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.
6. FLORIDA STATE
2013 Record (Ranking): 47-17 (12). RPI: 10.
Coach (Record at school): Mike Martin (1770-611-4, 34 years).
Postseason History: 51 regionals (active streak: 39), 21 CWS trips (last in 2012), 0 national titles.
|C||Danny De La Calle||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Miami Dade JC|
|*Stats from 2012|
Hitting: 60. Florida State ranked 68th in the nation last year in batting (.287) but 22nd in scoring (6.8 runs per game), because the Seminoles excel at getting on base and driving in runs whether they hit for average or not. Last year’s team ranked third nationally in both walks and doubles, and eighth in hit-by-pitches. Delph, who posted a 33-15 BB-SO mark last year, is an ideal FSU leadoff man because of his ability to work counts. Nogowski, Brizuela and Knief are all patient doubles hitters. So is Stewart, who ranks among the nation’s best bats. The switch-hitting Winston is capable of hitting for average from both sides, but is better from the left side. This lineup has an excellent balance of left- and righthanded hitters.
Power: 50. Built like a fire hydrant, Stewart is extremely strong and figures to see a spike in his power numbers as a sophomore. Gonzalez, a fifth-year senior who missed most of last year with a hip injury, has double-digit home run power but needs to cut down his strikeouts. De La Calle also has some pop but must refine his approach. Nogowski, Brizuela and Knief bring occasional power as well. But this offense is more geared toward driving the gaps than swinging for the fences.
Speed: 55. Florida State’s lone burner is Fr. Ben DeLuzio, an unsigned third-round pick who figures to see action all over the diamond. Winston—the reigning Heisman Trophy winner—has above-average speed. Brizuela, Knief and Stewart are all 55 or slightly better runners as well. Delph, Sansone and Gonzalez have decent speed; there are no slugs in this lineup. But the Seminoles don’t steal many bases (they ranked 244th in the nation in steals per game last year).
Defense: 55. De La Calle is a polished receiver with soft hands and a rifle arm, giving him an edge over Ladson Montgomery in the catching competition. Nogowski is a standout first baseman who excels at picking bad throws out of the dirt, saving the infield some errors. Brizuela has a very strong arm but must be more accurate to cut down on his miscues. Gonzalez is a seasoned shortstop with good range and hands, and enough arm strength to stick at short in pro ball. Sansone gives him a good double-play partner. The outfield figures to be solid but not special.
Starting Pitching: 65. Florida State has four very experienced, accomplished, reliable starters, led by a bona fide ace in Weaver. With an electric fastball that sits in the low 90s and bumps 96, a plus changeup and an improving slider, Weaver has a chance to be drafted in the top half of the first round. Leibrandt presents a contrasting look, with advanced feel for an 84-88 fastball, an above-average changeup and a slow curve. He had ankle surgery in the fall but should be ready for opening weekend. Compton, who missed last year after having Tommy John surgery, gives a third very different look, with extreme life on his sinker and good command of his hard slurve. Sr. RHP Peter Miller has more fastball velocity than Compton and is capable of throwing three pitches in any count, but he must maintain his confidence and command.
Bullpen: 60. Closer Robby Coles is gone, leaving Winston as the favorite to replace him. 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. Sr. RHP Gage Smith, who led the ACC in appearances in each of the last two years, is a rubber-armed submariner who gets loads of groundball outs with his lively, deceptive sinker. Billy Strode, Bryant Holtmann and Brandon Johnson give the Seminoles three proven lethanders, allowing them to play the matchups. Smallish Fr. RHP Taylor Blatch can run his fastballs up to 94, giving this bullpen quality depth.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. Florida State has experience at every position except catcher, and most of the upperclassmen experienced Omaha in 2012. The rotation is one of college baseball’s most seasoned, because Weaver, Leibrandt and Compton have played key roles since they were freshmen. And Mike Martin teams are always disciplined grinders.
Baseball America OFP: 65. Florida State is deep, balanced and experienced. The Seminoles are strong Omaha contenders annually, but this might be Martin’s best pitching staff in many years, giving him a real chance to capture that elusive national title.
7. SOUTH CAROLINA
2013 Record (Ranking): 43-20 (14). RPI: 13.
Coach (Record at school): Chad Holbrook (43-20, 1 year).
