2021 Pac-12 Baseball Stock Watch
2021 Pac-12 Stock Watch
The 2021 season was good to the Pac-12, all things considered. Six teams made the NCAA Tournament, tied for the most since 2010, when eight teams made the field. Two teams, Arizona and Stanford, made it to the College World Series.
And honestly, there was a realistic scenario where things ended up being even better than that for the conference. UCLA, the preseason No. 2 team in the country, didn’t live up to those lofty expectations despite being loaded with talent. Arizona State had a very good lineup, but it suffered devastating pitching injuries which kept the team from reaching its full potential. If things go a little differently, perhaps those teams make Omaha runs of their own.
It’s a high standard that, frankly, the league will have trouble living up to in 2022. Stanford returns a good portion of its roster and should be viewed as a potential Omaha team again, but there are questions about some of the other traditional contenders.
UCLA brought in a stellar recruiting class that was largely untouched by the draft, but it also had 10 players on the roster drafted, which might make next season an inconsistent one for the Bruins. Oregon is losing much of a veteran core as well. Both Arizona and Arizona State are also breaking in new coaches in Chip Hale and Willie Bloomquist, respectively. Perhaps all of that will lead to something of a transition season for the conference in 2022.
Presented here is a team-by-team analysis for every team in the Pac-12, as well as the trajectory of the program moving forward.
Arizona (45-18, 21-9), reached CWS ⬆️
After missing out on the postseason altogether in 2018 and 2019, Arizona rode arguably the best lineup in college baseball to the College World Series last season. Even if the Wildcats’ stay in Omaha was much shorter than they would have wanted, it’s important for a proud program of their caliber to get back to that stage.
It’s tough to know what to expect next season in Tucson. On the one hand, a talented roster returns, even as Arizona lost good players to the draft and transfer. On the other hand, a new coaching staff led by Chip Hale is in place after Jay Johnson left for Louisiana State, and anytime that happens, there is some uncertainty. At a minimum, the expectation next season will be that Arizona has what it takes to make back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since 2016-2017.
Arizona State (33-22, 16-14), reached regionals ⬅️➡️
Led by a freshman phenom in Ethan Long, the Arizona State offense was better than most anticipated in the season immediately after the likes of Spencer Torkelson, Gage Workman and Trevor Hauver departed. The issues for ASU were on the mound, where it suffered significant injuries early in the season, and the team did as well as could have been expected under those circumstances by cobbling a staff together well enough to get into the postseason.
In a move that signaled that the Arizona State administration is not satisfied with simply being a postseason participant, coach Tracy Smith was fired after the season and program alum and former big leaguer Willie Bloomquist was brought in after Smith failed to advance ASU beyond regionals in his tenure. A promising young position player group returns to Tempe for the 2022 season and that should help the Sun Devils compete for the postseason once again.
California (29-26, 15-15), no postseason ⬅️➡️
It was a bit of a weird season for California in 2021. The Bears went 15-15 in conference play, securing a fourth straight season of .500 or better baseball in the Pac-12, and they seemed to get better as the season went on, with series wins over Stanford and UCLA coming in the month of May. However, because of its 29-26 overall record, and more importantly, an RPI that simply wasn’t in at-large range, Cal never really sniffed the postseason discussion.
So while the end result of missing the postseason is not what Cal wanted, it still has to be seen as a successful campaign for the program given the context of the leadup to the 2021 season and Cal’s history, which includes going to the postseason in back-to-back seasons just twice (1991-1992 and 2010-2011). After years of inconsistency in the aftermath of Cal baseball’s near-death experience in 2011, coach Mike Neu seems to have helped his program find that much-needed consistency.
Oregon (39-16, 20-10), reached super regionals ⬆️
Oregon got just the breakout season it desired in 2021. It got to regionals for the first time since 2015, hosted for the first time since 2013 and advanced to super regionals for the first time since 2012, all with a roster prominently featuring players like Kenyon Yovan, Gabe Matthews and Cullen Kafka who were in the program prior to coach Mark Wasikowski’s arrival and who had struggled to be consistent contributors prior to last season.
Because it was a veteran core last season, there is some rebuilding for Wasikowski and his staff to do ahead of the 2022 campaign, and that creates some uncertainty about what to expect in the immediate term. But long term, there’s no reason for anything but optimism about the Ducks’ future given what we saw in 2021.
Oregon State (37-24, 16-14), reached regionals ⬆️
Coming off of an up-and-down shortened 2020 season in Mitch Canham’s first campaign at the helm, it was hard to know what to expect from Oregon State in 2021. As it turned out, OSU was a very solid club from start to finish, led by a deep pitching staff and a lineup that rotated pieces in and out fairly seamlessly, even as the team battled injuries.
