The 2014 college baseball season gets underway Friday. To prep readers, Athlon Sports looks at college baseball's preseason Top 25.
1. Oregon State (52–13 overall, 24–6 Pac-12)
Head coach Pat Casey got a gift when LHP Ben Wetzler (Phillies, fifth round) and reliever Scott Schultz (Marlins, 17th round) chose to return to campus. They’ll join weekend starters RHP Andrew Moore (14–2, 1.79) and LHP Jace Fry (5–3, 2.45 in 2012) in possibly the nation’s best pitching staff. The top four hitters return, led by All-Americans Michael Conforto (.328-11-47) and Dylan Davis (.335-5-61).
2. NC State (50–16, 19–10 ACC)
This team can go far on star power alone. LHP Carlos Rodon (10–3, 2.99) and 3B Trea Turner (.368, 30 SBs) could be the two top picks in this year’s MLB Draft. Also, RHP Logan Jernigan (1–1, 1.56) and C Brett Austin (.251, 13 SBs) aren’t far behind but need to live up to their potential. The Pack stole 110 bases last year, and their speed makes them fun to watch.
3. South Carolina (43–20, 17–12 SEC)
Folks, 2013 was an aberration. You see, the Gamecocks actually missed Omaha. Yikes! Their return is based on strength up the middle with C Grayson Greiner (.298-4-38), SS Joey Pankake (.311-11-42) and fleet CF Tanner English (.283), all three All-America types. Incoming RHP Wil Crowe will bolster returnees Jordan Montgomery (6–1, 1.48) and Evan Beal (2–1, 4.78) on the hill.
4. Indiana (49–16, 17–7 Big Ten)
Pick your jaw up off the floor: A Big Ten team is No. 4. And why not? IU finished last year in Omaha and got top hitter Dustin DeMuth (.377-5-41) and RHP Ryan Halstead (11 saves) back after they were high MLB draftees last summer. All-America power-jack Kyle Schwarber (.366-18-54) will catch for a staff that returns 40 wins and had a team ERA of 2.64.
5. Kansas State (45–19, 16–8 Big 12)
The Cats won their first conference title in 110 years last season. This year, five players who hit .324-plus return, including SS Austin Fisher (.361), 2B Ross Kivett (.360, 26 SBs) and 1B Shane Conlon (.341-7-28). Freshman All-American Jake Matthys (9–2, 9 saves) leads a talented staff, but coach Brad Hill is high on RHPs Nate Griep and Colton Kalmus, who both are coming off redshirt years.
6. Oregon (48–16, 22–8 Pac-12)
Pitch. Pitch. Pitch. That’s all these Ducks do. But great gosh-a-mighty, they do it well. Youthful weekend starters Cole Irvin (12–3, 2.48), Tommy Thorpe (7–5, 2.16) and Jake Reed (6-6, 3.50) are all a year older and better. Also watch for sophomore LHP Garrett Cleavinger (9–0, 1.24) and incoming LHP Matt Krook, the 35th overall pick of last June’s draft. The only hang-up? That .258 offense must improve.
7. Cal State Fullerton (51–10, 23–4 Big West)
Okay, we’ll admit that losing a planetary superstar like Michael Lorenzen and four other field starters isn’t easy. But the Titans were a deep squad in 2013, so plenty of serviceable talent is still around. Plus, nearly every pitcher of note returns, including Freshman All-Americans Thomas Eshelman (12–3, 1.48) and Justin Garza (12–0, 2.03). The seventh-ranked recruiting class features 10th overall draft pick RHP Phil Bickford.
8. Florida State (47–17, 20–10 ACC)
You know the Seminoles are top-10 material every year, so no surprise here. The Noles have an embarrassment of riches on the mound with all three weekend starters back in Luke Weaver (7–2, 2.29), Brandon Leibrandt (10–4, 3.44) and Peter Miller (6–2, 3.55), and All-America RHP Mike Compton (12–2, 2.87 in ‘12) returns after redshirting. DJ Stewart (.364-5-59) leads an offense capable of bettering that .287 average.
