Posted on February 18, 2020
5. Oregon State
11. Washington State
2. Arizona State
4. Oregon State
11. Washington State
Before angrily tweeting about them being too similar, understand that any deviation from what the coaches think is somewhat of a stupid move. Sure, I’ve done my homework on these teams.
But the coaches study their opponents for countless hours, have conversations and relationships with opposing coaches, and recruit some of the same players while they are on the way up. No fan or writer will possibly have enough time to learn more about each team than the coaches.
So, with that in mind, let me explain why my rankings are better than theirs.
UCLA and Arizona State are clearly the two best teams on paper entering the 2020 season. ASU has an absolutely loaded offense with some pitchers returning from a year ago. UCLA has the best pitching staff in the conference and has some weapons on offense.
No one wants to pitch to ASU and no one wants to hit off of UCLA. The main reason I give the edge to UCLA is because pitching wins championships in baseball. Elite arms can shut down even the best offenses. In contrast, elite offenses can go into slumps pretty quickly.
Baseball is a game of failure.
Even more interesting is the way the schedule breaks down for these two teams. ASU has to play at Oregon State, at Stanford, at Arizona and at UCLA. That is an absolutely brutal schedule. UCLA gets both Stanford and ASU at home. The luck of the schedule could play a factor on who ultimately comes out on top.
After UCLA and ASU, the next three teams—Arizona, Oregon State, and Stanford—are all fairly interchangeable.
Like the coaches, I give the nod to the Cardinal and this, in my mind, is again due to a really good pitching staff. I have Oregon State over Arizona and the coaches have the opposite. That’s a discussion worth spending some time on.
Arizona has struggled on the mound in recent years. They attempted to rectify that situation by bringing in new pitching coach Nate Yeskie. Where did he come from? Oregon State.
When the Beavers found out that Pat Casey was not coming back, they opened up the head coaching position to find their new guy. Former Oregon State players and many fans in Corvallis lobbied for Yeskie to be that guy. Ultimately, the Beavers went with former catcher Mitch Canham. Yeskie initially announced that he would stay on as pitching coach, but soon after left for the same position at Arizona.
While Yeskie moving from Oregon State to Arizona gives the Wildcats a bit of an edge, Yeskie’s mark on the Oregon State program will not be gone. Much of the Beaver pitching staff spent multiple years under Yeskie and he has already developed some of the Beaver pitchers into really effective guys.
I think the time to develop gives Oregon State the slight edge, but that series is going to be a must-watch for Pac-12 fans.
California and USC ended tied in the coaches poll and I do not see a whole lot of separation between the two. Cal has a good amount of talent, but it has not really shown itself yet.
USC baseball has been down in recent years, but a new coach and a new direction for the program could give them a chance to be competitive.
If any team were to make a big jump and finish well above where they are projected, I would guess it would be one of these two teams.
Washington is a team that I have less confidence in than the coaches. I think that there is a bit of a talent gap between this year’s Washington club and California and USC. Washington could have four or five freshman in their starting lineup on a consistent basis. While their pitching staff has some experience, it can be hard to win close games if producing runs is an issue.
Oregon is another school that just does not have the experience or the names to win a lot of Pac-12 games. Their lineup will not put fear into opposing teams. They do have one pitcher in Kenyon Yovan who could steal some wins, but he was really inconsistent and did not live up to his hype a year ago. They have the ability to win a game in a series against most teams, but actually winning series may be difficult for the Ducks.
Washington State and Utah bring up the rear. Neither team has an identity and neither team has any players that have proven they are elite Pac-12 baseball players.
Utah gets the edge because they have a number of position players with a lot of experience. None have really emerged as must-start players, but at least they have seen what it is like to compete in the conference. I do not see a whole lot of conference wins for either team.
From a big-picture standpoint, there are realistically five teams that have a shot at winning the Pac-12 conference. The most likely candidates are UCLA or ASU, but, like other Pac-12 sports, there is a tendency to beat each other up throughout the season. The result could be any of the top five teams winning a series late in the year to take home the title.
After the top five, the next four teams have a chance to be competitive, but the likelihood that any battle for the championship is far-fetched. There is a pretty serious talent gap between the top five and these next four, but that gap could be eliminated in the next year or two. The remaining two teams have a long ways to go.
Overall the conference is good but not great.
In previous seasons, we have seen three Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 5 nationally. I do not expect to see that happen at all. The Pac-12 may struggle, for a second year in a row, to get a team to Omaha. However, the number of teams that have a realistic shot to win the conference and make the post season is a bit higher than normal.
It should make for a fun year for fans of Pac-12 baseball.
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