Florida finally made the most of a College World Series appearance, as the Gators won their first national championship in baseball to finish their 2017 season. Even though Florida had been to Omaha 10 times previously, the Gators continued the streak of first-time College World Series champions.
Since 2013, every College World Series ended with a team — UCLA, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Coastal Carolina, Florida — claiming its first national title. Next up for the Gators? To become the first team to repeat since South Carolina did so in 2010-11.
Florida leads off Athlon Sports’ preseason top 25, followed by Oregon State, who won back-to-back titles in 2006-07. The rest of the top 10 is made up of several teams that are no strangers to the College World Series, led by Florida State’s 22 appearances. But outside of the aforementioned Commodores none have come out on top in Omaha despite boasting a combined 63 trips to the College World Series. So will Florida pull off the repeat or will another team claim its first national title when all is said and done?
Here is Athlon Sports’ complete College Baseball Preseason Top 25 and All-America team for the 2018 season.
Athlon Sports’ College Baseball Preseason Top 25
(2017 record listed)
1. Florida (52-19, 21-9 SEC)
Could the defending national champions be even better? Possibly. With MLB-bound aces in Brady Singer (9–5, 3.21) and Jackson Kowar (12–1, 4.08), plus bullpenners Michael Byrne (19 saves) and Tyler Dyson (4–0, 3.23), the arm corps is strong. But stalwarts Deacon Liput (.227, 12 SBs), Jonathan India (.274, 13 SBs) and JJ Schwarz (.259, 12 HRs) need to hit better. The second-ranked recruiting class features Brady McConnell, a big-time shortstop.
2. Oregon State (56-6, 27-3 Pac-12)
An incredible 2017 season saw the Beavers come up just short of glory. Another powerhouse is on deck as Luke Heimlich (11–1, 0.76), Bryce Fehmel (6–3, 3.87) and Sam Tweedt (3–0, 2.50) combined for 36 starts, and Jake Mulholland (7–1, 1.20) and Brandon Eisert (5–0, 2.31) were Freshman All-Americans. Seven starters are back in the order, led by All-World Nick Madrigal (.380, 16 SBs) and Steven Kwan (.331).
3. Texas Tech (45-17, 16-8 Big 12)
It’s “Omaha or Bust” as Double-T features a 1-2 punch of Steven Gingery (10–1, 1.58) and Davis Martin (4–2, 3.07) on weekends. Also, John McMillon (2–0, 1.75), Parker Mushinski (3-2, 2.15) and Jose Quezada (6–4, 3.55) combined for 15 saves in 2017. There are some holes to fill in the lineup, but OF Grant Little (.335), 3B Josh Jung (.306) and C Michael Berglund (.307) were Freshman All-Americans.
4. Kentucky (43-23, 19-11 SEC)
Make way for the Cats, who are loaded for 2018. Coach Nick Mingione will put a high-quality squad on the diamond this year and says that Justin Lewis (6–4, 3.56), Sean Hjelle (11–4, 3.89), Zack Thompson (8–3, 3.45), Chris Machamer (2–0, 3.18) and Zach Haake (junior college transfer) are “as good a five guys as I’ve coached.” OF Tristan Pompey (.361-10-45) and 1B Kole Cottam (.319-7-44) provide the offensive pop.
5. Florida State (46-23, 14-14 ACC)
Mike Martin is 32 wins from becoming the winningest coach in D-I history and has the horses to reach the pinnacle. The rotation of Tyler Holton (10–3, 2.34), Drew Parrish (6–3, 4.32) and Cole Sands (6–4, 5.40) held opponents to a combined .222 average. 3B Drew Mendoza (.270-10-33) and OFs Jackson Lueck (.318-9-54) and Rhett Aplin (.322-6-24) lead a potentially dangerous offense. The fifth-ranked recruiting class will plug the holes.
6. North Carolina (49-14, 23-7 ACC)
Last year was a bounce-back season for the Tar Heels, though losing in the Regionals still burns. Weekend arms Tyler Baum (7–0, 2.57) and Luca Dalatri (7–3, 3.34) will be backed by a deep bullpen, including the return of Hansen Butler (14 appearances in 2016) who missed 2017. Five field starters return, including infielders Zack Gahagan (.243), Kyle Datres (.265) and Cody Roberts (.268), who were MLB draftees last June.
7. Stanford (42-16, 21-9 Pac-12)
The Mark Marquess era ended, but winning-friendly Dave Esquer comes over from Cal to take over. As usual, the pitching will be formidable, as Kris Bubic (7–6, 2.79), Erik Miller (5–2, 3.65) and 2016 Freshman All-American Tristan Beck (injured in 2017) have 282.1 combined innings over the last two years. Six starters return in the field, led by All-America 3B Mikey Diekroeger (.262) and sophomore Daniel Bakst (.311-3-38).
