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ASU Baseball Starting 9: Pac-12 Baseball Preview

House of Sparky continues its ASU baseball preview series the Starting 9. The nine biggest stories surrounding ASU baseball as the begin their 2013 season. Up next is our Pac-12 baseball preview. With six teams in the preseason top 25, there is no shortage of competition for the Sun Devils.

ASU News

College baseball season is right around the corner, and as usual, the Pac-12 is loaded. Coming in with six teams inside the National College Baseball Writers of America Preseason Top 25.

Last season the Pac-12 sent Arizona and UCLA to Omaha, with the Wildcats winning the 2012 National Championship, not losing a game in the entire 2012 postseason.

2013 figures to be another solid year for the conference, UCLA, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State are all ranked inside the preseason top ten.

The Elite

UCLA Bruins (Last Season: 48-16, Postseason Result: CWS Second Round)

Life is good for the UCLA Bruin baseball club. They are the two-time defending Pac-12 champion, they made it to Omaha last season, and they return their entire 2012 rotation this season. RHP Adam Plutko anchors the starting rotation, the junior went 12-3 in 2012 with an ERA of 2.48 and has 191 career strikeouts. Junior Nick Vander Tuig and Zach Weiss round out the starting rotation, with Grant Watson, David Berg and Ryan Deeter giving depth to the bullpen.

The Bruins lost their entire starting outfield from 2012, expect junior Brian Carroll and Brenton Allen to step into starting roles. Kevin Williams, Pat Valaika and Kevin Kramer will anchor the UCLA infield. Williams hit .302 in 55 games last season and Valaika hit 39 RBI's in 61 starts.

Outlook: Starting pitching is very important in college baseball and few have as good of a rotation as the Bruins. UCLA also brought in the nation's No. 2 rated recruiting class, so look for UCLA to be in Omaha again competing for a national title.

Stanford Cardinal (Last Season: 49-20, Postseason Result: Super Regional)

Stanford received great news this summer when Mark Appel spurned the Pittsburgh Pirates and decided to return to his senior season. Appel went 10-2 with an 2.56 ERA and was drafted 8th overall in the 2012 draft. Stanford will have to replace much of its starting rotation, as Steven Piscotty and Brett Mooneyham do not return in 2013. The bullpen is led by AJ Vanegas, whose five saves led the team in 2012.

The lineup is led by Austin Wilson, he alongside firstbaseman Brian Ragira, was named first team All-American by Baseball America. Wilson hit .285 and led the team with 10 home runs. Ragira hit .329 and hit 50 RBI's.

Outlook: Appel may be the best player in the conference, he is a two-time All-American and will likely be drafted inside the top ten for the second straight year. There may not be a team with as much upper tier talent. as the Cardinal were the only team East of the Mississippi to land multiple players on All-American teams. Expect the Cardinal to compete for Omaha, although they must find depth in their pitching staff beind Appel.

Oregon State (Last Season: 40-20, Postseason Result: Regional)

The Beavers return a lot of talen from a team that won 40 games last season, led by Michael Conforto. Las season as a freshman, Conforto led OSU in batting average (.376), home runs (13) and RBI (76) on his way to Freshman All-American honors and First Team All-Pac-12. Tyler Smith and Danny Hayes return in the infield and Nick Rulli leads the outfield, those four combined for 19 home runs 177 RBI's, and 86 walks.

Oregon State returns its entire 2012 starting rotation, led by sophomore Jace Frye. As a freshman, Frye went 5-3 with an 2.85 ERA in 13 starts. Tony Bryant anchors the bullpen, as a junior in 2012, Bryant led OSU with nine saves and an ERA of 3.82.

Outlook: Oregon State has the talent to dethrone UCLA atop the Pac-12. WIth a solid core returning in their lineup and three starting pitchers returning, on paper this is an Omaha team.

Oregon Ducks (Last Season: 46-19, Postseason Result: Super Regional)

The Ducks were one game away from reaching the College World Series a season ago, falling in the third game of a Super Regional to Kent State in Eugene by a score of 3-2. Oregon returns two-thirds of its starting rotation, in right handers Jake Reed and Jeff Gold. Reed finished with a 2.82 ERA in 17 starts as a freshman. Oregon returns Jimmie Sherfy, who led the Pac-12 with 19 saves in 2012 and was named a second team All-American by Baseball America and Perfect Game.

The Ducks return a good portion of their 2012 lineup, with Brett Thomas, Ryon Healy and Kyle Garlick all returning. Thomas and Healy both hit over .300 and Garlick finished tied for a team high with six home runs. Aaron Payne and J.J. Altobelli lead the infield for Oregon.

Outlook: The Ducks boast one of the most complete pitching staffs in the nation, two eight-game winners return, along with the reigning Pac-12 saves leader. Do not be surprised if this is the year Oregon breaks through and reaches the College World Series.

Upper Tier

Arizona Wildcats (Last Season: 48-17, Postseason Result: National Champions)

The Wildcats got hot at the right time and ran through the postseason on route to their fourth National Championship in school history. Arizona loses a lot from their 2012 lineup, including Alex Mejia, Robert Refsnyder, Bobby Brown and Joey Rickford. Arizona returns catcher freshman All-American catcher Riley Moore and reigning Pac-12 batting champion Johnny Field.

On the mound, the Wildcats bring back Konner Wade and James Farris, along with sophomores Matthew Troupe and Tyler Crawford. The Wildcasts lose 13-game winner Kurt Heyer, who led Arizona in wins, ERA, innings pitched and strikeouts.

Outlook: Arizona should take a step back this season, they lose so much from their lineup, that is seems hard to imagine this team back in Omaha in June. Look for Arizona to make it to another regional and maybe contend for a super regional.

Arizona State (Last Season: 36-20, Postseason Result: Not Eligible)

Like the Wildcats, the Sun Devils lose a lot from their starting lineup. Deven Marrero, Joey DiMichele, Abe Ruiz and Andrew Aplin were all drafted. Combine that with the loss of Friday starter Brady Rodgers and the Sun Devils will have a lot of new faces in 2013. Mike Benjamin, Trevor Allen, Max Rossiter and Kasey Coffman lead the Sun Devil lineup in 2013.

ASU returns Trevor Williams, a 12-game winner in 2012, behind him there are questions. Who will be the Saturday starter and how deep is this rotation? The Sun Devils also lose closer Jake Barrett and reliever Robert Ravago. Look for Matthew Dunbar to have a major role on this pitching staff in 2013.

Outlook: There are a lot of questions surrounding this team, but there is a lot of talent in Tempe. ASU brings in the third best recruiting class in the nation and expect freshman to have a major impact on this team. Look for ASU to be in the regionals again.