Pac-10/National Baseball Preview

Baseball in December? Well, with the season just a little over a month away, The Bootleg is getting a head start on their 2003 Stanford baseball coverage. Included in this preview is a complete rundown of all the teams in the Pac-10 Conference as well as the preseason edition of the "Super Sixteen" national poll.

PAC-10 BASEBALL PREVIEW

** Predicted order of finish **

1.    Stanford Cardinal (47-18, 16-8, 2nd)     College World Series, 3rd Place

The Cardinal made their fourth consecutive trip to Omaha last season and a fifth trip in a row doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility.  Head Coach Mark Marquess will have to survive without Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Jeremy Guthrie and slugging outfielder Jason Cooper who bolted for professional baseball last summer and he'll also have to replace all four positions in the infield, but the cupboard is far from bare on The Farm.  Junior outfielder Sam Fuld (.375-8-47), who was a first-team All-American last season, anchors what should be the top offense in the Pac-10 this season.  Other key returnees include OF Carlos Quentin (.303-12-54) and C Ryan Garko (.314-14-55).  Also look for freshman first baseman John Mayberry to make some noise.  Stanford returns a pair of ten-game winners on the mound from a year ago in Tim Cunningham (10-3, 4.26) and John Hudgins (10-1, 4.71) along with key reliever Ryan McCally (4-3, 3.53, 7 saves) who may move into the #3 spot in the starting rotation.  Their freshman class was also rated #3 in the country by Baseball America, the highest among all Pac-10 schools.

Bottom Line : The hitting depth on this team may be the best in the country, the questions lie was the pitching staff.  Hudgins and Cunningham should both have big years at the top of the staff, but others need to emerge for this team to make another run to the CWS.
 

2.    USC Trojans (37-24, 17-7, 1st)     Super Regionals (lost to Stanford 2-0)

The Trojans won their second consecutive Pac-10 championship last season finishing one game ahead of the Cardinal for the title only to see Stanford sweep them 2-0 in the Super Regionals.  While for Stanford, hitting depth appears to be their strength, it's pitching depth that should lead the Trojans.  Anthony Reyes (4-2, 3.44) returns for his fourth season in the USC starting rotation, his second season as the #1 starter.  After that, Head Coach Mike Gillespie has plenty of options to fill out the rest of his rotation.  Matt Chico (6-4, 5.45) and Brett Bannister (8-3, 3.56) saw significant action as both starters and relievers last year as freshmen while Cory Campos was solid all year as a closer (6-3, 3.84, 6 saves).  A couple of pitchers that saw little or no action in 2002 because of injuries, Fraser Dizard (3-3, 5.44, 7 saves in '01) and Brian Bannister (4-4, 2.80, 5 saves in '01), should also see plenty of time on the hill if they're healthy.  At the plate, DH/3B Joey Metropoulos (.352-13-65) is coming off an outstanding freshman year and will be looked upon to lead an offense that has to deal with losses of Alberto Concepcion, Bill Peavey, and Brian Barre who combined for 38 of USC's 71 homers from a year ago.  Other returning offensive starters for the Trojans include SS Michael Moon (.336-8-60), 2B Anthony Lunetta (.271-1-24), OF Travis McAndrews (.324-3-28), OF David Gordon (.326-1-22), and IF Jon Brewster (.277-1-8).  Freshman catcher Jeff Clement could also make an immediate big impact for USC.

Bottom Line : The losses of Pac-10 Player of the Year Concepcion and slugging first baseman Bill Peavey will hurt and SC needs others besides Metropoulos to step-up and become big run producers.  Should still be another big year for the Trojans.
 

3.    Arizona State Sun Devils (37-21, 15-9, T3rd)     Sub Regionals (lost in championship game)

Head Coach Pat Murphy has seen his Sun Devils fall from the nation's elite in the past few years but has a chance to return to national prominence with this year's team.  On the mound, Murphy will feel the loss of ace pitcher Mike Esposito (9-6, 3.72) but he returns his other two starting pitchers and all key relievers.  Robbie McClellan (7-6, 4.73) and Jered Liebeck (2-1, 5.20) are the returning starting pitchers while the Sun Devils may possess the top closer in the league in Ryan Schroyer (4-1, 2.37, 8 saves).  Meanwhile, the #1 through #6 hitters in last year's batting order return led by C/1B Jeremy West (.356-13-71) and OF Andre Ethier (.363-4-50).  Other key returning hitters include SS Dustin Pedroia (.347-1-45) who played for the US National Team last summer, CF Steve Garrabrants (.337-2-33), and OF Rod Allen (.278-6-50).  ASU also has the #6 freshman class according to Baseball America.

