Preseason All-America catcher Evan Skoug is one of the reasons TCU could play in a fourth consecutive College World Series
Coastal Carolina’s run to the 2016 College World Series title was somewhat unprecedented in that the Chanticleers accomplished the feat in their first-ever appearance. But it also continued a trend in that it marked the fourth straight year the College World Series was won by a team for the first time. UCLA started it in 2013, followed by Vanderbilt and then Virginia.
Will this trend continue in 2017? It’s possible considering TCU (4 CWS appearances) leads off Athlon Sports’ preseason top 25, while the likes of Florida State (21 appearances), Texas Tech (2), Clemson (12), Florida (10) and UC Santa Barbara (1) are in the top 10. But the first spots in the poll also have plenty of representation from the sport's blue bloods, if you will, with LSU (6 CWS titles), Cal State Fullerton (4) and the aforementioned Commodores also landing in the top 10.
And the last member of the preseason top 10? None other than the defending champions, who are aiming to join an elite group by becoming just the sixth team to win back-to-back College World Series titles (USC, Stanford, LSU, Oregon State, South Carolina).
Here is Athlon Sports’ complete College Baseball Preseason Top 25 and All-America team for the 2017 season. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon’s 2017 Baseball Preview, which is available for purchase online and on newsstands everywhere.
Athlon Sports’ College Baseball Preseason Top 25
(2016 record listed)
1. TCU (49–18, 15–9 Big 12)
It’s good to be Jim Schlossnagle right now. The Horned Frogs maestro has a team stacked with talent that should get back to Omaha. Eight starters return, including 3B Elliott Barzilli (.339-7-48), C Evan Skoug (.301-9-51), the double-play duo of 2B Cam Warner (.300-6-43) and SS Ryan Merrill (.298, 11 SBs) and hulking DH Luken Baker (.379-11-62). The pitching staff returns 55 of 67 starts from last year and also gets incoming LHP Nick Lodolo, who was a first-round draft pick last June.
2. LSU (45–21, 19–11 SEC)
The experienced Tigers are looking to make amends for a Super Regional collapse against Coastal Carolina last June. SS Kramer Robertson (.324), 2B Cole Freeman (.329) and 1B Greg Deichmann (.288-11-57) all return despite getting drafted last summer. Alex Lange (8–4, 3.79) could be the top pitcher in the country, and LHP Jared Poche (9–4, 3.35) turned down the Padres as a 14th-round draftee. Expect big things from freshman flingers Hunter Kiel and Zack Hess, who were part of another top-10 recruiting class.
3. Florida State (41–22, 16–10 ACC)
Every year we ask, “Is this the year for the Seminoles?” And yes, indeed, this could be. Mike Martin has a full arsenal of arms back, including LHP Tyler Holton (3–4, 2.79) and RHPs Drew Carlton (8–3, 3.94) and Cole Sands (6–7, 4.13) who combined for 44 starts a year ago. SS Taylor Walls (.355-6-46) is a dynamic team leader and Brooks Wallace Award candidate, while Cal Raleigh (.301) and Dylan Busby (.323) combined for 24 HRs and 105 RBIs. Freshman 1B Drew Mendoza is a sure-fire future All-American.
4. Texas Tech (47–20, 19–5 Big 12)
Remember all the talk about the freshman-heavy arms that pitched the Raiders to Omaha? Well, those greenhorns are a year wiser and better now as Davis Martin (10–1, 2.52), Steven Gingery (4–2, 3.18), Ryan Shetter (4–2, 4.02) and Erikson Lanning (3–4, 5.02) enter Year 2 in Lubbock. There were some big losses in the batting order, but top bat Tanner Gardner (.379) and the middle infield of Orlando Garcia (.265) and Michael Davis (.268) should be outstanding. Freshman OF John McMillon is going to be a star soon.
5. Cal State Fullerton (36–23, 17–7 Big West)
As you know, when the Titans have dominating arms, they have Omaha contention written all over them. All-America candidates LHP John Gavin (6–3, 2.09), RHP Colton Eastman (8–3, 2.24) and RHP Connor Seabold (7–6, 2.48) helped hold opposing batters to a .212 average. Yikes. A ton of experience is back in the field with SS Timmy Richards (.280-9-31), who was an 18th-round draftee last June, C Chris Hudgins (.220) and 3B Taylor Bryant (redshirt). Incoming 2B Dillon Persinger and OF Chris Prescott have MLB tools.
