How will things shape up on NCAA diamonds this season?
Unfortunately, the 2020 college baseball season and College World Series were among the sports and events canceled due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Athlon Sports' 2020 MLB Preview magazine, which includes a look at the top 25 NCAA baseball teams in the country, was published prior to these cancellations.
1. Louisville (51-18, 21-9 ACC)
The Cardinals have joined the upper echelon of college baseball under Dan McDonnell. And this year, he’ll have June draft darlings throughout the roster, including utilityman Lucas Dunn (.309, 15 SBs), OF Zach Britton (.288-5-28) and All-America pitchers Reid Detmers (13–4, 2.78) and Bobby Miller (7–1, 3.83). Two sophomores are stars in the making in 3B Alex Binelas (.291-14-59) and RHP Luke Smith (6–1, 4.24). Michael Kirian (3–1, 1.69) fronts a deep bullpen.
2. Texas Tech (46-20, 16-8 Big 12)
Behind high-quality starting pitchers Micah Dallas (7–2, 4.03) and Bryce Bonnin (7–1, 4.08) and bullpen wizards John McMillon (4–3, 3.40) and Clayton Beeter (8 saves), the Raiders could reach Omaha for the fifth time in seven years. Six starters return to the order with five of them hitting .290-plus, including SS Dru Baker (.321), 2B Brian Klein (.315) and 3B Dylan Neuse (.298-8-51). The No. 1-ranked junior college recruiting class will plug the few remaining holes.
3. Arkansas (46-20, 20-10 SEC)
The Razorbacks are stacked with talent, though they lack a true Friday ace. Weekend starters Connor Noland (3–5, 4.02) and Patrick Wicklander (6–2, 4.32) are stout, but the bullpen needs some roles defined. The offense might be the best in the country with OF Heston Kjerstad (.327-17-51), SS Casey Martin (.286-15-57), C Casey Opitz (.243) and top returning hitter Matt Goodheart (.345-5-47). A great recruiting class is led by JC OF Braydon Webb.
4. Arizona State (38-19, 16-13 Pac-12)
After two straight 23–32 seasons, the Devils returned to the postseason last year. Talent abounds in 2020 as 1B Spencer Torkelson (.351-23-66) and SS Alika Williams (.333-4-53) played for Team USA and are joined by 3B Gage Workman (.330-8-42) and 2B Drew Swift (.265) to form one of the best infields in the country. Also look for RHPs Boyd Vander Kooi (4–4, 5.59) and RJ Dabovich (7–1, 4.75) to both be high-round MLB draftees this June.
5. Vanderbilt (59-12, 23-7 SEC)
The defending champions may have lost a bevy of talent, but with the No. 1 pitching prospect (RHP Kumar Rocker, 12–5, 3.25), the No. 1 position player (3B Austin Martin, .392-10-46) and another No. 1-ranked recruiting class, they’re still national title contenders. Only four field starters return, but on the mound, RHP Tyler Brown (17 saves), RHP Mason Hickman (9–0, 2.05) and LHP Jake Eder (2–0, 2.97) are part of the nation’s best pitching staff.
6. Miami (41-20, 18-12 ACC)
Head coach Gino DiMare could have the most experienced team in D-I with seven field starters and 48 of 61 starts on the mound returning. RHPs Brian Van Belle (10–2, 3.30) and Slade Cecconi (5–4, 4.16) combined for 29 starts, and Chris McMahon (3–2, 3.73) pitched for Team USA over the summer. They’ll throw to highly lauded C Adrian Del Castillo (.331-12-72), who joins 1B Alex Toral (.293-24-67) and 3B Raymond Gil (.318-13-44) to provide significant thump.
7. Georgia (46-17, 21-9 SEC)
The Bulldogs are a team to watch and will be led by power arms Emerson Hancock (8–3, 1.99) and Cole Wilcox (3–2, 4.07), who can burn it near 100 mph and are first-round draftees-to-be. A bevy of freshman pitchers will bolster a strong staff. Six starters return in the field but will have to improve their offensive numbers. SS Cam Shepherd (.231-8-33) and 2B Riley King (.295-8-43) both return after being MLB draftees last June.
8. North Carolina (46-19, 17-13 ACC)
The Tar Heels just missed making it to Omaha last year but got a real shot in the arm with the return of RHPs Gianluca Dalatri and Joey Lancellotti and OF Dylan Harris, who were all MLB draftees last June but returned to campus. They’ll join a trio of Freshman All-Americans in 1B Aaron Sabato (.343-18-63), SS Danny Serretti (.299) and RHP Austin Love (8–4, 3.18) to give the Heels an experienced squad in 2020.
9. Auburn (38-28, 14-16 SEC)
Last June, the Tigers made their first College World Series since 1997 and are now primed for another run to Omaha. LHP Jack Owen (4–2, 2.75) is back despite getting drafted last summer and joins RHPs Tanner Burns (4–4, 2.82) and Cody Greenhill (12 saves) as part of 493 innings pitched returning to the arms corps. The top six batters in the order return, led by DH Conor Davis (.290-8-36), 2B Ryan Bliss (.281) and OF Judd Ward (.272-5-34).