9. Clemson (40–22, 18–12 ACC)
That putrid 1–7 finish still casts a pall over the Tigers. But they’ll have plenty of teeth this year with the duo of LHP Matthew Crownover (7–3, 2.19) and RHP Daniel Gossett (10–4, 2.56) back on the bump. Exciting and steady, the Tigers finished 16th nationally with 111 stolen bases (led by Shane Kennedy’s 22), and eight starters return from a defense that fielded at .972.
10. LSU (57–11, 23–7 SEC)
Lots of senior leaders flew the coop after the trip to Omaha, but c’mon, it’s LSU. No freefall here. All-Americans like staff ace Aaron Nola (12–1, 1.57) and SS Alex Bregman (.369-6-52) will keep them relevant in June. All seven of the returning pitchers have a 2.95 ERA or better, and four of the five returning starters in the order hit .305 or higher.
11. Virginia (50–12, 22–8 ACC)
Don’t make them angry. You won’t like them when they’re angry. Returnees like 1B Mike Papi (.381-7-57), SS Branden Cogswell (.346), 3B Nick Howard (.323-3-38), OF Brandon Downes (.316-10-59) and OF Derek Fisher (.293-7-48) are all linebacker-sized, making for the nation’s most intimidating 1-thru-9. Losing ace Scott Silverstein and closer Kyle Crockett is tough, but the nearly everyone else from the arms corps is back.
12. Vanderbilt (54–12, 26–3 SEC)
Okay, so there were heavy losses for the Dores. Still, this could be a top-5 team if recent hyper-talented recruiting classes jell quickly. Only two starters return, but part-timers Chris Harvey (.250), Rhett Wiseman (.289) and Zander Wiel (.305) are potential studs. Kevin Ziomek moved on, but RHPs Tyler Beede (14–1, 2.32) and Brian Miller (16 saves) will assure almost no drop-off.
13. Mississippi State (51–20, 16–14 SEC)
Anyone want to doubt these guys now? Didn’t think so. A pitching-heavy No. 2-ranked recruiting class will join CWS vets like Ross Mitchell (13–0, 1.53), Jacob Lindgren (4–3, 4.18) and Brandon Woodruff (former 5th-round pick) to reload the mound staff. Don’t forget the two hulking wild men: 1B Wes Rea (.291-7-40) and relief ace Jonathan Holder (21 saves).
14. TCU (29–28, 12–12 Big 12)
The wildly talented Frogs underachieved but will make amends with a junior-heavy team. Most of the 2.78 ERA arms staff is back, led by Preston Morrison (7–3, 1.51) and Alex Young (7–4, 2.66, 5 saves). The offense hit a boney-armed .246, so OFs Boomer White (.314), Cody Jones (.269) and Jerrick Suiter (.186) and 1B Kevin Cron (.208) need to play to potential.
15. Florida (29–30, 14–16 SEC)
Look for a big Gator rebound. Although ace Jonathon Crawford and saves-man Johnny Magliozzi will be missed, 10 of the 13 pitchers return, including former first-round pick Karsten Whitson (injured 2013). Three .300-plus hitters are also back in Harrison Bader (.312), Justin Shafer (.300) and Richie Martin (.300). Coach Kevin O’Sullivan also brought in the No. 1 recruiting class, so the rich get richer.
16. UCLA (49–17, 21–9 Pac-12)
Don’t shed any tears for the winners of the brass ring. The top four hitters are back, led by Eric Filia (.281), Kevin Kramer (.278) and stolen base specialist Brian Carroll (.258, 32 SBs). Look for Grant Watson (9–3, 3.01) and Cody Poteet (4–6, 4.84) to blossom. All-Americans David Berg (24 saves) and James Kaprielian (0–0, 1.55) lead the best bullpen in the country.
17. Miami (37–25, 14–16 ACC)
The Hurricanes could be on the rise again. Fifty-nine of 62 starts on the mound return, including stud lefties Chris Diaz (7–5, 1.64) and Bryan Radziewski (9–3, 1.78), who led a 3.38 ERA staff. But offensively, hitting .258 with 14 home runs won’t fly. The No. 4-ranked recruiting class comes in, led by four MLB draftees and strapping 6'6" 1B Brad Zunica.
