How will things shape up on NCAA diamonds this season?
With the college baseball season set to begin on Feb. 19, Athlon Sports is taking a look at the top 25 teams in the NCAA. These rankings were originally published in the Athlon Sports 2021 Baseball Annual, which is available on newsstands and our online store.
1. Florida (16-1)
After finishing the 2020 season at No. 1 and getting everybody back for 2021 (aside from catcher Brady Smith, who signed a free-agent deal with the Rangers), the Gators are a no-brainer for the top spot. The talent runs deep, led by RHPs Tommy Mace (3-0, 1.67 ERA) and Jack Leftwich (2-0, 4.15), who are both top-round prospects. The best position player in the country could be CF Jud Fabian (.294-5-13), who'll join OF Jacob Young (.450, 6-7 SBs) and UTIL Jordan Butler (.333) to lead an intimidating offense.
2. UCLA (13-2)
All these Bruins do is pitch, pitch, pitch. RHPs Zach Pettway (3-0, 1.05), Jesse Bergin (4-0, 1.27), and Nick Nastrini (2-1, 4.60) could form the nation's best rotation. The offense topped the Pac-12 (.308) and has former first-round draftee Matt McClain (.397) and seven others who hit .300-plus. Expect Noah Cardenas (.237) to make a big jump as a Johnny Bench Award candidate. The incoming freshmen feature eight alums of the prestigious Area Code Games.
3. Vanderbilt (13-5)
This Commodores' roster could have the most future MLB draft prospects in the country. Despite growing pains and some rough spots in 2020, having first-round arms like RHPs Kumar Rocker (2-1, 1.80) and Jack Leiter (2-0, 1.72), plus a deep bullpen, will destroy the will of their opponents. OF Cooper Davis (.348) is a firestarter at leadoff, and SS Carter Young (.328) and catcher CJ Rodriguez (.289) lead what should be a much-improved offense.
4. TCU (11-4)
Head coach Jim Schlossnagle probably doesn't want to hear this, but his Frogs were a bit of a surprise last year. They're primed for more in 2021 with weekend starters Johnny Ray (1-1, 2.53), Russell Smith (2-0, 2.57), and Charles King (2-1, 4.50) leading a staff that had a 2.40 ERA. The batting order is junior-senior heavy and features four .300-plus hitters in Gray Rodgers (.373), Gene Wood (.353), Hunter Wolfe (.341), and Tommy Sacco (.304).
5. Virginia (14-4)
It's shocking that the Cavaliers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2017, but that will change. This was a complete team in 2020, with a 3.39 ERA and .309 batting average. LHP Andrew Abbott (3-0, 1.35) will join RHPs Griff McGarry (3-0, 1.35) and Mike Vasil (2-0, 2.45) in a stellar weekend rotation. OF Chris Newell hit .407 as a freshman and joins 3B Zack Gelof (.349-5-18) among eight everyday players who hit .300-plus.
6. Texas Tech (16-3)
Typical of a Tim Tadlock-coached team, pitching will be a strength. Nine hurlers who had ERAs of 3.00 or lower return in 2021, led by closer Micah Dallas (1-0, 0.57, 3 saves), LHP Mason Montgomery (3-1, 3.00), and RHP Hunter Dobbins (2-0, 1.35). The Red Raiders put up solid numbers at the plate (seventh nationally in batting average at .319) and have SS Cal Conley (.371-3-24), 3B Dylan Neuse (.355, 12 SBs), and 1B Cole Stillwell (.345-2-18) back again.
7. Ole Miss (16-1)
The Rebels made an immediate statement last season by stunning then-No. 1 Louisville on opening weekend. The seven most-used pitchers return, and all had ERAs of 3.48 or lower, including a pair of All-America candidates in Gunnar Hoglund (3-0, 1.16) and Doug Nikhazy (3-1, 2.35). The Rebel bats were rocket-launchers, leading the country with 37 home runs in 17 games. Top hitters Hayden Leatherwood (.361-3-11), Tim Elko (.354-3-15), and Hayden Dunhurst (.269-5-15) are wicked lumberjacks.
8. Texas (14-3)
A trio of Longhorn pitchers will be top-round draft picks — starters Ty Madden (3-0, 1.80) and Kolby Kubichek (2-1, 2.79) and relief ace Pete Hansen (0-0, 0.00 in 17 IP). The arms corps posted a 2.59 ERA and still has a ton of quality depth. OF Eric Kennedy (.288, 8-8 SBs) will be another high-round pick, and he'll join OF Austin Todd (.375) and 1B Zach Zubia (.288-3-21) in the Burnt Orange hit parade.
9. Arkansas (11-5)
You know Dave Van Horn's crew is always a contender. Though some key pieces will be missing from an offense that hit .310 as a team, Christian Franklin (.381-3-11), Casey Opitz (.302), Matt Goodheart (.302-3-18), and Robert Moore (.317) are building blocks. LHP Patrick Wicklander (2-2, 6.32) will post better numbers, and RHPs Zebulon Vermillion (1-0, 0.00) and Connor Noland (2-0, 2.00) are among nine Hog arms that hit 95 mph on the guns this past fall.