10. East Carolina (47-18, 20-4 AAC)
The Pirates stuck around the top 10 all last season and should make another postseason push with six returning starters and four of the top five pitchers back on the mound. Two-way threat Alec Burleson (.370-9-61/6–2, 3.28) played with Team USA last summer and is joined by talents like LHP Jake Kuchmaner (7–2, 2.99), RHP Tyler Smith (7–1, 5.57) and rising sophomores like OF Lane Hoover (.328), 1B Thomas Francisco (.319) and 2B Ryder Giles (.242).
11. Florida State (42-23, 17-13 ACC)
Mike Martin was in the Seminole dugout for 40 years, and now his son Mike Martin Jr. takes the reins with a roster full of talent. Shortstop Nander De Sedas (.231-4-32) and OFs Reese Albert (.283-9-35) and Robby Martin (.315-4-54) lead an experienced defense, while ace RHP CJ Van Eyk (10–4, 3.81) pairs with LHP Shane Drohan (3–1, 3.66) to form a great Friday-Saturday combination. The bullpen is hyper-experienced but needs a door-slammer to emerge.
12. LSU (40-26, 17-13 SEC)
The Tigers lost some first-rate firepower in the batting order, but they have a core group of pitchers who will keep them in contention. Cole Henry (4–2, 3.39), Landon Marceaux (5–2, 4.66) and Eric Walker (5–4, 5.47) are returning weekenders and will have Matthew Beck (3–0, 2.05) and Devin Fontenot (7 saves) to spearhead the bullpen. OF Daniel Cabrera (.284-12-50), C Saul Garza (.303) and 1B Cade Beloso (.279-10-52) are building blocks for the re-tooled batting order.
13. UCLA (52-11, 24-5 Pac-12)
The Bruins ranked No. 1 last season for 12 weeks and should contend for Omaha again. Starting pitchers Zach Pettway (2–2, 4.55) and Nick Nastrini (1–0, 1.37) had injury-shortened seasons but have national Stopper of the Year Holden Powell (17 saves) and a stingy bullpen behind them. Catcher Noah Cardenas (.375), OF Garrett Mitchell (.349, 12 triples), SS Kevin Kendall (.258) and former first-round draftee Matt McLain (.203) lead a dangerous offense and stellar defense.
14. Duke (35-27, 15-15 ACC)
Chris Pollard has raised the bar in Durham, with his team playing in a Super Regional last year. Now he has a junior/senior-heavy squad that could contend for Omaha again. Team leader 2B Joey Loperfido (.261-4-18), SS Ethan Murray (.305-5-40) and OF flyer Chase Cheek (.293, 20 SBs) are among eight returning starters. Weekend starters Bryce Jarvis (5–2, 3.81) and Bill Chillari (2–4, 5.35) return, and relief specialist Thomas Girard (9 saves) leads a hyper-experienced bullpen.
15. Florida (34-26, 13-17 SEC)
The Gators could finish much higher than this if they match their potential. On the mound, righties Jack Leftwich (6–5, 5.31) and Tommy Mace (8–5, 5.32) are possible top-round draftees, and a number of rising relievers should improve the 5.37 team ERA. A standout sophomore class features INF Jacob Young (.311), 1B Kendrick Calilao (.276), OF Jud Fabian (.232-7-26) and 2B Cory Acton (.251-6-30). Also, senior OF Austin Langworthy (.283-10-43) will lead by example.
16. Stanford (45-12, 22-7 Pac-12)
Despite some losses to the roster, the Cardinal will be strong again on the mound with RHP Brendan Beck (5–4, 3.63) and LHP Jacob Palisch (5–2, 4.79) being high-round MLB prospects. They’re backed by Freshman All-American Alex Williams (8–1, 2.56) and LHP Austin Weiermiller (6–0, 2.45). Shortstop Tim Tawa (.253-8-37) is one of the few remaining veterans in the field, but nine of the 12 incoming freshmen took part in the prestigious Area Code Games.
17. Mississippi State (52-15, 20-10 SEC)
There are occasional re-tooling seasons for the Bulldogs, and 2020 will be one after losing so much star power. Friday ace JT Ginn (8–4, 3.13) is an All-America-type and joins RHPs Brandon Smith (3–0, 3.93) and Riley Self (2–0, 4.91) as building blocks for the arms staff. Omaha veterans like 1B Tanner Allen (.349-7-66), 2B Justin Foscue (.331-14-60), SS Jordan Westburg (.294) and OF Rowdey Jordan (.290) will stoke the offense and anchor the defense.
18. Oklahoma State (40-21, 14-9 Big 12)
Head coach Josh Holliday moves his Cowboy program into state-of-the-art O’Brate Stadium with another title-contending squad. Senior leaders OF Carson McCusker (.311-6-37), OF Cade Cabbiness (.234-8-27) and 2B Max Hewitt (.303) will be bolstered by impact transfers 3B Jake Thompson (from Kentucky), C Brock Mathis (from LSU) and SS Kaden Polcovich (JC transfer). Parker Scott (3–1, 2.18), Mitchell Stone (2–1, 4.88) and Brett Standlee (3–2, 4.46) lead a re-worked and experienced arms corps.
