College Preseason Top 25 Capsules: Nos. 11-15


See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 1-5

See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 6-10

See also: Preseason Breakdowns: Teams Nos. 16-20


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.


11. OREGON

oregon

2013 Record (Ranking): 48-16 (17). RPI: 11.

Coach (Record at school): George Horton (181-127-1, 5 years).

Postseason History: 5 regionals (active streak: 2), 1 CWS trip (1954), 0 national titles.

2014 LINEUP

Pos. Name Yr. AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB
C Shaun Chase Jr. .207 .293 .345 3 7 0
1B Mitchell Tolman So. .315 .392 .400 1 37 2
2B Aaron Payne Sr. .241 .368 .286 0 19 16
3B Scott Heineman Jr. .278 .346 .400 4 38 12
SS Kevin Minjares Sr. .267 .353 .267 0 2 1
LF Austin Grebeck Fr. NA HS—Santa Ana, Calif.
CF Connor Hofmann Sr. .194 .259 .254 0 10 9
RF Tyler Baumgartner Sr. .272 .316 .420 2 22 7
DH Kyle Garlick Sr. .097 .211 .258 0 4 1
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
LHP Tommy Thorpe Jr. 7 5 2.16 104 87 0
LHP Cole Irvin So. 12 3 2.48 116 60 0
RHP Jake Reed Jr. 6 6 3.50 100 65 0
RP Garrett Cleavinger So. 9 0 1.24 44 57 2

Hitting: 45. The Ducks won 48 games last year despite ranking 227th in the nation in batting (.258) and 188th in scoring (4.9 runs per game). And their top two hitters a year ago—Ryon Healy and Brett Thomas—are gone. But like reigning national champion UCLA, Oregon is a better offensive team than the numbers indicate. The Ducks excel at the bunt game (they led the nation with 99 sacrifice bunts last year), and every player in the lineup can handle the bat and hit situationally. Payne never gives away a pitch, and his ability to reach base via walks and hit-by-pitches makes him a good table-setter. Heineman, who hit .304 in the Cape League to rank as the circuit’s No. 19 prospect, has a knack for making hard contact and driving the gaps. Tolman is another above-average college hitter thanks to his pretty line-drive stroke and his advanced feel for the strike zone. Grebeck’s skill set is similar to that of his father Craig (who spent 12 years in the big leagues), and his bat-handling skills and compact swing should help make him a star. The other Ducks should turn in competitive at-bats, even if they don’t hit for average.

Cole Irvin

Cole Irvin (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

Power: 35. The Ducks have been waiting for Garlick to stay healthy and come into his own for the last two years, and they are confident he is ready to replace Healy as the lineup’s main righthanded power threat as a senior. Healy hit 11 of Oregon’s 24 homers last year, and his departure leaves a power vacuum. Heineman and Grebeck have a bit of sneaky pop, and Baumgartner provides some as well, but don’t expect any Ducks to approach double-digit home runs.

Speed: 60. Hofmann has been clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash, but he needs to get on base more consistently in order to utilize his plus-plus speed. Heineman is a plus runner, Payne and Grebeck have solid speed, and all of them are aggressive on the basepaths. Minjares and Baumgartner are also decent runners.

Defense: 60. Oregon will miss J.J. Altobelli’s steadiness at shortstop, but the 5-foot-8 Minjares—who has drawn comparisons to former Cal State Fullerton shortstop Richy Pedroza for his defensive skill set and size—should handle the position ably. Payne is a standout at second base, and Tolman should fit better at first than at third, where he played last year. Heineman is an outstanding outfielder, but he also has the range, actions and arm strength to excel at the hot corner, where he’ll play this year. Chase split time with Josh Graham behind the plate last year, and freshman Jack Kruger has more upside than either, keeping that job competition muddled. Hofmann and Grebeck both have excellent range and strong outfield arms.

