2014 College Preseason Top 25 Capsules: Teams 1-5
About Our Grades
We love the 20-80 scouting scale at Baseball America; we use it to assess everything from prospects to our favorite local barbecue restaurants. So we figured it would be fun and instructive to subject our preseason top 25 rankings to the same scrutiny.
Scouts grade prospects on how their tools compare with those of an average major leaguer, but we are rating teams relative to an average college baseball team with NCAA tournament aspirations. In addition to grading our top 25 teams on typical tools like hitting for average, hitting for power, speed and defense, we have divided the fifth tool (arm) into two categories: starting pitching and bullpen. We’re also giving teams a grade for Experience/Intangibles—think of it as a team’s “makeup,” if you like. For each category, a grade of 50 is average, comparable to a typical NCAA tournament contender; 60 is above-average; 70 is well above-average; 40 is below-average; and 30 is well below-average. Twenty and 80 are the extreme limits in each direction.
Finally, each team is given an Overall Future Potential (OFP) grade. The OFP scale:
80: A team for the ages. An overwhelming favorite with no obvious weaknesses. Think 1981 Arizona State or 1996 Louisiana State. There is no team like this heading into 2014.
70: Elite. A leading contender for the national title. (Virginia.)
65: Well-above-average. Legitimate championship contender. (Oregon State, Indiana, Cal State Fullerton, North Carolina State, Florida State, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Louisiana State.)
60: Above-average. Strong Omaha contender. (Vanderbilt, Oregon, UCLA, Clemson, Louisiana-Lafayette)
55: Slightly above-average. A threat to win a conference title and perhaps reach Omaha. (Rice, Miami, North Carolina, Texas, Texas Christian, Louisville, Alabama, Kansas State, Florida, Texas A&M, Arkansas.)
50: Average. Strong NCAA tournament teams who could make a postseason run. (None in this year’s preseason Top 25)
Ranking teams is far from an exact science, and there will doubtless be surprises and disappointments as the season unfolds. Last season, seven of the eight teams that eventually made the College World Series were ranked in our preseason top 12—but one team, Indiana, was unranked. We think applying the 20-80 scale is an illuminating way to gauge each team’s projected strengths and weaknesses heading into the season.
2013 Record (Ranking): 50-12 (11). RPI: 5.
Coach (Record at school): Brian O’Connor (461-161-2, 10 years).
Postseason History: 13 regionals (active streak: 10), 2 CWS trips (last in 2011), 0 national titles.
|2B||John La Prise||So.||.171||.244||.229||0||6||0|
Hitting: 75. With seven juniors and a 2013 freshman All-American (McCarthy) returning from a team that ranked in the nation’s top 10 in scoring, doubles, triples, slugging and walks, Virginia has a chance to be the best offensive team of college baseball’s BBCOR era. With a 54-36 career walk-strikeout mark, Cogswell is an ideal table-setter. Fisher established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the 2014 draft class last summer in the Cape Cod League, and Papi led the nation in on-base percentage last year while also hitting for power. La Prise led the Northwoods League in hitting last year and looks poised for a breakout. Every player in the lineup is capable of hitting for average and driving the gaps. The addition of talented freshmen SS Daniel Pinero and C Matt Thaiss provides enviable depth, and both figure to push for playing time.
Power: 70. Fisher, Papi and McCarthy form a fearsome trio of lefthanded sluggers. The loose, wiry Downes does not have as refined a hitting approach but brings real righthanded power, while Towns and Howard offer additional pop from the right side.
Speed: 65. Fisher has been clocked at 6.35 seconds in the 60-yard dash, while the similarly physical McCarthy can run a 6.6, making both surprisingly fast runners. Downes and La Prise are also above-average runners, while Cogswell has solid-average speed and Papi has fringe-average speed. The Cavs are very aggressive going after extra-base hits and going first to third.
Defense: 60. Cogswell is a sure-handed field general, but Pinero has more arm strength and range and has a chance to push him to second. Irving has solid catch-and-throw and leadership skills, and Downes is a standout with a plus arm in center, making this team good up the middle. Papi played left field last year and is just adequate at first, and Fisher has a long way to go in left despite his speed. Towns defends well enough at third to allow Howard to focus on pitching and DHing.
