2022 Pac-12 Conference College Baseball Preview
The Pac-12 enjoyed a successful season in 2021. It sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament, including three hosts in Arizona, Stanford and Oregon, and the Wildcats and Cardinal both ended the season in the College World Series.
But it’s an even better season when you consider all that the league was up against. Some programs, including Stanford, didn’t have any fall practice, others were limited in the fall in some way, and many of those limitations continued over into preseason practice. And things didn’t necessarily get much easier when the games actually began, as no major conference dealt with specific Covid restrictions as much as the Pac-12.
Using last season’s success as a tailwind, it appears that the league will be strong again in 2022. Stanford again looks like a clear CWS contender, and Oregon State and Arizona aren’t too far behind. A serious case to be a postseason team could also be made for more than half the league. The mechanics of the standings and the RPI will determine whether that adds up to the Pac-12 having more or fewer than six postseason teams in 2022, but no matter what that number is, the quality of play in the league promises to be extremely high.
Player of the Year: Brock Jones, OF, Stanford
After a tough debut filled with growing pains during the shortened 2020 season, Jones broke out in 2021, hitting .311/.453/.646 with 18 home runs and 14 stolen bases, all while using his premium athleticism to ably play center field, to help lead Stanford to its first College World Series appearance since 2008. That performance—both for Jones and the Cardinal as a whole—is made even more impressive when you consider that the team didn’t have any fall practice before the season. Jones spent the summer playing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, and will look to use that experience as a springboard to leading the Cardinal back to Omaha and to hearing his name called early in the 2022 draft.
Pitcher of the Year: TJ Nichols, RHP, Arizona
Nichols as a freshman last season served as a swingman for Arizona, putting up a 4.77 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 60.1 innings, but even then, it seemed clear that the Wildcats had a future ace on their hands. They hope that future is now, as the righthander will go into the 2022 season as the team’s projected Friday starter. His stuff is certainly good enough to thrive in the role. Last season, his fastball averaged over 94 mph and touched 98, paired with a slider that had a whiff rate greater than 50%. Nichols pitching at the top of his potential would certainly go a long way toward leading Arizona to back-to-back CWS trips.
Freshman of the Year: Jacob Walsh, 1B, Oregon
At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Walsh is a physical presence in the batter’s box, and he has the plus raw power to match. That power potential will get him a shot at the regular first base job in 2022 for an Oregon team looking to replace the power production that departed with the likes of Kenyon Yovan, Gabe Matthews and Aaron Zavala. It’s a more open question about how much feel to hit Walsh will have right out of the gate, but if he shows a preternatural ability in that regard to match the power, a special first season in Eugene could be in the offing.
Predicted Order of Finish (2021 Record)
1. Stanford (39-17, 17-10)
After its first CWS appearance since 2008, Stanford will field a team in 2022 capable of making a return trip, which would be a first for the program since it went to five straight between 1999-2003. Third-year sophomore Brock Jones (.311/.453/.646) will be the centerpiece of a lineup that has some pieces to replace, most notably top hitter Christian Robinson, first baseman Nick Brueser and utility player Tim Tawa. Sophomore third baseman Drew Bowser (.302/.361/.487) is a rising star who is ready to serve as Jones’ primary protection in the order. Other help will come from third-year sophomore shortstop Adam Crampton (.287/.348/.362), who is a solid defender at the position, third-year sophomore catcher Kody Huff (.263/.336/.399) and sophomore second baseman Tommy Troy (.247/.345/.487), who could end up playing a Tawa-like role as someone who can handle a number of different positions. One wild card in the lineup is fourth-year junior DH Vincent Martinez (.312/.387/.500). He was among Stanford’s best power bats over the first half of the season before cooling considerably down the stretch.
On the mound, coach Dave Esquer and his staff will be looking for a young pitching staff to make a leap in the way that a young lineup did in 2021. The unit does, however, have a veteran leader in fourth-year junior Alex Williams (5-2, 3.42), who will try to fill in for the departed Brendan Beck at the front of the rotation. He’ll be supported in a starting role by another veteran in third-year sophomore lefthander Quinn Mathews (5-2, 6.07) and a pair of inexperienced arms in sophomore lefthander Drew Dowd (6.99 ERA, 37.1 IP) and freshman righthander Ty Uber. Sophomore righthanders Tommy O’Rourke (4.07 ERA, 24.1 IP) and Joey Dixon (3.28, 35.2 IP) will look to anchor the bullpen.