Postseason History: 29 regionals (active streak: 14), 11 CWS trips (active streak: 3), 2 national titles (last in 2011).
|SS||Marcus Mooney||So.||NA||Tr.—Palm Beach (Fla.) State JC|
|LF||Elliott Caldwell||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist JC|
|DH||Taylor Widener||Fr.||NA||HS—South Aiken, S.C.|
|RHP||Wil Crowe||Fr.||NA||HS—Pigeon Forge, Tenn.|
|RP||Cody Mincey||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist JC|
Hitting: 60. The Gamecocks have a balanced, experienced lineup with upside. The centerpiece of the lineup is Pankake, a mature hitter who walks as much as he strikes out and has a quick righthanded line-drive stroke. Schrock, a freshman All-American last year, is a similar hitter from the left side of the plate and should take the jump to stardom as a sophomore. Greiner, Martin and Bright have steadily improved at the plate during their careers, and all three should be impact run producers this spring. English is a real key to the offense; the Gamecocks expect him to be more patient in the box this year, giving him a chance to be a premier catalyst atop the lineup.
Power: 55. Pankake has serious strength in his compact stroke, and he figures to produce double-digit home runs again this year. Schrock has emerging power and also could reach double figures. Greiner also has occasional pop from the right side, while Martin and Widener bring additional physicality and lefthanded power potential. Widener has star potential.
Speed: 60. English is a plus-plus runner who figures to be more aggressive on the basepaths this year, putting pressure on opposing defenses. Caldwell, a key catalyst for Spartanburg Methodist’s Junior College World Series club last year, has plus speed and good instincts on the basepaths. Schrock has surprising speed and superb baserunning skills. Pankake, Mooney and Bright are also decent runners.
Defense: 70. After two years at shortstop, Pankake slides over to the hot corner, where his rocket arm will still be an asset. His replacement at shortstop is Mooney, who is cut from the same cloth as older brothers Mike (a former Florida shortstop) and Peter (the starting shortstop on South Carolina’s 2011 championship team). Like his brothers, Marcus is short but athletic, sure-handed and strong-armed. Greiner makes a case as college baseball’s best defensive catcher, and English has plus range and arm strength in center, making this team rock-solid up the middle. South Carolina has no defensive liability anywhere on the diamond.
Starting Pitching: 60. Montgomery gives South Carolina an ace with an impeccable track record of big-game success, including the 2012 CWS and a shutout against No. 1 national seed North Carolina in super regionals last year. His four-pitch repertoire includes an 89-91 fastball and a plus changeup. Wynkoop is another poised strike-thrower with a plus changeup and an improving breaking ball. The power-armed Crowe reminds South Carolina of Tommy Hunter; he attacks hitters with an 89-94 fastball, a power curveball and a solid-average changeup. Fr. LHP Josh Reagan gives the staff yet another polished southpaw with feel for pitching, a plus changeup and the ability to vary his arm slot.
Bullpen: 55. Replacing Tyler Webb (1.47 ERA, 17 saves) won’t be easy, and that is the major challenge facing South Carolina heading into the season. Mincey is a bulldog with a 90-92 fastball and a good slider. Fr. RHP Matthew Vogel ran his fastball up to 96 at times in the fall and flashed a swing-and-miss slider and power curve. Widener can reach 92 from the right side and is another closer candidate, as is Crowe if he does not start. Jr. RHP Evan Beal has a 90-93 fastball, a nice downer curve and a changeup that improved last summer in the Cape Cod League, making him a starter candidate. Joel Seddon and Curt Britt give South Carolina two more good options from the right side, making the bullpen fairly deep but righthanded-dominant.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. Pankake, Greiner and Montgomery were key cogs on South Carolina’s last Omaha team, giving the Gamecocks a core of leaders who have proven themselves on the sport’s grandest stage. But three newcomers in the lineup and several key arms must establish themselves at the Division I level.
Baseball America OFP: 65. A tough super regional matchup on the road against the No. 1 national seed kept South Carolina from making a fourth straight trip to Omaha last year, and the Gamecocks nearly pulled off the upset anyway. This group is both gritty and talented, and it should be regarded as the team to beat in the SEC—and a strong title contender once again.
8. MISSISSIPPI STATE
2013 Record (Ranking): 51-20 (2). RPI: 8.
Coach (Record at school): John Cohen (177-131, 5 years).
