How will things shape up on NCAA diamonds this season?
The college baseball season kicks off later this week. To give you a quick glimpse at team expectations in the season ahead, here's a look at the Top 25 NCAA baseball teams in the country.
1. Vanderbilt (35–27, 16–14 SEC)
A string of great recruiting classes makes the Commodores the most talented team in the country, hands down. The entire rotation of righties Patrick Raby (5–5, 3.57), Drake Fellows (7–4, 3.92) and Mason Hickman (8–2, 5.21) returns with a dominant mindset — though there will competition for those coveted weekend spots. Freshman All-Americans Austin Martin (.338, 22 SBs), Philip Clarke (.294-6-36) and Pat DeMarco (.277-11-43) are among seven returning starters. Also, the No. 2-ranked recruiting class supplies mid-90s flingers Kumar Rocker and Austin Becker.
2. North Carolina (44–20, 22–8 ACC)
The Tar Heels will be pitching-strong this spring, as three weekend hurlers return in Austin Bergner (7–3, 4.25), Tyler Baum (4–1, 4.57) and All-America candidate Gianluca Dalatri (2–2, 3.33), who had his 2018 season shortened by injury. Relievers Caden O’Brien (7–0, 2.63) and Joey Lancellotti (3–3) bolster the bullpen. Michael Busch (.317-13-63) and Ike Freeman (.305) are infield mainstays, and a top-flight recruiting class with numerous future draft picks will make a big impact.
3. Florida (49–21, 20–10 SEC)
Typical Florida. The Gators lose three first-round draftees, and yet they’re still title contenders. RHP Tyler Dyson (5–3, 4.47) should be a first-rounder himself and teams with Jack Leftwich (5–5, 4.20) for a solid 1-2 punch. The infield will be rebuilt, but OFs Austin Langworthy (.290-4-29), Nelson Maldonado (.273-9-44) and Wil Dalton (.262-19-60) will lead the offense. Also, freshman pitchers David Luethje, Nick Pogue, Ben Specht and Christian Scott can all hit the low 90s.
4. Oregon State (55–12–1, 20–9–1 Pac-12)
The national champions lost three first-round picks, their Friday ace and their head coach. But guess what? Shed no tears. Interim head coach Pat Bailey inherits 478 innings of mound work from 2018, including CWS hero Kevin Abel (8–1, 2.88) and Bryce Fehmel (10–1, 3.19). All-America closer Jake Mulholland (16 saves) and Brandon Eisert (5–3, 2.53) lead a deep bullpen. CWS Most Outstanding Player Adley Rutschman (.408-9-83) should be the first pick in the MLB Draft.
5. TCU (33–23, 10–13 Big 12)
Look for a bounce-back season from the Frogs, who missed the NCAA Tournament last year. First-round draftee Nick Lodolo (7–4, 4.32) and senior Jared Janczak (17–7, 2.56 career) join six pitchers with sub-3.35 ERAs to form a formidable staff. Five starters return to the order, led by OF Josh Watson (.305-8-32). A horde of junior college transfers will bolster the lineup, led by infielders Austin Henry and Hunter Wolfe, a two-time MLB draftee.
6. UCLA (38–21, 19–11 Pac-12)
The Bruins are equipped for a big run in 2019. Weekenders Ryan Garcia (8–1, 2.23) and Zach Pettway (8–4, 3.35) are top-quality arms. Oft-injured 6'8" LHP Justin Hooper could be a breakout star and high draftee. Michael Toglia (.336-11-58), Chase Strumpf (.363-12-53) and Jeremy Ydens (.350-6-38) are three lumberjacks among seven returning starters who helped the Bruins’ third-ranked .982 defense. Incoming infielder Matt McLain was a first-round draft pick.
7. LSU (39–27, 15–15 SEC)
For the Tigers, it comes down to consistency and injuries. More of the first and fewer of the second could result in more title banners. The wildly talented rotation of fireballing Zack Hess (7–6, 5.05), Eric Walker (missed 2018) and freshman Landon Marceaux must throw more strikes. Offensively, SS Josh Smith returns from injury, and he’ll team with outfielders Zach Watson (.308-7-34), Daniel Cabrera (.315-8-54) and Antoine Duplantis (.328) to form a batting order of difference makers.
8. Auburn (42–23, 15–15 SEC)
Butch Thompson has the Tigers program trending upward. He said goodbye to ace Casey Mize, but not much more. The arms corps is still well stocked with future MLB stars such as RHPs Tanner Burns (7–4, 3.01), Davis Daniel (3–4, 4.86) and Cody Greenhill (6–3, 2.30, 5 saves). The Tigers also have some of the best athletes in college baseball in Edouard Julien (.275-17-69) and Will Holland (.313-12-52). Catcher Steven Williams (.291-12-51) is another top power bat.