Starting Pitching: 60. Waddell’s competitiveness and feel for pitching with an 87-91 fastball, a solid curveball and changeup helped him succeed as the Friday starter from the onset of his career. Kirby is much more electric, with a fastball that touches 94 and a wipeout breaking ball, and his mound presence and command improved in the fall, though he could miss a week or two early in the season while recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Howard’s four-pitch mix is highlighted by a low-90s fastball that can reach 95 in short stints, making him a candidate to close as well. Fr. RHP Connor Jones has advanced feel for an 89-94 sinker and a good changeup, and his slider showed flashes of improvement in the fall.
Bullpen: 60. Replacing closer Kyle Crockett is Virginia’s biggest challenge. Sborz took a leap forward in the fall, commanding a 90-94 fastball and a tight slider, and he could be in the mix to start if he doesn’t close. Fr. RHP Jack Roberts has a better arm than older brother Will (a former UVa. standout), with a fastball that has reached 93-94 and plenty of moxie. Three Sr. RHPs—Artie Lewicki, Austin Young and Whit Mayberry—bring experience and stability, making this a deep staff.
Experience/Intangibles: 65. Virginia’s lineup is overflowing with mainstays who have started for two full seasons, and Waddell has proven himself as a quality Friday starter. The rest of the pitching staff is less established, and none of UVa.’s everyday players or starting pitchers has played in Omaha. The stable, experienced coaching staff is one of the nation’s very best.
Baseball America OFP: 70. The Cavaliers are extraordinarily deep, balanced and talented. After losing a home super regional to Mississippi State last year, they’ll also be hungry to get back to Omaha for the first time since 2011. Virginia looks like a serious threat to break the ACC’s 59-year title drought.
2. OREGON STATE
2013 Record (Ranking): 52-13 (4). RPI: 3.
Coach (Record at school): Pat Casey (841-502-5, 19 years).
Postseason History: 14 regionals (active streak: 5), 5 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 2 national titles (last in 2007).
|SS||Trever Morrison||Fr.||NA||HS—Everett, Wash.|
|DH||Michael Howard||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Yavapai (Ariz.) JC|
Hitting: 55. The lineup is built around Conforto and Davis, two physical mashers who have improved their pitch recognition and plate discipline every year in Corvallis. Keyes and Peterson grind out at-bats but don’t do anything flashy. Hendrix has a funky bat path but a knack for making contact, and Morrison has a quick line-drive swing but needs to get stronger. The top half of the lineup is formidable, but the bottom half looks more vulnerable.
Power: 55. Conforto has proven himself as an elite power hitter with juice to all fields. Davis hit 22 doubles last year, and his massive raw power should translate to more home runs this spring. Howard and Clark have sneaky pop but need to establish themselves. The rest of the lineup is contact-oriented.
Speed: 45. Morrison and Hendrix are above-average runners, and Peterson’s average speed plays up because of his savvy. Howard is an adequate runner. The Beavers ranked 199th in the nation in steals per game last year, and they don’t figure to run much in 2014 either.
Defense: 60. OSU has key up-the-middle pieces to replace, as talented freshman Morrison steps in for departed senior general Tyler Smith, and Esposito replaces Jake Rodriguez behind the plate. Morrison has better arm strength and range than Smith but must mature quickly. Esposito is a solid receiver with an accurate arm. The high-energy Peterson has outstanding range, especially on flares over his head, while the corner infielders are adequate. Davis has one of the nation’s best outfield arms, and Conforto’s accurate arm plays above-average.
Starting Pitching: 70. Moore was a first-team All-American as a freshman thanks to his uncommon command of a quality four-pitch mix, highlighted by an 87-93 fastball that he spots well. Wetzler, an unsigned fifth-round pick last June, is a bulldog with an 87-94 heater and a slider that eats up lefties. Fry was limited last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery, but he is healthy now and made good strides this fall with his curveball, which complements an 87-93 fastball and a swing-and-miss slider.
