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): 37-25 (NR). RPI: 19.
Coach (Record at school): Jim Morris (887-369-3, 20 years).
Postseason History: 42 regionals (active streak: 41), 23 CWS trips (last in 2008), 4 national titles (last in 2001).
|1B||Zack Collins||Fr.||NA||HS—Plantation, Fla.|
|RF||Willie Abreu||Fr.||NA||HS—Hialeah Gardens, Fla.|
|RP||Cooper Hammond||Fr.||NA||HS—Venice, Fla.|
Hitting: 50. The Hurricanes hit just .258 last year (222nd in the nation) and scored just 4.5 runs per game (230th), but there is reason to believe they will be a more potent offensive club in 2014. Miami’s sixth-ranked recruiting class was built around two physical, offense-oriented players in Collins and Abreu. Collins has the more advanced offensive approach and should hit in the heart of the order immediately. Kennedy has improved steadily over the course of his career and rivals Collins for best strike-zone judgment on the team. He and the scrappy Fieger will turn in competitive at-bats consistently. Seniors Palmer and Carey have the athleticism to be igniters if they can make more consistent contact, and both had encouraging falls. Hernandez and Lopez are slap hitters who won’t scare opponents but need to turn in more productive at-bats—especially Lopez, who mustered just two extra-base hits in 181 at-bats last year. Fr. SS John Ruiz is more offensive and could push him for playing time, especially since a knee injury sidelined Lopez during the fall.
Power: 55. Thompson had his shoulder scoped in the offseason, hampering his performance this fall, but he should be 100 percent by opening day, and the Hurricanes are counting on him to provide big righthanded power. Collins has huge power from the left side, and although Miami’s park is more generous to righties, he is strong enough to hit the ball out of any yard. Abreu also has serious power to all fields, giving the ‘Canes a trio of boppers with big league corner power potential. Kennedy’s bat speed has improved to the point that he is an occasional home run threat as well, but the rest of the lineup lacks thump.
Speed: 50. Carey is a double-plus runner who just needs to get on base more consistently to fully utilize his speed. Palmer is an above-average runner. Abreu and Collins move well for their size, but Carey and Palmer are the only real stolen-base threats here.
Defense: 60. Miami should be outstanding up the middle. Hernandez and Lopez make a slick keystone tandem, Carey has excellent range in center, and Kennedy is a polished receiver with a quick transfer and an average arm with good accuracy. Thompson has good reactions but a fringy arm at third. Collins was a catcher in high school who is still learning first base, but his hands and athleticism play at the position. Palmer is an instinctive outfielder, and Abreu has a solid-average arm in right.
Starting Pitching: 70. The Hurricanes have four experienced, talented starters with varying styles. Diaz’s calling card is his heavy sinker in the 88-90 range, and he mixes in a slider and changeup effectively. Radziewski spots his 85-88 fastball to all quadrants of the zone and owns a solid change, but his signature pitch is a swing-and-miss downer curve. Suarez, who missed nearly all of 2012 after having labrum surgery, jumped from 85-88 mph last year to 91-95 this fall, with a nasty 82-85 slider and a rapidly improving changeup. He has a chance to be a top-50 draft pick and the nation’s best Sunday starter. Sr. RHP Javi Salas, the midweek starter, has an 88-93 fastball, a solid slider and an adequate changeup, but the ‘Canes are still waiting for him to maximize his talent.
Bullpen: 50. Closer Eric Nedeljkovic is gone, and there is no dominant heir apparent. The front-runner for the job is the sidewinding Hammond, who gets plenty of groundball outs with his low-80s sinker and Frisbee slider. A.J. Salcines, a three-pitch finesse lefty, was effective as a sophomore but struggled as a junior, and the Hurricanes need him to return to form as a senior. So. LHP Thomas Woodrey has a deceptive delivery that makes his mid-80s fastball play up, and he features a good changeup. Fr. LHP Danny Garcia and Fr. RHP Bryan Garcia can both reach 91, as has projectable two-way talent Derik Beauprez. The pick to click is So. RHP Enrique Sosa, a stocky Panamanian with a low-90s fastball and a hard curve in the low 80s, though he must prove he can throw strikes when it matters.
