The last decade or so has been the golden age of Florida baseball. The Gators have reached the College World Series five times since 2005, reaching the final series twice in that span. Before this run, primarily under coach Kevin O’Sullivan, the Gators had been to Omaha just four times in their history.
Something, though, is missing. Florida has yet to add a baseball championship to an athletic program trophy case that has titles eight sports in the last decade, including football, men’s basketball and softball.
No question, O’Sullivan’s team in 2016 is built for a run at Omaha with a loaded pitching staff and core of offensive talent.
With college basketball starting up next week, here’s a look at Athlon’s preseason top 25 and All-America team.
This article and rankings of high school and college prospects can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016 Baseball Preview, available now on newsstands everywhere.
1. Florida (52–18, 19–11 SEC)
The amount of talent in Gainesville is almost unfair. RHP Logan Shore (11–6, 2.72) and LHP A.J. Puk (9–4, 3.81) lead seven pitchers who had a 4.02 ERA or lower. Freshman All-America catcher JJ Schwarz (.332-18-73) and OF Buddy Reed (.305, 18 SBs) head up a potent offense. As if that’s not enough, the No. 1-ranked recruiting class is chock full of talent, including nine MLB draft picks.
2. Louisville (47–18, 25–5 ACC)
The Cards got a shot in the arm when supplemental first-round draft pick Kyle Funkhouser (8–5, 3.20, 104 Ks) decided to return for his senior year. He joins two-way stud Brendan McKay (9–3, 1.77, 117 Ks and .308-4-34) and All-America candidates OF Corey Ray (.325-11-56, 34 SBs) and RHP Zack Burdi (6–1, 0.92).
3. Miami (50–17, 22–8 ACC)
Coming off an Omaha trip, the Hurricanes are back. The 1-through-9 is fiercely intimidating with Zack Collins (.302-15-70), Christopher Barr (.306, 15 SBs) and Willie Abreu (.288-6-47) leading the charge. LHPs Thomas Woodrey (7–2, 2.88) and Danny Garcia (7–1, 3.68) man the weekend, and the Canes boast a strong bullpen featuring RHPs Bryan Garcia (6–2, 2.50, 10 saves) and Cooper Hammond (5–1, 2.25) and LHP Michael Mediavilla (3–2, 1.94).
4. Oregon State (39–18–1, 19–10–1 Pac-12)
The Beavers are back to being Omaha-ready with hurlers such as Drew Rasmussen (7–4, 2.80), Sam Tweedt (8–1, 2.85) and Travis Eckert (6–2, 4.08). Plus, returning from injury are LHP Max Engelbrekt (5–1, 1.30 in 2013) and RHP Jake Thompson (3–2, 4.25 in 2014). All-America catcher KJ Harrison (.309-10-60) is one of six returning starters, and SS Nick Madrigal leads a top-10 freshman class.
5. Virginia (44–24, 15–15 ACC)
The national champions have to replace Brandon Waddell and Nathan Kirby, who are now UVa legends. RHP Connor Jones (7–3, 3.19) and LHP Kevin Doherty (3–1, 3.40, 3 saves) head up a talented, rebuilt staff. Three top hitters are back as C Matt Thaiss (.323-10-64), SS Daniel Pinero (.308-6-29) and 1B/OF Pavin Smith (.307-7-44) pack some pop. Keep tabs on freshman infielder Ryan Karstetter, a 6'4" lumberjack.
6. Vanderbilt (51–21, 20–10 SEC)
Never mind the exodus of names like Swanson, Wiseman, Wiel, Fulmer, Beuhler and Pfeifer. Coach Tim Corbin has kept the talent level ridiculously high. Pitchers Kyle Wright (6–1, 1.23), John Kilichowski (3–4, 2.84) and Jordan Sheffield (5-2, 2.85) and All-America candidates Bryan Reynolds (.318-5-49) and Jeren Kendall (.281-8-40) lead the way.
7. California (36–21, 18–12 Pac-12)
Coach Dave Esquer always gets the most out of his team, which could stalk another postseason run. Devin Pearson (.355-4-22) and Aaron Knapp (.310, 12 SBs) lead an offense that hit just .274. But the pitching is stout with LHP Matt Ladrech (7–4, 2.67) and RHP Daulton Jefferies (6–5, 2.92).
8. Oregon (38–25, 16–14 Pac-12)
Often close-but-no-cigar, this could be the year George Horton’s charges break through to Omaha. Lefties Cole Irvin (2–5, 4.10) and David Peterson (4–6, 4.39) and the return of former supplemental first-round draftee Matt Krook should make a daunting rotation. Seven field starters are back, as is former Freshman All-American A.J. Balta, who sat out 2015. The hyper-talented No. 8-ranked recruiting class features five MLB draftees.