Starting Pitching: 65. The entire weekend rotation is back from a staff that posted a 2.78 ERA last year (14th in the nation). Thorpe commands and hides his 87-89 fastball well, and he also has feel for pitching with his good changeup, slow curve and slider. Irvin has similar feel for pitching and polish but more arm strength, with an 86-91 fastball. His curveball continues to improve, joining his excellent changeup to give him a pair of good offspeed pitches. Reed’s lively sinker sat mostly around 89-92 in years past but touched 95 this fall, and he can be dominant when he’s got command of his slider. Fr. LHP Matt Krook, an unsigned supplemental first-round pick, touched 95 and flashed a plus curveball last spring, and he worked comfortably at 89-93 this fall. He could be a dominant midweek starter.

Bullpen: 60. Cleavinger dominated as a freshman and will have no trouble replacing Jimmie Sherfy as closer. His low three-quarters slot and deceptive delivery help him carve up hitters—especially lefties—with an 88-92 fastball and sharp mid-70s curve. Porter Clayton, who is back from a Mormon mission, gives Oregon another power option from the left side; he worked at 87-91 this fall. Sr. RHPs Brando Tessar and Darrell Hunter provide experience, and each has a signature pitch (Tessar’s changeup, Hunter’s three-quarters breaking ball). Sr. RHP Jeff Gold and So. RHPs Cole Wiper and Sam Johnson make this a deep unit.

Experience/Intangibles: 70. With seven upperclassmen (including five seniors) in the projected lineup and the entire weekend rotation back from last year, Oregon is a veteran team. This hard-nosed bunch is simply a challenge to play against, because the detail-oriented coaching staff puts a premium on execution and toughness.

Baseball America OFP: 60. Oregon’s elite pitching staff will keep the Ducks near the top of the Pac-12 standings once again, and should help them host a regional for the third straight year. With a roster constructed similarly to UCLA’s last year, Oregon has the ingredients to finally break through to Omaha—where it is built to win.


12. UCLA

UCLA

2013 Record (Ranking): 49-17 (1). RPI: 9.

Coach (Record at school): John Savage (324-224, 9 years).

Postseason History: 19 regionals (active streak: 4), 5 CWS appearances (active streak: 2), 1 national title (2013).

2014 LINEUP

Pos. Name Yr. AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB
C Shane Zeile Jr. .226 .326 .302 2 20 2
1B Pat Gallagher Sr. .274 .368 .331 1 20 0
2B Kevin Williams Sr. .227 .317 .297 1 12 4
3B Chris Keck Jr. .186 .306 .300 1 10 0
SS Kevin Kramer Jr. .278 .382 .376 3 42 9
LF Christoph Bono So. .216 .337 .324 2 10 2
CF Brian Carroll Sr. .258 .380 .287 0 20 32
RF Eric Filia Jr. .281 .387 .360 1 33 9
DH Ty Moore So. .219 .301 .301 0 10 0
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
LHP Grant Watson Jr. 9 3 3.01 93 55 0
RHP James Kaprielian So. 0 0 1.55 41 53 2
RHP Cody Poteet So. 4 6 4.84 71 56 0
RP David Berg Jr. 7 0 0.92 78 78 24

Hitting: 50. Statistically, UCLA was the least offensive national champion in college baseball history, ranking 259th in the country in batting (.250) and 211th in scoring (4.7 runs per game). But by the end of the season, the Bruins were very proficient at doing whatever it took to get runners aboard, get them over and get them in. The core of the lineup remains intact, led by Filia, who showcased his pole-to-pole approach and knack for making contact during his red-hot postseason last year. Kramer, Williams and Gallagher give the Bruins three more very capable bat-handlers from the left side, while Moore is a natural-born hitter with a pretty lefthanded stroke. He made the necessary jump in the fall. Carroll lacks punch but excels at working counts and beating out infield hits and bunts, making him a solid leadoff man.