2. Oregon State (37-24, 16-14)
A bit of a mystery going into the 2021 season, Oregon State ended up a strong team, advancing to a regional final when it was all said and done. A lineup that ended up being a solid unit last season should be quite good again, led by fourth-year junior center fielder Jacob Melton (.404/.466/.697), who missed significant time last season due to injury, fourth-year junior left fielder Wade Meckler (.303/.396/.472), sophomore first baseman Garret Forrester (.299/.435/.475), fourth-year junior shortstop Jake Dukart (.268/.368/.384) and fourth-year junior third baseman Matthew Gretler (.261/.400/.443). Freshman infielder Travis Bazzana has already impressed early on and has earned a shot at the full-time gig at second base. Historically, Oregon State likes to mix and match its lineups as the season goes on, however, so understand that much of the configuration could be fluid throughout the campaign.
Despite the loss of workhorse Kevin Abel to the pro ranks and Team USA alum Jack Washburn to a transfer to Mississippi, there is reason for optimism about the high-end ability of the Beavers’ pitching staff. In fourth-year junior righthander Jake Pfennigs (5-0, 3.24), third-year sophomore lefthander Cooper Hjerpe (3-6, 4.21) and third-year sophomore righthander Will Frisch (3-0, 2.38), OSU has a projected rotation full of experience and high-end stuff. Those three have fastballs that touched 95, 97 and 98 mph, respectively, last season. Freshman righthander Jacob Kmatz, the top player in the program’s sixth-ranked 2021 recruiting class, could also elbow his way into starts, particularly midweek starts as he gets his feet wet at this level. In the bullpen, sixth-year senior righthander Mitchell Verburg (2.92 ERA, 24.2 IP) and fourth-year junior righthander Joey Mundt (4.70 ERA, 23 IP) will look to reprise the roles they held effectively last season.
3. Arizona (45-18, 21-9)
Coming off a trip to Omaha and with a new coach in Chip Hale replacing the departed Jay Johnson, Arizona has some rebuilding to do heading into the 2022 season, but it should still be among the most talented teams in the Pac-12. In a reversal of type for the Wildcats in recent years, there might be more reason to be optimistic about the pitching staff. Sophomore righthander TJ Nichols (6-3, 4.77) will take over the Friday starter role with some of the best stuff in the Pac-12. Fifth-year senior lefthander Garrett Irvin (6-4, 4.58), a reliable workhorse, will slot in behind him, with another high-end talent in sophomore righthander Chandler Murphy (7-0, 4.29) projecting to round out the weekend rotation. Fourth-year junior righthander Quinn Flanagan (3.99, 38.1 IP), who was a starter in 2019 and 2020 before pitching out of the bullpen last season, could also factor in the rotation mix. Look for Loyola Marymount grad transfer lefthander Holden Christian (0.97 ERA, 37 IP) to serve as a stopper in relief.
With Jacob Berry following Johnson in a transfer to Louisiana State, sophomore catcher Daniel Susac (.335/.392/.591) will be the unquestioned star of the Arizona lineup in 2022, although fourth-year junior shortstop Nik McClaughry (.316/.412/.401), third-year sophomore outfielder Mac Bingham (.305/.417/.390) and fourth-year junior third baseman Tony Bullard (.298/.369/.546) are proven as well. Sophomore center fielder Chase Davis will likely be a big key for the lineup. He was the top player in Arizona’s 2020 recruiting class, but he struggled in a minor role last season as he was squeezed out for playing time by more veteran players. He has the tools to be a superstar, and coming somewhere close to realizing his potential this season would greatly raise the Wildcats’ ceiling.
