Welcome to a Colorado Buffaloes blog to talk about a sport we don’t have here. I won’t pretend to be a college baseball expert, but I can claim to be completely neutral in creating this list of all-time Pac-12 baseball players. (This isn’t true: I’m an Oregon State fan after my Buffs.)
The criteria for this list is maybe a bit too loose and fast, but I leaned towards including Golden Spikes Award recipients (baseball’s Heisman), National Champions, and multi-season performers. It’s also worth mentioning that the Pac-12 has been really good at baseball historically, better than they are at football and basketball. It’s so stacked that Spencer Torkelson, the 2020 first overall pick who hit 54 home runs in just 129 career games, barely receives honorable mention.
First Team All-Pac-12
C: Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
A switch-hitter with vision and patience, power and contact, and a great defender to boot, Adley Rutschman may be the second best pro prospect ever at the position (Buster Posey is easily first). He broke out in 2018 during Oregon State’s title run, starring in that College World Series en route to being named Most Outstanding Player. He was even better in 2019 as he slashed .411/.575(!)/.751 and was ultiamately chosen first overall in the 2019 MLB Draft.
1B: Andrew Vaughn, California
It’s difficult to pick Andrew Vaughn over Mark McGwire, but the Cal star was far the better pure hitter. He didn’t win any team trophies, but that’s because his teammates weren’t very good. He won the 2018 Golden Spikes Award after batting .402 with 23 home runs in just 54 games. He finished his Cal career with an absurd career slash line of .374/.495/.688.
2B: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State
Despite being 5’7 on a good day, Nick Madrigal is one of the best contact hitters in Pac-12 history. The emotional leader of some dominant Beavers team (they went 146-37 from 2016 to 2018), Madrical was the guy who got momentum going with his contact hitting, speed and instincts on the base paths. He broke his thumb his junior season and was held back by the after-effects, but he was still good enough to lead Oregon State to the 2018 College World Series title.
3B: Bob Horner, Arizona State
If not for the legendary Robin Ventura, Bob Horner would have a case for best ever college third baseman. The first Golden Spikes winner in 1978, Horner finished his career with 58 career home runs, the NCAA record at the time, and led ASU to three consecutive CWS appearances, including a national title in 1977. Horner was so good that he appeared for the Atlanta Braves just eight days after they selected him first overall in the 1978 MLB Draft.
SS: Dustin Pedroia, Arizona State
Before winning an MVP and multiple World Series with the Boston Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia was the ultimate dirtbag archetype at Arizona State. Undersized and teeming with rage, Pedroia had a career batting average of .384, twice won National Defensive Player of the Year, and famously had an ironman streak of 185 consecutive starts.
OF: Barry Bonds, Arizona State
Even if his teammates hated his guts, Barry Bonds is the greatest all-time Sun Devil in addition to being baseball’s GOAT (imo). In three seasons in Tempe, Bonds hit over .360 each year, hit 45 home runs (before BESR bats juiced the sport), and twice led the Devils to Omaha. But man, yeah, he was such an ass that his teammates tried to vote him off the team.
OF: Oddibe McDowell, Arizona State
Probably the name you least expected to see, Oddibe McDowell struggled in the big leagues but was a megastar at Arizona State. His 1984 season is probably the single best performance I have found in this research. That year he batted .405, stole 36 bases, scored 105 runs and even knocked in 76 runs. He won the Golden Spikes Award that year, quite easily.
OF: Terry Francona, Arizona
Terry Francona’s 1980 season made him a legend at Arizona. He hit .409 that season, won the Golden Spikes Award, led Arizona to a College World Series title, and was named CWS Most Outstanding Player. Knowing that he became a two-time champion manager, it’s easy to imagine that he was also the emotional leader on that team.
UTILITY: John Olerud, Washington State
John Olerud could appear on this list as either a starting pitcher or a first baseman, as he’s probably the best two-way player in college history. His 1988 season was absolutely bonkers: he batted .464 with 23 home runs and went 15-0 on the mound. He was named the Pac-12’s Player of the Century in 2016.
RHP: Mark Prior, USC
Mark Prior pitched only two seasons for USC, but he made his mark as the best pitcher in conference history. With a power fastball and a nastier curveball, Prior flummoxed every batter he faced, ultimately powering USC to two CWS appearances in 2000 and 2001. His junior season, in which he had 202 strikeouts to pair with a 1.69 ERA and 0.85 WHIP, won him every National Player of the Year award in 2001.
LHP: Barry Zito, USC
Admittedly, the Pac-12 has lacked elite left-handed pitchers, so Zito isn’t quite on the same level as Prior, Tim Lincecum or Trevor Bauer. Nonetheless, he was damn good in his one season at USC, ultimately being named First-Team All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year. He gets bonus points for outdueling Justin Verlander in the 2012 World Series.
RP: David Berg, UCLA
David Berg never found professional success, but he’s still the most dominant reliever I’ve seen in the Pac-12. A submarine pitcher with superb movement and control, Berg was as clutch as clutch can be. He recorded an NCAA-record 24 saves as he helped UCLA win the 2013 College World Series. He finished his UCLA career with 49 career saves, just short of Blair Erickson’s NCAA record of 53. He would have easily set the record if he hadn’t been injured during his junior and senior seasons.
