2022 West Coast Conference College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Gonzaga RHP William Kempner (Photo courtesy of Gonzaga)

Year to year, there are few mid-major conferences more fun to follow than the West Coast Conference. The conference race is almost always down to the wire, including last season, when Gonzaga eked out a one-game advantage over San Diego despite losing a series to the Toreros the last weekend of the regular season. 

The quality of the league from top to bottom is also strong, and even if the league doesn’t get multiple teams into regionals as often as it would like, there always seems to be at least a handful of teams in the league each year that are potentially of regional quality. 

At the same time, it’s lately been a league of near misses in some ways. Take last year, when Gonzaga was named as one of the 20 potential host sites near the end of the season, but didn’t do enough down the stretch to be one of the 16 schools that hosted. Or in 2020, when Pepperdine was off to a scalding-hot start, potentially laying the foundation to be a team capable of an at-large bid, only to have the season canceled. Or in the 2019 postseason, when Loyola Marymount started off 2-0 in the Los Angeles Regional before losing back-to-back games to host UCLA in the regional final. 

Still, the WCC is in an enviable position among mid-major conferences as a league that consistently puts players into professional baseball, provides exciting finishes and makes some noise in the postseason. And there’s no reason to believe any of that changes in 2022. 

Last season, the WCC nixed its conference tournament as a reaction to the pandemic in favor of awarding the automatic bid to its regular-season champion. This season, the conference tournament returns in its usual four-team, regional-style format in May. 

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Andrew Pintar, SS, Brigham Young

As a freshman during the shortened 2020 season, Pintar showed hints of what was to come by hitting .302/.381/.358, but there were clearly still things to work on. Specifically, he didn’t hit with much power and he struck out 20 times in 53 at-bats. He improved those areas of his game and it showed in his production in 2021, when he hit .333/.433/.556 with nine home runs and more walks (32) than strikeouts (29) in 189 at-bats. Additionally, he made just four errors at second base. In 2022, he will slide to shortstop, where there’s confidence that his defensive skills will translate and he will become something close to a five-tool talent for BYU. 

Pitcher of the Year: Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga

It’s another strong year for pitching in the WCC, so there are plenty of good candidates here, but Hughes, Gonzaga’s third-year sophomore ace righthander who spent the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, gets the nod. Formerly a two-way player, Hughes is now focused exclusively on pitching, which can only help his development, even though it’s not as if he wasn’t productive before. Last season, he had a 3.23 ERA, 67 strikeouts and a .211 opponent batting average in 61.1 innings over 10 starts before going down for the rest of the season with injury and only returning in time for his stint with the CNT over the summer. He’ll work with a fastball from 92-96 mph, two different breaking balls and a changeup that’s a real weapon against lefties. With another step forward, Hughes could be one of the best workhorse starters in the country and hear his name called first among WCC players in the 2022 draft. 

Freshman of the Year: Collin Reuter, C, Brigham Young

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound catcher out of Olive Branch, Miss., Reuter made a big impression in the fall, with the BYU coaching staff saying it’s the most impressive freshman fall they’ve ever seen. He’s an advanced hitter, and as his size suggests, he also has the power to be a middle-of-the-order run producer. Not just a bopper, Reuter also has enough skill behind the plate to provide value defensively as well. 

Predicted Order of Finish 

1. Gonzaga (34-19, 20-7)

Even with the loss of Alek Jacob at the front of the rotation, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the Gonzaga pitching staff, which collectively might have the best raw stuff of any pitching staff at the mid-major level and some of the best on the West Coast. Third-year sophomore righthander Gabriel Hughes (4-3, 3.23) will lead the rotation with a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a fastball from 92-96 mph. Third-year sophomore righthander William Kempner (3-3, 3.10), the projected Saturday starter, runs his fastball up to 98 mph from a low slot with a slider that has become an out pitch. Another third-year sophomore righthander, Trystan Vrieling (3.83 ERA, 47 IP), will move from the bullpen to the rotation, leaning on a fastball up to 97 mph and a plus curveball. Sophomore lefthander Bradley Mullan (6.75 ERA, 26.2 IP) projects to be the midweek starter out of the gate. His stuff isn’t quite as electric as the other three, at least not at this point, but with a low-90s fastball and good feel for a changeup, it’s still plenty good. In the bullpen, third-year sophomore righthander Brody Jessee (4.68 ERA, 25 IP) will close games with a fastball up to 99 mph and an improved changeup. Fifth-year senior righthander Michael Spellacy (3.62 ERA, 54.2 IP) brings tons of experience and a workhorse mentality to his role in relief. 

