The USC baseball team starts the 2018 season after a 2017 season record of 21-34, including an 8-22 Pac-12 record that tied them with Arizona State at the bottom of the conference standings.
Dan Hubbs enters his sixth year with a 137-145 mark as the Trojans’ head coach.
The Trojans were adequate at the plate last season, finishing sixth in the conference with a .273 team batting average and 33 home runs. They struggled to score, however, finishing with the fourth fewest runs in the Pac-12.
The loss of infielders Frankie Rios and Adalberto Carrillo, the team leaders in batting average and home runs respectively, hurts, but the lineup still has talent. Infielders Brandon Perez and Lars Nootbaar are back for their junior seasons as team leaders. Nootbaar led the team in slugging percentage a year ago at .510, while Perez finished second in batting average at .313.
USC was also average in the field. The team allowed 42 errors, good for third in the conference, but gave up the most stolen bases with 62. With a very different infield this season, Hubbs should focus on improving this discrepancy.
Pitching let the Trojans down in 2017, as the team had the worst earned run average in the Pac-12 at 5.56, and there’s reason to believe that the trend will continue. Seven of the 18 pitchers are freshmen, so the staff is inexperienced. This season, pitching will be led by sophomore Chris Clarke, a towering 6’7” right-hander who was the only starter with a winning record last season. Senior Mason Perryman, junior CJ Stubbs and redshirt juniors Brad Wegman and Mitch Hart will look to make strides with additional seasons under their belts.
USC has a number of intriguing newcomers as the 2017 recruiting class ranked 11th in the country and 2nd in the Pac-12 according to Perfect Game. Three incoming freshmen, pitchers Alex Cornwell and Kyle Hurt and infielder Ben Ramirez, were taken straight out of high school in last year’s professional draft.
Cornwell, a product of Maranatha High School in La Canada, Calif., was taken in the 37th round by the Chicago Cubs, according to Perfect Game. Hurt was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 34th round. Ramirez, a shortstop out of Chula Vista, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 35th round.
Cornwell and Hurt are joined by fellow freshman pitchers John Beller, Isaac Esqueda, Brian Gursky, Riley Lamb and Augie Sylk. Along with Ramirez, the incoming position players include outfielder Trevor Halsema, catcher Grant Parker and infielders Chase Bushor, Jamal O’Guinn and Bart West.
“I think it’s a great class,” Hubbs said. “It boasts pitchers from both the right and left sides who are high-level, proven winners over their high school careers. For the position players we have brought in big, athletic players who project to have power from both the right and left sides of the plate. We think this class ranks as one of the best classes we have brought in in five seasons.”
The Trojans open their season Feb. 16 when they kick off a three-game home stand against Utah Valley.