6. Vanderbilt (43–19, 18–12 SEC)
The Commodores are hoping for smoother seas for 2017 thanks to returnees such as starting pitchers Kyle Wright (8–4, 3.09) and Patrick Raby (7–1, 2.61) plus relievers Matt Ruppenthal (5–1, 2.33) and Collin Snider (4–0, 2.57), all righties. OF Jeren Kendall (.332-9-59) spent last summer with Team USA and figures to be a top-5 pick in the 2017 draft. Look for INF Will Toffey (.227) to bounce back and provide some punch in the middle of the lineup. The 11th-ranked incoming class will fill some holes to keep the machine chugging along.
7. Clemson (44–20, 16–14 ACC)
The Tigers have a pair of legit All Americans in lumberjack slugger Seth Beer (.370-18-70) and versatile LHP Pat Krall (10-2, 1.67). OF Chase Pinder (.295-11-46) and Presbyterian transfer OF Weston Jackson (third-team All American in 2016) will lead a potent offense. Six of the top seven pitchers return, including Alex Eubanks (6–5, 4.09) and Charlie Barnes (6–4, 4.66), who combined for 27 starts a year ago.
8. Coastal Carolina (55–18, 21–3 Big South)
Our national champions aren’t going away anytime soon. Nearly the entire arms corps returns, as the Friday-Saturday combo of Andrew Beckwith (15–1, 1.85) and Alex Cunningham (10–4, 3.62) are joined by mid-90s RHPs Jason Bilous (3–1, 4.43) and Bobby Holmes (7–2, 4.20) as CWS vets who thrive in pressure situations. The rebuilt order has CF Billy Cooke (.324, 27 SBs) and 3B Seth Lancaster (.326, 15 SBs) as leaders, while SS Jordan Gore and 2B Wood Myers are transfers from South Carolina and North Carolina, respectively, who will be studs.
9. Florida (52–16, 19–10 SEC)
The Gators lost a lot off the 2016 squad, but as a testament to the talent that coach Kevin O’Sullivan has brought in the last few years, they are still a top-10 squad. Alex Faedo (13–3, 3.18), SS Dalton Guthrie (.305), 3B Jonathan India (.303, 13 SBs) and DH JJ Schwarz (.290-7-60) are the next line of All-America types, and sophomore RHPs Jackson Kowar (3–0, 3.37) and Brady Singer (2–2, 4.95) will move from the bullpen to the weekend rotation and will probably excel. It’s in their DNA.
10. UCSB (43–20–1, 13–11 Big West)
Though they’ll miss staff ace Shane Bieber, the miracle beach boys have Joe Record (6–5, 3.91) and Noah Davis (7–4, 4.46) returning to their weekend posts, and relief ace Kyle Nelson (10 saves) heads up a deep bullpen. The middle infield of SS Clay Fisher (.285, 14 SBs) and 2B J.J. Muno (.294, 17 SBs) could be the nation’s best, and 1B Austin Bush (11 HRs) adds some thump. Freshman pitchers Chris Lincoln (13th round), Ben Brecht (36th round) and Jack Dashwood (Area Code Games alum) will contribute right away.
11. Oregon State (35–19, 16–14 Pac-12)
Hard to believe the Beavers sat at home last June, but worry not — they’ll make amends this time around. OSU will feature LHP Luke Heimlich (7–4, 3.53) and RHP Bryce Fehmel (10–1, 2.31), who are absolute studs. They’ll have LHP Max Engelbrekt (11 saves) to lock down late leads. Sophomore middle infielders Nick Madrigal (.333) and Cadyn Grenier (.240) are former 17th- and 21st-round draft picks, respectively. Expect a big season from 1B K.J. Harrison, who hit only .265 but spent last summer with Team USA.
12. Arizona (49–24, 16–14 Pac-12)
Jay Johnson and his staff pulled the Cats to within a two-RBI single of winning it all last year. They’ll get LHP JC Cloney (8–4, 2.45) back plus LHP Cameron Ming (3–3, 3.59) and RHP Cody Deason (1–2, 3.73), who had great fall camps. 1B JJ Matijevic (.287) and C Cesar Salazar (.276) return, plus the recruiting class was ranked No. 4 nationally and features transfers in OF Cal Stevenson (.359 at Nevada), 1B Cory Voss (.346 at New Mexico) and 6'8" hurler Tylor Megill (6-3, 3.95 at LMU), all former Freshman All-Americans.