8. TCU (50-18, 16-8 Big 12)
The Horned Frogs have become Omaha mainstays and could win the whole enchilada this year. They’ll have MLB-ready arms Jared Janczak (9–2, 2.31), Nick Lodolo (5–1, 4.35), Durbin Feltman (17 saves) and Sean Wymer (6–4 2.10) to confound opposing batters. They also return lumberjacking 1B Luken Baker (.317-8-41), who missed the last month of 2017. SS Adam Oviedo and Oregon transfer OF A.J. Balta lead an impressive incoming class.
9. Arkansas (45-19, 18-11 SEC)
Another Omaha push is possible with RHPs Blaine Knight (8–4, 3.28) and Isaiah Campbell (injured 2017), both top-50 draft prospects. Jake Reindl (4–1, 2.31) and Kevin Kopps (3–1, 3.31) are stout relievers. Six of the top seven batters also return, led by SS Jax Biggers (.338) and powersticks Luke Bonfield (.294-9-49), Dominic Fletcher (.291-12-37) and Grant Koch (.264-13-42). The third-ranked recruiting class will make a difference.
10. Vanderbilt (36-25-1, 15-13-1 SEC)
Worry not, Dores fans: This year should be good, but beyond that should be great as another No. 1-ranked recruiting class will get its feet wet. Patrick Raby (10–4, 2.73), Drake Fellows (3–3, 3.30) and Chandler Day (7–2, 3.78) combined for 38 starts in 2017. Julian Infante (.315-11-66) is the lone returnee who hit .260 or better, but freshmen C Philip Clarke and OF Pat Demarco will contribute immediately.
11. LSU (52-20, 21-9 SEC)
The Tigers may experience some drop-off as the pitching staff lost all three weekend starters. Zack Hess (7–1, 3.12) will go from the bullpen to the Friday role, and Caleb Gilbert (7–1, 2.16) and Nick Bush (1–1, 3.75) will need to step up. OFs Zach Watson (.317-9-37) and Antoine Duplantis (.316, 19 SBs) are All-America types. The freshman class features two-way monsters Daniel Cabrera and Nick Storz.
12. Cal State Fullerton (39-24, 15-9 Big West)
The Titans come off another Omaha visit and could return with mound-pounders Colton Eastman (2–0, 2.14), Blake Workman (6–3, 2.89) and closer Brett Conine (15 saves). Keep an eye on junior college transfer Andrew Quezada, who could start Sundays, and hard-throwing freshman RHP Tanner Bibee. The typical lock-down defense features SS Sahid Valenzuela (.314, 3 errors), 2B Hank LoForte (.247) and RF cannon Ruben Cardenas (.293 in 16 games).
13. UCLA (30-27, 19-11 Pac-12)
The youth movement in Westwood should pay dividends in 2018. Seven starters return, led by catcher Kyle Cuellar (.319) and 1B Michael Toglia (.261-8-33). Pitching is always the Bruins calling card, and RHPs Jon Olsen (7–1, 2.86) and Kyle Molnar (injured in 2017) will be top-round draftees in June. The 15th-ranked recruiting class will be big time, let by RHPs Holden Powell and Zach Pettway.
14. Virginia (43-16, 18-12 ACC)
The Cavaliers reload with top-flight freshmen such as stellar infielder Andrew Papantonis. They’ll join OFs Cameron Simmons (.352-9-57) and Jake McCarthy (.338, 27SBs) to make a formidable lineup. The pitching is anchored by aces Derek Casey (5–2, 3.79) and Daniel Lynch (7–5, 5.00), who are expected to make big jumps, and Chesdin Harrington (3–2, 2.41) should be a lock-down closer.
15. Houston (42-21, 15-9 AAC)
With a 10-game winner, the saves ace, six pitchers who threw sub-4.00 ERAs and six returning starters in the field from a 42-win team, Houston likes its chances. The Cougars feature LHPs Trey Cumbie (10–2, 2.04) and Aaron Fletcher (2–1, 2.40, 8 saves) leading the arms corps and powerstick Joe Davis (.299-8-46) and fleet OF Grayson Padgett (.309) leading the offense. Baylor transfer Kyle Ott will help stock the bullpen.
16. Mississippi State (40-27, 17-13 SEC)
The Bulldogs were a M*A*S*H unit last year, but that leads to a ton of experience returning, including 57 of last year’s 67 starts on the mound. LHP Konnor Pilkington (8–5, 3.08) leads a still-intact weekend rotation. All-American J.P. France transferred in from Tulane and joins Spencer Price (14 saves) for a deep bullpen. Jake Mangum (.324, 14SBs) and Hunter Stovall (.288) lead a rebuilt batting order.
17. Sam Houston State (44-23, 19-11 Southland)
Yes, we’re talking about The Sam here. The Bearkats caught lightning in a bottle in 2017, making the Super Regionals. This year, they’ll wear a target. Most of their pitching returns, including 10-game winner Hayden Wesneski, Seth Ballew (6–3, 4.03) and 13-save reliever Nick Mikolajchak. The order is potent with Blake Chisolm (.343), Hunter Hearn (.326) and 3B/C/OF Andrew Fregia (.302-7-48), who is a legit top-five-round pick.
