When the NCAA baseball preseason rankings were released, USC — unsurprisingly — did not make top 25 best teams in the country. For one of the country’s winningest baseball programs in college baseball history, not making the preseason top 25 is a clear sign that the team needs significant improvement. Despite their great baseball tradition, the Trojans haven’t finished a season above .500 since 2015. The bottom line? USC baseball must work to regain its former glory.
USC primarily recruits players from within its home state, and, in many cases, it’s an ideal destination for talented players in Southern California. Because of its history as a dominant team, the program ultimately has the first choice when it comes to selecting talent out of California, and the talent pool to pick from is large — there should be no excuses for a lack of talent from in the state.
California is a hub for baseball. In many states, baseball players are limited to playing ball only in the spring and summer due to seasonal weather patterns. In sunny California, young athletes are able to practice and play baseball year-round. Thus, players get twice as much practice as their East Coast peers, which ultimately should enhance overall play.
California also has a great baseball history and tradition, with five current MLB teams — one out of every six baseball teams is based in California. And those teams are largely successful — the Dodgers’ and Giants’ track records over the past decade are enough proof.
Despite not having a winning program since 2015, USC undoubtedly had the best recruiting class out of any school in California in 2018. The Trojans landed three Top 100 recruits in 2018, whereas UCLA and Stanford University each had one. If the program can continue to recruit talented players, there should be no reason why the Trojans have disappointing seasons.
This season will be critical for head coach Dan Hubbs. In his six years at USC, Hubbs has had a losing record of 163-171. He has had talented rosters over that timespan, with a number of players getting drafted to the MLB. He is also a successful recruiter, having convinced players drafted out of high school to play for the Trojans instead.
Hubbs is an intelligent coach. He speaks eloquently about the game, and the players in the dugout seem to like and respect his coaching methods. However, he doesn’t always get the most out of his star players. Take Lars Nootbaar, for example. Nootbaar was expected to be a key player for the Trojans last season, yet he didn’t reach the levels of expectation that surrounded him. Nootbaar, who was drafted in the eighth round by the St. Louis Cardinals, had a .249 batting average last season.
USC might be considered a football school, but as that program sees its own struggles, the Trojan baseball tradition should not be overlooked. The school has won 12 national championships — twice as many as any other school. USC has produced 113 MLB players in its history, more than any other NCAA program in the country. Success should be expected when it comes to USC baseball.
After a number of disappointing seasons, the NCAA quite rightly did not include the Trojans in its preseason top 25 teams, despite the talent of the university’s recruits. The players are talented enough to change the team’s overall perception, but it’s ultimately up to them and the coaching staff to unleash USC baseball’s full potential.
Robby Aronson is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “The Bottom Line,” runs every other Wednesday.