18. North Carolina (59–12, 21–7 ACC)
Losing seven MLB draftees and having only four seniors — this is as close as it gets to “rebuilding” for the Heels. Super sophs Landon Lassiter (.358), Skye Bolt (.321-6-51) and RHP Trent Thornton (12–1, 1.37) will be building blocks, and RHP Benton Moss (8-1, 3.77) is an All-America candidate. Freshmen such as pitchers A.J. Bogucki and Chris Oakley and 1B Joe Dudek will be leaned on immediately.
19. Oklahoma State (41–19, 13–10 Big 12)
Josh Holliday is building a monster in Stillwater. The incoming class (ranked No. 5 nationally) is described as being “better than great.” A trio of solid pitchers — Vince Wheeland (8–2, 1.97), Mark Robinette (6–1, 3.58) and Tyler Nurdin (5–3, 1.89) — all showed flashes of greatness last season. The offense will need a jump-start, but leading hitter Tanner Krietemeier (.314-4-45) is a lead-by-example type.
20. Texas (27–24, 7–17 Big 12)
Look who’s back. Coach Augie Garrido needs to plant a flag this year, and he’ll have the rotation of Dillon Peters (6–3, 1.97), Nathan Thornhill (3–6, 2.21) and Parker French (4–5, 2.68). Yes, the pitching pulled its weight, with a 2.53 ERA, but the offense? Oof! Mark Payton (.393) and C.J. Hinojosa (.309) did their part, but the team hit just .260 overall.
21. Cal Poly (40–19, 17–10 Big West)
Larry Lee’s program benefited big time when All-Big West talents Reed Reilly (14 saves) and 3B Jimmy Allen (.299) turned down MLB. Joining Allen on the infield is SS Peter Van Gansen (.253) and 1B Tim Wise (.308 in 2012) in a strong defense. Pitching-wise, Matt Imhof (7–3, 2.74), Casey Bloomquist (6–2, 5.02) and Bryan Granger (5–4, 5.37) combined for 39 starts.
22. Louisiana-Lafayette (43-20, 19-11 Sun Belt)
After going to the Regional Finals, the Cajuns are ready for their close-up. The experience-heavy rotation of Austin Robichaux (9–2, 3.05), Ryan Wilson (6–4, 3.25) and Cody Boutte (8–4, 5.30) returns, along with closer Matt Hicks (11 saves). Also, six batters who hit .319-plus come back to the order, led by SS Blake Trahan (.319, 13 SBs), 3B Tyler Girouard (.360-7-41) and power-stick Caleb Adams (.339, 16 HRs).
23. Alabama (35–28, 14–15 SEC)
The Tide made the NCAAs despite being brutally young last year. Expect more consistency from super sophs SS Mikey White (.287), 2B Kyle Overstreet (.271) and CF Georgie Salem (.269), who are all outstanding gloves. Eight of the nine pitchers back have ERAs under 3.66, including ace RHP Spencer Turnbull (4–3, 3.70) and saves specialist Ray Castillo (12 saves), who is, of course, another sophomore.
24. Washington State (23–32, 9–21 Pac-12)
The Cougars are loaded for Northwest noise as 95 percent of their innings pitched and 85 percent of their at-bats return. Olerud Award candidate Jason Monda (sixth round, Phillies), RHP J.D. Leckenby (14th round, Mets) and SS Trace Tam Sing (26th round, Royals) return despite their draft overtures. As freshmen, Nick Tanielu and Trek Stemp were the best hitters on the team before being lost to mid-season injuries.
25. Mercer (43–18, 20–7 A-Sun)
The uber-experienced Bears have five of six starters in the field and two of three weekend pitchers as returning seniors. RHPs Brandon Barker and DJ Johnson are four-year leaders. Junior bullpen stud Dimitri Kourtis went 5–3 with nine saves. Leadoff man Sasha La Garde (.308), 3B Chesny Young (.401) and power-bat Nick Backlund (.326-13-68) pace a dangerous offense.
—Written by Eric Sorenson. This is just one of the features that can be found in Athlon Sports' 2014 MLB Preview magazine, which is available on newsstands and online now. Starting with 21 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between. Order your copy now!