Manager: Rod Dedeaux, USC
Coaching from 1946 to 1986, Dedeaux retired as the winningest baseball coach in NCAA history. He also won 11 national championships, including a five-peat from 1970 to 1974.
Second Team All-Pac-12
C: John Stearns, Colorado
We have a Buff! John Stearns, the legendary two-sport athlete who set the CU record for 16 career interceptions as a safety, is the Pac-12’s second best catcher ever, even if he played in the Big Eight. A terrific defender behind the plate, Stearns was an even better hitter, as he hit .492 in 1972, led the NCAA in home runs (15, with wood bats) in 1973, was named first-team All-American and was the second pick in the 1973 MLB Draft. Colorado disbanded their baseball team in 1980, so it’s not surprising that Stearns is the school’s career leader in many offensive stats.
1B: Mark McGwire, USC
Before he was *Mark McGwire*, ‘roided out home run king, he was still a power-hitting titan at Southern California. In 1984, he slugged 31 home runs in just 65 games; in other terms, he hit a homer once every 7.6 at-bats. Oh, and for good measure, Randy Johnson was on the same team and McGwire was USC’s better pitcher.
2B: Xavier Nady, California
Xavier Nady played at a time of inflated offense, but he put up number that look ridiculous even in that time. Nady set the all-time Pac-12 record for career slugging percentage (.756) and his 23 home runs in 1999 wasn’t matched by any Cal player until Andrew Vaughn. He was a three-time All-American, Freshman of the Year, and holds numerous Cal records for home runs, RBI, total bases and slugging percentage. He’s also an extremely deep cut mid-2000s MLB player, and my editor is a Pirates fan.
3B: Troy Glaus, UCLA
Troy Glaus tends to be forgotten when discussing mid-2000s superstars. He won’t be forgotten in this list, even if it pains me to have him just on the second team. His junior season at UCLA was something special, as he hit .409 with 34 home runs and 91 RBI as he led the Bruins to the 1997 national title.
SS: Darwin Barney, Oregon State
When the Beavers won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007, it was Darwin Barney making things happen as lead-off hitter and defensive ace. He wasn’t the flashiest, and he wasn’t the best pro prospect, but he was so solid and always came through in the biggest moments.
OF: Mike Kelly, Arizona State
Consensus National Player of the Year in 1990 and Golden Spikes winner in 1991, Mike Kelly was a power hitter who just so happened to also be a great contact hitter, baserunner and defender. In his career — before gorilla ball began — he hit .350, slugged 46 home runs, scored 197 runs and knocked in 196.
OF: Jacoby Ellsbury, Oregon State
It was poor timing for Jacoby Ellsbury, who helped Oregon State become a national power, but left for the pros just before the Beavers won their first national title in 2006. A contact hitter with elite speed, Ellsbury is the single-season record holder for hits in a season (99) and the school’s all-time leader in runs scored (168). Ellsbury was so good and so cool and he should have won the 2011 MVP over Justin Verlander.
OF: Michael Conforto, Oregon State
While Ellsbury was speed and defense, Conforto was patience and power. With a smooth left-handed swing, Conforto was a three-time All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, and he led OSU to the 2013 CWS.
RHP: Tim Lincecum, Washington
Full disclosure: Trevor Bauer should probably be here instead of Tim Lincecum. But Lincecum is my all-time favorite athlete, the most exciting pitcher I have ever seen, and a lovely person off the field. (Bauer, on the other hand, seems insufferable.) Lincecum was dominant at Washington, posting a 1.94 ERA while striking out 199 batters in just 125 innings pitched, eventually winning the 2006 Golden Spikes Award.
LHP: Luke Heimlich, Oregon State
This has to be the most controversial selection on the team, not because of his pitching ability, but because Luke Heimlich’s career has been tarnished by an unforgivable crime he committed at age 15. That has deservedly overshadowed his career in Corvallis, where he led the nation with a 0.81 ERA in 2017, won National Pitcher of the Year in 2018, and helped the Beavers win the CWS.
RP: Jack Krawczyk, USC
For as many saves that UCLA’s David Berg racked up, he’s tied atop the Pac-12 leaderboards with Jack Krawczyk. His final season was a dominant 23-save year in which he helped USC to the 1998 National Championship.
Manager: Pat Casey, Oregon State
Until Pat Casey’s retirement in 2019, Oregon State had only had two baseball coaches in their entire existence dating back to 1977. Jack Riley built up a solid program, but Casey turned them into a national power. Powered by ace pitching and player development, the Beavers broke through in 2006, repeated in 2007, and pulled off a dramatic win in 2018.
C: A.J. Hinch, Stanford
1B: Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
2B: Torey Lovullo, UCLA
3B: Brett Wallace, Arizona State
SS: Gabe Alvarez, USC
OF: Fred Lynn, USC
OF: Cole Gillespie, Oregon State
OF: Eric Byrnes, UCLA
RHP: Trevor Bauer, UCLA
LHP: Tyler Anderson, Oregon
RP: Kevin Gunderson, Oregon State
Manager: Jim Brock, Arizona State