David Berg

David Berg (Photo by Larry Goren)

Power: 35. Valaika led the Bruins with five homers last year, and the 2014 Bruins also figure to lack power. Keck has above-average raw power and has improved during his two-year apprenticeship, making him ready to assume a role as the primary power threat as a junior. Zeile also flashes some righthanded pop but is still learning to tap into it. Moore, Kramer and Bono could run into the occasional home run also. The Bruins won’t fall into the trap of swinging for the fences, and their style was a perfect fit for cavernous TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

Speed: 55. Carroll is a 65 runner with advanced basestealing instincts. Filia, Bono, Williams and Kramer are solid-average runners. Zeile is athletic for a catcher, but Gallagher and Moore are poor runners.

Defense: 65. Valaika proved to be one of the nation’s most reliable shortstops during his three years as the starter, and replacing him is one of UCLA’s greatest challenges. The athletic Kramer excelled at third base last year, and his actions, hands and arm should play well at short. Keck takes over at the hot corner, where he has an above-average arm, and Williams moves from DH back to second base (where he has improved significantly) now that his shoulder injury is behind him. Gallagher has also made strides at first. Zeile took to catching amazingly quickly in his first year after converting from the infield last year, showing very good catch-and-throw skills. Carroll is a marquee defender in center despite a below-average arm, while Bono and Filia have good instincts and strong arms on the corners.

Starting Pitching: 60. Departed co-aces Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig were the backbone of UCLA’s team last year, but Watson also won a game in Omaha and has won 18 games in two years. He is not overpowering but succeeds by mixing speeds and locations with four pitches. Kaprielian is overpowering, with a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a 90-94 fastball and a power slider at 82-84. He should have no trouble transitioning from a setup role into the rotation. Poteet handled the midweek starter role well as a freshman, but he has weekend stuff, with a 90-93 fastball, a swing-and-miss power curve, a slider and change. Fr. RHP Scott Burke is the favorite to assume the midweek role thanks to his ability to throw strikes with an 88-90 fastball, a hard curve and a developing changeup.

Bullpen: 65. Berg, a first-team All-American last year, is the nation’s most accomplished closer—he set the NCAA single-season saves record last year and tied the record for most appearances (51), a year after appearing in 50 games. A rubber-armed sidewinder with impeccable command of his darting low-80s sinker and 75-77 slider, Berg’s resilience, durability and poise are unmatched. R-Fr. Nick Kern, a converted shortstop, made a huge jump in the fall, showing 90-93 mph heat and impressive polish. Fr. RHP Grant Dyer has advanced feel for his hard curveball, giving him a chance to make a real impact immediately. Max Schuh and Hunter Virant give the bullpen a pair of useful lefties, assuming the heralded Virant continues to progress in his recovery from a stress fracture in his lower back.

Experience/Intangibles: 70. UCLA’s roster is packed with proven champions. Six everyday players return from last year, and three other players who contributed as reserves figure to move into everyday roles. Attention to detail and unwavering focus were the keys to the Bruins’ title run, and their confidence should carry over to 2014. Aside from Berg and Watson, the pitching staff is less proven, but at least Kaprielian got a taste of high-leverage situations in the bullpen last year.

Baseball America OFP: 60. A case can be made that Plutko, Vander Tuig and Valaika were three of UCLA’s four most important players last year (in addition to Berg), so losing them is a big deal. But this is still a talented, experienced roster, and UCLA’s coaching staff has proven that it can get the most out of its players. UCLA opened last season ranked No. 12 and finished it ranked No. 1; it would hardly be surprising if history repeated itself.


13. CLEMSON

clemson

2013 Record (Ranking): 40-22 (NR). RPI: 17.

Coach (Record at school): Jack Leggett (887-426-1, 20 years).

Postseason History: 38 regionals (active streak: 5), 12 CWS trips (last in 2010), 0 national titles.