10. Louisville (13-4)
Dan McDonnell has this program on a roll after the Cardinals started last season at No. 1, and they should be rock-solid yet again. The Cardinals have three players listed in the top 16 of D1 baseball.com's draft prospects list: 3B Alex Binelas (.291-14-59 in 2019), OF Levi Usher (.411, 11 SBs), and catcher Henry Davis (.372-3-13). Flamethrowing LHP Michael Kirian (six saves) will join RHPs Luke Smith (3-0, 3.42) and Glenn Albanese (0-0, 2.08) in forming a dynamite rotation.
11. Arizona (10-5)
The "MLB Training Ground" in Tucson should be brimming this spring. Weekend starters Chandler Murphy (2-0, 2.70), Garrett Irvin (4-0, 3.18), and Quinn Flanagan (1-2, 3.32) return, as does ace closer Vince Vannelle (1-0, 1.35). Keep an eye on newcomers Chase Silseth and T.J. Nichols, a pair of RHPs who has hit 97 on the guns. OFs Ryan Holgate (.377) and Donta Williams (.348) are experienced leaders, and incoming transfer OF Tanner O'Tremba hit .313 at Texas Tech.
12. UCSB (13-2)
The Gauchos quietly got off to a great start in 2020. The pitching corps had the best team ERA in the nation at 1.84. They'll lean heavily on low-90s hurlers Michael McGreevy (2-0, 0.99), Zach Torra (3-0, 0.36), and Rodney Boone (2-1, 2.53). RHP Chris Troye returns from Tommy John surgery and was flinging it at 99 mph in the fall. Behind them is the No. 8-ranked defense in the country with a .985 fielding percentage.
13. LSU (12-5)
Though they didn't play like a top-20 team last year, the Tigers could be back to their usual selves again this year. A large stable of high-talent pitching will help, led by top MLB prospect Jaden Hill (0.00, 2 saves) and weekend starters Landon Marceaux (2-0, 2.70) and AJ Labas (1-2, 3.55). The offense hit just .253 but has 1B/OF Cade Beloso (.313) as well as middle infielders Collier Cranford (.286) and Cade Doughty (.278) to build around.
14. NC State (14-3)
Talk about an offensive team — the Wolfpack were second nationally, hitting .323, and Elliott Avent believes he might have the best 1-through-5 in the country with 1B Austin Marr (.306), CF Tyler McDonough (.354), OF Devonte Brown (.338), DH Luca Tresh (.405), and SS Jose Torres (.333). Pitchers like David Harrison (2-1, 2.75), Dalton Feeney (2-0, 2.35) and Kent Klyman (0-0, 1.42, 2 saves) are all four-year guys who are among 14 returning pitchers of note.
15. Long Beach State (10-5)
Nobody got off to a better start in 2020 than the Dirtbags, who won series vs. Mississippi State, Wake Forest, and Cal. The Dirtbag pitchers don't beat themselves, ranking sixth nationally with 2.38 walks per game and 12th in ERA at 2.38. Alfredo Ruiz (3-1, 1.80), Luis Ramirez (2-0, 2.73), and Dev Harrison (0-1, 1.32) head up an underrated staff. OFs Connor Kokx (.400) and Aidan Malm (.306, .500 OBP) lead an offense that thrives on pressure.
16. Mississippi State (12-4)
The Bulldogs hit a few bumps in 2020 but should be contenders again. LHP Christian MacLeod (4-0, 0.86) and RHP Eric Cerantola (1-1, 3.18) are ranked the Nos. 22 and 34 prospects, respectively, for 2021 by Athlon Sports and are two of 15 power arms in the staff who fling 95 mph fastballs. The offense hit just .260 last year, but 1B Josh Hatcher (.311) and OFs Tanner Allen (.240), and Rowdey Jordan (.308) are all considered solid pro prospects.
17. Wake Forest (10-8)
Coach Tom Walter has elevated this program to contender status, and 2021 will continue that with a deep, talented roster. OF Chris Lanzilli (.299-6-12), SS Michael Turconi (.351), and RHP Ryan Cusick (0-2, 3.22) will be high-round MLB draftees, and the Deacons also have thumpers in Shane Muntz (.276-4-7) and former ACC Player of the Year Bobby Seymour (.284-1-11). Look for weekend starters Will Fleming (2-2, 4.37) and Antonio Menendez (1-0, 5.06) to post better numbers.