19. Michigan (50-22, 16-7 Big Ten)
The national runner-up Wolverines lost some key talents, but consistent recruiting by Erik Bakich and his staff has steadied the program. Two high-round draftees-to-be are RHP Jeff Criswell (7–1, 2.72) and OF Jordan Nwogu (.321-12-46), who is a gifted physical specimen. Shortstop Jack Blomgren (.314) and C Joe Donovan (.234-9-37) were studs in the postseason. Also, their top hitter (Dominic Clementi, .368) and best pitcher (Ben Dragani, 6–2, 2.76) from 2018 return after sitting out most of 2019.
20. Oregon State (36-20-1, 21-8 Pac-12)
A new coaching staff has some rebuilding to do, but the Beavers boast plenty of talent and have a top-flight recruiting class in tow. Returning pitchers Christian Chamberlain (3–4, 3.83), Jake Mulholland (3–3, 1.93, 8 saves) and Mitchell Verburg (1–0, 1.40) are Omaha veterans and could form a solid weekend rotation. Player of the Year Adley Rutschman is gone, but six starters return, led by infielders Alex McGarry (.293-8-29), Ryan Ober (.266) and star-in-waiting catcher Troy Claunch (.264).
21. NC State (42-19, 18-12 ACC)
Old-school skipper Elliott Avent keeps things rolling as the Wolfpack return seven field starters and seven of the top nine pitchers. Catcher Patrick Bailey (.288-10-46) played with Team USA last summer and leads an experienced batting order. RHP Reid Johnston (6–2, 3.71) and LHP Evan Justice (4–0, 4.66) both pitched in the Cape Cod League last summer and are joined by RHP Dalton Feeney (1–1, 1.86, 7 saves) and rising LHP Nick Swiney (7–1, 4.61).
22. Texas (27-27, 7-16 Big 12)
Huston Street and Troy Tulowitzki join the coaching staff and have ace Bryce Elder (2–4, 2.93) and rising sophomores Coy Cobb (1–3, 3.45) and Cole Quintanilla (2–1, 4.05) to rebuild around. Five of the top six hitters are back, led by OFs Eric Kennedy (.310) and Duke Ellis (.266, 17 SBs), along with some thump from 1B Zach Zubia (.252-5-35). A highly regarded incoming class that features four MLB draftees is led by RHP Jared Southard.
23. Oklahoma (33-23, 11-13 Big 12)
A 3–8 skid in May caused the Sooners to miss the NCAAs, but a ton of experience is back to make amends. Team USA RHP Cade Cavalli (5–3, 3.28) and LHP Levi Prater (7–4, 3.26) are one of the best one-two punches in the country. Senior Jason Ruffcorn (11 saves) leads a deep, diverse bullpen. Infielders Brandon Zaragoza (.257) and Tanner Tredaway (.260) should post better numbers and are part of eight returning field starters.
24. Ohio State (36-27, 12-12 Big Ten)
The Buckeyes have been to the NCAAs three of the last four seasons, but this should be their best team in years. Freshman All-Americans Seth Lonsway (8–4, 3.70) and Garrett Burhenn (6–4, 3.96) join junior Griffan Smith (7–5, 4.66) to form a tough weekend rotation and are backed by six of last year’s eight top relievers. Catcher Dillon Dingler (.291), 1B Conner Pohl (.264-7-45) and SS Zach Dezenzo (.250-10-37) are among six returning starters.
25. Clemson (35-26, 15-15 ACC)
The Tigers are postseason regulars, and that won’t change in 2020. All-ACC LHP Mat Clark (9–3, 3.21) is joined by RHPs Davis Sharpe (7–4, 3.20) and Carson Spiers (11 saves) as part of an experienced arms corps. The top three hitters have moved on, but 1B Bryar Hawkins (.287-7-23), SS Sam Hall (.257, 30 SBs) and OF Michael Green (.307) will be joined by mercurial Kier Meredith, who missed all but nine games in 2019 and is a former Cubs draftee.
2020 All-America Team
C Patrick Bailey, NC State
1B Spencer Torkelson, Arizona State
2B Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State
SS Casey Martin, Arkansas
3B Austin Martin, Vanderbilt
OF Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
OF Garrett Mitchell, UCLA
OF Alerick Soularie, Tennessee
DH Aaron Sabato, North Carolina
UTL Alec Burleson, East Carolina
UTL Max Meyer, Minnesota
SP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
SP Emerson Hancock, Georgia
SP Jeff Criswell, Michigan
SP Reid Detmers, Louisville
RP Tyler Brown, Vanderbilt
RP Holden Powell, UCLA
— Written by Eric Sorenson for Athlon Sports' 2020 Baseball Preview magazine. At 224 pages, it's the largest on the newsstand and the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy.
(Top photo courtesy of Vanderbilt Athletics)