4. UCLA (37-20, 18-12)
UCLA will be the most fascinating team to follow in the Pac-12 in 2022. On one hand, it had 10 players drafted off of last year’s team and therefore turned over much of its roster. But on the other hand, it brought in the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, which gives the Bruins a better chance to compete than you might expect given the squad’s lack of experience. Much of that youth will be seen in the lineup, where third-year sophomore second baseman Michael Curialle (.285/.366/.409) and sophomore third baseman Kyle Karros (.243/.292/.342) are the only returning starters in a group that could also feature freshmen in shortstop Cody Schrier, outfielder Nick McLain (brother of former UCLA star Matt McLain), outfielder Malakhi Knight and infielder Ethan Gourson in addition to inexperienced players like sophomore outfielder JonJon Vaughns (67 career ABs) and third-year sophomore catcher Darius Perry (7 career ABs).
There’s some experience to be found in the weekend rotation with the return of third-year sophomore righthander Jared Karros (3.33, 27 IP) and sophomore righthander Max Rajcic (1.65 ERA, 32.2 IP), but the 2022 season will be the first time either has been in the rotation on a full-time basis. Rajcic, who was dominant as a closer last season, has the potential to be one of the best starters in the Pac-12 if he takes to the role. Sophomore righthander Jake Brooks (5.31 ERA, 20.1 IP) and freshman Gage Jump will also compete for starts. In high school, Jump’s fastball was up to 96 mph with good movement. Speaking of freshmen, look for lefthander Ethan Flanagan, who wasn’t necessarily one of the highest-profile pitchers in the UCLA recruiting class, to earn important innings in the bullpen after he impressed in the fall.
5. Oregon (39-16, 20-10)
Coming off of a breakthrough year that saw Oregon host a regional, the Ducks have some rebuilding to do. Gone from the lineup are Kenyon Yovan, Aaron Zavala and Gabe Matthews, but the return of fourth-year junior left fielder Tanner Smith (.324/.417/.533), third-year sophomore shortstop Josh Kasevich (.324/.397/.444) and third-year sophomore right fielder Anthony Hall (.286/.342/.470) provides a solid foundation for a rebuilt lineup. To give the lineup length, Oregon will look for steps forward from third-year sophomore catcher Jack Scanlon (.169/.275/.282), fourth-year junior second baseman Gavin Grant (.230/.348/.331) and sophomore center fielder Colby Shade (.250/.250/.250, 12 ABs), a plus defender who could be prepared to impact the baseball more at the plate after putting on 20 pounds. Wild cards in the lineup are freshman first baseman Jacob Walsh, who has significant juice in his bat, and South Carolina transfer infielder Brennan Milone (.216/.377/.345), who was a blue chip recruit in the 2019 class but struggled in two seasons in Columbia.
In terms of roster turnover, it’s a similar story on the mound, where Oregon replaces all three members of last season’s weekend rotation. That said, there’s a lot to like with the new projected rotation. Sophomore righthander Isaac Ayon (5.21, 38 IP) has the stuff, including a fastball in the low 90s that touches 95 mph, to be a successful Friday starter. The same, frankly, can be said about third-year sophomore British Columbia transfer Adam Maier, who hasn’t pitched much the last two seasons due to Covid restrictions but who electrified with his performance on the Cape over the summer. Third-year sophomore righthander Andrew Mosiello (4.12 ERA, 39.1 IP) and fifth-year junior righthander Caleb Sloan (4.30 ERA, 14.2 IP) are two other quality rotation options, and both have stuff better than your typical Sunday or midweek starter. The bullpen will be led by a pair of accomplished closers in fifth-year senior lefthander Kolby Somers (3.08 ERA, 11 SV) and Central Connecticut State grad transfer righthander Dylan Sabia (2.80 ERA, 4 SV).
6. Arizona State (33-22, 16-14)
It’s a new era in Arizona State baseball with the hiring last offseason of alum Willie Bloomquist to lead the program. There’s potential for ASU to have a dynamic lineup in year one of the Bloomquist era. Sophomore third baseman Ethan Long (.340/.417/.704) established himself as one of the best power bats in the country last season and then spent the summer with Team USA along with teammate Sean McLain (.322/.386/.519), a third-year sophomore second baseman who is a steady defender and a spark plug on offense. Speaking of steady defenders, third-year sophomore center fielder Joe Lampe (.294/.383/.461) can really go and get it in the outfield and sophomore Hunter Haas (.304/.371/.402) will slide over to shortstop after proving to be an elite defender at third last season. A big key for the offense could be the return of sixth-year senior first baseman Conor Davis. He missed all of last season with injury, but hit .287/.368/.418 in four years at Auburn before that.
