Without further ado, here are the top five biggest voids to fill out west in the Pac-12.
David Berg- UCLA
Any list of the biggest voids to fill in this conference had to start with UCLA’s record-setting closer. In 2015, Berg capped his incredible career with the Bruins with 13 saves, a 0.68 ERA, a 65/8 K/BB ratio, and a .205 batting average against him.
Over the entirety of his four years on campus, Berg put up numbers that very likely make him the best (or at least the most successful and reliable) reliever in the history of college baseball. All told, he made 175 appearances, threw 266.2 innings, saved 49 games, sported a 1.11 ERA, had a 241/44 K/BB ratio, and held opposing hitters to a .192 batting average.
UCLA will have plenty of options to fill Berg’s shoes. Tucker Forbes and Grant Dyer are two relievers who both had outstanding 2015 seasons, and as is customary, the Bruins are bringing in what could be described as an army of pitchers with their newest recruiting class. Surely with all this talent on hand, head coach John Savage will find someone who can do a good job closing games. But it’s unrealistic to expect them to find someone who can immediately become the next David Berg.
Ian Sagdal- Washington State
This name might not be as familiar to those who don’t call Pullman, Washington, home, but the senior middle infielder was the one who made the entire offense go last season.
His .298 average made him the only WSU regular who hit better than .265, his 6 home runs were nearly half of the team’s total of 13, and his .498 slugging percentage was 123 points higher than the next-highest number and 165 points higher than the next-highest total put up by a regular in the Cougar lineup. On top of all that, he also led the team in hits (61), doubles (13), triples (5), RBI (34), walks (30), and stolen bases (13). He also fielded a sterling .982 at premium defensive positions.
The Cougars are going to be re-tooling under new head coach Marty Lees, and finding someone to at least in part replace Sagdal’s production is job number one for the new staff. There isn’t a ton of proven production returning to the team in 2016, but Lees might have the eventual answer in incoming freshman Justin Harrer. The Padres’ 18th-round draft pick in the most recent draft, Harrer will bring considerable talent to the table, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get on the field quickly as a freshman.
Garrett Stubbs- USC
Suffice it to say that Garrett Stubbs was a player unlike just about anyone else in college baseball in 2015. Last year, he hit .346 with a .435 on-base percentage. He was also tied for the team lead with 15 doubles, he led the team with 12 hit by pitches, and he stole 20 bases, also good for the team lead. Put together, that’s kind of a strange smorgasbord of statistics.
Oh, and to top it off, he’s was the team’s catcher. And not just any catcher. At the end of the season, he was named the Johnny Bench Award winner as the nation’s best catcher. Clearly, he was a pretty big part of USC’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in a decade.
Replacing Stubbs is a tough task, obviously, but the returning Jeremy Martinez, who hit .296 and showed outstanding plate discipline in putting together a 17/32 K/BB ratio last year, should slot into his role behind the plate quite nicely after waiting out Stubbs’s eligibility by playing other positions.
Mitchell Tolman- Oregon
The Ducks came into the 2015 season with concerns about where offensive production would come from, and while they still struggled at times to score runs in bunches, Mitchell Tolman’s big season helped remedy those concerns.
He was the team’s only hitter with an average better than .300 (he hit .325), he led the team in doubles with 20, which nearly doubled up the next-highest total (Scott Heineman’s 12), and he got on base at a .457 clip, which was 50 points higher than the next-highest on-base percentage on the team.
It’s asking a lot to ask someone to step in and put up those kinds of numbers right away, but some of the most intriguing players to watch in his stead could be incoming freshman. Matt Kroon (38th round- Reds) and Travis Moniot (34th round- Giants) are both infielders who, as recent draftees, have the talent needed to potentially play right away.
Ryan Burr- Arizona State
There were plenty of candidates for this list from Arizona State alone, not the least of which were accomplished starting pitchers Ryan Kellogg and Brett Lilek and key offensive pieces like Johnny Sewald and Trever Allen.
But Ryan Burr gets the nod here not only because he was an incredibly effective closer for the Sun Devils, but because he also he seemed to embody ASU’s gritty personality last season under head coach Tracy Smith.
On the mound last season, Burr had a 2.91 ERA, saved 14 games, and struck out 74 batters in 46.1 innings. That came after back-to-back 12-save campaigns as a freshman and sophomore in 2013 and 2014. From pitch one of his ASU career until his last pitch as a Sun Devil last year, he had a bulldog mentality. A program can replace talented pitchers, even pitchers as good as Burr, but it’s tough to find guys who get after it day after day like he did.