I expect the top 3 spots in the PAC to be extremely competitive next year. I also expect them to be among the top teams in the country along with OK and FL. In the end, it will most likely come down to who's newcomers and top pitcher(s) perform the best. As far as the rest of the conference, the addition of Allister will eventually change the conference dynamic and raise the level of the conference... just not this year.
Predicted Order of Finish -
Last Year's finish - 16-8 (4th), .306 avg, 42 2B, 1 3B , 27HR, 3.86 ERA
Predicted finish - 18-6
Key Graduates - Spaulding (.350, 6 (2B), 0(3B), 7(HR)) , Maurice (.229, 2, 0, 0)
Key Additions - Holly Azevedo P (flosoftball #26), Briana Perez (flosoftball #1), Juliana Rodriguez (flosoftball #7)
Overall, this UCLA team should be better than the one that finished 4th in the PAC last year. Yes, they lose a national team player in Spaulding but they gain a couple of freshmen that should be outstanding including Briana Perez the overall #1 recruit on flosoftball and the sister of current standout leadoff hitter Kylie Perez, and Juliana Rodriguez who should hit for average and power. They will also get some support in the circle with Azevedo, who throws in the low 60's but moves the ball on different planes and at different speeds. Her turn as a JWNT pitcher hasn't been stellar so far and I think her stuff will not be on the level of Garcia but she should be in the mix to back up Garcia along with Ta'Amilo and Grauer. There are talented members from the team last year as well as others from the #1 2017 ranked recruiting class (flosoftball) that should add great depth and contribute. I expect Garcia to improve and the ERA to go down slightly and possibly the average to go up slightly.
Last year's finish - 16-8 (3rd) .274 avg, 27 2B, 1 3B, 18HR, 3.24 ERA
Predicted Finish - 17-7
Key Graduates - Aguilar (.360, 6 2B, 6HR), Stangel (.318, 4 2B, 4HR)
Key Additions - Nawai Kaupe (HI all-state) SS, Taryn Atlee (rutgers transfer, .393, 7 2B, 4 3B, 2HR phillipines national team) IF/OF, Gabbie Plain P (Australian national team)
I expect Alvelo to pick up where she left off the 2nd half of last year (1.09 ERA in conference) and hopefully develop her drop and change to drop the hammer in 2 strike counts (gave up .260 avg. against in 2 strike counts last year compared to .226 overall). Plain is a big, strong kid that throws in the mid 60s with a very good drop, rise and curve complimented by a pretty good change. She should help Manti ease the burden on Alvelo more effectively than last year. Deponte's production should be closer to the 2016 performance of (.371 10 2B, 8HR (overall)) as opposed to her 2017 performance (.248, 3 2B, 7HR) given she should be completely recovered from her meniscus injury. Kaupe is a fantastic athlete as seen with her performances in track, volleyball and competive throwing. If she lives up to her hitting potential she also should add some pop and a reliable bat near the middle of the Husky line up. If Atlee comes close to her Big10 performance last year she will be a mainstay near the top of the lineup. The problem is that there is perhaps more than normal uncertainty related to the newcomers' performance. We haven't seen some of these kids continually as we do with those from big travel teams that make it to the top of the flosoftball rankings. If everything goes the way the Huskies want it to, they could very well have a better ERA, batting average and perhaps overall better defense than last year's national semi-final team. If that all happens, winning the conference is a strong possibility. If none of these things go the Huskies' way, they could finish as low as 3rd. Because of this uncertainty, 2nd place seems like the most likely outcome.
