Monday, February 4, 2013

2013 PAC-12 Softball Forecast

Team that might surprise us all: Oregon State
There's going to be some serious celebrating going on
in Oregon State this year. The Beavers are going to be
very good.
(Two words: Laura Berg. The former Team USA superstar outfielder was named head coach of the Beavers this past off-season, replacing former head coach Kirk Walker, who took an assistant coach position with UCLA. Berg's high-intensity level of play is well-known in softball circles, and I believe she will pass that along to her OSU players. Senior shortshop Elizabeth Santana, the team's top hitter in her first season after a transfer from UC-Davis, will try to repeat her 2012 performance that landed her on the all-conference 1st team. Freshman utility player Dani Gilmore led the team in home runs and slugging percentage, and is a solid hitter & definitely a threat on the basepaths. One worry is the pitching staff. Of the returning pitchers, none had an ERA under three.)

Team that might disappoint us all: Arizona
(Pre-season polls have the Wildcats ranked in the 13/14 range. As you can see below, I have them in the bottom third of the conference. Two years in a row, the Wildcats have been eliminated in the Super Regional round, and after losing some of their best players to graduation (Lini Koria, their best power threat & Karissa Buchanan, a consistent, speedy player who was, as her bio on the Arizona website puts it, "quite an asset"), who knows what might happen?. Mike Candrea is an excellent coach, one of the best, but the past couple of seasons have not ended well for his team. This may be one time I hope my prediction is wrong.)

Pitcher of the Year: Jessica Moore, Oregon
Player of the Year: Amber Freeman, Arizona State
Coach of the Year: Mike White, Oregon

Conference Champs: Arizona State Sun Devils

Players to Watch:
Kenzie Fowler, Arizona - Of course, as soon as I get done saying how I don't think Arizona is going to do very well this season, I put their star pitcher on the "players to watch" list. Why, you ask? Well, it's like this: Arizona's success or failure depends a lot upon Fowler. When she had thirty-five wins & 266 innings in her freshman year, the Wildcats advanced to the WCWS championship series. In the following two seasons, however, her innings pitched & her victories went down significantly and both the rest of her statistics & the Wildcats team suffered as a result. Her 2012 ERA was almost a full run higher than that of her previous season. The rest of her pitching stats went down across the board; her strikeout total has steadily declined since her freshman campaign in 2010 (339/243/180), and it would be quite beneficial to buck that trend in her senior season. One statistic that has remained relatively steady is her opponent's batting average against. For her career, opponent's only hit .191 against her. If she succeeds, so do the Wildcats.
Jessica Moore, Oregon - My first upon seeing Jessica's name on the ASA/USA Softball's Top 5 watch list was that I'm glad somebody is finally taking note of this young lady. She really is something special. Mike White has put together quite an impressive squad in Eugene, and Jessica is simply incredible. Let's see how many statistics and notes it takes to make you agree with me. With her senior season still to go, Moore already holds school records for wins (73) and strikeouts (718). she was an NFCA All-American last season, and was named to her third-consecutive all-region first team & her second-consecutive Pac-12 first team. She recorded a 14-strikeout performance against the champion Alabama Crimson Tide in March of last year. I had the opportunity to see Moore pitch in the super regionals & WCWS last year, and if you've never actually seen her pitch, I highly suggest you find a way to do so. She is a fantastic player, and don't be surprised to find her on the All-American first team after this season.
Danielle Henderson, Cal - The younger sister of superstar Jolene Henderson, Danielle is pretty good in her own right. A .283/16/47 stat line was all she put up, in her FRESHMAN season. Her .608 slugging percentage and .404 on-base % were *only* good enough for third-best on the 2012 squad. Having cemented herself as the starting third baseman and a solid middle-of-the-lineup hitter, expect to see the younger Henderson perhaps even better her 2012 numbers.
Jocelyn Cater, Washington - I'm not 100% sure, but I believe this is the first freshman who has been mentioned in any of these conference forecasts. A star member of the Canadian national team, Cater is going to add another stellar arm to the collection that has been built @ UW. She's been a stalwart on the Team Canada pitching staff for years now, most recently earning a silver medal in the Pan-Am Games in October of 2012. Even as a freshman, she will be most excellent behind Kaitlin Inglesby in the rotation.

Conference Projection:
1. Arizona State
2. Oregon
3. Cal
4. Washington
6. Oregon State
7. Arizona
8. Stanford
9. Utah

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