Experience/Intangibles: 55. Miami is brimming with experience in the rotation and will lean upon five upperclassmen in the everyday lineup. The bullpen is less seasoned, and no current Hurricane has experience beyond regionals. Like Texas, this program needs to rediscover its swagger.
Baseball America OFP: 55. A premium starting rotation can carry a team a long way, as UCLA proved last year. The Hurricanes think they also have a chance to be solid offensively, and they believe this is their best club since the 2008 Omaha team. Competition in the ACC will be fierce, but Miami should be right in the thick of it.
17. NORTH CAROLINA
2013 Record (Ranking): 59-12 (3). RPI: 1.
Coach (Record at school): Mike Fox (694-274-1, 15 years).
Postseason History: 28 regionals (active streak: 12), 10 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
|1B||Joe Dudek||Fr.||NA||HS—Lincrof, N.J.|
|2B||Wood Myers||Fr.||NA||HS—Chapel Hill, N.C.|
|RF||Adam Pate||Fr.||NA||HS—Pikeville, N.C.|
|RHP||Zac Gallen||Fr.||NA||HS—Pennsauken Township, N.J.|
Hitting: 55. UNC must replace five regulars, including a first-team All-American (Colin Moran), its leading hitter (Cody Stubbs) and its leadoff man (Chaz Frank). Returning freshman All-Americans Lassiter and Bolt are ready to become the focal points of the offense. As a team, UNC walked (369) more than it struck out (353) last year, and Lassiter (53-44 BB-SO) will set the tone. He and the switch-hitting Bolt both excel at making consistent, hard contact. Veterans Russell, Jordan and Zengel should provide gritty, competitive at-bats, and freshmen Myers and Pate are cut from the same cloth, although they are less physical and more athletic. Dudek’s sweet lefthanded swing and strength should make him an impact player, and Dunbar is a breakout candidate. Sophomores Alex Raburn and Zach Daly add quality depth off the bench.
Power: 45. Bolt’s lightning-quick bat generates above-average power from the right side of the plate, as he showed in the first half of last season before he fouled a ball off his right foot, throwing off his timing. Dudek has the look of another power hitter in the Stubbs mold, but it could take some time for him emerge as a Division I slugger. The wiry-strong Russell has developed occasional pop, and UNC expects Dunbar and Zengel to drive balls with more authority as well. But this will be more of a gap-to-gap hitting team.
Speed: 60. The Tar Heels improved their team speed by bringing in smallish spark plugs Myers and Pate—two plus runners who like to steal bases. Bolt and Lassiter also have above-average speed, and Russell is a good runner with excellent baserunning instincts (18 steals in 20 tries last year).
Defense: 55. The rock-solid Russell and the electrifying Bolt (who has one of the country’s best outfield arms) anchor a defense that has a chance to be strong if freshmen adjust quickly to the speed of the college game. The Tar Heels love what they saw on the right side of the infield from Dudek and Myers this fall; they just need experience. Lassiter DHed last year but has the tools to be an average defender at third, where he is still learning. Dunbar proved in the fall that he is ready to take over the full-time catching duties, showing outstanding catch-and-throw skills. Pate has a strong arm and good range in right, and Parks is average in left.
Starting Pitching: 60. Thornton thrived as UNC’s bullpen stopper and in six starts last season. With advanced feel for pitching with a 90-94 fastball, plus power curveball in the high 70s and a good changeup, he should be ready to replace Kent Emanuel as the latest in UNC’s long line of marquee Friday starters. The cerebral Moss took a step forward in the fall, spotting his 90-93 fastball and short 82-85 slider effectively. Gallen gives this rotation a third very athletic starter, and he pounds the zone with three quality pitches. So. RHP Reilly Hovis, a sinker/slider guy with good command and moxie, looks like the front-runner for the midweek starter job.
