Pac-10 Baseball Preview

2005 was a huge year for the Pac-10 on the baseball diamond with five teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and two advancing to the College World Series. With the 2006 campaign only one month away, we take an in-depth look at each team in the conference. Included is a breakdown of all nine schools with a projected order of finish and much more.

Pac-10 projected order of finish ...


1. Oregon State Beavers

The defending Pac-10 champions are again loaded and poised to make another run to the College World Series.  The '05 Beavers surprised the college baseball world by rolling through the conference and advancing to Omaha.  They won't be a surprise in 2006.  Oregon State is led by the dominant 1-2 starting pitching combination of Dallas Buck and Jonah Nickerson.  A pair of hard-throwing junior right-handers, Buck (12-1, 2.09 ERA, 129 IP) and Nickerson (9-2, 2.13 ERA, 110 IP) have both earned Preseason All-American honors.  These two hurlers form possibly the top starting pitching combo in the country which makes OSU the favorites in the conference.

You know you're good when your #3 starter, who went 11-1, is also back.  Junior Anton Maxwell (11-1, 4.33 ERA, 95 IP) rounds out the rotation while Kevin Gunderson (6-4, 2.76 ERA, 14 Saves) gives Oregon State one of the top closers in the country.  Gunderson and Nickerson both pitched for Team USA last summer.  Meanwhile, the Beavers return seven of their nine regular starting position players from a club that hit .316.  Shortstop Darwin Barney (.301, 2 HR, 44 RBI), the
reigning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, should again bat in the middle of the order.  Catcher Mitch Canham (.325, 8 HR, 39 RBI), third baseman Shea McFeely (.319, 5 HR, 41 RBI), and left fielder Tyler Graham (.307, 0 HR, 24 RBI) are all experienced bats in what should be a lineup that again won't hit a lot of home runs, but will be filled with high average players. 

Oregon State will have to deal with the losses of their two top hitters in All-American, co-Pac-10 Player of the Year, and first round draft pick Jacoby Ellsbury (.406 AVG, 6 HR) along with first baseman Andy Jenkins (.388 AVG, 6 HR).  But enough returning bats plus the core of a pitching staff that compiled a spectacular 3.06 ERA makes the Beavers a legitimate national title contender.


2. USC Trojans

The Trojans finished one win away from the College World Series last year falling in Game Three of the super regionals at Oregon State last June.  The story on this year's USC team will be ace starting pitcher Ian Kennedy - possibly the top hurler in the country.  A junior right-hander, Kennedy (12-3, 2.54 ERA, 117 IP) struck out 158 batters last season before starring on the US National Team over the summer.  USC has some holes to fill in the rest of their rotation with the draft losses of Jack Spradlin (6-3, 4.47 ERA, 118 IP) and Brett Bannister (4-3, 5.33 ERA, 50 IP), but there's no question who is at the top making the Trojans nearly unbeatable on Friday nights.

Offensively, USC returns nine of their 12 regulars.  Offense was not the strength of last year's Trojan team as they hit just .290 as a group.  First baseman Matt Cusick (.311, 4 HR, 35 RBI), shortstop Blake Sharpe (.297, 5 HR, 38 RBI), and outfielder Cyle Hankerd (.298, 1 HR, 39 RBI) lead the offense.  USC will have to fill the void left by Jeff Clement and Billy Hart - their talented 3-4 hitting combo from a year ago.  Clement smacked 15 home runs to go with a .348 batting average before his first round draft selection.  Despite those two losses, USC returns plenty of returning hitting talent, Ian Kennedy, and nearly their entire bullpen led by standout closer Paul Koss (4-1, 2.81 ERA, 14 Saves).


3. Stanford Cardinal

2005 was a down year by Stanford's standards as the Cardinal compiled a 34-25 record before falling in the regional championship game at Baylor.  The dynamic duo of Jed Lowrie (.317, 14 HR, 66 RBI) and John Mayberry, Jr. (.303, 8 HR, 53 RBI) were both first round draft picks last June, but every other offensive starter does return.  Senior catcher John Hester (.282, 5 HR, 41 RBI), senior shortstop Chris Minaker (.291, 3 HR, 37 RBI), and junior third baseman Adam Sorgi (.322, 5 HR, 41 RBI) have plenty of experience while sophomore outfielder Michael Taylor (.289, 4 HR, 28 RBI) is an emerging star.  The Cardinal struggled offensively most of last season hitting just .287 as a team.