9. Notre Dame (37–23, 17–13 ACC)
Surprised? Don’t be. Mik Aoki has been a miracle-worker. He’ll have 49 of 60 starts back on the mound. Ryan Smoyer (9–1, 2.27), Scott Tully (4–4, 3.17) and Brandon Bielak (6–3, 3.55) lead a deep, talented staff. The offense hit a boney-armed .250 last year, but the entire infield returns, led by 3B Kyle Fiala (.301-4-28) and 2B Cavan Biggio (.258-9-26), who both have major gap power.
10. Louisiana-Lafayette (42–23, 18–11 Sun Belt)
Is this deja vu from 2013? Perhaps. A full 54 of 65 pitching starts return from the Super Regional squad led by LHP Gunnar Leger (6–5, 2.99) and RHP Wyatt Marks (6–1, 3.24), and they’ll lean on closer Dylan Moore (3–3, 1.60, 13 saves). OF Kyle Clement (.346-8-32) and 2B/SS Stefan Trosclair (.338-16-53) will team with junior college All-American Steven Sensley, who hit 21 homers last year.
11. Texas A&M (50–14, 18–10 SEC)
The Aggies could finish much higher, especially if 2014 staff ace Tyler Stubblefield bounces back to 100 percent. Every significant bullpen arm is back, led by Andrew Vinson (5–2, 2.12, 5 saves) and Mark Ecker (1–2, 2.45, 8 saves). OF Nick Banks (.364-8-48) is an All-America-type, and Ryne Birk (.275-10-35) and Hunter Melton (.300-8-37) were huge reasons why the Aggies tied for third nationally in home runs.
12. NC State (36–23, 15–14 ACC)
The Pack caught fire in May and June and hope for a carryover effect. The pitching sported a 2.93 team ERA and has seven sub-3.50 hurlers back, led by weekend starters Brian Brown (7–3, 2.03) and Cory Wilder (2–5, 3.50) and reliever Tommy DeJuneas (3–3, 1.82, 6 saves). The offense hit .271, but Andrew Knizner (.317-5-42) and Preston Palmeiro (.305-7-49) will lead by example.
13. UCLA (45–16, 22–8 Pac-12)
It’s all about pitching and defense for the Bruins. Sure, there were some losses from last year’s team, but the No. 3 recruiting class features LHP Justin Hooper (95 mph fastball) and RHP Kyle Monar, who will join RHPs Grant Dyer (4–2, 1.83) and Griffin Canning (7–1, 2.97) to form a formidable rotation. OF Eric Filia (2013 All-CWS) returns, and infielders Luke Persico (.285-3-43) and Trent Chatterton (.281) are stout gloves.
14. Cal State Fullerton (39–25, 19–5 Big West)
Like UCLA above, the Titans thrive on being pitching-heavy and hard-nosed. Sophomore studs John Gavin (7–3, 3.66) and Connor Seabold (5–4, 3.26) are All-America candidates. Fresno State transfer RHP Blake Quinn and freshman RHP Colton Eastman will make an immediate impact. There are lots of seniors around the diamond, including OF Josh Vargas (.332), 3B/C Jerrod Bravo (.318) and much-improved SS Timmy Richards (.229).
15. Florida State (44–21, 17–13 ACC)
Oh, you know coach Mike Martin’s Seminoles — they’re never too far from the top. There are some holes to fill, but RHPs Mike Compton (4–4, 3.55) and Drew Carlton (5–5, 4.04) will pace the mound staff. Quincy Nieporte (.297-7-48), John Sansone (.245-8-38) and Dylan Busby (.242-9-45) have power but need to post better numbers. The No. 5-ranked recruiting class builds a base for the next few years of contention.
16. Arkansas (40–25, 17–12 SEC)
Give Dave Van Horn a deep pitching staff and watch out. That’s what 2016 brings as RHPs Keaton McKinney (6–2, 3.21), Dominic Taccolini (6–4, 4.32) and James Teague (6–4, 3.36) had 41 combined starts last year. Also, Zach Jackson (5–1, 2.10, 9 saves) might be the nation’s best reliever. Outfield is a question, but infielders Michael Bernal (.269) and Rick Nomura (.298) form a great double-play combo.
17. LSU (54–12, 21–8 SEC)
Wholesale changes in Tiger Town. Eight starters are gone, so look for lots of new faces. Freshmen Trey Dawson and O’Neal Lochridge could be instant infield stars. The pitching corps is well-stocked. All-American Alex Lange (12–0, 1.97) is pro-ready, as is sophomore LHP Jared Poche’ (9–2, 3.05). And bullpen aces like RHPs Jesse Stallings (1-2, 2.73, 12 saves) and Parker Bugg (1-2, 1.72) are back.
