Pac-10 and National Baseball Preview

2002 looks to be a banner year for Stanford baseball, but it also should be a banner year for baseball coverage on The Bootleg. JJ is fired up for blanket coverage on the season, and leads off with a preview of the 9-Pac. Also included is an outstanding ranking of the top 16 teams in the country, a feature JJ will offer throughout the season.

Pac-10 Projections

1. Stanford (51-17, 17-7, 2nd)
* What's not to like about this Cardinal team?  Stanford returns all nine of their starting position players from a team that reached the championship game of the College World Series last season.  That includes All-American's Chris O'Riordan (.359-12-68), Sam Fuld (.357-0-37), and Carlos Quentin (.345-11-52) along with preseason All-American Ryan Garko (.368-7-43).  On the pitching side, the Cardinal return their top starter from a year ago in Jeremy Guthrie.  Guthrie emerged out of nowhere to lead the Cardinal in wins (13), innings (134), and strikeouts (128) to go along with a stellar 2.82 ERA.  Stanford does lose the remainder of their starting rotation, but return other veteran pitchers in Tim Cunningham, John Hudgins, and J.D. Willcox.  Add to all of this a top five freshman class and it could be a very special season for the Card this year.

2. USC (45-19, 18-6, 1st)
* Surprise, surprise.  Once again the Pac-10 conference title will come down to Stanford and USC.  The Trojans, who finished tied for fifth in the CWS last year, return six starting position players and the majority of their pitching staff.  OF Brian Barre (.345-13-48), C Alberto Concepcion (.321-7-41) will lead the USC offense as they look to repeat as Pac-10 champions.  The Trojans did lose their top two starting pitchers from a year ago in Mark Prior and Rik Currier, but do return preseason All-American Anthony Reyes (5-4, 3.72).  USC will also have one of the more experienced bullpens as co-closers Brian Bannister (5 saves) and Fraser Dizard (7 saves) return.  And along with Stanford, the Trojans have some freshman that will contribute immediately.

3. California (34-25, 14-10, T3rd)
* Head Coach David Esquer has got this program in the right direction as the Bears will look to build upon their solid 2001 campaign that saw them qualify for the NCAA Tournament.  Seven starting position players are back, led by 2B Carson White (.338-8-49), C John Baker (.331-3-29), and 3B Conor Jackson (.288-4-31).  The Bears did lose their top two power hitters from a year ago (Rob Meyer and Clint Hoover), but if some of their returnees can step-up, Cal could challenge the Cardinal and Trojans.  Ace starting pitcher from a year ago, Trevor Hutchinson (6-7, 3.85), returns for his senior season to lead the Bears pitching staff.  Cal lost workhorse pitcher David Cash, but do return their closer from a year ago in Matt Brown (8 saves).  Look for Cal to once again make the NCAA Tournament.

4. Arizona State (37-20-1, 14-10, T3rd)
* A lot of talent was lost off last year's Sun Devil baseball squad, but Pat Murphy should still find a way to win and lead ASU back to the tournament.  Only three starting position players return in OF Rod Allen (.389-6-53), SS Dennis Wyrick (.360-0-27), and 1B Jeremy West (.307-6-34).  Allen was named a first-team Preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.  ASU loses two key pitchers from their 2001 club in Jon Switzer (5-6, 4.04) and Andy Torres (13-4, 4.30) but still return some quality arms.   Mike Esposito (5-2, 4.06) will assume the #1 starter role and is primed for a breakout year.  And as always, the Sun Devils had an outstanding recruiting class insuring that this team never really rebuilds.

5. Arizona (33-23, 12-12, 5th)
* The good news for the Wildcats is they return nearly their entire pitching staff from last year's team.  The bad news is that the middle of their lineup was gutted from the draft and graduation.  All four of Arizona's pitchers with starting experience return in Sean Rierson (7-4, 4.66), Joe Little (4-0, 5.19), Marc Kaiser (8-6, 5.35), and Chris Goodman (3-2, 6.30) which should transpire to an outstanding year on the hill for the Wildcats.  Unfortunately for them, four of their top five hitters are gone from last year's team in Shelley Duncan, Matt Abram, Erik Torres, and Ernie Durazo.  That foursome combined for a .359 average, 46 home runs, and 225 RBI.  OF Brian Anderson (.370-4-38) is back and if the Wildcats are able to find some people to come anywhere close to the production that was lost they could challenge for an NCAA tournament bid.