On the mound, Stanford lost their top two starting pitchers in Jeff Gilmore and Mark Romanczuk as the duo combined for 15 wins and over 220 innings.  But like with the position players, essentially everyone else is back from a talented pitching staff that posted a 3.77 ERA last season.  Matt Leva (5-2, 4.12 ERA, 59 IP) has the most starting experience of the group while Greg Reynolds (2-3, 5.08 ERA, 51 IP) and Nolan Gallagher (2-5, 2.93 ERA, 55 IP) are two hard-throwers who could front-line the rotation.  Matt Manship (2-0, 0.80 ERA, 5 Saves) is an experienced senior who should see plenty of meaningful innings - possibly as a weekend starter.


4. Arizona State Sun Devils

The Sun Devils surprised Cal State Fullerton in the super regionals last year before making a deep run at the College World Series.  A strong hitting group, ASU will severely miss their three star offensive performers in Jeff Larish (23 HR, 67 RBI), Travis Buck (.382 AVG), and Tuffy Gosewisch (74 RBI).  Overall, seven of their 11 regulars are back led by junior outfielder Colin Curtis (.342, 2 HR, 45 RBI, 17 SB) and junior third baseman Seth Dhaenens (.312, 2 HR, 31 RBI).  ASU always has plenty of hitting talent, but many players are going to have to step up to fill the shoes of the departed "big three." 

The same could be said on the pitching side.  The duo of Jason Urquidez and Erik Averill both achieved double-digit win totals last year while each throwing over 120 innings.  They were the horses on last season's CWS staff, but have both moved onto professional baseball.  Four pitchers who threw 50 or more innings do return though led by Pat Bresnehan (5-4, 5.60 ERA, 88 IP), Brett Bordes (5-7, 4.24 ERA, 74 IP), and Zechry Zinicola (4-4, 5.48 ERA, 55 IP; .276, 2 HR).  Across the board, the Sun Devils have some of the top talent in the country giving them one of the highest ceilings of any team in the conference, if not the country.


5. California Golden Bears

An NCAA Tournament snub from a year ago (34-23), the Bears will be led by the return of eight of their ten regular starting position players.  The key offensive performers are all back in 2006 led by the outfield 3-4 combo of Chris Errecart (.298, 8 HR, 35 RBI) and Brennan Boesch (.355, 7 HR, 33 RBI).  The two juniors could form one of the top middle of the order duos on the west coast.  Second baseman Josh Satin (.348, 5 HR, 40 RBI) and outfielder Allen Craig (.304, 8 HR, 35 RBI) also return to lead the offense.

Pitching is what could potentially keep California from not reaching the NCAA Tournament in '06.  Their top two starting pitchers from a season ago in Adam Gold (7-6, 5.85 ERA, 87 IP) and Eric Dworkis (6-5, 3.41 ERA, 105 IP) along with their top two relievers Travis Talbott (1.18 ERA, 9 Saves) and Matt Swanson (1.66 ERA) have moved on.  Plenty of experienced hurlers are back including Joe Todoroff (4-3, 4.40 ERA, 73 IP) and Michael Cooper (3-2, 3.47 ERA, 59 IP), but it will take a few breakthrough years from a handful of hurlers for Cal to solidify themselves in the top half of the conference.


6. Arizona Wildcats

No team in the conference lost as much talent as the Wildcats.  A club that spent most of the year ranked in the top ten, finished 39-21, and lost at Fullerton's regional last season, Arizona has plenty of holes to fill in '06.  Four players were drafted in the first five rounds of the draft including three on the hitting side.  Arizona had possibly the top offense in the country last season (.328 AVG), but co-Pac-10 Player of the Year Trevor Crowe (.403 AVG, 9 HR, 15 3B, 27 SB) was a first round draft pick.  The 3-4-5 hitting trio of Jeff Van Houten (.348 AVG, 9 HR), Jordan Brown (.336 AVG, 14 HR), and Nick Hundley (.352, 15 HR) have all moved onto professional baseball.  All total, only three regulars are back for the Wildcats this season.  The middle infield does remain intact though with shortstop Jason Donald (.288, 5 HR, 33 RBI) and second baseman Brad Boyer (.285, 3 HR, 46 RBI) back in Tucson.

