Gold: Predicting the Pac-12 baseball award winners
Sprinting toward a 2nd consecutive league title and with 4 players splitting all 3 postseason awards, you might expect Stanford head coach David Esquer to be a shoo-in for a repeat Coach of the Year award. And he very well take home the honor.
But we don’t want the Cardinal to get too greedy now, do we?
There’s got to be some drama with the postseason awards, or this article would not be very long or fun. Unless you’re a Stanford fan — or maybe a Washington fan — it might not be.
Here are my picks for Pac-12 award winners…
Player of the Year: Stanford C/LF/DH Alberto Rios
Rios could go down as one of the most improbable Pac-12 Player of the Year recipients in the history of the award.
On a team loaded with candidates, Rios may have been the last Cardinal projected for this award at the outset of the season. He appeared in 7 games a pinch hitter last year, and once as a freshman in 2021. Stanford recruited over him at catcher with Malcolm Moore (see later), and he was relegated to the 7-hole in a loaded lineup.
Then he exploded out of the gate with hits in his 1st 7 games, including 3 multi-hit games. And it was a 5-for-7, 2-homer, 11-RBI performance on March 5 that truly announced his presence. He may have topped that monster night with a 5-for-6, 3-homer, 9-RBI day against Arizona on May 14.
For the year, he’s been the best hitter in the league, though Arizona’s Chris Davis and Kiko Romero would put up a fight. Heck, so would his teammate, Tommy Troy.
But Rios ranks 3rd in the league with a .399 batting average, tied for 3rd with 73 hits, tied for 3rd with 16 home runs and tied for 2nd with 60 RBIs. He’s the only player in the league to rank in the top 5 in all 3 triple crown categories.
What a remarkable season.
Pitcher of the Year: Stanford RHP Quinn Mathews
No surprise here.
While Rios came from literally left field, Mathews was a consensus All-America selection, including a 1st-team pick by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Perfect Game. He was terrific last year, compiling a 9-2 record with a 3.08 ERA in 27 appearances with 9 starts, finishing 2nd in the Pac-12 in ERA, wins, strikeouts, saves and hits allowed per game
He’s been similarly impressive this year as Stanford’s ace. Mathews once again has a 3.08 ERA, to go along with a 6-3 record and 113 strikeouts in 90.2 innings. His innings and strikeouts lead the league, and his wins and ERA rank 2nd.
Forget his overall stats, though.
What has been most impressive for Mathews has been his remarkable consistency. He finished with double-digit strikeouts in 6 consecutive starts between March 31 and May 5.
Coach of the Year: Washington HC Jason Kelly
This is a tough one. Should COY honor the coach of the best team? Or the one whose team outperformed expectations by the biggest margin?
I always tend to side with the latter, so, with all due respect to Stanford’s Esquer, last year’s Pac-12 COY, Kelly gets my vote.
The former Huskies pitching coach returned to Seattle to take over for his former boss, Lindsay Meggs, who retired after last season. Kelly has been nothing short of fantastic in leading Washington to its best season since 2018, which culminated in the Huskies’ lone College World Series appearance, though that achievement was vacated because of recruiting violations.
Washington is currently riding a 12-1 stretch, and it’s clear the Huskies are playing their best baseball in years. Sweeps of Oregon and USC, two top-half teams in the Pac-12, were particularly impressive.
Kelly, a long-time pitching coach, has helped turn the Washington rotation into arguably the best in the Pac-12. Stu Flesland III and Kiefer Lord rank 8th and 9th in the league in ERA, respectively, while Jared Engman ranks 18th. Reliever Grant Cunningham has been one of the best in the league, with a terrific 3.54 ERA in a hitter-friendly conference and 4 saves.
This is perhaps not a surprise, with Kelly building a reputation as one of the best pitching coaches in college baseball. Last year, he served as LSU’s pitching coach after two seasons in the same role with Arizona State. He’s helped the Huskies rank 3rd in the league with a 4.45 staff ERA, despite low strikeout numbers. Washington also ranks 2nd in fielding percentage, and the Huskies’ strengths in those two disciplines makes up for a middling offense.
Once Kelly can add some big bats — watch out.
Freshman of the Year: Stanford P Matt Scott / Stanford C Malcolm Moore
Another one that is an incredibly close call, so I went ahead and called it a draw. A battery bonus, maybe.
Stanford’s two top freshman prospects were as advertised, as Scott was an instant hit on the mound and Moore a reliable presence both behind and at the plate. In the end, it was just too difficult to choose between two key Cardinal cogs of the future.
Moore came to Palo Alto with more hype as Perfect Game’s top prep catching prospect in the country.
On a team loaded with big bats, Moore’s offensive exploits have been a bit overlooked, but he’s posted phenomenal numbers for an everyday-starting freshman catcher, batting .299 with 11 home runs, 45 RBIs and 11 doubles. He’s also sporting a .993 fielding percentage and has caught 9 baserunners.
His potential is sky-high, kind of like the 6-foot-7 Scott.
Scott was the 87th-ranked recruit in the country but one of the Pac-12’s top pitching prospects, and he’s delivered for the Cardinal on a regular basis. He’s got a 4.55 ERA in 9 starts, good for 12th in the league, with 54 strikeouts in 55.1 innings. He’s vacillated between starting and relieving, but he’s been effective in both roles.