The lineup will require a bit of rebuilding after the departure of foundational position players like Brett Harris, Ernie Yake and Guthrie Morrison, plus Andrew Orzel, who played well in his one season as a grad transfer. Fourth-year sophomore catcher Stephen Lund (.300/.389/.491), who will likely see more time at DH, fourth-year sophomore right fielder Grayson Sterling (.282/.350/.415), fifth-year senior catcher Tyler Rando (.269/.396/.386), fifth-year junior second baseman Mason Marenco (.261/.345/.373) and sixth-year senior left fielder Jack Machtolf (.240/.355/.333), the son of Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf, were all regulars last season and bring experience to the table. Lund last season tied for the team lead in home runs with six despite taking just 110 at-bats, and along with Sterling and Rando, he projects to be a run producer in the middle of the order. Utah grad transfer first baseman Shea Kramer (.245/.311/.384) will provide additional gap power after he hit 13 doubles for the Utes a season ago, and look for junior college transfer shortstop Savier Pinales to make things happen on the bases after he stole 64 bags with Wabash Valley (Ill.) JC in 2021. 

2. Brigham Young (23-27, 15-12)

BYU has the talent to be a team much closer to the one that won the WCC regular-season title in 2019 than the one that rode a bit of a roller coaster on the way to a 15-12 WCC record and fourth-place finish last season. The pitching staff is a good blend of proven performers and unproven pitchers with high-end talent. The rotation projects to include fourth-year sophomore righthander Jack Sterner (1-2, 3.81), junior college transfer righthander Nate Dahle and third-year sophomore righthander Bryce Robison (7-2, 3.78). Sterner and Dahle are tall, physical righthanders with fastballs that reach the mid 90s. As a swingman, Robison threw more innings last season than any returning pitcher. He’s a good strike thrower with an effective changeup. Fourth-year junior righthander Reid McLaughlin (2.04 ERA, 35.1 IP) gives the Cougars a proven commodity at closer, with third-year sophomore lefthander Cy Nielson (7.75 ERA, 33.2 IP) potentially serving as a wild card in the bullpen. Nielson was the team’s opening day starter last season before losing that spot due to ineffectiveness. But he has excellent raw stuff, including a fastball up to 96 mph, and he proved to be a weapon in relief over the summer in the Cape Cod League. 

There are questions to be asked about a lineup that hit .245/.347/.376 as a unit last season, but in third-year sophomore shortstop Andrew Pintar (.333/.433/.556), fifth-year senior Mitch McIntyre (.318/.445/.484), who provides additional value as a great defensive center fielder, and fourth-year junior right fielder Cole Gambill (.268/.386/.536), BYU has a solid nucleus to build around. There’s hope that a pair of freshmen can help provide a spark in the lineup as well. Second baseman Ozzie Pratt shows good bat-to-ball skills and can make things happen on the bases. Catcher Collin Reuter is an advanced hitter with impressive raw power from a 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, and he left the coaching staff blown away with his performance in the fall. Defensively, not only will the Cougars be strong in center field with McIntyre, but they should be solid on the left side of the infield with Pintar and third-year sophomore third baseman Brock Watkins, who played shortstop last season. 

