I happen to be quite the college baseball fan, so I’m going to be giving my predictions for the 8 teams I think will make their way to Omaha for the College World Series: (parentheses indicate national seeds)
Gainesville – Miami at (3) Florida
I picked Florida to make the title game in the preseason, so I guess it would be pretty irresponsible of me to have them losing now. Gator Freshman Austin Maddox has lived up to his high billing, hitting .339/.370/.608 and while Florida has 6 Freshmen or Sophomores in their starting lineup they are all extremely talented and have Senior Matt den Dekker to lean on. Pitching wise the Gators aren’t as talented, but they throw strikes which is probably the most important thing in college baseball.
Miami has probably the best player in this series in Yasmani Grandal, but other than him Miami is pretty thin. Solid but unspectacular is the way to describe them.
The pick: Florida sweep
Los Angeles – Cal State Fullerton at (6) UCLA
Fullerton needed to come through the loser’s bracket to win their regional, while the Bruins swept through possibly the toughest region out there. This series is all about pitching. Fullerton has a group of strike throwers who let their defense do the work. Christian Colon leads the Titans offensively, but Tyler Pill and Corey Jones are right there.
UCLA has maybe the most talented staff in the country. Sophomore Gerrit Cole throws 95-98 MPH with a good slider, and right now is probably the favorite to go #2 overall next year in the MLB draft. Trevor Bauer is basically Cole-lite and Rob Rasmussen is a lefty who throws in the low 90s but has a four pitch mix that has proven very effective in college baseball.
The pick: UCLA in 3
Tallahassee – Vanderbilt at Florida State
Each team won regionals on the road as Vanderbilt went to Louisville and got it done, and the Seminoles won up at UConn. Vanderbilt has what you would call a pretty stereotypical Vanderbilt team: not very good offensively, but good on the mound. They are led by Sophomore Sonny Gray who doesn’t have the most eye-popping stats, but is one of the better pitchers in the SEC. Still, Vandy has a balanced yet unspectacular offense. Their best hitter this year has been Senior SS Brian Harris, though Sophomore 1B Aaron Westlake leads the team with 14 HR.
Florida State had kind of hit the skids towards the end of the year. Sophomore Sean Gilmartin, who had a fabulous Freshman year, has an ERA near 5. In fact, all three Seminole starters have ERAs in the 4s. Florida State’s best hitter, Tyler Holt, has had a good year, but not the POY type year he had last year. Which is weird to say when you look at his line of .349/.465/.630. Florida State also has maybe the most valuable player in the country in Mike McGee, who leads the team with 14 homers and also has a 0.38 ERA as the team’s closer.
The pick: Florida State in 3
Austin – TCU at (2) Texas
Texas is the best run preventing team in the country. Taylor Jungmann has had a wonderful year and is setting himself up to be a Top 10 pick in next year’s draft. On the turf at Disch-Falk field, Texas’s great defense gets nothing but true hops and their outfield can fly on the turf. Yet this team does have problems offensively. They have some all-or-nothing type hitters, and not a lot of plate discipline. More experienced college pitchers can shut this lineup down.
TCU has a pair of Seniors leading the way offensively. Catcher Bryan Holaday is hitting .347/.430/.589 with 12 homers and 1B Matt Curry is hitting .353/.478/.725 with 17 homers. But it is a Freshman, Matt Purke, who leads the Horned Frogs on the mound. Purke has 122 strikeouts in 95 innings and is already one of the best in college baseball. If he beats (presumably) Jungmann in the first game…anything is possible.
The pick: TCU in 3
Tempe – Arkansas at (1) Arizona State
Arkansas 3B Zach Cox is one of the best hitters in the country. He would probably fit in better in Arizona State’s lineup as the Sun Devils are great offensively. Granted they are helped by their park a bit, but this super regional happens to be in Tempe, so they’re fine. Freshman SS Deven Merrerro is the only offensive player who didn’t play in the CWS last year.
