Talent Drought Hits College Teams Out West
The West Coast often likes to say it’s the Best Coast.
In college baseball and draft terms, that often has been true. Southern California has won 12 College World Series championships; Arizona State has won five and produced more No. 1 overall draft picks (three) than any other school. Arizona (2012, its fourth CWS title) and UCLA (2013) went back-to-back for the Pacific-12 Conference in the current era, and Cal State Fullerton has won four national championships while Big West Conference rival Long Beach State has produced big league stars from Troy Tulowitzki, Jered Weaver and Evan Longoria to Matt Duffy and Marco Estrada.
The West Coast has cool lingo. It has tradition. It has a core of fans who love their teams and love the culture of West Coast baseball.
What it does not have this year is great college baseball. Not in terms of teams, not in terms of prospects. It’s just not a good year.
As one West Coast crosschecker for an American League club put it, "It’s the worst in recent memory. The colleges are brutal. I’m actually about to head east so I can see all the good players.”
Start with the Pac-12, which is the West’s standard-bearer and big-money conference. California and Oregon State were the preseason favorites in the league, but both are hurting, with aces Daulton Jefferies (who has missed three weeks with a strained muscle in his upper back) and Drew Rasmussen (elbow surgery) out for long stretches.
Oregon State is celebrating the 10-year anniversary of its first CWS championship team, in 2006, when the O-State Ballaz took the college game (and the rap world) by storm. The Beavers were the league preseason favorite and still look like a regional team, but a little more than halfway through the season, they were sitting in the mid-40s in RPI and coming off a series loss to last-place Washington State. Coach Pat Casey likely will rally his troops, and he has helped catcher Logan Ice turn into one of the better catching prospects for the 2016 draft. O-State still looks like the most talented team out West but its youth has shown.
A year ago at this time, Cal’s stars were sophomores Jefferies and Lucas Erceg, a slugging third baseman. Now Jefferies is hurt and Erceg is at NAIA Menlo (Calif.), and while catcher Brett Cumberland has developed into a strong draft prospect, the Bears are good but don’t seem to have the star power to be great.
Meanwhile, Utah—Utah!—was leading the Pac-12 at 8-4 in the league while owning a 13-20 overall record. UCLA (16-18) and Southern California (16-19) were also under .500. Anytime the two L.A. teams are down, it’s likely a bad year for baseball in the league.
Up To The Titans?
The Big West, Mountain West and West Coast conferences are in similar straits. UC Santa Barbara has been the region’s best team and the Gauchos look solid again. They played host to a regional last year in Lake Elsinore, Calif., but the minor league park is occupied on regional weekend this year, so the Gauchos aren’t likely to reprise that role. Maybe Cal State Fullerton will get hot again and host a regional, as the Titans have a series win at Big 12 Conference leader Texas Tech, but it will take a strong finishing kick.
Could Brigham Young or Saint Mary’s, led by hard-throwing righthander Corbin Burnes, be a regional host? They were tied for the WCC’s league lead with Gonzaga, and BYU's ballpark is capable of being a regional host, but Saint Mary's is not, lacking in lights. So the WCC is down to BYU and the Zags, neither of whom ever has hosted.
But the picture is grim for a West Coast host. Most years, the West gets at least two regionals in its midst, and often as many as four. Often those regional winners have been paired with each other, with Pac-12 and Big West teams pitted against each other in super regionals, leading fans out West to believe the NCAA stacks the deck against them.
This year, there’s no chance of that. There just aren’t enough good teams out West, and it continues a trend from 2015, when Fullerton was the only Western team to win a regional. The Titans upheld the region’s reputation singlehandedly and got to the CWS.
Baseball America Prospect Report—June 9, 2021, Presented By OOTP 22
Bryson Stott hits two home runs, Nick Pratto extends his strong run of play, Daulton Jefferies cruises to his first win and more.
This year, Omaha trips seem like a dream for teams in the West. Scouts say the talent in the 2017 prep class is strong in the region, so maybe some of that will get to the college ranks. Otherwise, this recent trend of the West being far from the best will continue.