9. Oklahoma State (31–26–1, 16–8 Big 12)
Lots of “ifs” for OSU, but immense potential, too. The Cowboys return strapping fireballers Jenson Elliot (6'6") and Mitchell Stone (6'9"), who are high-round draftees-to-be but missed most of 2018. RHP C.J. Varela (4–0, 3.40) leads a solid bullpen. A ton of power comes back in Collin Simpson (18 HRs), Trevor Boone (10 HRs), Christian Funk (7 HRs) and Carson McCusker (8 HRs), along with steady 3B Michael Neustifter (.299). Label the Pokes a dark horse for Omaha.
10. Stanford (46–12, 22–8 Pac-12)
Dave Esquer’s second season could be special even with the losses of Kris Bubic and Tristan Beck. Pitching will still be a strength, as eight of the top 11 arms are back, led by Brendan Beck (8–0, 2.43) and Jack Little (16 saves). Tim Tawa (.296-7-41), Andrew Daschbach (.287-17-63) and Kyle Stowers (.286-10-42) are among six returning starters. The return of 2B Duke Kinamon (All-Pac-12 in 2017) will further bolster the defense.
11. Ole Miss (48–17, 18–12 SEC)
The Rebels could have the best offense in the country, bringing back six regulars who hit .300-plus, led by Ryan Olenek (.350), Chase Cockrell (.317-9-38), Thomas Dillard (.310-13-59) and Grae Kessinger (.300-8-37). Although they lose all three weekend starters, hyper-talented arms like Jordan Fowler (7–0, 3.20), Will Ethridge (3–1, 3.91) and Houston Roth (5–1, 4.44) will fill in more than adequately, and one of the game’s top relievers, Parker Caracci, returns to get big outs. The No. 1-ranked recruiting class from 2016 is primed for a run to Omaha.
12. Baylor (37–21, 13–11 Big 12)
Bears head coach Steve Rodriguez enters his fourth year in Waco with his best team. Three players are rated top-100 draft prospects in C Shea Langeliers (.252-11-44), 3B Davis Wendzel (.310-8-49) and LHP Cody Bradford (7–6, 2.51). Also returning are weekend starters Tyler Thomas (3–3, 3.38) and Hayden Kettler (8–4, 3.81). Nine starters in the batting order come back, including top bat Richard Cunningham (.342-9-38), SS Nick Loftin (.306-6-36) and 1B Andy Thomas (.324).
13. East Carolina (44–18, 14–10 AAC)
Is this the year the Pirates finally break the Omaha hex? Perhaps so. RHPs Trey Benton (4–5, 3.13) and Tyler Smith (7–1, 1.78) and LHPs Alec Burleson (5–2, 3.33) and Jake Agnos (4–4, 4.10) combined for 40 starts in 2018. Three of the top four bats return to the order in OF Bryant Packard (.406-14-50), 2B Brady Lloyd (.322, 16 SBs) and 1B Spencer Brickhouse (.298-10-50). Also, shortstop Turner Brown (.230) is a defensive force.
14. Arkansas (48–21, 18–12 SEC)
Nobody had a more painful ending to 2018 than the Razorbacks, so you know they’ll be motivated. Only three starters return in the field, but they are power-swinging sensations Casey Martin (.345-13-49), Heston Kjerstad (.332-14-58) and Dominic Fletcher (.288-10-49). Isaiah Campbell (5–7, 4.26) and Matt Cronin (14 saves) are good building blocks for the revamped arms corps. There are 28 newcomers to HogTown, led by 2B Trevor Ezell, who hit .377 at SE Missouri State.
15. Louisville (45–19, 18–12 ACC)
The Cardinals have the horses to get back to Omaha. LHPs Nick Bennett (8–2, 2.84) and Reid Detmers (4–2, 4.85) return to their weekend posts and have Brian Hoeing (7–2, 2.88) and Bobby Miller (6–1, 2.97) to back them. Seven field regulars return, including three of four infield spots led by 1B Logan Wyatt (.339-6-69) and SS Tyler Fitzgerald (.264, 23 SBs), a prime breakout candidate. The No. 4-ranked incoming class will fill the voids.
16. Florida State (43–19, 16–13 ACC)
Season No. 40 will be Mike Martin’s final chance to win a national title. Standout 3B Drew Mendoza (.313) and OF Reese Albert (.268) are rebuilding blocks for a gutted lineup. Arms-wise, Drew Parrish (5–1, 2.52) and C.J. Van Eyk (7–0, 2.86) both pitched for Team USA last summer and have a deep bullpen behind them. Freshmen C Matheu Nelson and SS Nander De Sedas are absolute studs from the sixth-ranked incoming class.
17. Texas Tech (45–20, 15–9 Big 12)
Quite impressively, the Red Raiders have been to Omaha in three of the last five seasons. They’ll stalk the summit again with studs like 3B Josh Jung (.392-12-80), CF Gabe Holt (.348-6-44), 1B Cameron Warren (.326-10-53) and RHP Caleb Kilian (9–3, 3.24). RHP John McMillon (5–3, 4.02) can hit 96 on the radar, and LHP Erikson Lanning has 20 career starts, going 6–5, 4.33. Newcomers Cade Farr and Micah Dallas are low-90s flingers.