3. San Diego (33-12, 19-8)

San Diego came up one game shy of Gonzaga in the WCC standings last season, and under first-year coach Brock Ungricht, who was promoted to the job after Rich Hill departed for Hawaii over the summer, the Toreros have the talent to compete for a title again. Even with the loss of Carter Rustad, who transferred to Missouri, the potential of the USD pitching staff is high. The projected Friday starter is third-year sophomore lefthander Brycen Mautz (4.37 ERA, 35 IP), who will move from the closer’s role to the rotation. His fastball has been up to 97 mph in the past with a slurvy low-80s breaking ball and a changeup that shows plus potential. Redshirt freshman righthander Ryan Kysar and fifth-year senior lefthander Ian Churchill (8.56, 13.2 IP), both Arizona transfers, will slot in behind him. Third-year sophomore righthander Conner Thurman (6-3, 3.90) is making the opposite transition of Mautz. After starting 10 games among his 16 appearances last season, he’s moving back to the bullpen, where his ability to miss bats—he had 84 strikeouts in 64.2 IP last season—should play well. Sophomore righthander Ivran Romero (3.14 ERA, 43 IP) was steady out of the bullpen last season, and along with Thurman should give the Toreros a very good one-two punch in relief. 

There is some rebuilding to do in the lineup with the departure of WCC player of the year Thomas Luevano, plus Shane McGuire and Adam Lopez, who as a trio combined for 21 of the team’s 32 homers last season. Fourth-year junior shortstop Cody Jefferis (.341/.417/.434) is a steady defender at his position who also has a nose for getting on base and avoids strikeouts. Sophomore left fielder Jack Costello (.338/.402/.490) was excellent in his debut season and should be a spark plug alongside Jefferis. Fourth-year junior catcher Caleb Ricketts (.280/.366/.393) is a good athlete behind the plate who might have more power left in the tank to develop into a middle-of-the-order threat. It’s clear, though, that USD will need others to step up in 2022, particularly when it comes to finding run producers in the lineup, in order to raise its ceiling. 

4. Portland (24-26, 14-13)

With a team that featured a decent amount of inexperience, Portland enjoyed its best season since coach Geoff Loomis took over prior to the 2016 season and perhaps its best season since 2011, which was the last time before 2021 that the Pilots finished over .500 in WCC play. Even with the loss of a centerpiece in the lineup (shortstop Chad Stevens) and on the pitching staff (righthander Christian Peters), the 2022 team appears to have what it takes to take another step forward. On the mound, third-year sophomore lefthander Caleb Franzen (4.80 ERA, 60 IP), a swingman last season, looks ready to make the leap and become a dominant Friday arm. His stuff has jumped in his Portland career, with his fastball now sitting 93-97 mph with a slider and changeup. Fourth-year junior righthander Brett Gillis (2-5, 5.08) brings experience to the rotation after he started 11 games last season and struck out 69 in 51.1 innings. If those two pitchers continue to develop and fifth-year senior righthander Eli Morse (3.96 ERA, 36.1 IP) makes a successful transition from closing to starting, Portland will have a rotation that stacks up well in the conference. And bringing third-year sophomore righthander Peter Allegro (3.32 ERA, 40.2 IP) back in his familiar role in the bullpen can only help. 

The lineup returns a wealth of experience, led by sophomore first baseman Sam Brown (.315/.365/.495), a power bat who could also see significant innings on the mound, sophomore second baseman Jake Tsukada (.282/.323/.326), sophomore third baseman Ben Patacsil (.263/.346/.374), third-year sophomore left fielder Jake Holcroft (.262/.339/.342) and fourth-year junior center fielder Briley Knight (.247/.359/.414), all of whom were everyday players last season. Look for Holcroft to have a rebound season. He hit .484 during the shortened 2020 campaign, but took a step back last season as he battled injuries. Speaking of bounce back, a wild card in the lineup is fourth-year sophomore Tracye Tammaro. He hit five homers as a freshman in 2019 and seven home runs in 16 games in 2020, but missed last season due to injury. A healthy return for him would give the Pilots another bopper in the middle of the order.

