College Preview

2012 Western Athletic Conference Preview

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*2011 automatic qualifier. 2011 NCAA regional participants in bold (2011 records listed; 2012 national rankings in parentheses)

Conf. Overall

*Fresno State 17 7 40 16
San Jose State 11 13 35 26
New Mexico State 9 15 34 24
Hawaii 17 7 34 25
Sacramento State 6 18 19 39
Nevada 12 12 24 31
Louisiana Tech 12 12 34 27
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Fresno State.
Conference Schedule: 18 games; begins April 5.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 23-27 at Mesa, Ariz.
Player of the Year: Aaron Judge, of, Fresno State.
Pitcher of the Year: Esteban Guzman, rhp, San Jose State.
1. Aaron Judge, of, Fresno State (2013)
2. Tyler Linehan, lhp, Fresno State (2013)
3. Zack Jones, rhp, San Jose State
4. Carlos Escobar, c, Nevada
5. Breland Almadova, of, Hawaii
6. Zac Fisher, c, New Mexico State
7. Justin Haley, rhp, Fresno State (2013)
8. Derrick Chung, c, Sacramento State
9. Esteban Guzman, rhp, San Jose State
10. Taylor Garrison, rhp, Fresno State
1. Chris Mariscal, ss, Fresno State (HS—Fresno)
2. Scott Squier, lhp, Hawaii (HS—Phoenix)
3. Jordan Brink, 1b/of/rhp, Fresno State (HS—Fresno)
4. Kaeo Aliviado, of, Hawaii (HS—Honolulu)
5. Clay Cedarquist, 1b/of, Sacramento State (Tr.—Fresno CC)

• The WAC enters its final season as presently constituted; it will get a dramatic facelift in 2013, as Texas State, Texas-Arlington, Texas-San Antonio, Dallas Baptist, Seattle and Cal State Bakersfield join the league for baseball, but Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada depart.

Aaron Judge
• Fresno State has been the class of the WAC ever since Rice left, and the Bulldogs are the favorites to end their WAC tenure with another conference crown. The lineup is headlined by the WAC's most talented player: 6-foot-8, 225-pound So. OF Aaron Judge (.358/.437/.465), whose five-tool package makes him a potential first-round pick in 2013. The league's top newcomer, Fr. SS Chris Mariscal, also has an impressive all-around tool set, and fellow talented freshmen OF Jordan Luplow, 1B/RHP Jordan Brink and RHPs Will Munro and Garrett Mundell should also make instant impacts. But Fresno also has a solid core of veterans, especially on the mound, where command-and-control seniors LHP Tom Harlan (5-3, 3.84) and RHP Cody Kendall (6-0, 2.85) hold down two-thirds of the weekend rotation, and quick-armed RHP Taylor Garrison (2-2, 1.32) anchors the bullpen. So. LHP Tyler Linehan (5-2, 4.27) can run his fastball up to 93 mph and owns a promising power slider, making him the likely staff ace.

• San Jose State has a hard-working, blue-collar group with solid balance. The Spartans' most exciting player is Jr. RHP/DH Zack Jones (1-3, 3.98, 43 IP/53 SO), who will focus mostly on pitching this year after a dual role wore him down as a sophomore. Jones can run his fastball into the 97-98 range with serious life, but he's still refining his feel for pitching; he could close or start. Sr. RHP Esteban Guzman (5-4, 3.33, 76 IP/74 SO) gives the rotation an experienced veteran with command of four pitches. Coach Sam Piraro said So. RHP D.J. Slaton (7.44 ERA in 13 IP) and So. LHP Johnny Melero (3-3, 4.29) have gotten significantly stronger in the offseason and figure to impact the pitching staff. Junior-college transfer SS/RHP Mike Aldrete, the son of the ex-big leaguer of the same name, is the team's top newcomer. He steps into the lineup in the middle of the diamond and is slated to close. n New Mexico State led the nation in batting (.337) and ranked second in scoring (8.5 runs per game) a year ago, thanks in part to the team's relentlessly patient approach (333 walks, third in the nation). Expect the Aggies to mash as usual in 2011: They return their top five hitters and will start nine upperclassmen in the everyday lineup, including a pair of juco transfers. The best players of the bunch occupy key up-the-middle positions: Jr. C Zac Fisher (.398/.454/.632, 8 HR, 56 RBI) is a serious power threat with much-improved catch-and-throw skills, while Sr. SS Ty Forney (.389/.509/.486) is a good all-around player with sound defensive skills, good speed and a feel for making consistent contact. New Mexico State expects to be much improved on the mound, thanks in part to the addition of five arms that can reach 90 mph. NMSU's biggest arm belongs to Jr. RHP Tyler Mack (6-5, 9.68), who has improved his control of a plus fastball and downer curve after walking 55 in 61 innings last year.