On the mound the Devils are led by Seth Blair, who had about a strikeout per inning this year. But it is their bullpen who has gotten the job done. If the Sun Devils get a lead it will be tough for the Hogs to take it back. Sophomore lefty Drew Smyly needs to beat Blair in his start for Arkansas to have a chance. I don’t see it.
The pick: ASU sweep
Clemson – Alabama at Clemson
Here is my first mention of my biggest pet peeve about college baseball: Alabama Junior Jimmy Nelson has thrown back to back to back complete games. The abuse of these kids’ arms is unreal. But why should the colleges care? the players are only there for 3 or 4 years. Alabama’s infield is very experienced, with two Juniors and two Seniors. One name you might recognize is 2B Ross Wilson, whose brother John-Parker was the quarterback at Alabama. Ross also was in the MTV show Two a Days. Alabama’s starting staff is overworked and their bullpen isn’t very good. Not a good recipe for success.
Clemson is athletic, but to be honest their team is kind of meh across the board. Junior lefty Casey Harman is solid. Pretty crafty lefty with 3 good pitches and some nice movement on his fastball. Right fielder Kyle Parker is their main hitter, with a .484 OBP and 20 homers.
Barring a surprise in another regional, this regional’s winner will be the weakest team in Omaha.
The pick: Clemson in 3
Charlottesville – Oklahoma at (5) Virginia
Oklahoma is a very good team. They have a great offense led by 3B Garrett Buechele. His 16 homers led the team. The good news about their starters is they are all basically the same. The bad news is none of them is particularly good. Defensively they’re pretty good, but if they’re going to win their offense will have to mash.
As good as Oklahoma is, Virginia is better in every facet. My preseason national champion really has no holes. I still say they’re the best team in the country, despite being the 5th seeded team in the tournament. Sophomore Danny Hultzen leads them on the mound, with his 114 K in 99 IP. He also has a .192 batting average against. Virginia can run: 4 players have double digit steals. They can hit for power: They have guys with 10, 10, 9, 8 and 8 homers. They have a ton of athletes, and a ton of depth. They have good players who can’t crack their lineup.
The pick: Virginia sweep
Myrtle Beach – South Carolina at (4) Coastal Carolina
Another year, another great record for Coastal. Sadly this year’s was probably a bit inflated as they play in the one bid Big South. Still, after getting by College of Charleston, who has traditionally been their nemesis, the Chanticleers are ready for the Gamecocks. Unfortunately for them their pitching is now more tired. They have a pretty good duo at the top in Sophomore Anthony Meo (.227 BAA, 94 SO in 96 IP) and Junior Cody Wheeler (.247 BAA, 111 SO in 108 IP). Meo can touch 96 but sits at 92-93. Yet with his presumably tired arm I like Wheeler a bit more in this super. He doesn’t have the raw stuff, but he sits in the high 80s with a pretty good slider and change. He also adds and subtracts very well from his fastball.
The Chants lineup is extremely deep, with 6 double digit HR hitters. Junior 3B Scott Woodward has just 5 Hr but also has a .500 OBP. He also has 54 steals. Those 54 don’t even lead the team as Rico Noel has 56. Despite their power, Coastal does a lot of bunting and moving runners around. It seems like whatever they do has worked.
South Carolina is definitely the best program of the last 6 years that hasn’t been to Omaha. The Cocks are led by Senior Blake Cooper (.226 BAA, 100 SO in 111 IP), who is a strike thrower and one of the better competitors out there. But it is Sam Dyson who has the best stuff on the staff. He has a 4.00 ERA, but has struck out over a batter per inning. He’s added a cutter to his repertoire lately, which is always a positive so long as he doesn’t go overboard with it.
South Carolina has an experienced bullpen and lineup: 6 of their 9 starters are Juniors or Seniors. Their best hitter though is probably Freshman Evan Marzilli, who has a .514 OBP. The Gamecocks have switched their lineup around a lot this year which is interesting. They are pretty deep and similar all the way through so I guess it makes sense. Also watch for Sophomore Jackie Bradley Jr. He has flash and athleticism, but also power and plate discipline. Heck of a player.
The pick: Coastal in 3.
So to recap, the teams I think will be in the College World Series are: