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UCLA Baseball: 2015 Preview- The Pac 11

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With Colorado not fielding a team, there are 11 contenders for the 2015 conference baseball pennant. And UCLA is the favorite to regain its spot atop the standings.

This is the closest Colorado will get to a conference title in baseball in this or any other season
This is the closest Colorado will get to a conference title in baseball in this or any other season
College Baseball Central

After an off-year in 2014, UCLA is favored to win the conference Baseball championship in 2015. It has been less than two years since the Bruins won it all in Omaha, and the Bruins are seen as a legitimate contender to return this season. We will have more about the Bruins tomorrow.

Today we turn to the rest of the conference. Here is the preseason coaches' poll, with UCLA on top.

Oregon is #2 in the preseason poll. There have been four preseason top 25 polls of note- Baseball America, Perfect Game, D1Baseball and the USA Today Coaches' Poll. Oregon is ranked in every poll, with an average mark of 18th. UCLA is ranked #7 on average in the four polls, which would equate to a Super Regional host- works for me. Last year, Oregon was sent to Vanderbilt's regional, and took the eventual national champions to a double elimination game on Vandy's field. Oregon had a 2-1 lead going to the bottom of the 8th, but couldn't hold the lead and lost 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th. This was clearly a quality Duck squad.

Five of the nine starting batters in the season finale return in 2015. The list includes CF Nick Catalato, 1B (switching from 3B) Michael Tolman, C Shaun Chase, and outfielders A.J. Balta and Steven Packard. Chase and Tolman were all-conference selections last season. Chase, who had a .283/.352/.634 line with 37 RBI's as a junior, is a member of the Golden Spikes initial watch list for the best amateur player in the country.

The pitching staff is headed by Cole Irvin, who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery, but was 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 2013. Irvin was an honorable mention all-conference selection in 2013. UCLA finishes up the regular season in Eugene, with a three game series May 22-24 (all games on Pac-12 network).

Next in line is Arizona State. The Sun Devils are also ranked in all four top 25 polls, with an average ranking of 21st. Arizona State had a very short postseason last year, losing two straight in the Cal Poly regional to Pepperdine and Sac State. The Sun Devils return six players who were in the starting lineup for last year's season finale. The list includes CF Johnny Sewald, LF Jake Peevyhouse, RF Trever Allen, 3B Dalton DiNatale, 1B Chris Beall and C Brian Serven. Sewald was honorable mention all-conference last season and was also named to the all-conference defensive team. Although the other returnees did not get mention, they did put up impressive numbers- Peevyhouse (.290/.399/.373), Allen (.284/.359/.456), DiNatale (.294/.367/.411), Beall (.305/.344/.364), and Serven (.249/.360/.355). Arizona State led the conference in batting with a .284 average in 2014- expect more of the same.

On the mound, all-conference selections Brett Lilek (4-5, 2.68) and two time selection Ryan Kellogg (8-3, 3.76) return as starters. Lilek is also a 3rd team All-American pick in Baseball America's preseason honor roll and is on the Golden Spikes watch list. And honorable mention all-conference selection Ryan Burr (3-3, 3.27, 12 saves) returns in the bullpen. UCLA plays a three game series on the road against Arizona State May 8-10.

Stanford is picked to finish 4th by the Pac-12 coaches. Stanford is ranked 22nd in two polls, and didn't make the cut in the other two. Last year, the Cardinal won the Indiana regional, probably because the Indiana coach did not feature his son on the mound and at the plate. Stanford then went to Nashville for the Super-Regional, and took national champion Vanderbilt to a third and deciding game. The Cardinal is presumably sick of Vandy, having been swept in a three game series earlier in the year. But they would presumably be happy to meet Vandy again in 2015, particularly in Omaha.

Stanford is led by staff ace Cal Quantrill (7-5, 2.68), who is picked as the preseason conference pitcher of the year by Perfect Game, after being named to the all-conference team as a freshman last year. Quantrill is also tabbed as a 3rd team preseason All-American by Baseball America, and is on the 2015 Golden Spikes preseason watch list. All-conference starting pitcher John Hochstatter also returns. The offense is led by honorable mention all-conference selection outfielder Zach Hoffpauir. UCLA plays a three game series in Palo Alto April 24-26.

This is definitely stacking up as a tough schedule for the Bruins. As we mentioned yesterday, the Bruins have a three game series in Chapel Hill as their first road trip, and face national champion Vanderbilt and national contender TCU at home for single games. And purely by coincidence, the Bruins face all three of their top conference contenders on the road.

Oregon State is picked to finish 5th and should also be a solid contender for postseason. Oregon State was a regional host last season, and was upset at home by UC Irvine, losing the 5th and final game of the regional. The offense is led by all-conference outfielder Jeff Hendrix, and honorable mention all-conference catcher Logan Ice. On the mound, Oregon State has starter Andrew Moore, who was 6-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 2014, after going 14-2 as a freshman. Moore is on the Golden Spikes watch list. UCLA hosts Oregon State for a three game series Thursday-Saturday April 2-4.

Southern Cal is picked to finish 6th, and is also in contention for the postseason. The Trogan offense is led by honorable mention all-conference DH Jeremy Martinez and honorable mention all-conference catcher Garrett Stubbs. And all-conference selection Kyle Davis returns as the closer. The Bruins travel across town for a three game series April 10-12.

The rest of the preseason Coaches' poll, in order, are Arizona, UC Berkeley, Washington, Washington State and Utah. The Bruins host Arizona in the final regular season home series May 15-17.

Arizona features three solid returnees in SS Kevin Newman, utility performer Bobby Dalbec, and 3rd team preseason All-American selection 2B Scott Kingery. Newman had a .304/.362/.383 batting line in 2014 and is on the Golden Spikes watch list.

Washington features starting pitcher Tyler Davis, who was 11-2 with a 1.60 ERA in 2014. Davis is also on the 2015 Golden Spikes watch list.

The Bruins host Berkeley in a Thursday-Saturday series April 16-18. UCLA hosts Washington in the opening series of the conference schedule March 13-15. The Bruins travel to Pullman to face Washington State March 27-29. And UCLA hosts Utah the weekend after the Washington series, March 20-22.

Oregon and Arizona State look dangerous, and Stanford may not be far behind. As mentioned above, the Bruins face the toughest tests on paper on the road this season. But the Bruins are still picked to win the conference, and are a solid pick for Omaha in 2015. Tune in tomorrow for the final installment of the 2015 preview, to see why UCLA sits atop the conference leaderboard.

Go Bruins !!