Last Year's finish - 16-7 (2nd) .279 avg, 19 2B, 4 3B, 18HR, 1.75 ERA
Predicted Finish - 17-7
Key Graduates - Mercado (.284, 3 2B, 1 3B, 1HR), Udria (.348 4 2B, 4HR), Puentes (.150 1HR)
Key Additions - Mary Iakopo C/OF (flosoftball #12), Lauren Burke OF (flosoftball #18), Shaye Bowden 3B/OF (flosoftball #23), Olivia Kinsey (flosoftball #40)
OR has the #8 (flosoftball) ranked 2017 recruiting class. Udria and Mercado will be difficult to replace (their less than stellar years (by their stellar standards) not withstanding). The lack of a true SS may hurt a pretty good defense, although Iakopo is considered an excellent defensive catcher and may push Sveckis for time there. Iakopo was heavily recruited by P5 schools and hits for average and power. Burke is the Oregon gatorade player of the year and led the Beverly Bandits in hitting during their PGF 16U national championship run. THey should contribute to the lineup right away. Bowden will likely compete with the returning infielders for playing time. Kinsey will provide pitching depth to what should again be the best overall staff in the PAC. If Kleist and particularly Balint or Elish (who I believe may have the most raw talent of the group) can improve to the level they are capable, the pitching staff may be so good they can overcome and win the conference. The issue is that it's likely the other top pitchers in the PAC will progress as well and continue to be just a tiny bit better individually. Since only one pitcher can pitch at a time, it's quite possible we'll continue to see the lack of results against the conference's other top teams (3-6 against AZ, WA, UCLA last year).
Last year's finish - 18-6 (1st) .317 avg, 30 2b, 3 3b, 39HR, 2.00 ERA
Predicted Finish - 15-9
Key Grads - Danielle O'Toole (Pac-12 POY, 1st team AA, 1.44 ERA), Mo Mercado (.347, 4 2b, 6HR, 2nd team AA), Katiyana Mauga (2nd team AA, Pac-12 co-POY, .338, 1 2B, 10 HR),
Mandie Perez (1st team Pac-12, .359, 3 2B, 1HR)
Key Additions - Hanah Bowen 3B/P(flosoftball #53), Ivy Davis MIF (flosoftball #48), Taylor Gilmore P (CO all-state), Jenna Keane OF (fs #44)
AZ has the #6 rated (flosoftball) 2017 recruiting class. Players ranked in the (flosoftball) 40-100s like those in the AZ class, can be awesome (Jessie Harper) or not (Kindra Hackbarth). Bowen, Davis and Keane are all potential impact players that should help offset the losses of Mercado, Perez and Mauga (along with returning FR Malia Martinez) both defensively and offensively. They are not necessarily slam-dunk stars as FR however, so it will be tough to completely offset Mercado and Mauga's offensive production, including 17 HR in conference. AZ does return the rest of it's pac-12 leading lineup (AVG, HR), and should have Alyssa Palomino recovered from her knee injury. They should still be very good on the offensive side. The more serious issue comes in with pitching. Taylor Gilmore is the only pure pitcher in the incoming FR class (Bowen does pitch some as well). Gilmore and McQuillin will likely carry the bulk of the pitching duties. They will need to improve upon McQuillin's 3.16 ERA in conference from last year if they want to make a run at the top teams in the conference. That may happen, but it is unlikely they will be able to improve siginficantly enough to make up for the loss of O'Toole and are therefore likely to finish no higher than 4th in the conference.
Last year's finish - 13-9 (5th) .282 avg, 21 2b, 8 3b, 3.41 ERA
Predicted Finish - 12-12
Key Grads - 2B Hannah Flippen(Pac-12 POY, .415 5 2b, 2 3b, 5 HR), 1B Bridget Castro(.306, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1HR), OF Delilah Pacheco (.213, 1 2B, 1 3B), OF KK Fronda (.212, 2 2b, 2 3b, 1 HR), SS Anisa Urtez (.338, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1HR, 1st team pac-12)
Key Additions - SS Abby Robertson(fs #181), INF Chandler Walter(fs #114), MIF Camryn Woodall (fs #202), Julia Noskin INF/OF, C/3BKatie Faulk (fs #177)
UTAH is coming off a phenomenal season where they were two runs from going to the WCWS. Unfortunately their excellent IF was decimated by graduation. Hanah Bowen(.188, 3 2b, 2 HR) is the only returning starting infielder. Robertson will likely be the starting SS and Noskin, Walter and Woodall will likely compete with Bowen to fill in the remaining IF spots. Noskin is one of those contact type hitters that is difficult to keep out of the top of the lineup. Walter, Woodall and Robertson all have live bats and should help offset (although not completely) the loss of Urtez, Castro and Flippen. Faulk and Martinez (.262, 2 2b, 1 3b, 3 HR) will probably split time behind the dish. Castaneda will continue to DH along with Faulk/Martinez when they aren't catching. Barrera (.324, 3 2b, 1 HR) will start in the OF, while Dickman, Peterson and the Woodall or Noskin will likely compete to fill the other OF spots. The OF may be slightly better offensively than last year. In the circle, Viramontes and Donovan return as SRs. When healthy, Viramontes was very good (1.48 ERA in 61.2 IP), Donovan was not (5.07 ERA in 66.1 IP). Viramontes has a very heavy drop (67-70 with movement) and complements that with a great change as well as a curve. Donovan is more of a finesse pitcher with a rise (62-63), curve and change. She needs to have movement and precision in order to be effective and she didn't always have those last year. Hailey Hilburn picked up 20.1 IP (3.85 ERA) last year and will likely fill a supplementary role again this year. The wildcard is Claire Feldman the redshirt FR. She was #38 on the 2016 fs list and throws in the low 60's with spin. In 2014 she led her HS team to an 8A FL title, and was part of the rotation that won the PGF 16-U national title with the Tampa Mustangs. It will be interesting to see if she can take some conference innings from Donovan and Viramontes. If so, and Viramontes can stay healthy, the Utes can expect to improve upon their 3.41 team ERA from last year. Overall though, I think the offense will suffer enough to bring Utah down a bit from last year.
