Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee (Host: Florida State)
No. 1 Florida State (43-15, 21-9 in ACC)
Roster | Statistics
52nd appearance (37th straight), at-large, first place in ACC Atlantic Division, No. 5 national seed
Top 200 Prospects: RHP Luke Weaver (36)
No. 3 Kennesaw State (37-21, 17-9 Atlantic Sun)
Roster | Statistics
First appearance, automatic, third place in Atlantic Sun Conference and Atlantic Sun tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: C Max Pentecost (17)
No. 4 Georgia Southern (39-21, 15-12 in Southern Conference)
Roster | Statistics
13th appearance (last in 2011), automatic, tied for third place in Southern Conference, SoCon tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None
Florida State is the No. 5 national seed and boasts a characteristically patient offense, one that led college baseball with 319 walks. Golden Spikes semifinalist D.J. Stewart (.348/.469/.561), whose thick, strong build belies his athleticism, spearheads the attack; he and John Nogowski (.311/.433/.451, 5 HR, 49 RBI) have been Florida State’s two primary power threats. While they hit fewer home runs than usual (26), the Seminoles remain adept at scoring runs (6.7 per game). Josh Delph (.393 OPB) is an ideal FSU leadoff man because of his ability to work counts. Nogowski and Jose Brizuela (.325/.407/.453) are patient hitters who combined for 26 doubles. Freshman Ben DeLuzio is the team’s burner. He had five triples and stole 16 of 18 bases. FSU also has an experienced and accomplished rotation, led by potential first-rounder Luke Weaver (8-3, 2.66), who possesses an electric fastball that sits in the low 90s and bumps 96, a plus changeup and an improving slider. Mike Compton (7-2, 3.06), who missed last year after having Tommy John surgery, presents a different look, with extreme life on his sinker and good command of his hard slurve. Brandon Leibrandt (4-1, 1.83), excellent in his first six starts before missing two months with a knee injury, is available this weekend, but it’s unclear in what role coach Mike Martin will use the lefthander, who, when healthy, has advanced feel for an 84-88 fastball, an above-average changeup and a slow curve. The bullpen is famously led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who ably replaced Robby Coles as the closer. Winston (1-0, 1.17, 7 SV) struck out 29 in 31 IP and walked just six. Winston has good sink and arm-side run on an 87-91 fastball that touches higher, good feel for his slider and an occasional changeup. Rubber-armed submarine righthander Gage Smith (5-2, 2.08) made 38 appearances and had a 6-1 SO-BB ratio. Smith gets loads of groundball outs with his lively, deceptive sinker. Billy Strode, Bryant Holtmann and Brandon Johnson give the Seminoles three proven lefthanders.
Alabama comes in struggling, having dropped seven of 11. But the Crimson Tide has a solid offense, with six starters hitting .282 or better and a knack for getting on base. Junior Ben Moore (.305/.363/.486) has pop to all fields and led the club with nine homers. Fellow righthanded hitter Austen Smith (.316/.426/.480) led the team in batting average and RBIs (36) and has good power to left and left center. Junior college transfer Wade Wass bounced back from missing all of 2013 with an ankle injury to have a standout season (.305/.398/.468) and led the club with 19 doubles. Up-the-middle stalwarts Mikey White (.303/.397/.440), Kyle Overstreet (.278/.339/.376) and Georgie Salem (.288/.329/.358) provide stability and and outstanding defense as well. No. 81 draft prospect Spencer Turnbull (5-6, 2.28) works downhill with a 90-94 fastball that touches 96, and he mixes in a power slurve, a quality changeup and a cutter. Justin Kamplain (6-3, 3.07) is a smallish bulldog who can hold his 89-91 fastball and eat up lefties with his sharp breaking ball, or backdoor it against righties. Junior lefty Jon Keller (5-2, 2.57) was up and down after moving into the Sunday starter role. His breaking ball is an out pitch and he commanded his fastball better this season. The bullpen is deep and versatile. Lefthander Thomas Burrows (4-1, 1.62, 10 SV) is uncommonly polished for his age, with good command of an 89-93 fastball from a three-quarters slot and a swing-and-miss breaking ball. Versatile senior righty Tucker Hawley (4-1, 1.93) spots up a fringy fastball and mixes in a solid changeup and slider.
Kennesaw State is arguably the hottest team in the country. The Owls have won seven in a row and 23 of 24, including four in the Atlantic Sun tournament. Kennesaw State is led by catcher Max Pentecost, the No. 17 prospect in the BA 500 and a projected top 5 pick, according to John Manuel’s latest mock draft. Pentecost (.423/.477/.634) has carried over his Cape Cod League MVP run into a fantastic junior season. Pentecost has also stolen 16 of 18 bases and gunned down 21 runners attempting to steal. Owls hitting coach Derek Simmons calls Pentecost the best breaking ball hitter he’s seen, and the righthanded hitter’s power has steadily picked up as he’s gotten stronger in college. Thanks in part to Pentecost, the Owls ranked 17th in the country in batting average (.301) and ninth in hits. On the mound, junior closer Justin McCalvin (2.24, 14 SV) has drawn the attention of scouts, thanks to 56 strikeouts in 56 IP. Righthander James Connell (7-3, 2.11) teams with McCalvin in a strong bullpen. Sophomore righthander Jordan Hillyer (7-3, 3.36) and sophomore lefty Travis Bergen (7-4, 2.74) are a reliable 1-2 rotation combo.
Georgia Southern reeled off five straight wins to capture the Southern Conference tournament crown and make the Field of 64 for the first time since 2011. The Eagles are led on the mound by junior lefthander Sam Howard (6-6, 2.60), the No. 121 prospect in the BA 500. Howard can run his fastball up to 92 and has thrown more strikes this season despite a rough delivery that at times leaves his arm dragging behind his body. He has shown scouts both a slider and a curveball. Scouts prefer the slider, though neither pitch projects as above-average. He has some feel for a solid-average changeup, and when he’s on he throws all four pitches for strikes. Junior righthander Josh Wirsu (9-3, 2.33) joins Howard for a solid 1-2 combo with sophomore lefty Jason Richman serving as a bullpen workhorse. Richman (5-1, 1.06, 3 SV) led the nation in appearances with 45, including all six Southern Conference tournament games. Richman pitched in the wake of the unexpected death of his mother during the tournament and closed out the finale in what coach Rodney Hennon called “one of the most amazing performances I’ve ever seen.” In the tournament alone, Richman allowed just one run in 13 1/3 innings. Meanwhile, the Eagles boast the nation’s 44th-best batting average (.289) and hit the fourth-most long balls (59). Junior outfielder Aaron Mizell (.313/.390/.545) and senior outfielder Stryker Brown (.325/.409/.522) combined for 23 homers—13 by Mizell—and Garrett Chapman (.346/.387/.472) led the team with 74 hits. The Eagles are built to take advantage of Dick Howser Stadium’s cozy confines, and Howard gives them a chance to pull off an upset against the mighty Seminoles.