There are questions to be asked about the pitching staff, as the Sun Devils will lean hard on transfers and pitchers returning from injury, the latter of which is no surprise considering all of the injuries ASU dealt with in 2021. Fifth-year senior righthander Boyd Vander Kooi will look to lead the rotation after throwing just two-thirds of an inning last season. He’ll look to pitch as well as he did early in 2020, when he had a 0.70 ERA in 25.2 innings at the time the season was canceled. The other two rotation spots project to go to a righthander in fourth-year junior Cal State Fullerton transfer Kyle Luckham (3-9, 5.25) and a lefthander in fourth-year junior West Virginia transfer Adam Tulloch (0-4, 6.27). Neither had exceptional numbers last season, but Luckham has experience on his side with 166 career innings pitched and Tulloch is coming off of turning heads in the Cape Cod League. It’s also expected that fourth-year junior righthander Will Levine (3.75 ERA, 36 IP) will hold a major role, whether as a starter or in a stopper role like he held in 2021.
Oregon Uses Biggest Comeback In Super Regional History To Beat Oral Roberts
Oregon on Friday completed the biggest comeback in super regionals history when it erased an eight-run deficit against Oral Roberts.
7. California (29-26, 15-15)
California has star power that can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the Pac-12. Third-year sophomore right fielder Dylan Beavers (.303/.401/.630) quietly put up a monster season in 2021, slugging 18 home runs along the way. He’ll be the centerpiece of the lineup. On the mound, third-year sophomore righthander Josh White (5-3, 2.79) was excellent in a swing role, striking out 81 in 61.1 innings and holding opponents to a .213 average. He’ll transition into the Friday starter spot. Both played for Team USA over the summer and will likely give the Bears a legitimate contender for both Pac-12 player of the year and pitcher of the year. The key for Cal in its push for the postseason will be developing other stars around those two.
In the lineup, candidates to step up include fourth-year junior catcher Cole Elvis (.233/.289/.459), who showed some pop with nine homers last season, freshman Caleb Lomavita, a catcher by trade and a top-300 prospect in last year’s draft who will play third base in 2022, and third-year sophomore first baseman Nathan Martorella (.237/.341/.354), who has been a starter from the moment he stepped on campus. The depth behind White on the mound is promising. Third-year sophomore righthander Steven Zobac (4.66 ERA, 19.1 IP), who could also contribute at the plate (.240/.344/.359), will follow White in the rotation. He has a fastball that sits in the low 90s with a slider and changeup that both get swings and misses. Third-year sophomore righthander Joseph King (3.38 ERA, 5.1 IP), a hard-thrower who missed significant time last season, and fourth-year junior righthander Sam Stoutenborough (3.73 ERA, 41 IP), a steady veteran, will also compete for starts, with third-year sophomore righthander Aaron Roberts (2.31 ERA, 11.2 IP) and his fastball that touched 100 mph last season slated to close.
8. Southern California (25-26, 13-17)
Coach Jason Gill and his staff have put together back-to-back top 25 recruiting classes, and now the hope is that those young players are ready to step up and help lead USC past the middle of the pack in the Pac-12 and toward a postseason appearance. In the lineup, that group includes sophomore second baseman D’Andre Smith (.341/.471/.366), sophomore shortstop Nate Clow (.211/.258/.344) and sophomore right fielder Carson Wells (.273/.365/.382). All three were high-end recruits in the 2020 class that will look to take steps forward after playing part-time roles last season for a variety of reasons. Fourth–year junior first baseman Clay Owens (.253/.355/.489), who led the team last season with 12 home runs, third-year sophomore left fielder Tyresse Turner (.268/.373/.384), who might be the biggest basestealing threat in the Pac-12, and third-year sophomore center fielder Rhylan Thomas (.296/.343/.398) are proven veterans around whom those younger players can develop.