18. Oklahoma State (38–20, 14–8 Big 12)
Josh Holliday has led the Pokes to three straight NCAAs and two Regional host spots in Stillwater. Both streaks could continue as infielder Donnie Walton (.326-4-29) and reliever Garrett Williams (1–0, 4.91) both had great summers in the Cape Cod League. Seniors RF Corey Hassel (.312-3-33) and two-way threat Conor Costello (.240-6-35, 2–0, 1.67) are hungry for Omaha. 1B Dustin Williams (.276-6-38) looks for consistency.
19. Maryland (42–24, 14–10 Big Ten)
The Terps aren’t going away anytime soon. Coach John Szefc lost eight draftees last June, but a pair of All-Americans will keep things hot in RHP Mike Shawaryn (13–2, 1.71) and SS Kevin Smith (.273-7-35). C/DH Nick Cieri (.299) had a huge summer in the Cape Cod League, and junior college All-America OF Madison Nickens and 2B Nick Dunn head up a top-20 recruiting class.
20. Houston (43–20, 16–8 AAC)
Coach Todd Whitting believes he’s got two of the best starting pitchers in the country in LHP Seth Romero (7–4, 1.94) and RHP Andrew Lantrip (9–3, 2.62, 115 Ks). The bullpen needs re-tooling, but low-90s fireballer Bubba Maxwell is back after missing most of last season. Three of the six returnees in the batting order hit at least .300 — Corey Julks (.302-5-38), Jacob Campbell (.301-5-41) and Josh Vidales (.300).
21. Coastal Carolina (39–21, 17–7 Big South)
The Chanticleers went from 24 wins in 2014 to 39 last year. Look for more in 2016 as seven top hitters and four of the top five pitchers return. OF Anthony Marks (.343, 17 SBs), SS Michael Paez (.326-8-42) and C/1B G.K. Young (.301-9-49) should improve the .274 average. RHPs Bobby Holmes (4–1, 2.90), Andrew Beckwith (6–4, 3.26) and Alex Cunningham (6–0, 2.56) should see expanded roles.
22. Tulane (35–25, 13–11 AAC)
Nearly everyone is back from the first Green Wave Regional team since 2008. A veteran squad returns with RHPs Corey Merrill (5–6, 2.12), Emerson Gibbs (5–3, 2.73), Patrick Duester (7–6, 3.21) and Alex Massey (6–4, 3.67), who combined for 51 starts. The Wave sported a taut .971 defense and gets back SS Stephen Alemais (.312, 27 SBs), 1B Hunter Williams (.285-4-28) and 3B Hunter Hope (.230).
23. Georgia Tech (32–23, 13–17 ACC)
These guys missed the Regionals? Weird right? Virtually every facet of the team needs a reboot for the Yellow Jackets this season. Every pitcher of note returns, led by RHPs Brandon Gold (7–3, 3.26) and Zac Ryan (9–1, 3.59, 7 saves). The top three hitters are back in Ryan Peurifoy (.324), Keenan Innis (.310) and Kel Johnson (.298-10-34). The nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class will augment the Jackets’ ACC title hopes.
24. USC (39–21, 18–12 Pac-12)
Last year, USC returned to the NCAAs for the first time since 2005. Senior RHPs Kyle Davis (3–3, 4.05, 6 saves) and Brent Wheatley (4–4, 4.50) were drafted last June but came back. Senior OFs Timmy Robinson (.295-7-53, 19 SBs) and David Oppenheim (.284-3-27) join top arm Marc Huberman (6–4, 2.36, 4 saves) and top returning bat Jeremy Martinez (.296) to buoy the Trojans’ hopes of returning to the postseason.
25. Iowa (41–18, 19–5 Big Ten)
The Hawkeyes’ rise in recent years under Rick Heller has been phenomenal. Though only four field starters return, six pitchers who posted a sub-3.50 ERA return to a loaded staff in Iowa City. There’s a lot of experience, led by SS Nick Roscetti (.303), OF Joel Booker (.235, 9 SBs), RHP Calvin Mathews (5–3, 2.45) and 1B/RHP Tyler Peyton (.337, 7–4, 3.03), who is an excellent dual-threat. Junior college All-America SS Mason McCoy was the MVP of the summer Northwoods League.
2016 Preseason All-America Team
C: Zach Collins, Miami
1B: Will Craig, Wake Forest
2B: Stefan Trosclair, Louisiana-Lafayette
SS: Donnie Walton, Oklahoma State
3B: Bobby Dalbec, Arizona
OF: Bryan Reynolds, Vanderbilt
OF: Corey Ray, Louisville
OF: Nick Banks, Texas A&M
OF: Buddy Reed, Florida
DH: JJ Schwarz, Florida
UTL: Brendan McKay, Louisville
SP: Alex Lange, LSU
SP: Kyle Funkhouser, Louisville
SP: Mike Shawaryn, Maryland
SP: A.J. Puk, Florida
RP: Zach Jackson, Arkansas
RP: Zack Burdi, Louisville