Bullpen: 65. Fr. RHP Chandler Eden could get time as the midweek starter or a Pac-12 bullpen piece, and his fastball plays up in relief, sitting at 94-97. He also flashes a plus curveball and a promising change. Schultz, a sinker/slider righty, has made more than 20 appearances in three straight years and handled himself well on the big stage. LHP Max Engelbrekt can sink and cut a 85-88 fastball that plays up because of his funky delivery and low slot. Tyler Painton gives OSU another good option from the left side, while wily senior Brandon Jackson and freshmen John Pomeroy and Jake Thompson add righthanded depth. The X-factor is Davis, who can reach the high 90s or even triple digits but has pitched just 10 innings in two years.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. Inexperience up the middle is a concern, but the Beavers are loaded with veterans on the mound and have four very seasoned upperclassmen anchoring the lineup. OSU experienced the big stage of the CWS last year, and every Pat Casey team stands out for toughness and the ability to execute defensively and offensively.
Baseball America OFP: 65. With the nation’s deepest pitching staff and a pair of potential first-rounders anchoring the lineup, Oregon State has a strong chance to compete for its third national title.
2013 Record (Ranking): 49-16 (7). RPI: 12.
Coach (Record at school): Tracy Smith (243-222, 8 years).
Postseason History: 3 regionals (active streak: 1), 1 CWS trip (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
|LF||Casey Rodrigue||Jr.||NA||Tr.—LSU-Eunice JC|
Hitting: 70. Indiana’s offense was elite last year, and its only meaningful loss from that lineup was SS Michael Basil. The Hoosiers employ an aggressive approach, pouncing on early-count fastballs and driving them from gap-to-gap. Schwarber has a strong case as college baseball’s best pure hitter, and fellow masher Travis has a similarly advanced approach—both walked more than they struck out last year. DeMuth routinely squares up lasers all around the field, and Donley gives the lineup yet another line-drive machine from the left side. Nolden and Jr. OF Chris Sujka made for a scrappy platoon last year. The switch-hitting Ramos and Smith join the righthanded Travis to give the lineup balance.
Power: 70. Schwarber has mammoth raw power and knows how to use it. Travis also has plus or better raw power, and his home run output should spike now that he has recovered from the broken hand he played through down the stretch last year. DeMuth has developed more power as his career has progressed. Donley and Smith provide more physicality and solid power; even Ramos and Rodrigue have surprising pop.
Speed: 55. Rodrigue stole 61 bases in junior-college last year, and he gives the lineup an infusion of premium speed. DeMuth is a plus runner, and Ramos, Nolden, Smith and Sujka have solid speed as well.
Defense: 50. Defense was Indiana’s weakness last year (.966 fielding percentage), and it must replace a departed senior at shortstop, which is the team’s greatest question mark. Ramos was sidelined by a high hamstring pull in the fall, but the Hoosiers hope he’ll be healthy and defensively sound this spring. Clark is a flashy defender with a plus arm at second, DeMuth is rather stiff at third and Travis is just serviceable at first. While physical and durable, Schwarber still must improve his receiving. The outfielders should cover plenty of ground, and Nolden and Smith have strong arms.
Starting Pitching: 60. Big Ten pitcher of the year Aaron Slegers is gone, but every other key piece of Indiana’s staff is back. The all-lefty rotation has an exceptionally seasoned senior ace in the dogged DeNato, whose ability to command four pitches has made him IU’s Friday starter since his freshman year. He and Hart both work in the 84-88 range but have good feel for pitching. Coursen-Carr is in the DeNato mold but has better stuff, with a fastball that touches 90. So. RHP Christian Morris, a Tommy John survivor who had a strong fall, gives IU an intriguing starting option with a low-90s sinker and a good curveball.
Bullpen: 65. Halstead and So. RHP Scott Effross form one of the nation’s best bullpen tandems. Halstead, who set the school record for saves last year, works downhill with an 88-90 fastball and a quality curve. Effross is more electric, with a sinker that jumped up to 94 mph at times this fall and a good slider. Sr. LHP Brian Korte and Jr. RHP Luke Harrison provide two more experienced options. So. LHP Sully Stadler pitched just one inning last year but impressed in the fall with an 87-89 fastball and the best breaking ball on the staff. The X-factor is R-Fr. RHP Jake Kelzer, a 6-foot-7 former swimmer who could become a star if he harnesses his control.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. The overwhelming majority of last year’s Omaha team is still intact. The Hoosiers proved their toughness and poise by winning a super regional at Florida State.