Bottom Line : Not a whole lot of questions on this team with basically everyone back except their #1 starter from a year ago, so if the Sun Devils can get some consistent pitching from the top of their staff, it should be a very good (and possibly great) year down in Tempe.
 

4.    California Golden Bears (29-27, 11-13, 5th)

The Bears had high expectations in 2002 after making the NCAA Tournament the previous year but could never get it going and missed out on the postseason.  Expectations are high once again in Berkeley as they boast leading candidates for Pac-10 Player of the Year and Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year.  1B Conor Jackson (.382-16-61) had an outstanding sophomore campaign last season and will lead a Bears offense that returns seven starting position players.  The two that don't return were big parts of the offense in catcher John Baker (.383) and 2B Carson White (.339) but look for 3B David Nicholson (.305-6-23), SS Jeff Dragicevich (.290-3-22), and OF Justin Nelson (.248-8-22) to step-up in 2003.  On the mound, Matt Brown (5-3, 3.70) anchors a pitching staff that will have to replace #1 starter Trevor Hutchinson (7-5, 3.38).  Brown, who split time as Cal's closer and #2 starter last season, will step into that top spot this year and after his dominating summer in the Cape Cod League he has become a possible first-round draft pick this June.

Bottom Line : Jackson and the offense should be fine despite the losses of Baker and White, the question is who will Coach David Esquer plug into the #2 and #3 spots in the starting rotation.  If whoever fills those spots pitches well this season, the Bears should be tourney bound.
 

5.    Washington Huskies (33-27-1, 15-9, T3rd)     Sub Regionals (lost in championship game)

The Huskies will be looking to make a repeat trip to the NCAA Tournament this year after finishing one game away from the Super-Regionals in 2002.  Washington's top three home run hitters from a year ago in OF Tyler Davidson (.339-15-51), OF Jay Garthwaite (.320-16-64), and 3B Michael Done (.277-11-33) are gone but the other six starters all return.  Among the returnees are SS Tila Reynolds (.347-2-34), 1B Kyle Larsen (.342-5-37), and C Aaron Hathaway (.303-4-30).  On the mound, the Huskies will have to fill the shoes of graduated #1 starter Shawn Kohn (11-5, 3.22) who would have been Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year last season had it not been for Jeremy Guthrie.  The #2 and #3 starters return in Sean White (7-2, 4.28) and Clay Johnson (3-2, 6.18) along with the majority of key relievers.

Bottom Line : The Huskies lost three very big hitters and need people to step-up and emerge as run producers if they are return to postseason play.
 

6.    Arizona Wildcats (31-24, 9-15, T7th)

Lots of new faces in Tucson this season as 27 of their 40 players on the fall roster are newcomers to the baseball program, but some key players return for Arizona that could lead them to a successful season.  The top two starting pitchers are back in Sean Rierson (7-5, 4.69) and Joe Little (6-6, 5.38) along with the majority of the bullpen.  At the plate, five starters return led by 3B John Hardy (.328-5-38), 1B Pat Reilly (.317-2-25), and 2B Moises Duran (.272-9-42).  SS Brad Hassey (.315-9-46) is a key starter that won't be back in 2003.

Bottom Line : The Wildcats do have their top two starting pitchers back but need much more firepower from the offense if they are to ascend into the top half of the conference and reach the NCAA Tournament.
 

7.    Oregon State Beavers (31-23, 10-14, 6th)

The Beavers flirted with postseason play last season before fading down the stretch and will have lots of work to do in 2003.  Three key starters on the infield are gone including star third baseman Brian Barden (.349-9-50) and solid shortstop Will Hudson (.313-2-24).  But five starting position players do return led by OF Aaron Mathews (.338-2-26), 1B Andy Jarvis (.335-11-44), and OF Seth Pietsch (.307-8-34).  On the mound, the top two starters are back although both hurlers had ERA's well above five last year in Ben Rowe (7-5, 5.71) and Stephen Copeland (5-3, 5.49).  The bullpen will be a strength of this year's squad with their top four relievers who combined for 14 saves returning.

Bottom Line : Nothing really jumps out at you on this OSU team especially with Barden gone to pro ball.  Rowe and Copeland need to have huge years at the top of the staff if this team is to make any kind of noise this year.
 