There are two pitchers to replace in the weekend rotation going into 2022, but the most effective pitcher from last season’s rotation returns in fifth-year senior lefthander Isaac Esqueda (6-3, 3.47). Behind him, getting first crack at taking over for the departed Alex Cornwell and Chandler Champlain are two other highly-regarded recruits from the 2020 class in sophomore righthanders Charlie Hurley (4.29 ERA, 21 IP) and Jaden Agassi (6.16 ERA, 19 IP). Both are transitioning from the bullpen to the rotation, but both have the talent to give the Trojans what they’re looking for in starting pitchers. The back end of the bullpen should be in good shape with the return of fourth-year junior righthander Garrett Clarke (2.79 ERA, 38.2 IP).
9. Washington State (26-23, 13-17)
Washington State took a big step forward last season, with its 13-17 Pac-12 record representing its best since 2014, and now the Cougars will look to keep that momentum rolling into 2022. Despite the loss of Kyle Manzardo, a second-round pick who proved to be one of the best pure hitters in college baseball last season, and slugger Tristan Peterson, WSU should again swing the bats well. Top hitters return in fourth-year junior first baseman Jacob McKeon (.345/.448/.526), who fought his way into the lineup in mid March and stayed hot, fourth-year junior shortstop Kodie Kolden (.320/.382/.433), fifth-year senior right fielder Collin Montez (.316/.435/.500), fifth-year senior third baseman Jack Smith (.311/.389/.415) and sophomore second baseman Kyle Russell (.301/.311/.466), who missed significant time last season with injury. Look for junior college transfer center fielder Hylan Hall to make an impact right away. He’s a premium athlete who hits with power and has range at his position.
Pitching is a bit more of a question mark after Washington State had a 5.46 team ERA last season and is now without its top two starting pitchers in Zane Mills and Brandon White, who were both drafted. Third-year sophomore righthander Grant Taylor (3.04 ERA, 26.2 IP) projects to lead the rotation. He began last season in the bullpen, but finished the season in the rotation with good starts against USC and Washington to end the campaign. He works with a low-90s fastball and a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Junior college transfer lefthanders McKabe Cottrell and Cole McMillan will look to round out the rotation. Both bring big velocity to the table. Fourth-year junior righthander Connor Barison (4.05 ERA, 26.2 IP) will be a leader in the bullpen after he was solid in the role a season ago.
10. Washington (20-30, 6-21)
Things were a struggle last season for Washington, which at one point lost 10 consecutive conference games on the way to its worst conference record since 2011. It’s tough to know what to expect from the Huskies in 2022 given the way last season went. On one hand, the climb up the Pac-12 standings is tougher than ever now that Washington State and Oregon are on the rise and USC is recruiting at a top 25 level once again. Just about every weekend is tough. But on the other hand, Washington has simply been too solid in recent years and the talent on hand is too good—it also brought in a top 25 class this year, stacked on top of a top 35 class the year before—for the Huskies to struggle that much again.
Last season’s club was actually a pretty veteran group, so it’s a lock that UW will have lots of new faces in key roles, but it does also have a couple of returning cornerstones to build around. In the lineup, that’s third-year sophomore first baseman Will Simpson (.310/.381/.500), who also has the athleticism to play the outfield if pressed into duty. Third-year sophomore Michael Snyder (.292/.366/.417), sophomore Michael Brown (.210/.272/.362) and third-year sophomore Christian Dicochea (.235/.250/.333) will all look to take on larger roles to support Simpson after playing part-time last season. On the mound, the centerpiece is third-year sophomore lefthander Adam Bloebaum (2-5, 4.15), who was very good both as a reliever and starter last season at different points. Fifth-year senior righthander Jack Enger (4.01 ERA, 24.1 IP), who missed the latter half of last season, fourth-year junior righthander Stefan Raeth (4.63 ERA, 35 IP) and third-year sophomore lefthander Stu Flesland III (5.59 ERA, 29 IP) are candidates to fill in important roles as well.
