sophomores Adam Kerner (.338/.415/.480) and Tora Otsuka (.316/.380/.362) lead the way, though USD must replace Jay Schuyler and Brhet Bewley, who combined to hit half of the team's home runs last season.
Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects
1. Chris Murphy, LHP, San Diego
2. Ken Waldichuk, LHP, Saint Mary’s
3. Riley Ornido, RHP, San Francisco
4. Casey Legumina, RHP, Gonzaga
5. Kevin Milam, RHP/1B, Saint Mary’s
6. Easton Lucas, LHP, Pepperdine
7. Louie Crow, RHP, San Diego
8. James Free, C, Pacific
9. Nick Trogrlic-Iverson, RHP, Gonzaga
10. Josh Hendrickson, LHP, San Diego