Baseball is all about timing, and Cal heads into the Pac-12 baseball tournament at the right time. Cal has won six games in a row and is probably playing its best baseball of the season as it prepares for its opening game of the first Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday night against UCLA.
"We got hot at the perfect time," said Cal star outfielder Dylan Beavers.
The Bears (28-25, 14-16 Pac-12) need to win the Pac-12 tournament to get a berth in the NCAA tournament, but Beavers likes Cal's chances.
"I think if we keep this momentum going in the tournament we have a good shot of winning the tournament," Beavers said shortly before the team left for Scottsdale, Ariz., site of the Pac-12 tournament.
---Beavers was one of three Cal players named to the 35-player all-Pac-12 team on Tuesday, along with Bears first baseman Nathan Martorella and catcher/DH Caleb Lomavita. Conference player of the year is Jacob Melton of Oregon State and pitcher of the year is Alex Williams of Stanford---
Cal head coach Mike Neu is pulling a bit of surprise by having Josh White start the opener against UCLA (35-20, 19-11). White began the season as a starter, but when Cal's relievers struggled, White (1-6, 5.64 ERA) was moved back to the bullpen and became the closer, much as he was used last year. Wednesday will be his first start since April 1, and he has not pitched at all since working one inning of relief against New Mexico on May 15.
The tournament is split into two divisions with double-elimination play within each division, before the two division winners meet in a one-game Pac-12 championship game on Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2. Sixth-seeded Cal and No. 3 seed UCLA are grouped with second-seeded Oregon State and No. 7 Washington in its division.
Cal went 1-2 during the season against both UCLA and Oregon State and won two of three from Washington.
The Bears will play the last of the four games on Wednesday, and their game against UCLA is expected to start some time between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.
But Beavers, for one, much prefers starting late at night than 9 a.m., which is when Arizona and Oregon will play.
"It would have been weird," Beavers said of a 9 a.m. start.
Cal will play either Oregon State or Washington on Thursday, and that game would be at night if Cal wins Wednesday or early afternoon if Cal loses to UCLA.
If Beavers gets hot at the plate, Cal's chances improve significantly. A preseason All-America selection, Beavers is hitting .292 with 16 homers, which ranks second in the Pac-12, and a .639 slugging percentage, which is fourth in the conference. His average (.302 in 2021) and home run total (18 last year) are down slightly from last season, but last year Beavers did not have the reputation he brought into this season.
This season, he has walked 49 times, which is the second-most in the Pac-12, and Utah walked him seven times in last weekend's three-game series. It has made things more challenging for Beavers
"It was definitely a more difficult year, just because I wasn't getting as much to hit," he said.
Beavers, a junior, has a chance of being taken in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, which is scheduled for July 17-19. (Obviously it can no longer be called the June draft.)
However, there are varying opinions on Beavers.
MLB.com ranks Beavers as the No. 20 prospect in the draft, and says this:
The college ranks in northern California have a pair of toolsy, left-handed-hitting outfielders, both with considerable upside. One is Brock Jones from Stanford and the other is Beavers, who hit 18 homers and slugged .630 at Cal in 2021. A rough summer in the Cape Cod League and with USA Baseball last summer drew concerns, but the power was back on display this spring.
When Beavers is locked in, he’s the proverbial five-tool player. During the spring of 2021, he reminded some scouts of Christian Yelich as a left-handed hitter who makes good swing decisions and hard contact in the strike zone. But using a bit of an unorthodox setup with lower hand positioning, he does have some timing issues and there are some holes in his swing. He was tied up inside at times over the summer. He was streaky in the fall, though he did show some flashes of brilliance, especially getting to his easily plus raw power, something that continued this spring.
While he’s big at 6-foot-4, Beavers is an above-average runner who has the chance to stay in center field, though his near-plus arm would work just fine in right. He hasn’t received a ton of instruction in terms of making adjustments mechanically at the plate, but there will be teams willing to look past the hit risk and bank on helping him tap into all of his tools at the next level.
And D1 Baseball ranks Beavers as the 13th-best prospect among current college players.
Beavers is a young junior, turning 21 in August, with power and patience – he’s at 73 walks and 32 homers since the start of the 2021 season – but too much swing and miss in his game, with a handsy swing that leads to whiffs even in the zone.
Beavers seems to have more upside than a lot of the prospects. Unlike former Cal star Andrew Vaughn, who was more or less a finished product when he was the third overall pick in the 2019 draft, Beavers has room to improve as a hitter.
"I have a ton of room to grow, and, I think, more than a lot of people," he said.
One thing he won't be doing at the major-league level is pitching, even though he was recruited to Cal as both a pitcher and a hitter, with Beavers expecting to be used more as a pitcher in college.
"I'll never pitch again," Beavers said.
But if he's hitting well over the next several days, he could carry Cal into the weekend of the Pac-12 tournament.
He had two homers against UCLA in the three-game series against the Bruins during the regular season, and he had three homers in three games against Oregon State, a possible second-day foe for the Bears.
Cover photo of Dylan Beavers
Follow Jake Curtis of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jakecurtis53
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