The Best College Baseball Player At Every Pac-12 School


As part of our preview of the 2024 college baseball season, we selected the best player from every school presently in the Pac-12. Take a trip down memory lane before the last season of the Pac-12 as we know it.


Terry Francona, OF

Arizona’s best big league alumnus, Kenny Lofton, played a lot more basketball (and appeared in a Final Four) than baseball in college. Francona starred for the 1980 national champs, batting .401 with 84 RBIs and 105 hits en route to the Golden Spikes Award and was College World Series MOP. He ranks in the top 10 all-time for the Wildcats in hits, doubles, RBIs and total bases, always ranking behind four-year players. He signed as a junior and first-round pick in 1980, reaching the majors in less than 15 months. He hit .274 in an injury-riddled career before a decorated managerial career that includes two World Series championships with the Red Sox (2004, 2007), 1,950 wins and three Manager of the Year awards.


Bob Horner, 2B

No school has more competition, but Horner gets the nod over Sal Bando, Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson, Oddibe McDowell and even pitchers like Floyd Bannister and Eddie Bane. Horner won a national title in 1977, and led ASU to Omaha in each of his three seasons while setting the still-standing school record with 56 homers. (Spencer Torkelson with 54 can blame the 2020 pandemic for keeping Horner’s mark intact.) Horner hit .400 over his final two seasons, was drafted No. 1 overall by the Braves in 1978 and went straight to the major leagues, where he played 10 seasons, hit .277/.340/.499 and had a four-homer game.


Xavier Nady, 2B/3B

The 1998 Freshman of the Year, Nady’s school home runs record (57) outlasted a spirited challenge from 2019 No. 3 overall pick Andrew Vaughn (50), and he still holds records for slugging (.729) and RBIs (191). Those power numbers were assembled even as the NCAA mandated heavier, lower-performing bats after the 1998 season. Nady went on to a 12-year career in the majors, hitting 104 homers and batting .268/.323/.432 overall.


John Stearns, C

Colorado disbanded its program after the 1980 season, so it never played Pac-12 baseball. Stearns entered Colorado’s sports hall of fame in 2008 after playing football and baseball for the Buffs. He led the NCAA (with wood bats) with 15 homers in 1973 after hitting .492 in ‘72 in Big Eight Conference play. He hit .366 with 26 homers for his career at Colorado before a 10-year big league career.


Dave Roberts, 3B/SS

The Ducks’ program, dormant from 1981 to 2008, has struck some high notes since its rebirth but hasn’t produced a true star. Roberts, inducted into the Ducks’ athletic hall of fame, hit .328 with five homers as a freshman, then had a .410 junior campaign that included 12 homers, 25 walks and just nine strikeouts in 144 at-bats. He was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1972 draft, reached the major leagues that year and spent parts of 10 seasons in the majors. He hit 21 homers in 1973 but back problems short-circuited his power for much of the rest of his career.


Adley Rutschman, C

A highly touted recruit as both a kicker and catcher, Rutschman started for three seasons, batting .353/.473/.559 with 28 homers and more walks (156) than strikeouts (117). The 2017 Beavers went 56-6, then Rutschman led them to the 2018 national championship before winning College Player of the Year in 2019. He has a strong case as MLB’s best catcher entering 2024 and as the best catcher in college baseball history.


Mark McGwire, 3B/RHP

The Trojans have myriad candidates, and Tom Seaver and McGwire’s USC teammate Randy Johnson had Hall of Fame careers that argue in their favor. Other Trojans such as righthanders Jim Barr and Seth Etherton and outfielder Steve Kemp starred individually and contributed to USC’s 12 national titles. But McGwire set the Pac-10 record with 32 homers in 1984, contributing to a USC-record 54 homers while batting .334/.449/.717 in three seasons. In two years on the mound, he went 7-5, 2.93 in 83 innings. McGwire went on to hit 49 homers and win 1987 Rookie of the Year award before his 70-homer 1998 season and subsequent admission of using PEDs to help fuel it.


Jack McDowell, RHP

Stanford has the best conference record since 1999, when the league eschewed division play, with eight trips to Omaha in that span. McDowell was an ace on Stanford’s first national title team in 1987, and the title helps nudge him ahead of a crowded pack of fine players. He ranks in Stanford’s top 10 in wins (35, second), innings (372.2) and strikeouts (337). While Mike Mussina had a better big league career, McDowell beat Oklahoma State in the 1987 title game, was a two-time All-American and had a fine MLB career to boot. The fifth overall pick in ‘87, McDowell made four big league starts that fall, spent 12 seasons in the majors and won 127 games, with two 20-win seasons.


Trevor Bauer, RHP

The Bruins have produced nearly an all-star team of big leaguers, from Chris Chambliss to Troy Glaus, Chase Utley, Brandon Crawford and Gerrit Cole. Bauer was a throwback, ranking second in program history with 15 complete games. He broke Tim Lincecum’s single-season Pac-12 strikeouts record with 203 en route to the 2011 College Player of the Year award, and is UCLA’s all-time leader in wins (34) and strikeouts (460). He and Cole helped the Bruins to the 2010 CWS finals. Bauer won a Cy Young Award in 2020 but also served the longest suspension ever under MLB’s domestic violence policy.


C.J. Cron, C/1B

Cron’s career intersected with Division I’s offensive Dead Ball Era, which started in 2010. That didn’t stop him from belting a school-record 46 homers and hitting .396 over three seasons. He ranked in the top 25 in home runs nationally in his final two seasons and in the top 15 in batting while leading the country in 2011 with an .803 slugging percentage, helping make him Utah’s first all-Pac-12 choice in baseball after joining the conference.


Tim Lincecum, RHP

A starter from the day he stepped on campus, Lincecum turned down Cleveland as an eligible sophomore after starring in the Cape Cod League in 2005. He then turned in a dominant 2006 season, leading the nation with 199 strikeouts (a since-broken Pac record) while setting the league’s career strikeout mark with 491, in just three seasons. The Giants drafted him 10th overall in 2006 and he won back-to-back National League Cy Young Awards in 2008 and ’09 before helping the Giants win World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014.


John Olerud, 1B/LHP

Olerud’s .434 batting average and .824 slugging remain the Pac-12 career records, which is particularly noteworthy as those numbers withstood the “gorilla ball” mid ’90s and the offensive explosion of the post-Covid years. His 1988 season, which made him the first sophomore to be College Player of the Year, stakes its claim as the best single season in college baseball history. Olerud hit .464 with 52 walks, 23 home runs and just 22 strikeouts, while going 15-0, 2.49 with 113 strikeouts in 122.2 innings. A brain aneurysm short-circuited his 1989 season, but he recovered, went straight from college to MLB as the Blue Jays’ third-round pick in 1989 and hit .295 in a 17-year MLB career, amassing 2,239 hits, 255 home runs and three Gold Gloves.

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