A look at the best college baseball teams in the nation
The 2013 college baseball season will soon be underway. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
1. North Carolina (46–16 overall, 22–8 ACC) The talent is always there, but this time the Tar Heels will get the breaks, too. Coach Mike Fox has lots of star power in his roster, including All-Americans in beast-like 3B Colin Moran (.365-3-35) and Friday ace Kent Emanuel (8–4, 1.96), who is part of an intact weekend rotation. The No. 8-ranked recruiting class will keep things rolling, led by aptly named OF Skye Bolt.
2. Oregon State (40–20, 18–12 Pac-12) The term “embarrassment of riches” best describes the Beavers pitching corps. LHP Jace Fry (5–3, 2.45), LHP Ben Wetzler (8–2, 3.10) and RHP Dan Child (6–4, 2.95) combined for 45 starts, and relievers Matt Boyd (4–0, 3.41) and Tony Bryant (6–2, 3.82, 9 saves) have All-America potential. Sophomore Michael Conforto hit .349-13-76 as a freshman, and he leads seven returning field starters, three of whom hit .300-plus.
3. Vanderbilt (35–28, 16–14 SEC) Only Vanderbilt can boast having 18 MLB draftees on its roster. Plus, there are still 2011 CWS holdovers in 2B Tony Kemp (.261, 21 SBs), OF Connor Harrell (.241, 7 HRs), OF Mike Yastrzemski (.286, 14 SBs) and 1B Conrad Gregor (.328, 10 SBs). Pitchers Tyler Beede (1–5, 4.52), Kevin Ziomek (5–6, 5.22) and T.J. Pecoraro (2–4, 3.40) should improve their numbers, and the No. 1-ranked recruiting class will fill in the blanks.
4. Arkansas (46–22, 16–14 SEC) All you have to do is look at the numbers that potential All-America righties Ryne Stanek (8–4, 2.82), Colby Suggs (7–1, 1.38) and Barrett Astin (3–5, 1.99, 11 saves) posted to know the Razorbacks could be dominant. Add freshman LHP Colin Poche, a fifth-round draft pick last June, and the staff’s upside is scary. But offensively, Arkansas must improve a .271 team batting average. The Hogs will lean on SS Dominic Ficcocielo (.290-6-41).
5. NC State (43–20, 19–11 ACC) The high-ceiling talent of RHP Carlos Rodon (9–0, 1.57), C/OF Brett Austin (.284, 17 doubles) and 3B Trea Turner (.336-5-43, Division I-best 57 SBs), all sophomores, could have this program Omaha-bound soon. Ten of the 11 pitchers used last year come back, including senior weekend starters Ethan Ogburn (5–4, 3.38) and Anthony Tzamtzis (5–5, 4.38). Combative head coach Elliott Avent will have the best team of his tenure.
6. UCLA (48–16, 20–10 Pac-12) Like 2011, when the Bruins were pitching-heavy with Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole, UCLA is well-armed in 2013 with Friday ace Adam Plutko (12–3, 2.48), Saturday stud Nick Vander Tuig (10–4, 4.43) and closer extraordinaire David Berg (5–3, 1.46, 50 appearances). All four infielders return, led by 2B Kevin Williams (.302) and SS Pat Valaika (.266), and the incoming freshman class was ranked second nationally.
7. Stanford (41–18, 18–12 Pac-12) The Cardinal got a pleasant surprise when first-round draftee Mark Appel (10–2, 2.56) — picked No. 8 overall by the Pirates — didn’t sign, assuring Stanford of another stout pitching corps. Monstrous OF Austin Wilson (.285-10-54), stealth 1B Brian Ragira (.329-6-50) and smooth SS Lonnie Kauppila (.280) all return. Also keep an eye on Freshman All-America 3B Alex Blandino, who hit .294 with eight home runs in 29 starts last season.
8. TCU (40–22, 18–6 MWC) The Frogs finally get their wish to play in the Big 12, and they’re loaded for the challenge. Plenty of young talent returns. Sophomores 1B Kevin Cron (.338–6-34), RHP Preston Morrison (9–2, 2.08), 2B Derek Odell (.276-4-26) and OF Jerrick Suiter (.310) can play with anyone in the country. All three weekend starters — Morrison, Stefan Crichton (9–2, 3.41) and Andrew Mitchell (5–3, 3.74) — return as well.
