West Coast Conference Preview
SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
|2017 Top 10 Prospects|
|1. Riley Adams, c, San Diego|
|2. Maverik Buffo, rhp, Brigham Young|
|3. Colton Shaver, 1b, Brigham Young|
|4. Jonathan Teaney, rhp, San Diego|
|5. Connor Williams, rhp, Brigham Young|
|6. Jacob Steffens, rhp, Santa Clara|
|7. Jeff Bohling, 3b, Gonzaga|
|8. Eli Morgan, rhp, Gonzaga|
|9. Kevin Baker, rhp, Portland|
|10. Zach Kirtley, 2b, Saint Mary’s|
Team to Beat: Brigham Young. For the first time in WCC history, there was a three-way tie for the conference crown in 2016. Unfortunately for the Cougars—who tied with Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s with an 18-9 conference record—BYU was on the outside looking in for an NCAA regional, while both the Zags and the Gaels earned bids. Looking for its first regional appearance since 2002, BYU should be in the thick of the race yet again. The Cougars return 22 lettermen with the bulk of their starting lineup intact. They’ll be led offensively by powerful junior first baseman Colton Shaver (.335/.452/.582, 10 home runs), senior catcher Bronson Larsen (.301/.405/.514, eight homers) and senior DH Tanner Chauncey (.348/.373/.427). The return of talented outfielder Kyle Dean, who played in just 16 games as a freshman last year due to injury, adds a dynamic talent to the mix, as well. While the Cougars will miss electric Friday starter Michael Rucker, they’ll still have a veteran presence at the top of the rotation in the form of Maverik Buffo (6-2, 3.63), while redshirt senior Brady Corless and sophomore lefthander Bo Burrup project to start behind him. Junior righthander Connor Williams could be BYU’s wildcard, as he’s touched as high as 97 mph but has lacked consistency.
Other Projected Regional Team: Gonzaga. The Zags earned a share of the conference title last season and went to their second regional (first since 2009) as a member of the WCC. Gonzaga returns six members of its starting lineup, including reigning WCC player of the year Jeff Bohling (.298/.360/.522, eight homers), a redshirt senior third baseman; and junior center fielder Tyler Frost (.309/.377/.483, seven homers). The additions of junior college transfers Jake Vieth, a powerful first baseman, and Gunnar Schubert, a smooth-fielding shortstop, round out a veteran-heavy lineup. On the mound, Gonzaga will have to replace ace Brandon Bailey, a sixth-round pick last year. To do so, they will turn to steady junior righthander Eli Morgan (10-3, 3.73) and also have an intriguing freshman in righthander Casey Legumina, who can touch 93 mph and mixes in a slider and changeup.
Player of the Year: Riley Adams, c, San Diego. Coming off a .327/.443/.512, six-homer season and a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, Adams was voted by scouting directors as a first-team Preseason All-American. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Adams still needs some defensive polish, but he has a plus throwing arm, and he shows above-average power at the plate, especially to his pull side.
Pitcher of the Year: Eli Morgan, rhp, Gonzaga. Morgan will anchor Gonzaga’s rotation after going 10-3, 3.73 in 111 innings for a regional team a year ago. Morgan was especially effective in conference play, going 8-0, 1.14. Featuring a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits 88-90 mph and touches 93 mph, Morgan will be a formidable foe on Friday nights.
Freshman of the Year: Miles Sandum, lhp, San Diego. No. 348 on the BA 500, Sandum likely would have been a high draft pick if not for an outfield collision last spring that left him with a torn bowel. Sandum recovered in time to pitch over the summer in the California Collegiate League, and barring any setbacks, he has the poise, command and low-90s fastball to start on the weekend for the Toreros.
Notable Storylines: Led by power 6-foot-7 outfielder Andre Nnebe (No. 343 on the BA 500), Santa Clara’s recruiting class is among the best in the conference. The Broncos’ also added a significant recruit could be on the coaching staff. Head coach Dan O’Brien hired former Baylor head coach Steve Smith as an assistant coach at the end of January. Smith coached Baylor for 21 years, leading the Bears to 13 regionals, four super regionals and one College World Series experience. Smith adds experience to the staff as the Broncos look to build on their 23-29 2016 campaign . . . Pepperdine, whose 12-year head coach Steve Rodriguez replaced Smith at Baylor last season, will look to improve on its 29-24 first season under Rick Hirtensteiner. The Waves will miss All-American righthander A.J. Puckett (9-3, 1.27), but return 26 lettermen and should be deeper overall. Junior lefthander Ryan Wilson (2-0, 0.63) slides into the Friday role, featuring a three-pitch mix and a fastball that sits comfortably in the upper 80s . . . Coming off its first-ever regional appearance and a WCC conference tournament title, Saint Mary’s will have to replace All-American righthander Corbin Burnes and two-way veteran Anthony Gonsolin. Second baseman Zach Kirtley (.323/.428/.504, seven homers) should help carry that load.
Tournament: Four teams, May 25-27, Banner Island Ballpark, Stockton, Calif.