2014 LINEUP


Pos. Name Yr. AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB
C Chris Okey Fr. NA HS—Eustis, Fla.
1B Jon McGibbon Sr. .285 .363 .309 0 37 7
2B Steve Wilkerson Sr. .291 .366 .432 4 37 10
3B Shane Kennedy Sr. .317 .408 .445 5 35 22
SS Tyler Krieger So. .257 .349 .312 0 27 9
LF Maleeke Gibson So. .227 .271 .255 0 16 8
CF Tyler Slaton Jr. .263 .366 .300 0 13 6
RF Steven Duggar So. .300 .359 .380 2 30 15
DH Garrett Boulware Jr. .308 .377 .476 8 45 2
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Daniel Gossett Jr. 10 4 2.56 98 91 0
LHP Matthew Crownover So. 7 3 2.19 70 45 0
LHP Zack Erwin So. 5 2 3.45 60 32 2
RP Matt Campbell Sr. 1 1 4.82 28 35 7

Hitting: 60. Eight starters return from a lineup that relied heavily on talented underclassmen a year ago. Now those players are more experienced and ready for breakout years. Krieger got much stronger during the offseason and is ready to become a catalyst near the top of the lineup alongside fellow switch-hitter Wilkerson. The physical Duggar, the No. 3-hole hitter, had a good freshman year and looks poised for a leap to stardom as a sophomore. He and cleanup man Boulware are both capable of hitting for average as well as power. Seniors Kennedy and McGibbon are very solid line-drive hitters with more physicality, and Okey is an advanced freshman with All-America potential. Slaton and Gibson have improved at using their speed to get on base at the bottom of the lineup.

Daniel Gossett

Daniel Gossett (Photo by Tom Priddy)

Power: 50. Boulware and Duggar have real power and could each post double-digit home run totals. The Tigers expect McGibbon to bounce back and drive the ball better after hitting for no power last year. Kennedy and Wilkerson also bring occasional pop.

Speed: 70. Team speed and athleticism are Clemson’s biggest strengths. Slaton, Gibson, Krieger and Duggar are all plus runners, while Kennedy and Wilkerson are also good runners with advanced basestealing instincts. Clemson even has decent runners at first base (McGibbon swiped eight bases in nine tries last year) and behind the plate, where Okey has drawn Jason Kendall comparisons.

Defense: 70. Clemson’s athleticism and experience should make its defense outstanding. Okey rates as the nation’s top incoming catcher, but the coaching staff said he was even better than expected in the fall, taking charge of the defense and illustrating excellent catch-and-throw skills. Clemson is blessed with two rock-solid seniors on the right side of the infield and a rangy shortstop who can make exceptional plays at short. Kennedy brings more experience at the hot corner, though he’s more of an offensive player. All three outfielders have excellent range.

Starting Pitching: 60. Gossett and Crownover make a nice one-two punch atop the rotation. Gossett attacks hitters with a low-90s fastball that reaches 94, a swing-and-miss breaking ball and an improved changeup. Crownover succeeded with below-average stuff while working his way back from Tommy John surgery last year, but his velocity climbed into the 87-91 range this fall, and he features a plus changeup. Erwin, a 6-foot-4 lefty with an 88-91 fastball and a quality slider, should be ready to serve as the full-time Sunday starter. Junior-college transfer RHP Jake Long is a strike-thrower with an 88-92 fastball and a pair of solid offspeed pitches, giving the Tigers a promising midweek starter.

Bullpen: 55. The Tigers lack a shutdown closer, but Campbell has loads of experience and solid stuff, with a fastball that can reach 92, an average breaking ball and a good changeup to combat lefties. Hulking Jr. RHP Patrick Andrews made a big jump at the end of last year and has flashed 95 mph heat along with a swing-and-miss slider. Slightly-built So. RHP Clate Schmidt also has good stuff and could earn a rotation spot, and it plays up in a relief role, with a running, solid-average to slightly above-average fastball and a good slider. Sidewinding Jr. RHPs Kyle Schnell and Clay Bates give hitters a different look. Fr. LHP Alex Bostic could make a big impact thanks to a fastball that reaches the low 90s and good feel for a promising breaking ball.