18. East Carolina (13-4)
This could be the most experienced team in the country, as LHP Jake Kuchmaner (4-0, 0.60), RHP Tyler Smith (2-1, 1.96) and relievers Cam Colmore (1-0, 0.00) and Matt Bridges (0-0, 2.70) have been on the Pirates' roster for a combined 17 seasons. The defense was the best in the country last year with a .990 fielding percentage, and ECU has seven starters back, led by 2B Connor Norby (.403) and OF Bryson Worrell (.373-5-14).
19. Miami (12-4)
Gino DiMare is one of the nation's top recruiters and brought in the No. 1 class in the country for 2021. The new weekend rotation could see freshman studs Alejandro Rosario and Victor Mederos and JC transfer Jake Smith, while Daniel Federman (0-1, 2.08) leads a deep and experienced bullpen. They'll pitch to the top catcher in the country in Adrian Del Castillo (.358-2-15) and be backed by outfielders Gabe Rivera (.317) and Tony Jenkins (.300).
20. USC (10-5)
Head coach Jason Gill is bringing back the high standards of the Trojan program as the shortened 2020 season included wins over Vanderbilt, TCU, and San Diego State. This year he'll have John Beller (3-0, 1.12), Isaac Esqueda (1-0, 1.20), and Alex Cornwell (2-1, 3.66) in a high-profile weekend rotation. Five regulars hit .300-plus, as Jamal O'Guinn (.378), Rhylan Thomas (.356), Clay Owens (.346-3-17), and Ben Ramirez (.310-3-13) are wicked sticks to build the offense around.
21. Dallas Baptist (12-4)
Dan Heefner has led the Patriots to six straight Regionals and returns all 16 starts on the mound and all eight fielders from last year. Freshman All-Americans Jeffrey David (.351) and Blayne Jones (.286-5-16) anchor the middle infield and back the rotation of RHPs Ray Gaither (0-1, 3.98), Dominic Hamel (2-0, 4.58), and Chandler Arnold (1-1, 4.82). Transfers Andrew Benefield (.286 at Louisville) and Jared Pettitte (1-1, 6.84 at Houston) will make immediate impressions.
22. Duke (12-4)
The job Chris Pollard is doing with this program is getting (almost) Coach K-like. They'll miss first-round pick Bryce Jarvis, but RHPs Cooper Stinson (3-0, 0.42) and Jack Carey (1-1, 4.26) are returning starters, and a strong freshman class of arms will help. The Blue Devils' defense was stellar last year, sporting a .988 fielding percentage, and still features CF Joey Loperfido (.264), SS Ethan Murray (.222), and C Michael Rothenberg (.349), the top hitter from 2020.
23. Arizona State (13-4)
Five Sun Devils were taken in the first 114 picks of the 2020 draft, but there is still plenty of talent on hand. The five most-used pitchers return in Boyd Vander Kooi (2-0, 0.70), Erik Tolman (1-1, 2.50), Tyler Thornton (2-0, 3.38), Cooper Benson (1-1, 3.60), and Justin Fall (1-0, 5.68). SS Drew Swift (.365) will be joined by two big-time transfers in 1B Conor Davis (.339 at Auburn) and OF Allbry Major (.281-7-34 in his last season at Xavier).
24. San Diego (12-4)
The Toreros used a lot of young arms last year, and they're a year older. Carter Rustad (4-0, 0.84) and Conner Thurman (4-0, 2.70, 2 saves) were the top starter and reliever, respectively. LHP Grady Miller (2-0, 3.13) is the Friday horse. Shane McGuire (.469) and Caleb Ricketts (.351) are a dynamite C/DH/1B duo. RHP Kieran Shaw (13 saves at Harvard) and OF Peter Abinanti (.276 at St. John's) are impact transfers.
25. Florida State (12-5)
Mike Martin Jr. is still trying to replace his legendary father but will need a mulligan this season. Look for better horizons, as Conor Grady (2-0, 3.00), Jack Anderson (2-0, 0.79) and rising second-year freshman Brandon Walker will reform the rotation. The outfield could be the best in the nation with Robby Martin (.324), Elijah Cabell (.263-7-28), and Reese Albert (.242-4-13), who are all top draftees-to-be.
2020 All-America Team
C Adrian Del Castillo, Miami
1B Maxwell Costes, Maryland
2B Zack Raabe, Minnesota
SS Matt McLain, UCLA
3B Alex Binelas, Louisville
OF Chris Lanzilli, Wake Forest
OF Jud Fabian, Florida
OF Colton Cowser, Sam Houston State
OF Christian Franklin, Arkansas
DH Cody Morisette, Boston College
UTL Ben Wanger, Miami
SP Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
SP Ty Madden, Texas
SP Tommy Mace, Florida
SP Zach Pettway, UCLA
RP Micah Dallas, Texas Tech
RP Haylen Green, TCU
RP Jaden Hill, LSU
— Rankings by Eric Sorenson for the Athlon Sports 2021 Baseball Annual magazine. At 224 pages, it's the largest on the newsstand and the most complete preview available today. Click here to get your copy.
(Jack Leftwich by AP Photo/John Amis)