Cal State Fullerton continues to experience postseason success, while Long Beach State is expected to be an Omaha contender.
Then there's UC Irvine.
The Eaters caught the nation by storm last season, but with Mike Gillespie now in charge, they hope to take the next step.
Cal Poly should be improved in 2008, while UC Riverside hopes to build on its regular season title last season.
We preview the Big West Conference.
Rivals.com's Big West Preview
Predicted order of finish
1. Cal State Fullerton
2. Long Beach State
3. UC Irvine
4. Cal Poly
5. UC Riverside
6. UC Davis
8. Cal State Northridge
9. UC Santa Barbara
1B. Shane Peterson, Long Beach State
2B. Ben Price, UC Riverside
3B. Brent Morel, Cal Poly
SS. Danny Espinosa, Long Beach State
OF. Ollie Linton, UC Irvine
OF. Aaron Wible, UC Riverside
OF. Joey Gonzales, UC Riverside
C. Joe Oliveira, Pacific
SP. Scott Gorgen, UC Irvine
SP. Jeff Kaplan, Cal State Fullerton
SP. Andrew Liebel, Long Beach State
RP. Bryan Shaw, Long Beach State
DH. Logan Schafer, Cal Poly
Big West breakdown
Team on the rise
The Mustangs still have work to do, but the program is in great shape under the direction of coach Larry Lee. After finishing fourth in the conference with a 13-8 record last season, the Mustangs hope to take the next step in 2008. They must replace key pitchers Evan Reed and Thomas Eager, but have confidence in Matt Leonard and Eric Massingham. While the pitching staff has questions to answer, the offense should be in good shape with Logan Schafer and Brent Morel leading the charge. The Big West race promises to be tough, but Poly has the horses.
Coach on the rise
Cal State Fullerton made the perfect hire when it tabbed Dave Serrano as its new coach a few months ago. Having spent eight seasons as an assistant for the Titans, the Fullerton administration was well aware of what Serrano could accomplish. His stint at UC Irvine was icing on the cake. In three seasons with the Anteaters, Serrano guided the program to the College World Series and instilled an Eater mentality. Now he's back at Fullerton with hopes of continuing the Titan tradition. Even without George Horton, the Titans shouldn't skip a beat with Serrano.
The Anteaters went the distance last season and right-handed pitcher Scott Gorgen led the charge. While fellow weekend starter Wes Etheridge (no longer at UCI) was a consistent contributor, Gorgen was the staff ace. With the Eaters hoping to build on last year's success, Gorgen is the key to taking the next step. As a sophomore last season, Gorgen went 13-3 with a 2.83 ERA in 136 2/3 innings of work. The gritty right-hander also struck out 117 and walked 41, while opponents hit him at a .235 clip. If Gorgen has another dominant campaign, the Eaters should be in business. If not, someone else must rise to the occasion.
Even with the Big West's improving stock, the league isn't littered with outstanding hitters. As the 2008 season draws closer, Long Beach State junior shortstop Danny Espinosa leads the charge. As a sophomore last season, Espinosa batted .319 with seven homers and 38 RBIs. He also slugged .519 and had a .415 on-base percentage in 210 at bats. Additionally, Espinosa finished the year with 13 doubles, four triples and 109 total bases. With several talented players back this spring, the Dirtbags should be in business if Espinosa has another productive campaign. Even with good numbers last season, he could do better.
After Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine captured national headlines last season, more eyes than ever are on the Big West. Even after losing hard-throwing right-hander Wes Roemer to the professional ranks, Fullerton should still be in good shape with Jeff Kaplan paving the way. Long Beach State is also confident with pitchers Andrew Liebel, Vance Worley and Bryan Shaw back in action. UC Irvine is led by All-American pitcher Scott Gorgen, but the offense must rise to the occasion with outfielder Ollie Linton as the sparkplug. Elsewhere, UC Riverside hopes to offset the loss of pitcher James Simmons with more offensive production. Cal Poly should also compete for a Regional berth, while UC Davis is in its first official season of Big West competition.
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.