Experience/Intangibles: 55. Clemson played five freshmen at times last year, so its sophomore class is seasoned. With eight everyday players, two weekend starters and a closer back in the fold, experience is an asset. But the Tigers lack deep postseason experience, as they have fallen flat in regionals each of the last three years. This group must prove its toughness.

Baseball America OFP: 60. There is plenty to like about this balanced Clemson team. The Tigers should be the more athletic team just about every time they take the field this spring, and their pitching staff looks to be 10 deep. Clemson certainly has Omaha-level talent; now it must live up to that promise.


14. LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE

louisianalafayette

2013 Record (Ranking): 43-20 (NR). RPI: 23.

Coach (Record at school): Tony Robichaux (673-457-1, 19 years).

Postseason History: 13 regionals (active streak: 1), 1 CWS trip (2000), 0 national titles.

2014 LINEUP


Pos. Name Yr. AVG OBP SLG HR RBI SB
C Mike Strentz Jr. .311 .421 .544 7 45 5
1B Chase Compton Sr. .265 .406 .456 5 32 1
2B Jace Conrad Jr. .286 .353 .424 4 36 19
3B Tyler Girouard Jr. .360 .461 .590 7 41 4
SS Blake Trahan So. .319 .410 .423 4 38 13
LF Caleb Adams Jr. .339 .435 .651 16 55 3
CF Seth Harrison Jr. .338 .417 .567 9 45 10
RF Dylan Butler Jr. .295 .317 .577 8 42 0
DH Ryan Leonards Sr. .328 .401 .410 1 30 7
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Austin Robichaux Jr. 9 2 3.05 109 88 0
RHP Carson Baranik Jr. NA Tr.—Miami Dade JC
RHP Greg Milhorn Jr. NA Tr.—Northeast Texas CC
RP Ryan Wilson Sr. 6 4 3.25 83 61 1

Hitting: 70. Eight starters return from a team that ranked in the nation’s top six last year in batting, scoring, doubles and slugging. Coach Tony Robichaux calls Girouard a “professional hitter” who stays inside the ball very well, and he’s a mature, physical fourth-year junior. Fellow upperclassmen Adams, Harrison, Leonards and Strentz are aggressive, accomplished hitters who all topped .300 a year ago. Strentz ranked in the nation’s top 15 in doubles (23) and hit-by-pitches (21) last year. Trahan, the best overall player on the team, should see his offensive numbers spike as he continues to get stronger and improves at pulling the ball with authority. This deep lineup gives opponents no time to breath, with dangerous hitters from top to bottom.

Blake Trahan

Blake Trahan

Power: 70. The Ragin’ Cajuns led Division I with 74 homers last year, although second-leading home run hitter Dex Kjerstad (12 HR) is gone. Adams has the strength to drive balls out of any park, and Butler might have even more raw power, but he needs to improve his approach (7-45 BB-SO last year). The Cajuns aren’t afraid to swing for the fences and take their share of strikeouts, because they are frequently rewarded with game-changing homers. Harrison, Strentz and Girouard are all threats to club double-digit homers as well. Conrad, Compton and Trahan also have occasional home run pop.

Speed: 65. Conrad and Harrison are both plus-plus runners who have been clocked at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash. Trahan has plus speed and an innate feel for basestealing—he swiped 24 bags in 27 tries between last spring and summer in the MINK League. Leonards is another above-average runner, while Adams and Strentz have decent speed as well.

Defense: 70. Louisiana-Lafayette should be superb up the middle. The live-bodied Trahan is capable of making highlight-reel plays to his right and left thanks to his good range and strong arm, but he also has an advanced ability to slow the game down and play under control. Conrad, who fielded .989 last year, is a whiz at second. Harrison has excellent range and arm strength in center, and Strentz is a physical catcher with a good arm. Compton is strong at first, and Girouard is steady at third. Leonards is a valuable, versatile utilityman who can play all over the diamond.