Bullpen: 60. With Thornton sliding into the rotation, McCue assumes the full-time closer job, and he already proved himself in tight spots time after time last year. He spent the fall developing a solid-average curveball to go with his 90-93 fastball and plus changeup. Sidewinding Jr. RHP Trevor Kelley gives UNC a steady middle man who can induce groundball outs and bounce back quickly. The wild cards are Jr. RHP Luis Paula and So. RHP Taylore Cherry, who both own big arms but need to show they have harnessed their command and honed their mound presence. Cherry could start midweek if UNC opts to use Hovis in the bullpen. Sr. LHP Tate Parrish gives the Tar Heels a proven left-on-left specialist.
Experience/Intangibles: 60. After being ranked preseason No. 1 for the first time in program history, UNC handled those weighty expectations by winning 59 games and reaching Omaha’s final four. Sure, they lost their top two starting pitchers and five everyday players, but plenty of battle-tested veterans remain, including three heady upperclassmen and two seasoned sophomores in the starting lineup.
Baseball America OFP: 55. The ACC looks more loaded than ever, so the Tar Heels will have their hands full trying to earn a regional hosting spot out of the conference. They won’t win 59 games again, but they reloaded effectively and should be a solid regional team. UNC knows how to win in the postseason, as evidenced by its six Omaha trips in the last eight years. But it has gone on the road for regionals just once during that stretch—in 2010, when it lost in Norman.
2013 Record (Ranking): 27-24 (NR). RPI: 74.
Coach (Record at school): Augie Garrido (723-347-2, 17 years).
Postseason History: 55 regionals (last in 2011), 34 CWS trips (last in 2011), 6 national titles (last in 2005).
|C||Tres Barrera||Fr.||NA||HS—Mission, Texas|
|1B||Bret Boswell||Fr.||NA||HS—Rockwall, Texas|
|3B||Zane Gurwitz||Fr.||NA||HS—San Antonio|
|DH||Andy McGuire||Fr.||NA||HS—Vienna, Va.|
|*Stats from 2012|
Hitting: 50. Texas was an abysmal offensive team last year, ranking 275th in the nation in scoring (3.8 runs per game). But the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class should help remedy that deficiency, as four talented freshmen (three of whom ranked inside the top 250 prospects for last year’s draft) should earn plenty of playing time. McGuire and Barrera are physically mature righthanded hitters with advanced line-drive approaches, while Boswell has a quick bat from the left side. With a strong, compact body and a nonstop motor, Gurwitz is like a righthanded version of UT’s best hitter, Payton. Hinojosa came on strong down the stretch last year and should make the jump to stardom as a sophomore, because he is a gifted natural hitter. The scrappy Marlow and the strong, compact Shaw made great gains in the summer and fall.
Power: 30. UT’s park suppresses power, but even so this was a punchless offense last year. The quick-twitch Johnson led the Longhorns with three home runs, but he is a physical specimen who had a strong summer in the California Collegiate League and could provide more juice this spring. Shaw, McGuire and Barrera are gap-to-gap hitters, but each flashes occasional pop to the pull side. Texas might top last year’s team total of 12 long balls, but probably not by much.
Speed: 55. Johnson can fly; he has run the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds. Shaw has plus speed, while Hinojosa and Gurwitz are average runners. Payton is a below-average to fringy runner with good instincts.
Defense: 60. Texas has significant defensive upside but will rely upon several players who must prove themselves. Hinojosa is a heady, instinctive defender with slick actions and a solid arm, and he should rate among the nation’s top defensive shortstops. Marlow is a reliable double play partner, and Boswell brings a shortstop’s hands and actions to first base, where Barrera could also get some time. The versatile Gurwitz can play all over the diamond and handles third base well. Veterans Jacob Felts and Jeremy Montalbano give Texas excellent depth behind the plate; Felts is the most advanced defender. Payton makes up for his lack of premium speed by taking good angles in center field. Shaw is a stellar defender with a strong arm, and Johnson’s speed should translate to good range as he continues to refine his reads and routes.