8.    UCLA Bruins (26-35, 9-15, T7th)

It was another tough year down south for Gary Adams and Co. as the Bruins struggled to a 9-15 conference record and things don't look to be getting any better this season.  Five key starting position players are gone including leading hitter Ben Francisco (.368) and leading home run hitter Adam Berry (18).  Looking on the bright side though, UCLA may have the top player in the conference on their squad in 1B/LHP Wes Whisler.  As a freshman last year, Whisler hit .328 with 18 homers while compiling a 5-2 record with a 4.06 ERA as a member of the Bruin starting rotation.  To cap it off, Whisler had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League and is certainly one of the preseason favorites for Pac-10 Player of the Year.  On the mound, UCLA returns the other two pitchers with significant starting experience in Mike Kunes (7-4, 4.55) and Chris Cordeiro (2-7, 5.00) along with all key relievers.  Of course, these are pitchers that combined for a 5.76 team ERA last season.

Bottom Line : It's basically a one-man show down in Westwood this season with Whisler and then everyone else.  Unfortunately, baseball is the type of game where you need more than one quality player to win a lot of games and that's why UCLA will struggle in 2003.
 

9.    Washington State Cougars (21-33, 6-18, 9th)

A lot of players return to Washington State from last year's team, but unless these guys show drastic improvement, it could be another long year up in Pullman.  All four hurlers that saw time in the starting rotation return led by Eddie Bonine (8-8, 6.36) but this was a staff that had an ERA well above seven.  At the plate, gone are big hitters 2B Bookie Gates (.362-2-38) and OF Evan Hecker (.342-1-25), but six other starters do return led by OF Justin Hart (.370-2-28).  WSU does possess one of the better left sides of the infield in the conference in 3B Jeff LaRue (.367-10-40) and SS Derek Bruce (.260-11-35).

Bottom Line : WSU should be a better team this year, but the Pac-10 as a whole is better this season, so don't look for the Cougars to make much noise.
 

Pac-10 Preseason All-Conference Team :
C - Ryan Garko (Stanford), .314-14-55
1B - Conor Jackson (California), .382-16-61
2B - Moises Duran (Arizona), .272-9-42
3B - Jeff LaRue (Washington State), .367-10-40
SS - Dustin Pedroia (Arizona State), .347-1-45
OF - Andre Ethier (Arizona State), .363-4-50
OF - Sam Fuld (Stanford), .375-8-47
OF - Carlos Quentin (Stanford), .303-12-54
UT - Wes Whisler (UCLA), .328-18-46 ; 5-2, 4.06
DH - Joey Metropoulos (USC), .352-13-65

SP - Matt Brown (California), 5-3, 3.70
SP - Tim Cunningham (Stanford), 10-3, 4.26
SP - John Hudgins (Stanford), 10-1, 4.71
SP - Anthony Reyes (USC), 4-2, 3.44
SP - Sean White (Washington), 7-2, 4.28
RP - Jared Sanders (Oregon State), 1-5, 3.23, 9 Sv.
RP - Ryan Schroyer (Arizona State), 4-1, 2.37, 8 Sv.
 

Conference Overview :
Overall, the Pac-10 appears to be a stronger conference this season when compared to last season.  At the top, its been Stanford and USC battling it out for the top spot the past two seasons and I see no reason why that won't continue this year although I think you can now throw ASU into the mix.  The time is now for the Sun Devils to make a move with all of their returning talent as this is a team that I feel can certainly reach the Super-Regionals with a shot at Omaha if their pitching staff continues to develop.  Cal, Washington, and Arizona look to be the middle tier teams this season with Cal at the top of that list as evident by my predictions above.  Cal is my pick right now as the fourth Pac-10 team into the tournament although if the conference is as strong as I think it will be this season, it's not out of the question for a 5th team to be playing come June.  Oregon State, UCLA, and Washington State don't look to have enough to challenge the top teams, but top-to-bottom this is still a very strong conference with no real pushovers.
 
 

PRESEASON "SUPER SIXTEEN" POLL

1.    Texas (57-15, National Champions)
            * After winning the title in 2002, the Longhorns are back in 2003 with what looks to be another title contender.  Leading the way are a couple of pitchers in ace starter Justin Simmons (16-1, 2.52) and dominating closer Huston Street (0.96, 14 saves).  Texas does lose their other three starting pitchers but Head Coach Augie Garrido shouldn't have a problem filling the holes with the outstanding pitching depth that he possesses.  At the plate, leading home run hitter Jeff Ontiveros (20 HR) is gone but the top four hitters for average from last year's squad return led by OF Dustin Majewski (.401-10-50), 2B Tim Moss (.371-1-39, 40 SB), and OF J.D. Reininger (.320-13-51).