11. Utah (17-33, 7-23)
Gary Henderson, who most famously had a successful stint as the head coach at Kentucky and took Mississippi State to Omaha as interim head coach in 2018 and most recently was the pitching coach at Utah, took over as head coach of the Utes after the retirement of Bill Kinneberg at the end of the 2021 season. He’ll help guide a veteran unit in the weekend rotation with the return of fourth-year junior righthander Matthew Sox (5.02 ERA, 37.2 IP), who pitched exclusively in relief last season, third-year sophomore righthander Randon Hostert (6.75 ERA, 36 IP), a big-time arm who has battled injury through his first two seasons at Utah, and fourth-year junior righthander David Watson (2-8, 6.12), who has been a stalwart in the rotation each of the last two years. Junior college transfer righthander Blake Whiting will get a shot to be a stopper in the bullpen right away.
Utah suffered some key losses after last season in the lineup, most notably infielder Rykker Tom, a four-year contributor, Christopher Rowan, Jr., the team’s leading home run hitter from a year ago, and Jaylon McLaughlin, who swiped 25 bases in 2021, but there’s still some potential to be found. Fifth-year senior shortstop Matt Richardson (.360/.451/.489), fourth-year junior Jayden Kiernan (.325/.394/.364) and sophomore left fielder Kai Roberts (.291/.373/.418) provide a solid core to build the lineup around, and Hawaii grad transfer first baseman Alex Baeza (.266/.370/.357) and second baseman Chase Anderson, a grad transfer from Division III Pacific (Ore.) bring some physicality to the group. Look for freshman third baseman Zach Toglia, the younger brother of former UCLA star Michael Toglia, freshman outfielder Jackson Clemett and junior college transfer outfielder Carter Booth to make impacts right away.
Top 2022 Draft Prospects
- Brock Jones, OF, Stanford
- Daniel Susac, C, Arizona
- Dylan Beavers, OF, California
- Adam Maier, RHP, Oregon
- Cooper Hjerpe, LHP, Oregon State
- Anthony Hall, OF, Oregon
- Sean McLain, 2B, Arizona State
- Ethan Long, 3B, Arizona State
- Josh Kasevich, SS, Oregon
- Max Rajcic, RHP, UCLA
- Will Frisch, RHP, Oregon State
- Michael Curialle, 2B, UCLA
- Kody Huff, C, Stanford
- Josh White, RHP, California
- Adam Tulloch, LHP, Arizona State
- Jake Pfennigs, RHP, Oregon State
- Andrew Mosiello, RHP, Oregon
- Hylan Hall, OF, Washington State
- Kyle Russell, 2B, Washington State
- Will Simpson, OF, Washington
Top 2023 Draft Prospects
- Drew Bowser, 3B, Stanford
- TJ Nichols, RHP, Arizona
- Tommy Troy, 2B, Stanford
- Chase Davis, OF, Arizona
- Hunter Haas, SS, Arizona State
- Isaac Ayon, RHP, Oregon
- Anthony Susac, RHP, Arizona
- Drew Dowd, LHP, Stanford
- Rio Britton, LHP, Oregon
- Adam Maier, RHP, Oregon
- Gage Jump, LHP, UCLA
- Malakhi Knight, OF, UCLA
- Thatcher Hurd, RHP, UCLA
- Jacob Walsh, 1B, Oregon
- Braden Montgomery, OF/RHP, Stanford
- Jacob Kmatz, RHP, Oregon State
- Eric Hammond, RHP, Southern California
- Adam Tulloch, LHP, Arizona State
- Travis Bazzana, Oregon State
Best Pure Hitter: Dylan Beavers, California
Best Power Hitter: Ethan Long, Arizona State
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Josh Kasevich, Oregon
Best Athlete: Brock Jones, Stanford
Fastest Runner: Tyresse Turner, Southern California
Best Baserunner: Tyresse Turner, Southern California
Best Defensive Catcher: Daniel Susac, Arizona
Best Defensive Infielder: Hunter Haas, Arizona State
Best Infield Arm: Josh Kasevich, Oregon
Best Defensive Outfielder: Brock Jones, Stanford
Best Outfield Arm: Malakhi Knight, UCLA
Best Fastball: Will Frisch, Oregon State
Best Breaking Ball: T.J. Nichols, Arizona
Best Changeup: Alex Williams, Stanford
Best Control: Josh White, California