Sunday, February 10, 2013

Best of the Rest in the West: Pre-Season

My number one goal in maintaining this blog is pretty much just to entertain myself and, being a transplanted Californian living on the east coast, give me an excuse to keep tabs on the west coast teams. Plus, having done some work on Bleacher Report before, I have this strange instinct to turn every post into some sort of inane ranking. So that said, presenting the “Best of the Rest in the West” top ten.

Each week, the Best/Rest/West rankings will cover the best of the west coast teams (Big West/Great West/Mountain West/Pac-12/WAC/West Coast/Independents) that failed the crack the top 25 in any of the four major college baseball polls (Baseball America/Coach’s Poll/Collegiate Baseball/NCBWA). If you can think of a way to make this ranking more convoluted, please let me know.

Here’s our pre-season top ten teams who failed to crack the top 25.

1. UC Irvine
The Anteaters made the pre-season rankings for Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA, but failed to register in the top 25. They have one of the top pitching staffs in the nation, with possibly the Big West conference’s top two starting pitchers, Andrew Thurman (2.66 ERA in ’12) and Matt Whitehouse (2.12 ERA in ’11). Their lineup has seen significant turnover but should be solid featuring JuCo star OF Dominique Taylor, fifth-year senior catcher Ronnie Shaeffer, and a strong group of sophomores.

2. Gonzaga
The Zags return a well-balanced club, lead by a pre-season All-American (on both sides of the ball) in Marco Gonzales (1.55 ERA, .372 OBP). Throw in senior southpaw Tyler Olsen (2.77), and a strong freshman class, and the Bulldogs have the makings of a very good weekend rotation. Gonzales will also get plenty of support from the rest of the lineup and the bullpen with senior and fellow two-way threat, Billy Moon helping lead the way.

3. New Mexico State
Playing in the hitter’s haven that is the state of New Mexico and being lead by revered hitting coach Gary Ward, the Aggies’ offense once again lead the WAC in nearly every major statistic in 2012. Even without two of their top three hitters from a year ago the NMSU bats shouldn’t skip a beat and will be further aided by a pitching staff that returns virtually its entire starting rotation.

4. California
Though they aren’t in the top tier of Pac-12 teams, the Golden Bears have a solid core of returning players lead by pre-season All-American catcher Andrew Knapp (16 doubles, 5 homers). Last year’s ace Matt Flemer is gone, but key members of the Omaha-bound 2011 staff, Justin Jones (4.57) and Kyle Porter (5.75), will anchor a fairly experienced team on the mound.

5. Dallas Baptist
Possibly the only season we’ll see them in these rankings, the DBU Patriots open their first and last year in the WAC as pre-season favorites (this ranking notwithstanding). Though they lost many key hitters, Dallas Baptist should boast another solid lineup in 2013 lead by fifth-year senior OF Boomer Collins (.374/.466/.647 in 60 games). The pitching, lead by workhorse reliever RHP Michael Smith (3.51 ERA, 66.2 innings in 30 appearances), should also be strong again after returning the bulk of their bullpen and bringing in a nice crop of freshmen though they need to replace Friday starter Taylor Massey.

6. Cal Poly
In my book, Poly should’ve been a regional team last year. They enter 2013 short one of the best hitters in the nation (Mitch Haniger), plus a good shortstop (Mike Miller) and starting pitcher (Kyle Anderson) but could actually get better after returning a solid roster from top to bottom. Infielder Jimmy Allen (.345/.372/.507) should carry the torch Haniger left behind as one of the Big West’s top hitters, while Joey Wagman (2.33 ERA) leads a veteran pitching staff.

7. Pepperdine
The Waves will have a tough time defending their title in a strong West Coast Conference, but Corey Miller (3.38), Matt Maurer (3.56), and Scott Frazier (3.93) will give them a good rotation to lead the way. They’ll need the help on the pitching side after losing a large portion of last season’s lineup. Even the top returning position player, Aaron Brown (4.64 ERA, .328 OBP), is also a pitcher. Pepperdine also returns a veteran bullpen.

8. Nevada
Though a tough New Mexico team stands in their way, the Wolfpack enter 2013 with a viable chance to win back-to-back conference crowns across two different leagues; opening up its Mountain West tenure with largely the same squad that shared last year’s WAC title. Leading the way will be RHPs Braden Shipley (2.20 ERA), Tom Jameson (2.55), and OF Brooks Klein (.335/.409/.591).

9. Cal State Bakersfield
The RoadRunners enter their first season in the WAC boasting perhaps their best pitching staff in the program’s young history. The staff will be lead by red shirt senior southpaw Jonathan Montoya, who picked up the school’s very first victory back in February 2009. Montoya will be joined by two additional lefties that each posted ERAs of 3.2 or better a year ago, Jeff McKenzie (2.67) and Taylor Aikenhead (3.20). CSUB also returns the bulk of their lineup, though the ’12 squad was somewhat light-hitting.

10. Washington State
The Cougars have been unable to make much noise in the Pac-12 in recent years despite some solid teams. A more mature squad, which features a pitching staff that returns it’s top five innings earners including Joe Pistorese (2.44 ERA), may be able to better handle the rigors of the Pac-12 schedule. WSU lost some of its top hitters from last year but have several good underclassmen returning and are bringing in a solid group of freshman position players.

Up Next: We finally shift to "in-season" mode. Stay turned for the very first Series Preview of 2013.