Baseball season is my favorite season. The smell of the fresh-cut grass, the feeling of scalding-hot hard plastic seats, the sound of the pounding ball on leather, the taste of the salty sunflower seeds. But there’s one other thing baseball season brings — the horrific sight that is USC baseball.
Perhaps that was a bit too hyperbolic. This team is not a bad baseball squad by any means — it has a lot of talent. And this year, the Trojans did some fantastic recruiting. USC football should learn from baseball head coach Dan Hubbs in that department.
But Trojan baseball hasn’t had a winning season since 2015, and that’s a sorry statistic. The fact that they have the 14th best recruiting class in the nation is baffling, but I guess the warm weather and historic record means a lot to these recruits.
I am really excited about two recruits in particular: starting pitcher Chandler Champlain and outfielder Preston Hartsell.
Champlain’s first start was rough, to say the least. In his start against Nebraska Omaha (who?), the rookie didn’t last an inning. Two-thirds of an inning, nine batters faced, three hits, three walks, a drilled batter and five earned runs. A 225 ERA is not necessarily “Cy Young” material but, hey, maybe there’s room for improvement?
In all seriousness, no pitcher should be judged by one start, especially his first start at the collegiate level. It’s just fun to poke fun at players like Champlain whose talent is undeniable. Out of high school, he was drafted to the MLB but declined to sign. He has a laundry list of awards to his name, and I have no doubt that he will mesh well with other Trojan starters like sophomore Kyle Hurt.
USC lost some pitching talent this year in Solomon Bates, who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 2018 MLB Draft. But if young players are directed properly, they will couple well with the Trojans’ brick wall infield.
Hartsell hasn’t started in a game, although he did pinch hit in USC’s 11-0 romp on Saturday against Nebraska Omaha. While he reached base on a fielder’s choice, he plated another runner, earning his first RBI. Coming into USC, Hartsell was rated the best outfielder in California, boasting a .396 batting average with 110 RBIs. Right now, the outfield is occupied by some veteran players like juniors Blake Sabol and Matthew Acosta at left and center, respectively, while sophomore Jamal O’Guinn holds down the right side of the lawn.
It’s entirely possible for Hartsell to fill in for the outfielders this year. He could even take some reps at designated hitter, if he can prove his batting ability at the collegiate level and become a true asset down the line for the Trojans.
What happens when there’s a lot of talent on a losing team? Look to the person who paid for the “Lynn Swann — Fire Clay Helton” helicopter banner last semester. While I think Hubbs is a great coach, he just isn’t cutting it for USC. The Trojans have largely been a .500 or slightly below .500 team since the Mike Gillespie era (with the exception of 2015). That period encompasses three coaches.
Hubbs is a great pitching coach. He had a fantastic 12-year tenure as Cal’s pitching coach, and he consistently produced pitching staffs with the lowest ERAs in the Pac-10. When he became the head coach at USC, that pitching knowledge and training ability didn’t translate, as USC’s team ERA barely went above average in the Pac-12 and even spent a couple years in dead last.
Hubbs is in the final year of his contract as head coach with the Trojans. While he has held the team steady, USC Athletics can’t be complacent with staying “average.” This school should be a dominant powerhouse for college baseball, and I don’t see that happening under the current management. USC could even consider hiring a new head coach while keeping Hubbs as a pitching coach.
I feel like a broken record after repeating this throughout football season, but this team has an abundance of talent. It just needs to focus on bringing all the pieces together. If that happens under Hubbs this season, great. If Trojan baseball fans have to wait until a new skipper takes over at Dedeaux Field, fine.
One thing is for sure: Hubbs and “potential head coach to be named” have a lot of veteran and young talent in their arsenal, and I look forward to the next few seasons.
Sam Arslanian is a sophomore writing about sports. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Fridays.