18. Minnesota (44–15, 18–4 Big Ten)
Finishing ranked No. 9, coach John Anderson had his best team in 37 years last season. Sophomore pitchers Patrick Fredrickson (9–0, 1.86) and Max Meyer (16 saves) were Freshman All-Americans and join junior Brett Schulze (9–0, 2.09) as part of the 92 percent of innings pitched that are coming back. OF Ben Mazzenga (.383), 1B Cole McDevitt (.271-9-46) and SS Jordan Kozicky (.271-5-38) are veterans and will have one of the Big Ten’s best recruiting classes to fill in the gaps.
19. Clemson (47–16, 22–8 ACC)
Fourth-year head coach Monte Lee has continued the Tiger tradition of top-end success, and it will more of the same in 2019. Brooks Crawford (8–2, 3.24), Jacob Hennessy (4–3, 3.91) and Spencer Strider (5–2, 4.76) combined for 36 starts on the mound last year. The offense will have less power, although C Kyle Wilkie (.324-5-40) and SS Logan Davidson (.292-15-46) still have pop. A top-10 recruiting class is headlined by OF Michael Green and 1B/RHP Davis Sharpe.
20. Mississippi State (39–29, 15–15 SEC)
New head coach Chris Lemonis inherits a brand new home stadium and an experienced team that is used to making postseason runs. Three players are expected to be top-round draftees this June in OF Jake Mangum (.351, 14 SBs), LHP Ethan Small (5–4, 3.20) and RHP Keegan James (1–2, 4.34). Players like OF Rowdey Jordan (.321-7-37), OF Elijah MacNamee (.309-8-42) and RHP Riley Self (5–0, 3.51) were postseason heroes during the magical 2018 CWS run.
21. Indiana (40–19, 14–9 Big Ten)
The Hoosiers have played in the NCAAs five times in six years. Now they’ll have seven field starters and seven of their 10 most-used pitchers back for 2019. Power sticks Matt Gorski (.356-8-40, 24 SBs) and Scotty Bradley (.326-7-19) lead the offense, while starters Pauly Milto (8–2, 2.03) and Cam Beauchamp (4–1, 3.78) and bullpenner Cal Krueger (7–2, 3.02) lead the arms. Do-it-all Matt Lloyd (.275-9-41 and 4–2, 1.54, 7 saves) is a Swiss Army knife.
22. Georgia (39–21, 18–12 SEC)
In 2018, the Bulldogs broke a six-year postseason drought. Now they hunger for more. Aaron Schunk (.299), LJ Talley (.276-6-30) and Cam Shepherd (.244-5-37) formed one of the SEC’s best defensive infields. Some valuable arms are gone, but 15-game starter Emerson Hancock (6–4, 5.10) has five sub-4.00 ERA bullpenners behind him, led by Zac Kristofak (4–2, 3.83), C.J. Smith (1–2, 2.48) and Will Proctor (3–2, 2.42). Freshman fireballer Cole Wilcox is a can’t-miss prospect.
23. Connecticut (37–22–1, 14–10 AAC)
Huskies coach Jim Penders has another pitching-heavy team in 2019, led by lefties Mason Feole (9–2, 2.50) and Chase Gardner (4–2, 4.00) and righty Jeff Kersten (4–3, 4.66), who combined for 42 starts last season. Six returning field starters will be paced by middle infielders Anthony Prato (.324, 18 SBs) and Michael Woodworth (.302, 13 SBs) and former Cape Cod League All-Star OF John Toppa (.283), who all provide speed on the basepaths.
24. Arizona State (23–32, 13–17 Pac-12)
It’s a must-win season for Tracy Smith and his Sun Devils. Everything starts on the mound with Alec Marsh (3–3, 3.89) and Boyd Vander Kooi (3–3, 3.00), who will make a great 1-2 punch on weekends. National Freshman of the Year Spencer Torkelson (25 HRs) and OF Hunter Bishop (.250-5-26) are two great power hitters and among seven returning starters.
25. Cal State Fullerton (36–24, 18–6 Big West)
Fullerton won national titles in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2000s. This is the Titans’ final shot for the 2010s. Tanner Bibee (3–5, 3.86), Gavin Velasquez (4–3, 4.45 in 2017) and Timothy Josten (0–1, 4.15) combine to lead another stout, yet youthful, pitching staff. Seven field starters return, led by 2B/SS combo Hank LoForte (.339, 7 triples) and Sahid Valenzuela (.275). The 13th-ranked recruiting class will keep the Titans a Big West bully.
2019 All-America Team
SP Nick Lodolo, TCU
SP Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota
SP Kevin Abel, Oregon State
SP Andre Pallante, UC Irvine
SP Mason Feole, Connecticut
RP Max Meyer, Minnesota
RP Jack Little, Stanford
RP Parker Caracci, Ole Miss
C Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
1B Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
2B Chase Strumpf, UCLA
SS Casey Martin, Arkansas
3B Josh Jung, Texas Tech
OF Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
OF Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
OF Bryant Packard, East Carolina
DH Andrew Vaughn, California
UTL Matt Wallner, Southern Miss