Posted on February 17, 2020
In this fifth installment of our Pac-12 team preseason baseball previews, I examine the 2020 prospects of the two Washington schools, the Huskies and the Cougars. If you missed any of the first four, you’ll find links to them at the end of this column.
2019 Record: 28-24 (12-17 Pac-12)
Washington baseball made a historic jump in 2018 when it reached the College World Series for the first time in program history. Despite the success in 2018, last year was filled with disappointment and unmet expectations. Coming into the 2020 season, the Huskies will need to rely on an experienced pitching staff and a young offense if they expect to make some noise in the Conference.
Fans of Washington can expect to see some older and familiar names on the mound each game. The lineup will be a different story. The Huskies could play up to five freshmen on any given day. This could augur good things for the future of the program, but it could also lead to some difficulty in scoring runs this season.
Although the offense must rely on newcomers, there are some familiar faces within the Washington batting lineup. No player is more important to the success of this season than outfielder Braiden Ward, a proven commodity in Pac-12 play. Ward hit .321 in 2019 and added 26 stolen bases. He has added some power in the offseason, which could make him an even bigger threat with the bat.
In addition to Ward, Christian Jones and Ramon Bramasco bring significant experience and could have a major impact on this team. Jones, a utility guy who did not play last season due to a hand injury, should be fully healthy coming into 2020. Bramasco, one of two Huskies that started every game in 2019, will look to build on his .284 batting average. Bramasco hits from both sides of the plate, giving him an advantage in many pitching matchups.
Although the three returners will provide some much needed leadership and experience, Washington will be dominated by freshman. There are four names to be aware of in particular: Dalton Chandler, Davis Delorefice, Christian Dicochea, and Will Simpson. Chandler should get an opportunity to start at second base. Delorefice is a two-way player, but his biggest impact could be on offense, where he has the potential to carve out a spot in the lineup as the 3-hole hitter.
Dicochea is another young player that adds a lot of offensive potential. Simpson might be the most-hyped of the young guys coming in. An 18th-round MLB draft pick out of high school, Simpson figures to start at third, and should be an outstanding college player.
As with all young teams, the Huskies will be plagued by uncertainty at times, but should be able to rely on the more experienced guys to bring the newcomers up to speed. Once Washington’s young talent matures, it will form the basis of a dangerous offense. The question is not whether, but when, and the Dawgs hope it happens in 2020.
The Huskies have one of the more fluid defensive teams in the Conference, with guys that can play multiple positions on any given day. That makeup, combined with the team’s considerable youth of the team, could result in players playing a lot of different positions throughout the year. Despite the uncertainty, Washington fans can expect to see fast and athletic fielders. According to Husky coach Lindsay Meggs, seven guys are capable of running a sub-6.7 60-yard dash. That is elite team speed.
Probably the biggest defensive question mark will be in the catching position. Nick Kahle was one of the best in the Pac-12 a year ago, but has since moved to professional baseball. The likely starter will be Junior Michael Petrie, who is capable behind the plate and should add some defensive experience. However, his offense remains a big question-mark. There are two additional freshmen that could see some time at the position.
Unlike the Washington offense, the pitching staff brings some recognizable names, despite the loss of Josh Burgmann, a fifth-round draft pick in the 2019 MLB draft. David Rhodes is one of the returning starters, and there is every reason to believe he’ll be the Friday night guy in 2020. Rhodes has worked to improve his durability, and the coaching staff thinks they can do a better job of helping him be more consistent.
Joining Rhodes in the rotation will be Stevie Emanuels. Although Emanuels was not in the weekend rotation a year ago, he made more than 65 appearances on the mound in 2019, and figures to be a starter this season. His development merits watching.
Rounding out the rotation will likely be junior Jack Enger, a big-bodied pitcher who can occasionally touch the mid-90s. Enger threw 45 innings a year ago, and that number could increase considerably if he solidifies the back-end weekend role.
As far as the bullpen goes, the Huskies have some reliable arms; most notably, Jack DeCooman, a lefty who added some velocity in the off season. It’s possible DeCooman could slip into the weekend rotation, but bringing him out of the bullpen could be a bigger advantage, if Washington decides to keep him there.
The other pitcher to watch out of the pen is senior Leo Nierenberg, the most likely guy to close games for the Dawgs in 2020. Nierenberg has made 68 career appearances for the Huskies, and could prove to be one of the Conference’s best closers.
Overall, the Washington pitching staff is blessed with some promising experience, with the potential for some newcomers step up in key innings. But the bulk of the innings will be thrown by veteran pitchers, a massive help to such a young team on offense.
