Trojan baseball is coming back to Dedeaux Field this Friday in a season that can go either way for the Trojans. On one hand, USC hasn’t had a winning season since 2015 and that losing culture may prevail inside the team’s locker room, if it does not start off strong. However, there is evidence suggesting that these Trojans have the potential to prove their doubters wrong and claim their first winning season since 2015.
The bottom line? There are positives for USC baseball this season.
The first positive for the Trojans is that they are all returning players — except for the first baseman — who played key roles last season.
The middle infield is loaded with talent from players such as senior Brandon Perez, senior Chase Bushor and sophomore Ben Ramirez. Last season, Ramirez started off the campaign strong at shortstop, living up to the hype that surrounded him after he was drafted the year before. Nothing seemed to faze Ramirez, who hit lights out and made unbelievable plays in the field until he got injured. While he struggled to come back from the injury and play at the same elite level. Ramire proved his talent in his first few collegiate games.
During Ramirez’s absence, Bushor stepped up and filled the gap at shortstop. After a few games, it became evident that it was Bushor’s spot to lose, as he not only fielded well but was also one of the most consistent batters on the team, despite starting the season as a backup. He finished the year second on the team with a .301 batting average.
Brandon Perez is another player worth watching. While he didn’t bat very consistently last season, finishing only .237 on the year, he earned Gold Glove honors as the top defensive third baseman in the country. If he finds a better groove hitting the ball this season, the Trojans may have one of the best infielders in the Pac-12. His leadership on and off the field will be vital to the team’s success this season.
Switching over to the outfield, junior outfielder Matthew Acosta has the potential to become a Pac-12 star this season. Acosta competes at an elite level with a powerful bat and great fielding ability. Last year, Acosta failed to find consistency in performances every game, but he still showed glimpses of his true potential. If head coach Dan Hubbs can find a way to bring out more consistency from Acosta, the Trojans will have a constant RBI threat that pitchers fear. Last season, Acosta finished with a .263 batting average and 26 RBI. Acosta is capable of being the team’s go-to player at the plate, but he will have to improve those numbers first.
Moreover, there is room for improvement in pitching, and some of the Trojans have already shown glimpses of brilliance. Sophomore pitcher Kyle Hurt is a prime example of a player that promises to be one of the best pitchers not only in the conference, but also in the NCAA. The sophomore was drafted two years ago, but decided to forgo the draft and play college baseball for the Trojans. He had a turbulent year, finishing at 4-5 with a 4.76 ERA. However, during the season, he managed to pitch a no-hitter as a freshman in a Pac-12 game against Utah. Hurt reaches above 90 miles per hour with his fastball. If he can find more consistent control, Hurt can prove a challenge for opposing batters.
In relief, junior pitcher Connor Lunn has the ability to take care of leads and close out games for the Trojans. Lunn was recently placed on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association watch list for top relievers in the country. If the Trojans can find a way to lead late in games, they should be confident that Lunn can finish teams off with ease.
The Trojans did lose some key players last season, including Dillon Paulson at first base, Lars Nootbaar in the outfield and Solomon Bates on the mound. Paulson and Nootbaar offered powerful bats and a home run threat every time they stepped up to the plate, and Bates was the Trojans’ best pitcher. However, the Trojans will come into the year with more starters who have collegiate baseball experience.
If the Trojans can start the season strong and find their momentum, they will find success. However, the Arkansas series in the second week of the season could be an obstacle for USC. If they do well in that series, the team will prove that it may see a winning season once again.