Starting Pitching: 70. Even in a poor season by their lofty standards, the Longhorns ranked seventh nationally in ERA (2.61) last year, and all three weekend starters are back. Peters is a stocky bulldog who attacks the zone with an 89-92 fastball, a solid-average curveball in the high 70s and a developing changeup. Thornhill has similar velocity from the right side along with two solid secondary pitches and loads of experience and poise. French, the No. 2 prospect in the California Collegiate League last summer, induces plenty of groundball outs with an 89-93 fastball and a low-80s slider that rates as solid-average when it’s on. Like Peters, his changeup is a work in progress. Six-foot-6 Jr. RHP Lukas Schiraldi—whose father starred for the Longhorns’ 1983 national champs—was the pitcher of the year in the Cape Cod League last summer. He works at 88-90 and flashes 92-94 heat to go along with the makings of a solid changeup and slider, giving the Longhorns a fourth very talented starter.
Bullpen: 60. Texas has a deep stable of arms but needs someone to step forward and replace Corey Knebel as closer. Tommy John surgery cost Curtiss all of 2013, but he showed 88-92 mph velocity in his first side session this winter. In the past, he reached the mid-90s and flashed a wipeout power slurve, making him a potential shutdown closer if he can return to form by the second half. Jr. RHP Justin Peters dropped from high three-quarters to a sidearm slot and had a strong fall, getting outs with a mid-80s sinker and a Frisbee slider. He could open the year as closer. So. RHP Chad Hollingsworth is working his way back from the shoulder impingement that hampered him last year; he has shown 88-91 velocity, a good curveball and feel for a changeup this offseason. Undersized Jr. RHP Ty Marlow is a winner who has earned the coaches’ trust. Fr. RHPs Blake Goin and Morgan Cooper plus Fr. LHP Josh Sawyer all can reach 92 and should earn innings right away.
Experience/Intangibles: 50. Only Payton, Thornhill and Felts have meaningful postseason experience, as Texas missed regionals each of the last two years. But that trio and Hinojosa (whom Augie Garrido calls “an old soul”) provide leadership, and the pitching staff is well stocked with veterans. Four freshman position players will have to learn the ropes quickly. Texas used to have a psychological edge every time it stepped on the field, and it needs to regain its mojo this spring.
Baseball America OFP: 55. These are anxious times in Austin, but winning soothes anxiety, and this team has the marquee pitching to win a lot. Garrido, 74, has earned the benefit of the doubt during his illustrious career; he should be able to guide the Longhorns back to the postseason, and possibly deep into the tournament.
19. TEXAS CHRISTIAN
2013 Record (Ranking): 29-28 (NR). RPI: 106.
Coach (Record at school): Jim Schlossnagle (417-203, 10 years).
Postseason History: 11 regionals (last in 2012), 1 CWS trips (2010), 0 national titles.
|C||Dylan Delso||So.||NA||Tr.—Cowley County (Kan.) JC|
|2B||Connor Castellano||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Santa Fe (Fla.) JC|
|DH||Jeremie Fagnan||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Midland (Texas) JC|
|RHP||Tyler Alexander||Fr.||NA||HS—Southlake, Texas|
Hitting: 45. TCU’s offense came on strong in the final six weeks of 2012, but that success did not carry over into 2013, as the Frogs scored two or fewer runs in each of their first six games—all losses against ranked teams—and never recovered. They finished 270th in the nation in batting (.245) and 245th in scoring (4.3 runs per game). Cron, Odell and Suiter led the stretch-run surge in 2012, and all three slumped badly in 2013; they must bounce back in 2014. Cron ranked second in the Cape Cod League in hitting last summer (.350), as he did a better job waiting for his pitch rather than chasing out of the zone. The Frogs hope Suiter will thrive now that he’s only playing right field and hitting, rather than splitting his focus between pitching and catching as well. Odell has a flat swing and is working on driving the ball to all fields instead of being pull-happy; the Frogs hope he can handle the No. 3 spot in the order. Juco transfers Delso, Fagnan (if he comes back strong from fall hip surgery) and Castellano should add physicality and offensive upside. Cody Jones strikes out more than an ideal leadoff man would, but he also draws plenty of walks, and had a good summer in the NECBL. The compact White has a knack for making line-drive contact and should be a good fit in the No. 2 hole.