6. Washington (29-23, 7-17, 8th)
* A lot of talent is returning for the Huskies this season.  Of  course, these are the same players that led UW to a dreadful 7-17 Pac-10 record last season.  Still, optimism is high in Seattle as Washington returns eight starting position players from last year's squad.  Leading the way are 3B Michael Done (.342-7-36), OF Tyler Davidson (.337-6-42), and OF Jay Garthwaite (.303-5-46).  On the mound, Shawn Kohn (6-2, 2.57) returns to lead a Washington pitching staff that returns eight pitchers from last year's team.

7. UCLA (30-27, 9-15, 7th)
* It could be another tough season for the Bruins this year as their lineup was decimated by graduation.  Gone is the Pac-10's leading hitter from a year ago in Brian Baron (.443) along with four other key starters from last season.  On the bright side, UCLA does have some good young talent in OF Ben Francisco (.309-6-42) C John Arhart (.292-3-24).  The Bruins lose all four of their starting pitchers from a year ago that combined to go 16-12, but they do return everybody else.  Possible starters include Mike Kunes (3-2, 3.55) and Wade Clark (2-1, 5.25).

8. Oregon State (31-24, 11-13, 6th)
* The Beavers will have a tough time trying to improve upon on their 6th place conference finish from a year ago as most of the key components from that squad are gone.  Their top two starters from a year ago in Scott Nicholson and Thad Johnson who combined to go 17-11 with 16 complete games are gone which leaves a big hole in the Beavers starting rotation.  The lowest ERA of any returning pitcher is a whopping 6.51.  Offensively, OSU returns All-Conference third baseman Brian Barden (.367-8-55), but return only three other starting position players.

9. Washington State (15-39, 6-18, 9th)
* Things don't look to be getting much better for the Cougars this season.  Their top two hitters from a year ago (Bailie and Knight) are gone and although the majority of their pitching staff returns, it's from a staff that complied a league-worst 7.24 ERA.  2B Bookie Gates (.327-8-60) and OF Evan Hecker (.321-2-28) are the top hitters returning while Zach Fisher (0-7, 6.22) has the most pitching experience.

JJ's Preseason "Super Sixteen"

** This is my preseason top 16 (or "Super Sixteen").  I'm a biased Stanford follower, but I tried my best to be as objective as possible while compiling my top teams. Stanford has too much returning talent to ignore as #1, in my opinion.  I see the top five teams as being the real elite squads this year (on paper).  Six of the eight CWS teams from a year ago are once again very strong (Tennessee and Georgia are rebuilding).  Comments are welcome ...

1. Stanford (51-17 in 2001)
* see above

2. Clemson (41-22)
* 7 starting position players returning from a team that reached the Super-Regionals last year ... top players include 3B John Baker (.369-23-75), 1B Michael Johnson (.321-18-54), and SS Khalil Greene (.303-12-52) ... tremendous power on this team ... all three starting pitchers return in Steve Reba (12-3, 2.58), Jarrod Schmidt (7-3, 4.34), and Matt Henrie (6-3, 3.06).

3. Miami (53-12)
* 2001 champions ... only four starting position players return, but they are four of their top five hitters from a year ago ... SS Javy Rodriguez (.382-5-60, 66 SB), 3B Kevin Howard (.336-4-46), and C Danny Matienzo (.324-13-62) pace the offense ... lose top two starting pitchers, but #3 starter is back in Kiki Bengochea (9-4, 4.10) ... also return All-American closer George Huguet (2.03, 14 saves).

4. Florida State (47-19)
* 7 position starters and entire starting rotation return from a team that fell just one game short of Omaha last season ... 1B/3B Ryan Barthelemy (.343-14-72), OF Mike Futrell (.345-8-56), and OF Nick Rogers (.351-6-38) are top returning hitters ... starting pitchers Blair Varnes, Matt Lynch, and Robby Read combined to go 25-8 last season.