Starting Pitching: 55. Austin Robichaux, the head coach’s son, is a bona fide ace who works downhill with a heavy 88-92 fastball that bumps 94-95 and flashes a plus curveball and solid change, but his 6-foot-6 frame lacks physicality, prompting scouts to wonder about his durability. The Cajuns will follow him in the rotation with a pair of talented SEC bounce-backs. Baranik, who began his college career at LSU, has good command of a solid three-pitch mix and has run his fastball up to 93 at times. Milhorn, who was a promising recruit for Arkansas before heading to the juco ranks, sits at 88-92 and touches 93-94 with is fastball, which he complements with a sharp downer curve and a quality change. Fr. RHP Reagan Bazar was the big story of the fall; at 6-foot-8, he has serious downward plane on a fastball that the Cajuns say sits 94-96, though his command is a work in progress.

Bullpen: 55. The Ragin’ Cajuns lack a marquee closer, but they can lean upon four reliable, competitive seniors. Wilson has a solid three-pitch mix from the left side, including an 87-89 fastball that bumps 91, and Cody Boutte is in the same mold. Sr. RHP Matt Hicks is a 5-foot-8 sinkerballer with impressive arm-side run on his fastball and the ability to throw strikes with his slider. Sr. RHP Matt Plitt has the biggest arm of the trio, with a fastball that sits in the low 90s and touched 96 this fall, along with a solid slider and very good splitter. Bazar could also factor into the bullpen, potentially giving the unit another big arm.

Experience/Intangibles: 65. With eight proven upperclassmen and a seasoned sophomore in the lineup, an ace with a year of Friday night experience under his belt and four seniors anchoring the bullpen, this is a veteran team with high hopes. Two juco transfers in the rotation need to establish themselves at the D-I level.

Baseball America OFP: 60. The Cajuns think this could be their best team since the 2000 Omaha team. A year after falling to LSU in the Baton Rouge Regional final, Louisiana-Lafayette should be a strong candidate to host a regional and make a deep postseason run, as long as its multitude of draft prospects can handle the weight of expectations.


15. RICE

Rice

2013 Record (Ranking): 44-20 (16). RPI: 25.

Coach (Record at school): Wayne Graham (997-400, 22 years).

Postseason History: 19 regionals (active streak: 18), 7 CWS trips (last in 2008), 1 national title (2003).

2014 LINEUP


Pos. Name Yr. Avg. OBP SLG HR RBI SB
C John Clay Reeves Jr. NA Tr.—Navarro (Texas) JC
1B Skyler Ewing Jr. 0.226 0.347 0.342 4 23 1
2B Ford Stainback Jr. 0.295 0.361 0.327 0 25 6
3B Shane Hoelscher Sr. 0.32 0.401 0.38 0 25 3
SS Leon Byrd So. 0.275 0.42 0.335 1 21 9
LF Michael Aquino Sr. 0.315 0.362 0.508 9 43 2
CF Charlie Warren Fr. NA HS—The Woodlands, Texas
RF Keenan Cook Sr. 0.292 0.352 0.356 0 32 5
DH Chase McDowell Sr. 0.125 0.3 0.125 0 0 0
Pos. Name Yr. W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Jordan Stephens Jr. 8 4 3.42 119 100 1
RHP Kevin McCanna So. 3 1 4.5 40 18 0
RHP Jon Duplantier Fr. NA HS—Katy, Texas
RP Zech Lemond Jr. 7 2 2.02 76 71 14

Hitting: 60. Rice should have tough outs up and down the lineup. Wayne Graham said his team has four legitimate candidates to lead off—Byrd, Stainback, Warren and Cook, all of whom work counts, handle the bat and use the whole field. The first three should walk as much as or more than they strike out. Byrd and Stainback are both patient switch-hitters, although the Owls would like to see Byrd become a bit more aggressive, because he is strong enough to drive balls into the gaps. Hoelscher, Reeves and Aquino have good line-drive swings from the right side and should rank among the team’s leading hitters. Sophomore Connor Teykl has a smooth lefthanded swing and could start at DH against righties.