On paper, Washington doesn’t stack up to the 2018 team that reached Omaha. But with an abundance of quality arms, the Huskies should be able to compete with some of the better teams in the Conference, if they can scrape out enough runs.
Record: 11-42-1 (3-26-1 Pac-12)
Washington State hasn’t had a winning baseball season since finishing two games over .500 in 2015. But there’s a new coach in Pullman, and the Cougars are hoping Brian Green‘s success at New Mexico, a non-traditional baseball school, translates favorably to the Pac-12.
The 2020 season pencils out as another tough one for the Cougars, who lost significant production at the plate and on the mound. Wazzu doesn’t return any hitters who have hit over .300, and will not field a pitcher with a preseason ERA under 5.0. However, the cupboard is not completely bare, as the Cougs retain some key pieces they hope to build on for the future.
Offense is the big question mark for Washington State. The Cougars do not have any returners who were productive enough last year to emerge as conference leaders. They do have a few guys on the roster with some significant at-bats
The most notable returners for WSU are outfielder Collin Montez and first basemen Kyle Manzardo. Montez hit .286 in his 2019 campaign, and Manzardo hit .272 with 31 RBI. The duo figures to be mainstays in the lineup for the Cougs.
The most consistent hitter for Washington State during Fall Ball was Jack Smith, a junior infielder who hit .279 in 29 games a season ago. Smith is the most likely returner to take a big step forward in 2020.
Tacoma Community College transfer Justin Van De Brake could also make some noise for the Cougars. He was an ABCA All-America First Team selection a year ago after hitting .398 with eight home runs and 22 doubles. Obviously, the competition is going to be more consistent at the Pac-12 level, but if Van De Brake can produce anything close to those numbers, he will be a force in the conference.
The uncertainties that WSU faces in its lineup extend to the defense as well. Montez and Van De Brake should both be consistent pieces in the outfield. They will likely be joined by solid performers Kodie Kolden and Garrett Gouldsmith in the infield.
None of the likely starters are set in stone, however, as Green has made it known that no one has a safe job coming into 2020. Rather, he expects to play several guys at a variety of positions in the first three or four weeks, hoping to develop some consistency by week five or six, heading into Pac-12 play.
The Wazzu pitching staff features almost as much uncertainty as the lineup. However, the Cougars know they have at least two reliable arms that could be quality starters each weekend: Brandon White and A.J. Block.
White will get the nod on opening day for the Cougars. A 6-foot-8 righty who pitched 58 innings his freshman year. White logged an ERA of 6.52, and has the body to develop into a substantial threat on the mound.Block, a 6-foot-4 lefty with a career ERA of 5.90, was drafted in the 17th round by the Detroit Tigers last year, but chose to came back to Washington State to develop as a pitcher and get some wins under his belt.
Beyond those two starters, the makeup of the pitching staff is anyone’s guess. Green did not announce a third or fourth starter prior to opening weekend, but based on the order of White and Block, he will likely start another righty on Sunday.
Hayden Rosenkrantz and Zane Mills have some experience out of the bullpen, and it would not be a surprise to see one of them take the mound on Sunday.
Despite Wazzu’s dearth of successful returners, Green remains confident in his team’s ability to throw strikes. While the Cougars may not have the most dominate staff in the Conference, they should be able to make opposing teams earn their runs.
Washington State will be rebuilding in 2020, but it’s reasonable to expect a surge of energy and enthusiasm under a new head coach. Green knows how to build a program in a place not known for baseball, and if all goes well, the Cougars could find themselves battling for a spot near the top of the Conference in a few years.
Next up: Utah
—James Cleary Stories—
- MLB Announcement Changes Landscape of College Baseball
- Cleary: Making Sense of a Lost Baseball Season
- Cleary: 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Predictions
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Utah Utes
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Oregon & OSU
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: USC & UCLA
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Cal & Stanford
- 2020 Pac-12 Baseball Preview: Arizona & ASU
- Cleary: The Pac-12 is the SEC of Baseball
MLB Announcement Changes Landscape of College BaseballThe pro baseball league has dramatically reduced the 2020 draft from previous seasons - May 9, 2020
Cleary: Making Sense of a Lost Baseball SeasonWith extended eligibility, next season figures to be much different - April 9, 2020
Cleary: 2020 Pac-12 Baseball PredictionsYou can't beat the prognostications of the Pac-12 CoachesYou can't beat the prognostications of the Pac-12 Coaches Poll—or can you? Poll—or can you? - February 18, 2020