Baseball America OFP: 65. Indiana’s 49-win 2013 season was no fluke—this is one of the most talented, complete, experienced teams in the nation, and should be regarded as a leading contender to win the national title. The lone question mark is the defense.
4. CAL STATE FULLERTON
2013 Record (Ranking): 51-10 (10). RPI: 6.
Coach (Record at school): Rick Vanderhook (87-31, 2 years).
Postseason History: 35 regionals (active streak: 22), 16 CWS trips (last in 2009), 4 national titles (last in 2004).
Hitting: 55. The Titans must replace stalwarts Michael Lorenzen, Carlos Lopez, Richy Pedroza and Chad Wallach, so their offense could be somewhat less potent in 2014. But the Titans are still well-stocked with athletic grinders who handle the bat well. Jefferies, Williamson and Diemer all fit that description, and all of them showed significantly improved strength and plate approaches in the fall. The lineup is built around Chapman and Davis, who are capable of hitting for average and racking up doubles. Pinkston has feel for his barrel from the left side, while Dale and Deacon are slap hitters who must hit situationally.
Power: 55. The West Coast is not conducive to big home run totals, but the Titans should have at least slightly above-average power in a neutral setting. Chapman and Davis both have plus raw power and are learning to utilize it. Diemer, Williamson, Pinkston, Jefferies and Velazquez also bring some pop, but don’t expect any of them to approach double-digits in homers.
Speed: 50. Diemer and Williamson are the lone plus runners in the lineup, but Jefferies and Dale have decent speed. The Titans are smart and aggressive on the basepaths, but they won’t steal bushels of bases.
Defense: 55. Chapman’s arm will be an asset at short, but he has less range than Pedroza, who was a model of consistency. Dale and Jefferies are strong defenders, and Pinkston is adequate at first. Deacon and A.J. Kennedy form a very capable catching duo. Diemer and Williamson have excellent range. Davis proved good enough in right field this fall, and his arm is a major asset.
Starting Pitching: 70. How deep is Fullerton’s rotation? Fr. RHP Phil Bickford—the 2013 No. 10 overall pick with an explosive fastball that can reach 96—is the midweek starter. Eshelman and Garza were both All-Americans as freshmen. Eshelman works at 86-89 but has unparalleled command of his four-pitch mix, as illustrated by his mind-boggling three walks in 116 innings last year. Garza is also an exceptional strike-thrower, and his stuff is more electric: a 90-94 fastball, a plus changeup and a quality cutter. Wiest lacks power stuff but is yet another strike machine with an excellent change, and his funky delivery and movement make him tough to hit.
Bullpen: 60. The Titans could close by committee, at least until someone seizes the job. Gauna’s 92-94 mph fastball and competitiveness could make him the favorite for the job. Davis and Chapman follow in Lorenzen’s footsteps as two-way players with huge arm strength. Davis also works at 92-94 and has a tight slider that reaches the mid-80s. He has more pitching experience than Chapman, who reached 98 in two summer appearances for Team USA but has never pitched for Fullerton. Tyler Peitzmeier and Bryant Conant give the Titans two funky options from the left side.
Experience/Intangibles: 65. Fullerton’s young pitching matured quickly last year, helping the team win 51 games and win a regional. So the pitching staff is seasoned, and even Fullerton’s new everyday players—like Diemer, Williamson and Deacon—have plenty of experience as reserves in the program. But no player on the roster has been to Omaha.
Baseball America OFP: 65. The Titans might have been the nation’s best team last year, but they were outplayed by ultra-focused UCLA in super regionals. Like Oregon State, Fullerton has a superb pitching staff and a pair of potential All-Americans anchoring a lineup that should be good enough to help the program break its four-year Omaha drought.
5. NORTH CAROLINA STATE
2013 Record (Ranking): 50-16 (6). RPI: 7.
Coach (Record at school): Elliott Avent (649-398, 17 years).