9. LSU (47–18, 19–11 SEC) You going to let losing to Stony Brook last June in the Super Regionals sway you? Pshaw! The Tigers will be fine with new ace Aaron Nola (7–4, 3.61) and seven other pitchers with 25-plus innings coming back. And get this — national batting leader Raph Rhymes (.431) and the top returning SEC home run hitter, Mason Katz (.320-13-52), also return to haunt the conference.
10. Kentucky (45–18, 18–12 SEC) The Wildcat coaching staff believes they’ve got a national contender on their hands for 2013. Not a lot to argue about, as 15 former MLB draftees dot the Kentucky roster. Two big difference-makers are CF Austin Cousino (.319-9-41) and dual-threat LHP/1B A.J. Reed, an intimidator at the dish or on the mound. RHP Trevor Gott recorded a school-record nine saves last season and struck out 38 batters in 25.0 innings.
11. Florida State (50-17, 24-6 ACC) Let's quit doubting the Seminoles, especially since last year's "rebuilding season" ended in Omaha. Freshmen All American LHP Brandon Leibrandt (8-3, 2.82) pitched beyond his years in 2012 and senior Scott Sitz (4-3, 3.72) rejoins the rotation, along with six of the top eight relievers as well. But the offense was decimated as OF Josh Delph's .267 and SS Justin Gonzalez's .256 are the best returning averages.
12. South Carolina (49–20, 18–11 SEC) For those looking for a huge dip after South Carolina lost the core of a team that played in three straight national title series — as well as coach Ray Tanner — prepare to be disappointed. There’s lots of talent still at hand. Sophomores OF Tanner English (.298), SS Joey Pankake (.264), C Grayson Greiner (.222-6-32), LHP Jordan Montgomery (6–1, 3.62) and RHP Evan Beal (4–4, 3.81, 5 saves) are all primed for big things, as is the 10th-ranked recruiting class.
13. Oregon (46–19, 19–11 Pac-12) The George Horton Factor is beginning to take full effect, as the Ducks narrowly missed a trip to Omaha in 2012. Six starters and six of the top eight pitchers return from the best fielding and pitching team in the conference. Eight-game winners Jake Reed and Jeff Gold have All-Pac-12 ability, and reliever Jimmie Sherfy (5–3, 2.20) saved 19 games last year.
14. Arizona (48–17, 20–10 Pac-12) The defending national champs return seven of the top eight pitchers from 2012, including starters Konner Wade (11–3, 3.96) and James Farris (7–3, 3.97), as well as Mathew Troupe (6–1, 3.47, 6 saves), who closed down the title game in Omaha. But five of the top nine sticks are gone, so OF Johnny Field (.370) and C Riley Moore (.301) will have to step into leadership roles.
15. Louisville (41–22,18–9 Big East) A disappointing 10–9 finish should light a fire under these guys for 2013, especially with a chock-full cupboard. RHPs Jeff Thompson (9–4, 4.00) and Jared Ruxer (8–3, 3.38) are big time, as is 100 mph hurler Nick Burdi (1–2, 5.56), who could be a difference-maker. Eight of nine starters return to the order, led by sonic speedsters Adam Engel (.308, 37 SBs) and Ty Young (.344, 15 SBs).
16. Coastal Carolina (42–19, 18–5 Big South) The new perennial mid-major monsters, the Chanticleers are always ready to knock off the big boys. Most of what was an elite pitching staff returns, led by 17-game starter Tyler Herb (9–2, 2.98) and a pair of intriguing seniors in Aaron Burke and Ryan Connolly, who had 70 appearances, 15 wins, 18 saves but no starts between them. CCU stole 91 bases last year.
17. Cal State Fullerton (36–21, 17–7 Big West) Last year, the Titans had almost no pitching back, yet still finished with a stellar 3.18 team ERA using mostly freshmen. This year, All-America dual-threat Michael Lorenzen (.297/2–0, 1.23, 16 saves) leads a potentially intimidating murderers’ row with J.D. Davis (.229) and Carlos Lopez (.317). Defense is always a Titan staple and will feature SS Richy Pedroza (.324) and 3B Matt Chapman (.286).