13. South Carolina (46–18, 20–9 SEC)
The Gamecocks have seven position players and five of their top six pitchers back in the fold for this year’s run to Omaha. In the rotation, Clarke Schmidt (9–5, 3.40) and Adam Hill (7–0, 3.53) return, plus Wil Crowe is back from TJ surgery and is hitting mid-90s again. Closer Tyler Johnson (nine saves) pitched for Team USA last summer, and Josh Reagan (11 saves) also returns. USC lost some firepower, but OFs Alex Destino (.321-10-59) and TJ Hopkins (.322) are mainstays to build around.
14. Miami (50–14, 21–7 ACC)
As usual, this is Miami, so Omaha is always a possibility. Two big studs will lead the arms corps in RHP Jesse Lepore (9–0, 2.20) and LHP Michael Mediavilla (11–2, 3.40). Losing saves ace Bryan Garcia is tough, but RHP Frankie Bartow (6–0, 2.72) had 43 appearances. Offensively, Carl Chester (.336) is one of the best leadoff guys in the country, and Johnny Ruiz (.342) and Randy Batista (.272) are stout middle infielders. JC transfers James Davidson and Hunter Tackett will be high-impact outfielders.
15. Stanford (31–23, 15–15 Pac-12)
It’s one final go-round for head coach Mark Marquess, who has 1,585 career wins. The Cardinal led the nation in defense (.983), and four-fifths of the infield is back to defend its fielding crown. The team ERA was 3.17, and the weekend rotation of Tristan Beck (4–5, 2.03), Chris Castellanos (8–2, 3.41) and Brett Hanewich (3–2, 3.92) returns intact. Plus, Tyler Thorne and Colton Hock are back to lock down late leads. The .252 team average just won’t do, so improving that is the make-or-break factor this year.
16. Louisiana (43–21, 21–9 Sun Belt)
This should be a fun team to watch in 2017 as every pitcher of note returns, including LHP Gunner Leger (7–3, 2.26) and RHPs Nick Lee (7–1, 3.31), Evan Guillory (5–6, 4.34) and Wyatt Marks (5–7, 4.50), who accounted for 62 of the 64 starts last season. 3B Alex Pinero (.312, 25 SBs) and CF Joe Robbins (.286-10-37) lead a group of seven starters back. Catcher Handsome Monica and 1B Tyler Stover have both been drafted and played at Arizona and Kansas State, respectively, as freshmen.
17. Virginia (38–22, 19–11 ACC)
As you know, you should never doubt coach Brian O’Connor and his staff, especially when they’ve got tons of pitching back. Ace Connor Jones is gone, but LHP Adam Haseley (9–3, 1.73, also .304 as CF) and RHPs Tommy Doyle (2–7, 5.06), Alec Bettinger (3–5, 5.43, seven saves) and Tyler Shambora (5–1, 3.22) are all old war horses. Robbie Coman returns to catch after missing 2016, and 1B Pavin Smith (.329-8-57), 2B Ernie Clement (.351) and SS Justin Novak (.273) will make for a solid defense.
18. Ole Miss (43–19, 18–12 SEC)
Although there is a good nucleus returning for the Rebels, the future is even brighter as they have brought in the top-ranked recruiting class in the country. Five incoming players were MLB draftees last summer, led by SS Grae Kessinger, C Cooper Johnson and LHP Ryan Rolison. Of the returnees, RHP James McArthur (6–1, 4.26), LHP David Parkinson (5–3, 2.78) and RHP Will Stokes (2–1, 2.93, seven saves) will lead the pitching staff, and 2B Tate Blackman (.322) and 3B Colby Bortles (.270-8-50) will be building blocks for the order.
19. Oklahoma State (43–22, 16–8 Big 12)
Last year, Josh Holliday guided the Cowboys back to Omaha for the first time in 17 years. Now they’re hungry for back-to-back trips. Both Tyler Buffett (9–3, 2.81) and Trey Cobb (4–7, 3.09) spurned the pros for one more season and will join RHP Jensen Elliott (9–3, 3.50) to form a great core group. The offense will need some re-tooling, but 3B Garrett Benge (.292), 1B Dustin Williams (14 HRs) and OF Garrett McCain (11 SBs in limited role) will help ratchet up the hit parade.