Power: 40. The Frogs are still waiting for the massive Cron to tap into his plus raw power, but his improved approach should help. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Suiter also should be capable of driving balls out of the park, but he has 10 career extra-base hits (and no homers) in 263 at-bats, making him a wild card. Fagnan and Castellano should also hit a few homers this spring, and Delso has occasional pop from both sides of the plate.
Speed: 50. Jim Schlossnagle says his team has one banger (Cron), one burner (Cody Jones), and a bunch of baseball players. Cody Jones has plus-plus speed, while Keaton Jones, Castellano, Odell and White are all fringy or average runners. The Frogs won’t run much.
Defense: 50. Cody Jones is TCU’s lone plus defender, and he also throws well from the outfield, as does Suiter. Odell played second and first last year, and the Frogs are very pleased with how well he has adapted to the hot corner—a key defensive position because of TCU’s groundball pitching staff. Keaton Jones, Odell and even Cron are all steady defenders who catch the balls that are hit to them, but they are not overly rangy. Castellano and fellow juco transfer Garrett Crain are both offense-oriented second basemen, and Delso is a bat-first catcher, but defense-oriented Kyle Bacak should get plenty of time behind the plate as well.
Starting Pitching: 65. Morrison has been stellar on Fridays for two years, but TCU wants to see what Finnegan—a potential first-round pick this June—can do under the lights. After going a tough-luck 0-8 last spring, Finnegan thrived for Schlossnagle with Team USA, showing 93-98 heat and complementing his quality changeup with an improved slider thanks to a grip he picked up from Carlos Rodon. Morrison is a submariner with heavy sink on his two-seamer when he keeps it in the low 80s (it flattens out a bit in the mid-80s); he also throws a four-seamer, an occasional changeup and a sweeping slider that he can backdoor against lefties or front-door against righties. Alexander has the look of a future ace thanks to his silky-smooth delivery and ability to carve up hitters with an 87-91 fastball, a decent slider and changeup. TCU hopes R-Fr. RHP Mitchell Traver, a 6-foot-7, 251-pound behemoth with a 92-96 fastball and developing secondary stuff, can hold down the midweek job now that he is recovered from Tommy John surgery.
Bullpen: 70. Ferrell was a dynamo for Team USA last summer, blowing hitters away with a 95-98 fastball that touched even higher, and mixing in an occasional breaking ball and changeup. He might be untouchable as TCU’s closer this spring. So. LHP Alex Young could start but figures to remain as the primary setup man, as he commands his plus breaking ball better than his 90-93 fastball. Lefthanded hitters were just 2-for-35 against Young last year, and just 2-for-17 against Jr. LHP Travis Evans, who commands an 88-91 fastball and sharp slider. Like Young, Jr. RHPs Trey Teakell and Jordan Kipper give TCU additional starting options if necessary, or they could serve as strike-throwing long relievers or setup men. Both work at the bottom of the zone with a fastball that reaches 91; Kipper has an effective short slider, and Teakell’s breaking ball has improved significantly.
Experience/Intangibles: 55. Veterans such Cron, Odell, Suiter, Keaton Jones, Morrison and Finnegan got a taste of super regionals two years ago, when they lost to UCLA. But this group of players needs to prove its toughness and resilience all over again following last year’s flop. A handful of newcomers in the lineup—plus key freshman arms Alexander and Traver—need to establish themselves at the D-I level.
Baseball America OFP: 55. The Horned Frogs made nine straight regionals before 2013, and they figure to ride a premier pitching staff back to the postseason this year. How far they go will likely be determined by the maturation of the lineup. TCU will surely pitch and should be solid enough defensively; but will it execute enough on offense to make a deep run?
2013 Record (Ranking): 51-14 (8). RPI: 14.
Coach (Record at school): Dan McDonnell (309-142, 7 years).