On the mound, all three weekend starters are gone.  The Friday-Saturday combination of John Meloan and Kevin Guyette, who each won ten games and pitched over 110 innings, will be most difficult to replace.  There is plenty of returning talent though with Team USA closer Mark Melancon (4-3, 2.58 ERA, 11 Saves) anchoring the pitching staff.  Sophomore lefties Eric Berger (6-2, 3.84 ERA, 61 IP) and David Coulon (3-3, 5.50 ERA, 52 IP) both gained valuable experience last year and each excelled in the Cape over the summer.  But for the Wildcats to return to the NCAA Tournament, it will take many new faces to emerge with big year's - both on the hitting and pitching sides.


7. Washington Huskies

The Huskies went 33-22 last season, but missed out on the NCAA Tournament.  All three starting pitchers return led by dynamic junior Tim Lincecum (8-6, 3.11 ERA, 104 IP).  Lincecum struck out 131 batters last year and is regarded as one of the top hurlers in the country.  Kyle Parker (8-7, 5.14 ERA, 91 IP) and Matt Kasser (4-4, 4.66 ERA, 63 IP) also return, but nearly all key relievers either graduated or were drafted.

Four of Washington's top six hitters have moved on leaving outfielders Matt Hague (.419, 8 HR, 34 RBI) and Zach Clem (.332, 8 HR, 42 RBI) to carry the offensive load.  Overall, five of their ten regulars are back in purple and gold for the 2006 season.


8. UCLA Bruins

Essentially the entire team returns for UCLA this year.  They were, however, 15-41 last season, so we'll see if that's a good thing.  On the offensive side, eight regulars return including the top six hitters from the lineup.  Senior outfielder Chris Jensen (.368, 7 HR, 21 RBI) emerged during the second half of last season.  Outfielders Josh Roenicke (.277, 0 HR, 16 RBI) and Will Penniall (.280, 1 HR, 18 RBI) plus third baseman Brett McMillan (.257, 7 HR, 33 RBI) are experienced returning starters.  UCLA hit a dismal .254 as a team in '05.

The pitching wasn't much better (5.65 team ERA), but with the exception of #2 starter Bryan Beck (1-11, 6.01 ERA) it all returns in 2006.  Hector Ambriz (3-7, 3.94 ERA, 105 IP) had a solid year as the Friday starter.  Ambriz also doubles as one of the top hitters on the team (.338, 1 HR, 18 RBI).  Brian Schroeder (4-6, 4.77 ERA, 71 IP) also saw plenty of action a year ago.


9. Washington State Cougars

The Cougars went just 1-23 in the Pac-10 last year in part because of their lack of talent, but also due to the impressive strength of the conference.  There's nowhere to go but up for Washington State, but plenty of work is still in order for the Cougars to move out of the cellar.  Senior outfielder Jay Miller (.322, 3 HR, 32 RBI) is one of the most experienced hitters in the Pac-10.  Six regulars return for WSU, but that does not include power-hitting catcher Brady Everett (.337 AVG, 15 HR) who graduated.

On the mound, the top two starting pitchers in Jayson Miller (2-6, 6.03 ERA) and Wayne Daman (7-6, 4.91 ERA) are back and again should lead the Washington State staff.  The Cougars posted a 6.17 team ERA last season.