2.    Florida State (60-14, Super Regionals)
            * The Seminoles rolled through the regular season last year piling up the most wins in the country only to see Notre Dame come in to Tallahassee and shock the college baseball world with an upset series win in the Super Regionals.  All kinds of talent returns from that FSU team led by 2002 National Freshman of the Year SS Stephen Drew (.402-16-54).  Leading home run hitter Ryan Barthelemy (17 HR) has graduated but five starters (including Drew) do return.  And in addition to having the top shortstop in the country on their team, FSU may also have the top catcher in the game in Tony Richie (.353-13-75).  On the hill, the top two weekend starters are back in Matt Lynch (13-2, 3.59) and Marc LaMacchia (11-2, 3.38) along with a stellar bullpen.

3.    Georgia Tech (52-15, 5th place College World Series)
               * The Yellow Jackets are scary talented this year and it starts with the starting pitching rotation.  Ace hurler Kyle Bakker (13-2, 3.14) is back along with four other pitchers (with records of 10-7, 11-1, 8-2, and 5-2) that all started last season.  In addition all four relievers that saw significant action out of the bullpen return.  They say pitching wins championships and it's no wonder that the top three teams in my poll probably have the most pitching depth in the country.  At the plate, five starters return led by OF Jeremy Slayden (.348-18-66) and 2B Eric Patterson (.346-3-40).  Their freshman class was also rated #1 in the country by multiple publications.

4.    Rice (52-14, 7th place College World Series)
                * Pitching carried the Owls to the CWS last season and that should be the case in 2003 as well.  Three of their four starting pitchers return in Philip Humber (11-1, 2.77), Steven Herce (13-3, 2.79), and Jeff Niemann (5-1, 3.11) along with their two top relievers that combined for 11 saves last season.  Outstanding second baseman Eric Arnold is gone but six starting position players do return led by All-American first baseman Vincent Sinisi (.428-11-80).  Rice should roll through a weak WAC Conference this season.

5.    Wake Forest (47-13-1, Sub Regionals)
                * After a great regular season in 2002 that saw Wake garner one of the eight National Seeds only to see them slip-up in the regionals, the Demon Deacons appear to have a team that can get over that hump and reach the CWS in 2003.  Eight starting position players return on what should be one of the top hitting teams in the country.  Offensively, Wake is led by OF Adam Bourassa (.412-2-41, 26 SB), OF Ryan Johnson (.366-13-77), and 3B Jamie D'Antona (.336-20-83).  All-American closer Dave Bush (1.64, 13 saves) has moved on to professional baseball, but everyone else on the pitching staff returns including ace starter Kyle Sleeth (14-0, 2.97).

6.    Stanford (47-18, 3rd place College World Series)
                * see above

7.    Houston (48-17, Super Regionals)
                * The Cougars took Texas to the limit last season in the Super Regionals and have plenty of players returning in 2003 to make another deep postseason run.  For Houston, it all starts with Brad Sullivan (13-1, 1.82) who may be the top starting pitcher in the country.  Two other starting pitchers are also back for the Cougars but they will have to do without outstanding two-way player Jesse Crain (.310-11-47, 10 saves).  Seven other starting position players do return though led by 1B/OF Brett Cooley (.336-18-55) and OF Michael Bourn (.328-1-23, 32 SB).

8.    USC (37-24, Super Regionals)
                * see above

9.    South Carolina (57-18, 2nd place College World Series)
                * The Gamecocks lost a lot of vital players from last year's national runner-up team but some key players still remain in Columbia which should still translate to a very good season.  In terms of what they lost, five starting position players are gone including first-round pick SS Drew Meyer and 1B Yaron Peters (29 HR) but among the returnees include one of the top catchers in the game in Landon Powell (.292-12-53) and quality infielder Brian Buscher (.323-14-64).  On the pitching side, ace starter Gary Bell (10-3) and ace closer Blake Taylor (21 saves) are gone but two pitchers with starting experience in Steven Bondurant (7-4, 4.30) and David Marchbanks (9-4, 4.98) are back.

10.    Cal State Fullerton (37-22, Sub Regionals)
                * The Titans look to return to among the nation's elite this season with the majority of players returning from a team that was within one run of upsetting Stanford in the opening game of the Regionals last year.  Two of their three starting pitchers are back led by ace hurler Wes Littleton (9-4, 2.40).  Also returning is one of the top closers in the game in Chad Cordero (2.91, 12 saves).  At the plate, six starters return led by OF Shane Costa (.365-4-40), IF Richie Burgos (.346-3-35), and DH David Fischer (.368-5-27).  Outstanding freshman class as well that was rated #2 in the country by Baseball America.