20. North Carolina (34–21, 13–17 ACC)
Oh man, the Tar Heels are steaming after missing the postseason last year. Weekenders J.B. Bukauskas (7–2, 3.10) and Jason Morgan (3–3, 4.10) lead a deep staff with a lot of promise. Eight regulars are back in the field, including top bats in OF Brian Miller (.345, 21 SBs) and SS Logan Warmoth (.337), plus mercurial OF Adam Pate (.285, 17 SBs). A top-5 recruiting class features RHPs Luca Dalatri and Austin Bergner and C Brandon Martorano, who all turned down serious overtures from the MLB draft.
21. Mississippi State (44–18–1, 21–9 SEC)
There was lots of change in Starkville this offseason, most notably John Cohen’s move to AD and former LSU assistant Andy Cannizaro’s move to Mississippi State’s head coach. State also had 11 players drafted off last year’s team. But All-American Jake Mangum (.408), All-SEC OF Brent Rooker (.324-11-54) and three-year starting SS Ryan Gridley (.284) form a great nucleus. The pitching staff will need to be overhauled due to attrition, but there are some promising recruits, led by 12th-round draftee RHP Graham Ashcraft and Junior College All-America RHP Peyton Plumlee.
22. Nebraska (37–22, 16–8 Big 10)
A ton of experience is back for the Big Red in 2017. Nearly every pitcher of note returns, led by weekend starters Matt Waldron (7–3, 2.87) and Derek Burkamper (6–3, 3.09). Also, Nebraska has one of the top two-way players in the country in Jake Meyers, who went 6–1 on the mound and hit .326 at the plate. Elsewhere, RHPs Chad Luensmann (13 saves) and Reece Eddins (4–3, 1.85) are ace bullpenners, and 1B Scott Schreiber (.325-16-55) and DH Ben Miller (.317-6-46) are power-jacks at the dish.
23. Louisville (50–14, 22–8 ACC)
Golden Spikes Award candidate Brendan McKay (.333-6-41 and 12–4, 2.30) will be joined by fellow 12-game winner Kade McClure and reliever Shane Hummel (2–1, 1.99) to rebuild the mound corps. All-ACC SS Devin Hairston (.361) will be joined by 3B Drew Ellis (.309) and 2B Devin Mann (.303) to form a sound defensive infield, and OFs Logan Taylor (.280, 18 SBs) and Colin Lyman (.301, nine SBs) are flyers.
24. Texas (25–32, 10–14 Big 12)
David Pierce takes over for the legendary Augie Garrido, and he inherits a full cupboard in Austin. The pitching staff was all freshmen and sophomores last year, and RHPs Kyle Johnston (3–2, 3.72) and Morgan Cooper (3–5, 4.03) could be high-round picks in June’s draft. Seven regulars return to the lineup, led by 1B Kacy Clemens (.303-5-31), 2B Zane Gurwitz (.295-5-36) and 3B Bret Boswell (.241). The banner recruiting class will provide quality depth.
25. NC State (38–22, 15–13 ACC)
Six regulars return to the batting order, and all six hit .296 or better, led by 3B Evan Mendoza’s .362 and OF Brock Deatherage’s .319. Middle infielders Joe Dunand (.297-4-41) and Stephen Pitarra (.291) are steady gloves with range. Pitching-wise, there are plenty of options on a deep staff, especially with LHP Brian Brown (7–3, 3.70) starting Fridays and if Joe O’Donnell (3–2, 4.06) can stay healthy.
2017 Preseason All-America Team
C: Evan Skoug, TCU
1B: K.J. Harrison, Oregon State
2B: Ernie Clement, Virginia
SS: Taylor Walls, Florida State
3B: Jake Burger, Missouri State
OF: Jeren Kendall, Vanderbilt
OF: Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
OF: Keston Hiura, UC Irvine
OF: Seth Beer, Clemson
DH: Luken Baker, TCU
UTL: Brendan McKay, Louisville
SP: Andrew Beckwith, Coastal Carolina
SP: Seth Romero, Houston
SP: Alex Lange, LSU
RP: Glenn Otto, Rice
RP: Pat Krall, Clemson
(Rankings and All-America team provided by Eric Sorenson for Athlon Sports)