Postseason History: 26 regionals (active streak: 4), 2 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
|1B||Preston Palmeiro||Fr.||NA||HS—Colleyville, Texas|
|3B||Andrew Knizner||Fr.||NA||HS—Glen Allen, Va.|
|LF||Bubby Riley||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Delgado (La.) CC|
Hitting: 60. Despite losing a few regulars, N.C. State should be better offensively this spring than it was in 2013, when it hit .277 (124th in the nation) and scored 6.1 runs per game (56th). Turner, college baseball’s most dynamic player, makes the offense go, and not just because of his speed—he has quick hands and a knack for getting on base. Expect Austin, Ratledge, Fincher and Armstrong to take steps forward as juniors. The switch-hitting Austin was a supplemental first-round pick out of high school primarily because of his easy batting stroke, and the Wolfpack expects a breakout year from him. Palmeiro, the son of former big league great Rafael Palmeiro, has a pretty lefthanded swing with a gap-to-gap approach, and the physical Riley provides another key lefthanded bat.
Power: 50. The ‘Pack hit just 29 homers last year, and four players who accounted for 18 of them are gone. But Turner has the bat speed to reach double figures in homers, and N.C. State expects Nance to deliver some power if he can swing-and-miss less frequently. Riley and Knizner are also promising power hitters, and Austin could double or triple his career home run output (two).
Speed: 70. A severe high ankle sprain slowed Turner down last year, but he displayed top-of-the-charts speed again this fall, running the 60-yard dash in 6.32 seconds. He is the country’s premier basestealer. Fincher is a plus runner, while Ratledge, Riley and Armstrong have solid-average to slightly better speed. Even Austin is a surprisingly good runner, with 19 steals in 26 career tries.
Defense: 60. Austin caught all but 18 innings last year, and the Wolfpack need Luke Voiron, Chance Shepard or John Mangum to emerge as a reliable backup to keep Austin fresh. He has become a very good defender, and Turner, Ratledge and Fincher should help him make N.C. State outstanding up the middle. Palmeiro and Knizner are unproven on the infield corners, but the Wolfpack expects them to be solid. Riley and Armstrong bring good athleticism to the outfield corners.
Starting Pitching: 65. Rodon has a chance to go down as one of the most dominant pitchers of his generation, thanks to his unmatched competitiveness and his ability to command a premium fastball, a premium slider and rapidly improving changeup. Jernigan has always had good stuff—a 90-94 fastball, a low-80s slider, a high-80s cutter and a decent changeup—but has struggled with his control in the past, though he was much better in the fall. Stone pitched plenty of big innings as a freshman and should be one of the better Sunday starters in the ACC as a sophomore thanks to a quality four-pitch mix, headlined by an 87-92 fastball and a 78-81 slider. The Wolfpack got two more quality starting options in December when identical twins Patrick and Eric Peterson decided to transfer from Temple, which announced it will discontinue its program. LHP Patrick, Temple’s Friday starter last year, has an 87-90 fastball, a deceptive changeup and an improving curve. RHP Eric, the Owls’ Saturday starter last year, can run his lively fastball up to 92 and has a swing-and-miss curveball.
Bullpen: 55. Veterans Chris Overman, Ryan Wilkins and Grant Sasser are gone, leaving the bullpen as a major question mark until the Petersons arrived to give the staff a major boost. One or both Peterson should bolster the ‘pen, and So. RHP Karl Keglovits—who works downhill with an 88-92 fastball and promising breaking ball—will likely slide from the midweek starter role into relief. Woeck figures to be the anchor thanks to his fearlessness and his command of a high-80s fastball, a quality 83-84 cutter, a short 76-78 breaking ball and a solid 77-78 changeup. Sr. LHP D.J. Thomas, who works at 87-90 and eats up lefties with his slider, is another trustworthy veteran.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. N.C. State will be relying upon four new starters in the lineup, but the core of last year’s College World Series team remains in place. Rodon and Turner are elite competitors, and they set the tone for the rest of the team.
Baseball America OFP: 65. Getting over the hump to Omaha for the first time in 45 years was a huge step for N.C. State in 2013. Led by the nation’s best pitcher and best position player, N.C. State has a chance to break another long streak in 2014: the ACC’s six-decade national championship drought.
See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 6-10
See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 11-15
See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 16-20