For a team that won the national title in 2018 and hosted a regional in 2019, it might seem like a regional appearance isn’t much to celebrate, but context matters here. Just in the last couple of years, Oregon State has dealt with the retirement of a legendary coach in Pat Casey, went through a season with an interim coach in Pat Bailey and then endured a somewhat dramatic coaching search that ended with Canham being hired rather than Bailey or longtime pitching coach Nate Yeskie. Some wondered how things would go given all of that. So far, so good for the Beavers under Canham.
Southern California (25-26, 13-17), no postseason ⬅️➡️
While many familiar caveats about not having fall practice and having an altered run up to the 2021 season apply in the case of Southern California, the fact is that the Trojans didn’t follow up a hot start to the 2020 season with the kind of 2021 season they would have liked. In league play, series wins against Washington, Washington State and Utah served as the only conference series wins on the way to a 13-17 mark in the Pac-12.
As disappointing as it might have been that USC didn’t make a leap in 2021 in the way that the 2020 season might have suggested it was ready to make, in the big picture, it was clear that this was not likely to be an overnight rebuilding job by Jason Gill when he took over after the 2019 season. Given that, there’s no real reason to take anything more away from 2021 than it being an inconsistent season for the Trojans that didn’t end the way they wanted it to.
Stanford (39-17, 17-10), reached CWS ⬆️
Stanford is one team that really didn’t seem bothered by the lack of practice and structure leading up to the 2021 season, as a young roster blossomed together and made the Cardinal’s first CWS appearance since 2008. That had to be sweet for Stanford, not just because it hadn’t been there in a while, but because it had been knocking on the door in the years prior without breaking through.
Replacing a pitcher like Brendan Beck at the front of the rotation and productive players in the lineup like Nick Brueser, Tim Tawa and Christian Robinson won’t be easy, but Stanford returns enough to make it the likely favorite to win the Pac-12 in 2022 and keep things rolling in the right direction.
2021 Recruiting: 10 Classes That Just Missed The Top 25
Here are 10 more classes that fell just outside the Top 25.
UCLA (37-20, 18-12), reached regionals ⬇️
After going into the season as the preseason No. 2 team in the rankings, UCLA got off to a slow start and never really seemed to put it all together. Starting pitching was not the strength it was expected to be, and the lineup was a tick or two less productive than anticipated. The Bruins ended up as a good team when it was all said and done, just not the excellent team that was predicted to take the field in February.
It’s foolhardy to expect any sort of extended downturn for UCLA as long as John Savage is at the helm, but the fact is that the Bruins haven’t been to Omaha since winning it all in 2013, despite having several teams that were talented enough to make it since then. UCLA is in the process of bringing in an outstanding recruiting class full of players who chose college over beginning pro careers, but while that might make it an interesting team to watch in 2022, it seems like it will be a season of foundation building with that young roster rather than one that will end with the team competing for a national title.
Utah (17-33, 7-23), no postseason ⬇️
With a 17-33 overall record and 7-23 mark in Pac-12 play, it was another season where Utah struggled to be competitive, especially against its conference counterparts. In six of the Utes’ nine seasons as members of the Pac-12, they have collected seven or fewer wins in Pac-12 play.
After the season, longtime coach Bill Kinneberg retired, and associate head coach Gary Henderson, who previously served as head coach at Kentucky and led Mississippi State to the CWS as interim coach in 2018, stepped into the role. With a Pac-12 title in 2016, Utah has proven that it can pop up and have success if the conditions are just right, but there are still questions about how competitive one can expect it to be in the conference year to year.
Washington (20-30, 6-21), no postseason ⬇️
Washington bottomed out in 2021, finishing last in the Pac-12 in conference wins after putting up a 6-21 mark. With a .241/.313/.336 slash line as a team, offense was the primary culprit for the Huskies’ worst season in league play since 2011, when they also went 6-21.
It was just in 2018 that Washington made it to Omaha for the first time in program history, so there probably shouldn’t be too much hand wringing about the current state of affairs. With that said, Washington is consistently a solid team within the Pac-12, so there will be urgency to get things turned around in 2022.
Washington State (26-23, 13-17), no postseason ⬆️
In year two under coach Brian Green, Washington State made huge strides, and with a 13-17 mark in conference, put together its best season in Pac-12 play since going 14-16 in league competition in 2014. With a series win over Oregon to begin the month of May, the Cougars even toyed with the idea of making a postseason push, but ultimately weren’t able to make that happen.
With back-to-back promising seasons under its belt and newly upgraded facilities, you have to feel good about the long-term direction of the Washington State program. And with some uncertainty about what to expect from a lot of the Pac-12’s middle class in 2022, there are reasons for optimism about the short-term future as well.