This year’s USC Trojans baseball season was a disappointment to say the least, as the team finished tied for last place in the PAC-12 with an abysmal 8-22 conference record (22-34 record overall). However this year’s campaign was not a complete lost cause, as young players like Lars Nootbaar and Brandon Perez got a chance to make an impact and delivered. With that being said here is all the good and bad to take from 2017.
- Inexperienced batting order overachieved: Despite losing several stars to the MLB Draft prior to this season, USC’s young lineup more than held its own. They put up decent numbers recording the sixth highest team batting average (.273) and the sixth most hits (518) in the PAC-12. While they were not as successful with runners in scoring position (8th in PAC-12 RBI), that should improve as freshman and sophomore hitters mature. If all of the group’s core returns (more on that next), the Trojan order will make even more strides next season.
- The emergence of new stars: Even though the team as a whole underperformed, USC saw many individual players take leaps in 2017. Lars Nootbaar (.313, 7 HR) and Frankie Rios (.354, 26 RBI) earned All- PAC- 12 honors while Adaberto Carrillo (36 RBI) and Brandon Perez (.328) were honorable mentions. In addition, freshmen like Matthew Acosta and Brady Shockey showed immense potential at the plate. This positive comes with a caveat, however, as Rios and Carrillo are both eligible to enter the draft, which would leave major holes in the order.
- The pitching cannot get much worse: There aren’t many positives to take from the bullpen’s performance this year. But before I outline their struggles in more detail, let’s look at the bright side. Entering this season, just two pitchers started more than two games in 2016; now the group at least has experience in PAC-12 play. 6’7’ freshman Chris Clarke did not have the greatest ERA (5.89) but he showed plenty of promise as the team’s only consistent starter with a winning record (4-2). At reliever, sophomores Solomon Bates and Quentin Longrie were both solid options who will likely receive expanded roles next Spring.
- The bullpen has a long way to go: While it’s hard to imagine USC’s pitching getting any worse, the bullpen will still need to make drastic improvements for the team to be competitive next year. It doesn’t take much digging into the box scores to figure out why the Trojans lost so many games this season, as they finished second to last in conference for both team ERA (5.56) and earned runs (300). Head coach Dan Hubbs (and former USC pitcher himself) will need to solidify a starting rotation, which is likely to be difficult task considering how the group fared in 2017.
- Dan Hubbs seems to be trending downwards: Speaking of Hubbs, the fifth year head coach is now (or should be) firmly on the hot seat after two straight dissatisfying seasons. When he led the Trojans to a second place PAC-12 finish and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015, it looked like the program was headed back to national prominence and in turn, he was awarded with a multi-year contract extension. Now the future looks almost as murky as when he took over. For USC fans, the team’s decline over the last two years should be alarming, but it’s still a little too early to lose out all confidence in Hubbs. 2018 will be his make or break year.
- The program is not recruiting at a high level: Currently, Perfect Game does not have USC in its top 100 team recruiting rankings for the class of 2017. In order for the team to stay afloat in the PAC-12, the coaching staff will need to begin competing with UCLA and out of state foes like Oregon State and Arizona for top flight talent in Los Angeles.
After the success of 2015, many were expecting a USC Baseball renaissance. Instead, the Trojans are back at the drawing board still searching for an identity and most of all, consistency in 2018 and beyond.