The Bootleg's Preseason All-Conference Team:
C - John Hester, Stanford (.282, 5 HR, 41 RBI)
1B - Matt Cusick, USC (.311, 4 HR, 35 RBI)
2B - Josh Satin, California (.348, 5 HR, 40 RBI)
3B - Shea McFeely, Oregon State (.319, 5 HR, 41 RBI)
SS - Darwin Barney, Oregon State (.301, 2 HR, 44 RBI)
OF - Brennan Boesch, California (.355, 7 HR, 33 RBI)
OF - Zach Clem, Washington (.332, 8 HR, 42 RBI)
OF - Colin Curtis, Arizona State (.342, 2 HR, 45 RBI)

SP - Hector Ambriz, UCLA (3-7, 3.94 ERA, 105 IP, 84 SO)
SP - Travis Buck, Oregon State (12-1, 2.09 ERA, 129 IP, 118 SO)
SP - Ian Kennedy, USC (12-3, 2.54 ERA, 117 IP, 158 SO)
SP - Tim Lincecum, Washington (8-6, 3.11 ERA, 104 IP, 131 SO)
SP - Jonah Nickerson, Oregon State (9-2, 2.13 ERA, 110 IP, 114 SO)
RP - Kevin Gunderson, Oregon State (6-4, 2.76 ERA, 14 SV)
RP - Mark Melancon, Arizona (4-3, 2.58 ERA, 11 SV)


PAC-10 ODDS AND ENDS:
* Not a single double-digit home run hitter in the conference returns this season.  The highest mark of any returnee is eight held by six different players:
- Allen Craig, California
- Chris Errecart, California
- Mitch Canham, Oregon State
- Chris Lewis, Stanford
- Zach Clem, Washington
- Matt Hague, Washington

* The starting pitching trio of Buck, Nickerson, and Maxwell at Oregon State went a combined 32-4 last season.

* Three Pac-10 schools were ranked among the Top 12 recruiting classes in the country according to Baseball America (current freshmen + JC transfers).
- #2 Arizona State
- #5 UCLA
- #9 Stanford
(the same trio was rated #2, #3, and #4 respectively by rivals.com before the draft)

* Potential impact freshmen in the Pac-10 this year include:
Arizona - Mike Colla (pitcher)
Arizona State - Ike Davis (first base/outfield/pitcher), Matthew Hall (shortstop), Preston Paramore (catcher)
Stanford - Jeremy Bleich (pitcher), Brent Milleville (catcher/first base)
UCLA - Tim Murphy (outfield/pitcher)

* Final ISR rankings (from boydsworld.com) in 2005:
1. Oregon State
5. USC
9. Arizona State
13. Arizona
16. Stanford
19. California
22. Washington
119. UCLA
126. Washington State

* Brennan Boesch (California), Travis Buck (Oregon State), and Ian Kennedy (USC) have already earned Preseason First Team All-American honors (NCBWA or Collegiate Baseball).  Kevin Gunderson (Oregon State), Tim Lincecum (Washington), Mark Melancon (Arizona), and Jonah Nickerson (Oregon State) have garnered Second Team honors while Paul Koss (USC) earned Third Team recognition.

* Ian Kennedy's first two seasons at USC: 34 games, 32 starts, 19-5, 2.70 ERA, 209 2/3 IP, 69 BB, 278 SO.  Allowed just 11 hits in 28 innings with 35 strike outs for Team USA last summer.

* Final 2005 Postseason results:
- Arizona State (3-0 at Tempe Regional, Defeated Cal State Fullerton 2-1 in Super Regionals, 3-2 at College World Series - lost to Florida in bracket championship game)
- Oregon State (3-0 at Corvallis Regional, Defeated USC 2-1 in Super Regionals, 0-2 at College World Series)
- USC (3-1 at Long Beach Regional, Lost 2-1 to Oregon State in Super Regionals)
- Arizona (2-2 at Fullerton Regional)
- Stanford (2-2 at Waco Regional)
(California became the first 13-11 team from the Pac-10 to not advance to the NCAA Tournament since the conference merger in 1999)

* Stanford's Pac-10 Schedule:
vs. Washington State (March 25-27)
vs. USC (March 31-April 2)
at Oregon State (April 13-15)
at Arizona (April 21-23)
vs. Arizona State (April 28-30)
vs. California (May 5-7)
at Washington (May 12-14)
at UCLA (May 19-21)

The Cardinal will also play road series' against California (March 3-5) and USC (March 10-12) that will not count in the Pac-10 standings.


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