Zech Lemond

Zech Lemond (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

Power: 55. Ewing is a breakout candidate with easy righthanded power, as he showed during a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, where he won the home run derby. Rice is confident he has corrected the mechanical flaws that hindered his rhythm and timing in the past. Aquino demonstrated impressive strength in his compact 5-foot-10 frame last year, and Graham says Reeves has as much usable power as either of them. McDowell can put on a show in batting practice but has never translated his pop into game action. All of Rice’s power is righthanded.

Speed: 60. Byrd and Warren have premium speed. Cook is an above-average runner, while Aquino, Stainback and even McDowell (who has improved his speed) are solid-average runners. Jr. OF John Williamson brings plus speed off the bench.

Defense: 60. Byrd, who played shortstop in high school but center field as a Rice freshman, moves back to short, where his quickness and plus arm are assets—but he must stay in control. His transition is the key to the defense. Stainback slides from short to second, where his range and arm are better fits, and where he should be a standout. Graham raves about Reeves’ baseball IQ and solid receiving skills, and his average arm plays. Ewing has a chance to catch in pro ball but has a quick first step at first base, especially to his right. Hoelscher is rock-solid at the hot corner, and all three outfielders defend well. Warren plays an advanced center field for a freshman.

Starting Pitching: 55. Stephens proved himself as a true ace a year ago. He can carve up hitters with a lively 88-92 two-seamer that bumped 93 in the fall, a plus 11-to-5 curveball in the 75-80 range and a slider that reaches 84; he is also working on adding a changeup. The athletic McCanna also has good movement on his 87-91 fastball and has added a slider to go with his decent curveball and plus changeup. The 6-foot-4 Duplantier generates good angles and deception in his delivery, and he can pound the zone with an 87-92 fastball and a quality breaking ball. McDowell has a promising four-pitch mix but has had a tendency in his career to leave too many balls over the fat part of the plate. He and So. LHP Blake Fox (a strike-thrower with a fringy fastball, a good slider and a workable changeup) should compete for midweek starts.

Bullpen: 60. Lemond, a third-team All-American last year, combines filthy stuff with a durable frame, a resilient arm, impressive poise in tight spots and a proven track record. With a 90-95 fastball, a plus downer curve and a good changeup, he has the repertoire to get through a lineup more than once if the Owls need to bring him into a game in the middle innings for an extended outing. The supporting cast is unproven. So. RHP Caleb Smith can reach 94 and picked up a spike curveball of his own at Rice, where that pitch is a staple. So. RHP Ryan McCarthy also started throwing a spike curve this fall, to go with an 88-91 sinker and an effective change. Angular 6-foot-7 Jr. RHP Trevor Teykl has even more life on his 88-92 fastball from a low three-quarters slot. The X-factor is Fr. RHP/DH Andrew Dunlap, who showed 97-98 mph heat before hurting his arm last summer.

Experience/Intangibles: 60. Stephens and Lemond proved their mettle in the postseason last year, carrying the Owls into a super regional. Stainback, Hoelscher, Byrd, Aquino and Cook are established regulars, but the other starters need to elevate their games or get acclimated to D-I, and the pitching staff has some question marks in between the front and the back.

Baseball America OFP: 55. Rice must develop more depth on the mound this year so it doesn’t need to lean so heavily on two arms to do the heavy lifting again in the postseason. The development of McCanna and Duplantier is the key to the season. The lineup is athletic and balanced enough to be above-average, giving Rice a solid chance to win another regional and compete for its first Omaha berth in six years.