5. San Francisco (25-28, 16-11)

USF brings back an experienced lineup, led by sophomore shortstop Luke Keaschall (.320/.406/.475), who projects as a high-end draft pick for the 2023 draft, fifth-year junior left fielder Darius Foster (.257/.363/.395), who tied for the team lead with 23 steals a season ago, fifth-year senior center fielder Nick Yovetich (.247/.319/.395), fourth-year sophomore right fielder Harris Williams (.243/.287/.441) and fifth-year senior DH Jordan Vujovich (.211/.413/.481), who led the Dons in home runs (8) and walks (36) in 2021. They also imported some experience with the addition of fifth-year senior Saint Mary’s transfer first baseman Gabe Giosso (.208/.306/.245). There are more questions to answer on the mound, with the departure of ace Landen Bourassa to graduation, top bullpen arm Alex Pham to the draft and high-end talent Eric Reyzelman to a transfer to Louisiana State. Sophomore righthander Owen Stevenson (7.36 ERA, 25.2 IP) will look to make the jump to the front of the rotation, where he projects to be joined by newcomers in grad transfer righthander Sam Beck from Division II Lynn (Fla.) and grad transfer lefthander Weston Lombard, who had a 2.52 ERA in 60.2 innings last season with Division III Gustavus Adolphus (Minn.). In the bullpen, the return of third-year sophomore righthander Jesse Barron (2.74 ERA, 42.2 IP) is huge. 

6. Pepperdine (20-25, 12-15)

The Waves lost quite a few veteran pieces off of a team that underachieved relative to preseason expectations a season ago, but enough returns to suggest that 2022 could be a step in the right direction rather than a step back. Third-year sophomore catcher Ryan Johnson (.237/.318/.428) brings some thump to the lineup, although he’ll need to make more consistent contact to be a more significant threat, and sophomore shortstop John Peck (.256/.358/.433) is the toolsiest all-around player in the lineup and a name to watch for the 2023 draft. Sophomore center fielder Connor Bradshaw (.291/.346/.426) is a plus runner who will look to build off of a solid freshman season and fifth-year junior right fielder Mike Malinchak, after redshirting last season, will look to pick up where he left off in 2020, when the season ended with him hitting .395. Look for freshmen in first baseman Devon Walczykowski, second baseman Cameron Conley and infielder Jacob Rebrook, who could see most of his time at DH, to get cracks at regular playing time right away. Sophomore righthander Brandon Llewellyn (3.37 ERA, 50.2 IP) will look to take the ball on Fridays after he showed three separate swing-and-miss offspeed pitches in a swing role last season. Fourth-year junior righthander and projected Saturday starter Trevor Kniskern (7.06 ERA, 29.1 IP) has plenty of experience and a fastball that was up to 94 mph last season. Trevor Hinkel (3-8, 6.91), a third-year sophomore righthander, will move from the rotation to the closer’s role, where a fastball that was up to 95 mph in the fall will play well in shorter outings. 

7. Pacific (17-34, 7-20)

Pacific hasn’t finished better than .500 in WCC play since 2014, its first season in the league, but it has the talent to challenge to do so in 2022. The lineup brings back one of the best returning duos in the conference in fourth-year junior shortstop James Arakawa (.339/.403/.383), who struck out just 11 times in over 200 plate appearances last season, and third-year sophomore third baseman Thomas Gavello (.335/.458/.601), who goes into the season on the short list of contenders for WCC player of the year honors. Fourth-year junior catcher Jeremy Lea (.248/.345/.483), who hit seven home runs last season, and junior college transfer DH Brandon Motheral, who has impressive bat speed, will provide additional power. UCLA grad transfer right fielder Jarron Silva (.288/.397/.318) should also provide a jolt to the lineup after playing five seasons for the Bruins. How things go on the mound would seem to have a lot to do with the health and performance of fourth-year sophomore righthander Elijah Birdsong, who missed all of last season with injury but who also has a four-seam fastball that touches 95, a low-90s sinker, two distinct breaking balls and a changeup. That’s Friday starter stuff if he’s ready for the role. Fifth-year senior lefthander Hunter Schilperoort (7.07 ERA, 35.2 IP) is a breakout arm to watch in the bullpen. He was a Cape Cod League all-star over the summer, when he showed much better command than he did last spring. 