11.    Notre Dame (50-18, 5th place College World Series)
                * Only one of the three "Big Three" hitters return for the Irish this season.  Gone are All-American outfielders Steve Stanley (.439) and Brian Stavisky (.394), but returning is 2B Steve Sollmann (.362-2-47).  Only three other starting position players return from last year's CWS squad.  The strength of this team should be pitching as all four starting pitchers return led by Grant Johnson (9-5, 3.46) along with ace closer J.P. Gagne (3.14, 6 saves).

12.    Clemson (54-17, 3rd place College World Series)
                * Will not be the same Tiger team in 2003 with only one of three players that formed college baseball's version of "Murderers Row" returning.  Consensus Player of the Year Khalil Greene (.470-27-91) and Jeff Baker (.325-25-87) have moved on, but 1B Michael Johnson (.384-25-81) returns and he should have a huge year.  Five other starting position players do return for Clemson but these guys, who were basically role players last year, will need to step-up this season.  The top three starting pitchers are gone with only one pitcher with starting experience returning.

13.    Arizona State (37-21, Sub Regionals)
                * see above

14.    Alabama (51-15, Sub Regionals)
                * Like Wake Forest, Alabama rolled through the regular season picking up a national seed in the process only to be upset in the sub regionals.  Five starting position players are back led by IF Beau Hearod (.335-12-54) and OF Travis Garner (.323-6-31).  The Tide though will feel the loss of three key players in Peter Stonard (.411), Jeremy Brown (.320-11-64), and Scott McClanahan (14 HR).  Ace pitcher Lance Cormier (11-3, 3.28) is gone but quality pitcher Jeffrey Norris (6-1, 3.34) and closer Brian Reed (1.75, 9 saves) do return.

15.    Richmond (53-13, Super Regionals)
                * The Spiders look to return to the Super Regionals and possibly beyond this season behind the arm of one of the top pitchers in the game in Tim Stauffer (15-3, 1.54).  Stauffer plus #2 starter Mike McGirr (12-1, 4.06) should be a lethal 1-2 punch in the starting rotation.  Seven starting position players also return led by 1B/OF Vito Chiaravalloti (.357-23-86) and IF David Reaver (.391-4-54).

16.    LSU (44-22, Super Regionals)
                * The Tigers were in line to have one of the top starting rotations in the country until ace pitcher Lane Mestepey (11-5, 2.59) went down with a season-ending injury but #2 and #3 starters Bo Pettit (9-7, 3.35) and Brian Wilson (10-5, 3.54) are still very solid and should have good years.  At the plate, only three starters return with OF J.C. Holt (.349-3-23) and IF Aaron Hill (.329-9-47) leading the way.
 

Preseason All-American Team :
C - Tony Richie (Florida State), .353-13-75
1B - Michael Johnson (Clemson), .384-25-81
2B - Rickie Weeks (Southern), .495-20-96
3B - Jamie D'Antona (Wake Forest), .336-20-83
SS - Stephen Drew (Florida State), .402-16-54
OF - Adam Bourassa (Wake Forest), .412-2-41
OF - Sam Fuld (Stanford), .375-8-47
OF - Dustin Majewski (Texas), .401-10-50
UT - Wes Whisler (UCLA), .328-18-46 ; 5-2, 4.06

SP - Kyle Bakker (Georgia Tech), 13-2, 3.14
SP - Justin Simmons (Texas), 16-1, 2.52
SP - Kyle Sleeth (Wake Forest), 14-0, 2.97
SP - Tim Stauffer (Richmond), 15-3, 1.54
SP - Brad Sullivan (Houston), 13-1, 1.82
RP - Chad Cordero (Cal State Fullerton), 4-3, 2.91, 12 Sv.
RP - Huston Street (Texas), 4-1, 0.96, 14 Sv.
 

National Overview :
Once again, it appears the ACC Conference will be very top-heavy this season and could very well get three teams to Omaha this season in Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest.  The Pac-10 should also be very strong this season with CWS contenders Stanford and USC and a very good Arizona State team.  The SEC and Big 12 probably won't be as good this season.  South Carolina, Alabama, LSU, and Florida (the top four teams in the SEC last season) all lost lots of key players while Texas should run away in the Big 12 this year.  The states of California and Texas should represent themselves well in Omaha this year.  Texas, Rice, and Houston are all top ten teams, in my opinion.  While out west, Stanford, USC, and Cal State Fullerton are all primed for big year's.

Note :
The "Super Sixteen" poll will continue to be updated throughout the season every Monday in my "College Baseball Roundup."


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