Postseason History: 7 regionals (active streak: 2), 2 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
|DH||Grant Kay||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Iowa Western CC|
Hitting: 50. Louisville must replace five regulars from last year’s Omaha team, but it welcomes back its two leading hitters in Sturgeon and Gardner. Sturgeon makes consistent contact and walks more than he strikes out, making him a good table-setter. Gardner also has a patient approach and can drive the ball with authority, making him a physical presence in the middle of the lineup. Whiting, like Sturgeon, is a good athlete with a knack for getting on base. White and Lucas give this lineup two more prime athletes who showed signs this fall of turning the corner offensively, though White still needs to turn in more consistent at-bats. Seniors Chittenden, Gibson and fellow catcher Shane Crain are scrappers, and juco transfer Kay should be the most dangerous righthanded hitter in the lineup thanks to his physicality and solid approach.
Power: 40. Gardner is the only imposing power hitter in the lineup, but he can launch rockets over the fence on a line. Rosenbaum is similarly physical and could provide some additional pop from the right side, and White has intriguing lefthanded power potential, but the rest of the lineup is filled with contact and gap hitters.
Speed: 70. Even without the departed trio of Adam Engel (41 SB), Ty Young (26) and Coco Johnson (22), Louisville is loaded with speed. White and Whiting are both premium runners who have been timed at 6.5 seconds in the 60-yard dash, while Lucas and Sturgeon can run it in 6.6. Kay gives this lineup a fifth well above-average runner. Newcomers Matt Rowland, Colin Lyman and Corey Ray bring even more speed off the bench. Even Rosenbaum has solid speed at first base.
Defense: 60. Whiting lacks premium arm strength but has good range and is the vocal leader of the defense. Chittenden and Lucas have both seen action at shortstop during their collegiate careers, bringing more athleticism to the defense. The Cardinals are fortunate to have two senior catchers who both handle pitchers well in Gibson and Crain. Sturgeon is a standout right fielder—though his arm plays better off the mound than it does from the outfield—and the rangy White “looks like an NFL wide receiver playing center field,” as the coaching staff put it.
Starting Pitching: 55. The Cardinals lost all three pitchers who served as weekend starters down the stretch (Jeff Thompson, Chad Green and Dace Kime), but their replacements have even more upside—and more risk. A 6-foot, 230-pound bulldog, Filomeno has a huge arm, with a 92-94 mph fastball that has bumped 98 in short stints along with a sharp power curveball in the high 70s. Funkhouser, who split time between starting midweek and working in the bullpen last year, works downhill with a 92-95 heater that hit 97 in the Cape Cod League; his slider flashes average but needs consistency, and he must develop his changeup. Ruxer has also shown 92-94 velocity at times along with a plus changeup, and the Cardinals hope the development of a power slider this offseason will help him miss more bats and return to his 2012 freshman All-America form. Should one of them falter, So. RHP Anthony Kidston (5-0, 1.31) should be able to handle a weekend rotation spot thanks to his competitiveness and his ability to locate an 88-90 fastball and two swing-and-miss offspeed pitches (curveball and changeup).
Bullpen: 65. Burdi has the strongest arm in college baseball, with a fastball that sits at 98-101 and a ridiculous 92-93 mph slider. He made the expected leap to star closer as a sophomore, throwing more strikes and blowing hitters away with his overpowering stuff. Sturgeon serves as a fearless setup man who goes after hitters with an 88-92 fastball from the left side. Jr. LHP Kyle McGrath gives the Cards a second proven setup man who commands a high-80s fastball and a good breaking ball. Burdi’s younger brother, Fr. RHP Zack Burdi, has shown 92-95 heat and a promising slider, and fellow newcomers Drew Harrington and Ryan Lauria provide more depth.
Experience/Intangibles: 65. Four key everyday players return brimming with confidence and Omaha experience, and most of the new starters are veterans who have seen plenty of action in part-time roles during their careers. The only question mark is how the new weekend starters will handle those roles, although Ruxer and Kidston have both pitched on Sundays in the past. Louisville also has a superb coaching staff, including the co-recipients of BA’s 2013 Assistant Coach of the Year award, Roger Williams and Chris Lemonis.
Baseball America OFP: 55. Louisville entered last season with a top-five preseason ranking and embraced the lofty expectations, winning 51 games and knocking off mighty Vanderbilt in a road super regional. This team does not look quite as potent offensively and is less proven on the mound, but its overall athleticism and pitching upside should make it the favorite in the new American Athletics Association, and a threat to make another deep postseason run.