8. Saint Mary’s (25-26, 11-16)

Much as it did last season, Saint Mary’s will lean heavily on a talented pitching staff in 2022. That unit is led by third-year sophomore righthander Sam Bower (4-5, 3.43), who shows good command of a low-90s fastball that touches as high as 95 mph and has a plus changeup. Third-year sophomore righthander Ryan Taurek (3-3, 4.55) will bring a bulldog mentality to the slot behind Bower in the rotation after he was solid last season. UC Santa Barbara grad transfer Conner Roberts (4.94 ERA, 31 IP) could be a valuable piece either as a starter or reliever. Two-way player Christopher Campos (0.63 ERA, 14.1 IP; .270/.317/.360), a third-year sophomore, will return to the closer’s role and he also projects to be a key piece of the lineup as the team’s leading returning hitter. Fourth-year junior right fielder Blake Mann (.242/.347/.384), with four homers, is the only returning player who hit more than one home run last season and thus will be looked upon to be a run producer this season. Look for transfers to play big roles in the SMC lineup right out of the gate in 2022, including Southern California grad transfer catcher Riley Lamb, who only had three at-bats for the Trojans last season, and third-year sophomore Arizona State transfer center fielder Seth Nager, a good runner and skilled defensive player who the Saint Mary’s coaching staff also believes could develop some pop. 

9. Loyola Marymount (20-29, 13-14)

Loyola Marymount has a decent amount of retooling to do in the lineup after the departure of its three top hitters in Julian Bury, Kenny Oyama and Alec Cargin. Not only were Bury and Oyama the only hitters in last year’s lineup to hit better than .300, but Bury and Cargin combined to hit 10 of the Lions’ 19 home runs as a team. In this retooling process, the development of sophomore third baseman Diego Baqueiro (.258/.287/.393) is huge, as he has the offensive tools to carry an offense. Third-year sophomore Miami transfer catcher Jared Thomas (.208/.367/.333) is also a breakout candidate. He’s a plus athlete with good defensive skill behind the plate and there’s optimism that he’ll hit enough to hit in the middle of the order. Sophomore righthander Adam Christopher (5.34 ERA, 32 IP) projects to lead the rotation, to be followed by sophomore lefthander Logan Hurd (11.17 ERA, 9.2 IP), who the coaching staff says made a huge jump this fall and now possesses Friday starter-type stuff, and sophomore righthander Matt McClure (4-5, 4.95), who started on the weekend last season. With dominant closer Holden Christian having transferred to Arizona after last season, sophomore righthander Owen Hackman (5.95 ERA, 19.2 IP) has perhaps the biggest shoes to fill on the roster. He works with a fastball in the low 90s and a high-spin slider. 

10. Santa Clara (18-33, 8-19)

Santa Clara’s pitching staff, which had a solid 4.34 team ERA last season, offers reasons for optimism again. Third-year sophomore righthander Cole Kitchen (5-3, 3.58) should keep the Broncos competitive every Friday. He works with a fastball that touches the low 90s, a changeup that can flash plus and a slider. He’s also a very good athlete who could see time in the outfield. Third-year sophomore lefthander Nick Sando (6.75 ERA, 14.2 IP) has a fastball that touches the low 90s and a slider in the low 80s that both have a chance to play up thanks to the spin profile on the offerings. That unit will be helped by the arrival of Yale grad transfer catcher Cal Christofori, who will need to knock off some game rust given that the Bulldogs didn’t take the field in 2021 but who has plus defensive skills as well. Santa Clara will also get good defensive work from the Brigman brothers, Dawson and Coleman. Dawson Brigman (.258/.339/.305) is a fourth-year junior who is slated to play second base but could also take on shortstop or third base if needed. Coleman Brigman (.254/.319/.321), a third-year sophomore, is a talented defensive center fielder with an above-average arm. Both will also be counted on to be solid contributors offensively for a lineup that is very light on returning hitters with a track record of impacting the baseball. Sophomore third baseman Efrain Manzo, who had just 20 at-bats last season, has the raw power to help raise the team’s offensive ceiling, but the challenge is now for him to turn that raw power into in-game power. 

Top 10 2022 Draft Prospects

  1. Gabriel Hughes, RHP, Gonzaga
  2. William Kempner, RHP, Gonzaga
  3. Andrew Pintar, SS, Brigham Young
  4. Brycen Mautz, LHP, San Diego
  5. Elijah Birdsong, RHP, Pacific
  6. Caleb Franzen, LHP, Portland
  7. Christopher Campos, RHP/SS, Saint Mary’s
  8. Trystan Vrieling, RHP, Gonzaga
  9. Cy Nielson, RHP, Brigham Young
  10. Thomas Gavello, 3B, Pacific

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