18. San Diego (40–17, 15–9 West Coast) Rich Hill’s 2013 Toreros will go as far as his three-pronged trio of stars take them in RHP Michael Wagner (19 saves), 3B Kris Bryant (best power hitter in Division I) and RHP Dylan Covey (former first-round draftee). The remainder of the pitching staff will be young, but seven field starters return, including Bryant’s partners-in-crime OF/LHP Louie Lechich (.311) and C Dillon Haupt (.279-5-31).
19. Arizona State (36–20, 18–12 Pac-12) The dark skies have parted. Sun Devils baseball is free from sanctions. Opponents have been warned. Coach Tim Esmay will have the battery of Team USA member Trevor Williams (12–2, 2.05) and C Max Rossiter (.326), plus six incoming freshmen who were MLB draftees — including Canadian LHP Ryan Kellogg (12th round) and LHP Brett Lilek (37th round), who threw the best of any pitcher in fall camp.
20. Georgia Tech (38–26, 12–18 ACC) The Georgia Tech campus must have some kind of centrifugal force to it, because three MLB draftees turned down big pro money — RHP Buck Farmer (8–4, 3.54, 115 Ks), OF Kyle Wren (.256, 16 SBs) and OF Brandon Thomas (.360-5-44), who was a fourth-round pick. All three weekend starting pitchers return, as do seven starters in the field, including C/RHP Zane Evans, who had seven saves in relief.
21. UC Irvine (31–25, 13–11 Big West) If the injury-riddled Anteaters stay healthy, this could be a top-10 team. Opponents hit just .235 against 2012’s patchwork staff, which gets Matt Whitehouse (4–0, 2.12 in 2011) back, along with RHP Andrew Thurman (8–3, 2.66) and RHP Kyle Hooper (3-1, 1.30). 3B Taylor Sparks (.202) needs to reach his high-round potential, and newcomer Dominique Taylor is an absolute blur in center field.
22. Florida (47–20, 18–12 SEC) Possibly the most interesting team to keep an eye on, the Gators were ravaged by the draft, losing a ton of MLB talent. But this program is used to reloading. RHPs Jonathon Crawford (6–2, 3.13) and former first-round draft pick Karsten Whitson (4–0, 3.51) are in their draft-eligible years and will be building blocks for the pitching staff. Three-fourths of the infield is back, led by 2B Casey Turgeon (.281-4-30).
23. Rice (41–19, 17–7 Conference USA) Yep, we’re not used to seeing the Owls this far from the top 10, so there’s plenty of work ahead. For now veteran coach Wayne Graham will lean on returning starters in 2B Christian Stringer (.343), SS Ford Stainback (.289) and 3B Shane Hoelscher (.244-4-30). RHP Austin Kubitza (6–5, 2.69) has All-America potential, and freshman RHP Kevin McCanna should make a big impact right away.
24. New Mexico (37–24, 18–6 Mountain West) Energetic head coach Ray Birmingham has a trio of legit All-America candidates in 3B DJ Peterson (.419-17-78), who finished fifth nationally in hitting, OF Ryan Padilla (.353-5-49), a Freshman All-American in 2012, and C Mitch Garver (.377-10-57), a Johnny Bench Award finalist. RHP Josh Walker (8–3, 4.19) leads a re-worked pitching staff that will feature some stout transfers from the junior college ranks, headed by mid-90s hurler Tyler Spencer.
25. UCF (45–17, 16–8 Conference USA) Coach Terry Rooney has built a monster next to Disney World as the Knights continue to climb. Staff horse Ben Lively (9–2, 3.00) has a brigade of lefties with him, including starters Chris Matulis (7–0, 3.68) and Brian Adkins (3–6, 4.78). Though big sticks D.J. Hicks and Ronnie Richardson are gone, senior Chris Taladay (.298-5-49) and OF Eric Hempe (.307-7-29 in 2011) are good building blocks.
By Eric Sorenson, founder of www.CollegeBaseballToday.com and contributor to ESPN.com.