Strike One: Shifting Landscape
College baseball truly came into its own in 1999, when the advent of the 64-team NCAA tournament field and a major change in bat standards ushered in a new era. Last season marked the start of another age for the sport, which moved the College World Series from venerable Rosenblatt Stadium into sparkling new TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, and toned down the potency of the bats again.
The new BBCOR bats had a dramatic impact on the game, as offensive numbers plummeted around the country. The consensus among coaches this fall, however, was that manufacturers had made adjustments to their BBCOR products, and players were more accustomed to the new bats. Don’t expect a return to 2010 offensive levels, but some recovery in offense seems likely.
“I think the bat companies are going to make greater strides in evening out the weight,” California coach David Esquer said. “I don’t know that the feel will be as intimidating as it may have been in the first year.”
The bats are no longer the primary conversation item for college coaches, as they’ve moved on to the next thing: superconferences. A radical change in the landscape of college sports is on the way, as the chase for football revenue has driven a major realignment of conferences.
Most of the changes will take place next year, but college baseball will get a taste of what is to come in 2012, as three schools join new conferences: Nebraska goes from the Big 12 to the Big Ten, Utah leaves the Mountain West for the Pac-12, and Brigham Young departs the MWC for the West Coast Conference.
Strike Two: Picks To Click
Prognostication is a tricky game. Last year I went 0-for-3 in this space, as my breakout player (Rutgers’ Steve Nyisztor) fizzled, Liberty missed regionals and Fresno State missed Omaha.
This year, I’m going out West for the player I think is ready to make the leap to stardom as a sophomore: Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. Alaska League coaches dubbed him “Dave Winfield Jr.” last summer for his size, athleticism and all-around tool set. His upside is simply monstrous.
My pick to end a long NCAA tournament drought is Purdue, which looks primed to make its first regional in 24 years—and win its first Big Ten title in 103 years. Read more about the Boilermakers in our Region Midwest preview.
For my Omaha sleeper, I’ll take UC Irvine, which returns five senior position players and a host of quality arms from a team that fell one out shy of the CWS last year.
Strike Three: Golden Spikes Spotlight
For the last two years, we have teamed with USA Baseball to present the Golden Spikes Spotlight every Monday in our Three Strikes blog, and at goldenspikesaward.com. It’s an opportunity for us to highlight some of the leading contenders for the Golden Spikes Award, and we’ll continue to present that feature in 2012.
All season long, you can keep up with Baseball America’s college coverage online. Between our Weekend Preview, features, blog posts, chats, podcasts and Top 25 rankings, there is always plenty of content for the hungry college baseball fan.
Bonus Feature: BA's Experts Under The Gun
In the course of gathering information for the College Preview, we send out a questionnaire to coaches that asks them (among other things) to make predictions in the categories below.
We’ve decided that Aaron Fitt and John Manuel, who spearhead our college coverage, should go out on that same limb.
Here are our predictions for 2012’s national honors:
|Aaron Fitt||John Manuel|
|Omaha sleeper:||UC Irvine||Mississippi State|
|Player of the year:||Mike Zunino, Florida||Brian Johnson, Florida|
|Pitcher of the Year||Michael Roth, South Carolina||Marcus Stroman, Duke|
|Freshman of the Year||Carlos Rodon, North Carolina State||Connor Barron, Southern Miss|
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