Last year's finish - 9-15 (7th) .260 avg, 18 2b, 1 3b, 13 HR, 3.93 ERA
Predicted Finish - 11-13
Key Grads - 3B Sammi Noland(.268, 2 2b, 3 HR), P Taylor Cotton (3.26 ERA, 86 IP, pac-12 3rd team), 1B Natalie Hampton (.203, 2 2b, 4 HR, pac-12 3rd team)
Key additions - IF Hope Brandner (fs #87), C Sara Lillie (fs #182), P Mariah Mazon (fs #29), IF Paityn Willoughby (fs #191), IF Camryn Ybarra (fs #17)
Oregon state brings in the #16(fs) recruiting class. Camryn Ybarra is the real deal and should make an immediate impact in the IF. She'll join 2nd team all-pac12 returning IF Alysha Everett (.294, 6 2b, 3 HR). Brandner and Willoughby will likely compete with the returning infielders for time at the remaining spots. Offensively, this group should be an improvement overall from the 2016 group and will bring better average and some power. The OF should likely stay the same and was good last year (overall .324, 6 2b, 1 3b, 2 HR). In the circle, OSU loses Taylor Cotton who had a good season last year. Meehra Nelson (5.87 ERA, 22.1 IP) and Nerissa Eason (4.23 ERA, 46.1 IP) return along with newcomer Mariah Mazon. That trio might be the hardest throwing in the PAC. Mazon throws in the mid to upper 60s with a good rise Curve/Screw combo. She'll need to develop her changeup to become a competetive pitcher in the PAC. Nelson has been clocked at 70 and Eason routinely throws 70 and has been clocked by a pac-12 coach I know at 73 mph. There is a lot of talent, but the talent is pretty raw. If Nelson can come back from her back surgery and be a better version of her freshman self, Mazon can develop her change quickly and Eason can get a handle on her illegal pitches and improve her accuracy, this could be a very good staff.
Last year's finish - 9-15 (6th) .260 avg, 22 2b, 3 3b, 33HR, 3.64 ERA
Predicted Finish - 9-15
Key Grads - SS Chelsea Gonzales (.275, 3 2b, 5HR, Pac-12 1st team), C Sashel Palacios (.333, 1 2b, 6HR)
Key additions - MIF Bella Loomis (fs #43), OF Morgan Howe (transfer from Fresno State, .419), C/3B Maddi Hackbarth (transfer from Fresno State, .185), SS Danielle Gibson(fs #108)
Loomis will be the likely starter at SS (though she will get competition from Gibson and some of the returning IF). Maddi Hackbarth will likely start at catcher and get a chance to show that her injury plagued season last year where she hit .185 at Fresno State was a fluke. Howe should be an offensive upgrade to an OF rotation that included 3 players (Chilson, McCarty and Wise) hitting .255 or less. The offense is likely to hit for a bit better average this year, and will need to in order to offset the 11HR hit by Palacios and Gonzales. In the circle, Macha and Ryndak return as seniors. They both improved significantly from their 2016 campaigns and I would expect continued improvement. Giselle Juarez had a decent FR season (4.44 ERA) and I'd expect her to improve as well. Overall, ASU should be a bit better than their collective 3.64 ERA from 2016. The offense and defense should both be a bit better, at least in some areas. The question is will it be enough to move up the Pac-12 hierarchy. Probably not.
Last year's finish - 6-17 (8th), .216 avg, 12 2b, 2 3b, 6 HR, 4.63 ERA
Predicted Finish - 5-19
Key Grads - 2b Kylie Reed (.320, 3rd team all-pac12), P Sutherland-Finch(3.11 era, 27 ip), OF/DP Vanessa Alvarez(.120, 1 3b), DP/C Annie Aldrete (.239, 2 2b, 3 HR), LF Khala Taylor(.185), C Alleah Laxamana (.156)
Key Additions - P Kamalani Dung (transfer from Fresno St., MWC pitcher of the year), CF Sabrina Nunez (fs#63), IF Karlee Sparacino (fs 1st team AA), C Lauren Espalin, 1B/OF Cam Condo, OF Mik Coelho
Lots of players graduated but Reed was one of the few offensive bright spots from a team that made the NCAAs last year (barely). I expect Nunez, Sparacino and Espalin to start at their respective positions and have a positive impact on a team that only hit .216 with 6 HR in conference play. Nunez is a prototypical top of the order hitter while Sparacino has shown some ability to hit for average and power. Espalin will likely be a back of the order hitter. Coelho and Condo will vie for time with returning outfield players Bradie Filmore (.185, 1 2b, 1HR), Jazmyn Jackson (.207, 3 2b, 1 3b), Krysten McCue (.296) and Danielle Bowers (.143, 2 2b). Lindsay Rood (.227, 4 2b, 2HR), Kobie Pettis (.206, 1 2b), Jackson and Taurie Pogue (.129) return to an infield that should be bolstered by Sparacino and possibly Condo. I expect the offense to be a little better overall, with the addition of Sparacino, Nunez (and others) and, hopefully, a resurgence of Jackson back to her 2016 form. Aldrete is gone and so is 1/2 of Cal's 2016 HR production but I think the newcomers will be able to help out some there as well. In the circle, Zoe Conley (4.20, 76.2 IP) gets some help from the Mountain West pitcher of the year, Kamalani Dung. Dung is a good pitcher and will help relieve some of the pressure from Conley. The problem is that neither one are top tier pac-12 caliber pitchers, so while I suspect the team ERA to go down slightly, I doubt it will have a big impact on the W-L record.
Last Year's Finish - 2-22 (9th) .202, 15 2b, 1 3b, 11 HR, 8.15 ERA
Predicted Finish - 4-20
Key Grads - OF/DP Lauren Bertoy (.217, 2 2b, 2HR), OF Bessie Noll(.190, 2 2b), SS Kylie Sorenson (.368, 5 2b, 3 HR) 2nd team all-pac12, 3rd team all-region)
Key Additions - Maddy Dwyer (fs 52, AA), C/IF Caity McGinley, OF Carmina Nicolas (fs 130), OF Tally Thomas
Kylie Sorenson will be sorely missed as one of the only hitters on a team that hit only .202 in the pac. Caity Mcginley will join Whitney Burks (.235, 2 2b, 5 HR), Kristina Inouye(.233, 2 2b), Lauren Wegner (.095) and Teaghan Cowles (.143, 1 3b) competing for time and impact in the infield. I'm not sure who, if anyone, will step up and help with the offensive production in the infield. As far as the OF, Nicolas and Thomas are both pretty good players although less well known. They will join 6 returning players that had some time in the OF. There are currently 4 players that have seen some time at C and McGinley can play that position as well. It's difficult to believe that the offensive gap left by Kylie Sorenson's departure will be completely filled, but there are some players with potential. I believe that the new coaching staff will be more successful at tapping that potential, as well as some of the latent defensive talent. In the circle, Dwyer will be better than the existing Stanford pitchers. She throws low to mid 60's with a decent rise/screw and a very good change. At some point I expect she'll be pretty good (middle of the pack), but it will be difficult for her this first year. That said, I expect the team ERA to drop a fair amount. The outcome of the season will depend on the ability of the new coaching staff to extract the talent latent in this team. I like this staff and I expect they will do pretty well with that, well enough to double the win total from last year, but at this point they just don't have enough fire power to compete.