5. USC (45-19)
* see above

6. Tulane (56-13)
* 5 starting position players and eight of ten pitchers return from 2001 CWS team ... OF/P Michael Aubrey (.361-13-69; 3-1, 5.15) was the National Freshman of the Year last season ... lose top two hitters from a year ago (Gautreau and Cannizaro), but still return Aubrey, OF Jon Kaplan (.358-5-54), and 1B James Jurries (.324-10-53) ... Joey Charron (9-2, 3.52) is top returning pitcher.

7. Notre Dame (49-13)
* Lose All-American pitcher Aaron Heilman (15-0, 1.74), but do return two other starting pitchers and eight starting position players ... returning starting pitchers include Peter Ogilvie (5-1, 1.90) and J.P. Gagne (5-5, 5.35) ... top returning hitters are preseason All-Americans OF Steve Stanley (.400-1-32) and 2B Steve Sollmann (.362-5-36).

8. Nebraska (50-16)
* 6 starting position players and two starting pitchers return from 2001 CWS club ... All-American pitcher Shane Komine (14-2, 3.35) is back ... top hitters are OF Jeff Leise (.380-7-48) and 1B Matt Hopper (.358-12-85).

9. LSU (44-22)
* Post-Skip Bertman era begins ... freshman All-American from a year ago, Lane Mestepey (11-3, 3.75) leads a pitching staff that returns seven hurlers ... lose lots of firepower from a year ago (Linden, Fontenot, Theriot), but still return five starting position players led by 3B Wally Pontiff (.347-7-58) ... outstanding freshman class.

10. Rice (47-20)
* Lose top two pitchers in Baugh and Skaggs who combined to go 22-6, but return nearly entire starting lineup ... top hitters include OF Austin Davis (.346-6-29), OF A.J. Porfirio (.345-11-55), and SS Eric Arnold (.325-15-65) ... top returning pitcher is Steven Herce (6-1, 2.37)

11. Cal State Fullerton (48-18)
* Never a rebuilding year in Fullerton, but they do have many holes to fill ... gone are top pitchers, Saarloos and Smith, and six starting position players ... Darric Merrell (8-4, 2.95) leads pitching staff ... OF Shane Costa (.380-0-11), OF Chris Stringfellow (.345-4-36), and OF/DH Jason Corapci (.333-1-49) are returning hitters.

12. Mississippi State (39-23)
* Six starting position players and all three starting pitchers return from 2001 team that lost in Super-Regionals ... 1B Matthew Brinson (.328-7-46) and Jason Burkley (.286-3-44) are top hitters ... Paul Maholm (8-4, 4.06) leads the pitching staff.

13. Oklahoma State (42-22)
* One of more experienced teams in Big 12 ... INF Nubasett Brown (.381-6-57) is a preseason All-American ... return seven starting position players and nine pitchers from last year's sqaud ... Nick McCurdy (7-5, 3.61) and Scott Baker (6-2, 4.05) are returning starting pitchers.

14. Texas (36-26)
* Seven starting position players and seven pitchers return from 2001 team that lost to Stanford in the regionals ... 3B Omar Quintanilla (.367-2-37), C Ryan Hubele (.333-7-37), OF Ben King (.312-5-49), and 1B Jeff Ontiveros (.271-7-37) are all back ... returning starting pitchers include Justin Simmons (7-3, 3.39) and Ray Clark (3-4, 3.50).

15. Baylor (37-24)
* Very talented pitching staff ... three of four starting pitchers return from last year: Steven White (10-3, 3.49), Justin Taylor (8-2, 2.86), and Jared Theodorakos (6-3, 3.86) ... six position starters are back, led by OF Chris Durbin (.358-14-57).

16. Wake Forest (44-18)
* Three of four starting pitchers return, led by Kyle Sleeth (10-3, 5.03) ... feature All-American closer in Dave Bush (2.65, 16 saves) ... four starting position players return ... top hitters include 1B Jamie D'Antona (.364-17-77) and OF Ryan Johnson (.363-3-31).

Five others to watch (in alphabetical order) : Arizona State, California, Mississippi, South Carolina, Wichita State.

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