18. Louisville (53-12, 23-6 ACC)
The Cardinals must overcome heavy personnel losses. Coach Dan McDonnell has his toughest coaching job ahead of him as Nick Bennett (5–1, 3.18) and Adam Wolf (6–0, 2.18) are part of only 19 returning starts on the mound. Outfielder Josh Stowers (.313-6-34) and 2B Devin Mann (.268-8-44) are the only two returning starters in the lineup. Junior college transfer RHP Liam Jenkins should be a difference maker.
19. Arizona (38-21, 16-14 Pac-12)
Coach Jay Johnson looks for another postseason run. Five All-Pac-12 honorees return, led by OF Alphonso Rivas (.371-7-63) and C Cesar Salazar (.284). OFs Cal Stevenson (.311) and Mitchell Morimoto (.323) have speed to burn. Righties Cody Deason (5–3, 3.86) and Michael Flynn (5–0, 3.20) will resume their starting pitching roles, and 6'7" Tylor Megill (2-3, 5.55) made a big jump for the Wildcats this offseason.
20. Auburn (37-26, 16-14 SEC)
Butch Thompson’s charges have made steady progress, including 2017’s trek to the Tallahassee Regional finals. The Tigers look for the next step with two great combos: weekend mound starters Casey Mize (8–2, 2.04) and Davis Daniel (4–3, 5.89), plus middle infielders Will Holland (.209) and Luke Jarvis (.276), who lead seven returning starters. The fourth-ranked recruiting class is a program changer, led by RHP Tanner Burns and C Steven Williams.
21. Oklahoma (35-24, 12-11 Big 12)
Boomer! Arms guru Skip Johnson takes the Sooner reins and has talent galore coming back in 2018. All-America OF Steele Walker (.333-8-51) and now-healthy C Domenic DeRenzo (Freshman All-America in 2016) will lead the offense. All 59 starts on the mound return, led by RHPs Devon Perez (6–2, 3.50) and Jake Irvin (6–3, 3.53). Finding a new closer will be the key, but the bullpen is stocked with experienced arms.
22. Ole Miss (32-25, 14-16 SEC)
Mike Bianco’s squad should jump back onto the national scene after an “off year” in 2017. Seven starters return in the field, led by C/1B Nick Fortes (.319-5-32) and OF Will Golsan (.312), but the team batting average of .253 must improve. Nearly every inning on the mound returns, including Ryan Rolison (6–3, 3.06), saves ace Dallas Woolforth (3–2, 2.15, 12 saves) and three other relievers with sub-3.00 ERAs.
23. Maryland (38-23, 15-9 Big Ten)
New Terrapins head coach Rob Vaughn has plenty of talent returning from last season’s 38-win team. Weekend starters Tyler Blohm (8–6, 3.48) and Taylor Bloom (7–2, 3.83) are a great 1-2 punch. OFs Zach Jancarski (.325, 20 SBs) and Marty Costes (.322-13-46) are joined by a solid middle infield of 2B Nick Dunn (.261-5-32) and SS A.J. Lee (.307-8-36). Bullpen depth is questionable, but RHP John Murphy (1.71 ERA in 31 innings) has All-America potential.
24. West Virginia (36-26, 12-12 Big 12)
A ton of talent is back from the Mountaineers’ 2017’s Regional Final team, and they’re hungry for more. B.J. Myers (5–5, 4.52), Michael Grove (3–1, 2.87) and Alek Manoah (1-1, 3.07) combined for 35 starts, and Braden Zarbnisky (6–2, 2.75, 6 saves) and Sam Kessler (1–2, 2.61) are high-end relievers. Zarbnisky (.336 average) is joined by C Ivan Gonzalez (.317), OF Darius Hill (.307) and Marques Inman (.351), who returns after an injury-shortened season.
25. Connecticut (33-25, 14-10 AAC)
Barely missing the NCAAs last year is a big motivator for the 2018 Huskies. Two of the best lefty hurlers in the nation will be Tim Cate (4–3, 3.33) and Mason Feole (7–4, 3.38). Three other Huskies excelled in the prestigious Cape Cod League in C Zac Susi (.286), OF John Toppa (.267, 10 SBs) and LHP P.J. Poulin (2–0, 3.28). Sophomore Anthony Prato (.304, 15 SBs) could become the best shortstop in UConn history.
2018 Preseason All-America Team
C: Joey Bart, Georgia Tech
1B: Luken Baker, TCU
2B: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State
SS: Jeremy Eierman, Missouri State
3B: Johnny Aiello, Wake Forest
OF: Seth Beer, Clemson
OF: Travis Swaggerty, South Alabama
OF: Steele Walker, Oklahoma
DH: Niko Hulsizer, Morehead State
UTL: Kevin Milam, Saint Mary’s
SP: Colton Eastman, Cal State Fullerton
SP: Logan Gilbert, Stetson
SP: Steve Gingery, Texas Tech
SP: Casey Mize, Auburn
SP: Brady Singer, Florida
RP: Michael Byrne, Florida
RP: Brett Conine, Cal State Fullerton
RP: Kenyon Yovan, Oregon
(Top photo by Courtney Culbreath, courtesy of Florida Athletics)