Postseason History: 31 regionals (active streak: 3), 9 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
|C||Gavin Collins||Fr.||NA||HS—Lake ForestCalif.|
|LF||Jake Vickerson||Jr.||NA||Tr.—Shelton (Ala.) State JC|
|RHP||Dakota Hudson||Fr.||NA||HS—Dunlap, Tenn.|
Hitting: 55. MSU lost its two best players and leading hitters—Adam Frazier and first-rounder Hunter Renfroe—but otherwise returns the bulk of last year’s national runner-up lineup. Detz (53-45 BB-SO last year) is an on-base machine, and the Bulldogs say Vickerson (the younger brother of former MSU stalwart Nick Vickerson) has an even better batting eye. Bradford, Pirtle and Henderson are grinders with good feel for hitting, and Britton’s lefthanded bat took a major step forward this fall. Collins has a pretty gap-to-gap stroke and is capable of hitting for average and power, as are Rea and Garner.
Power: 45. The massive Rea drew strong interest out of high school as an offensive lineman in football, and he began to unlock his prodigious raw power last year, giving the lineup an imposing centerpiece. Garner also has serious righthanded pop and looks poised for a breakout year. Collins and fellow freshmen Reid Humphreys and Joey Swinarski also have raw power but might need some time to harness it. Most of the lineup is contact-oriented.
Speed: 60. Henderson, Bradford and Britton are above-average runners, and MSU has a couple of burners on the bench in Jacob Robson and Derrick Armstrong. Pirtle and Vickerson are average runners with plenty of savvy on the basepaths.
Defense: 70. Frazier was a rock at shortstop, but Britton has louder tools, including a plus-plus arm and incredible range. Pirtle is an above-average second baseman with an extremely accurate arm, while Detz (.980 fielding percentage) and Rea (.990) are very reliable on the corners. The Bulldogs turned 80 double plays last year—second-most in the nation—and their infield could be even better this year. Collins provides an upgrade behind the plate, where he showed soft hands and sub-1.9-second pop times this fall. Bradford and Henderson have excellent range and arm strength in the outfield.
Starting Pitching: 55. Mississippi State famously had just one starter who consistently pitched five or more innings last year—the departed Kendall Graveman—and instead relied upon its bullpen to take over around the third inning. The improved rotation should eat more innings this year. Woodruff appeared to put last season’s elbow injury behind him this fall, when he ran his fastball up to 96 and showed the makings of three big league-caliber secondary pitches. Fitts pounds the zone with an 88-91 sinker, a power 12-to-6 curveball in the high 70s and a solid changeup, and he also took a step forward in the fall. Hudson, the crown jewel of MSU’s ninth-ranked recruiting class this fall, works downhill at 90-93 and flashes a swing-and-miss 79-82 breaking ball. Fifth-year Sr. RHP Ben Bracewell owns an 88-91 fastball, but his key to success is commanding his 82-84 slider.
Bullpen: 80. MSU’s bullpen features both depth and star power, headlined by two pitchers who had All-America-caliber seasons last year in Holder and Jr. LHP Ross Mitchell. Holder, who has 30 saves in two years along with a 1.19 career ERA and a 120-22 SO-BB mark in 83 innings, is a relentless competitor with superb command of an average fastball and one of the nation’s best curveballs. Mitchell, who was sidelined by hip surgery in the fall, offers a completely different look, with an 82-84 mph fastball and a 66 mph curveball from a funky low three-quarters delivery. Jr. LHP Jacob Lindgren was hindered by injuries last year but was lights-out in the fall, with a 91-93 fastball that touched 95 and a devastating 84-87 slider. Jr. RHP Paul Young, a junior-college transfer, has a 90-93 fastball and a good 83 mph slider. So. RHP John Marc Shelly and Fr. RHPs Jacob Billingsley, Zac Houston, Austin Sexton and Avery Geyer bring more power stuff, while sidewinding So. RHP Myles Gentry adds variety.
Experience/Intangibles: 70. Mississippi State returns nearly 60 percent of its innings and five everyday starters from a team that reached the CWS Finals last year. Chemistry, resilience and savvy were hallmarks of last year’s team, and they should be again.
Baseball America OFP: 65. Led by college baseball’s best bullpen and outstanding team athleticism, Mississippi State looks like a strong contender to get back to Omaha and take another crack at winning the program’s first national title.
9. LOUISIANA STATE
2013 Record (Ranking): 57-11 (5). RPI: 3.
Coach (Record at school): Paul Maineri (315-123-2, 7 years).
Postseason History: 26 regionals (active streak: 2), 16 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 6 national titles (last in 2009).
|1B||Conner Hale||Jr.||NA||Tr.—State JC of Florida|
|2B||Danny Zardon||Fr.||NA||HS—Plantation, Fla.|
|LHP||Jared Poche||Fr.||NA||HS—Lutcher, La.|
|RP||Brady Domangue||Jr.||NA||Tr.—LSU-Eunice JC|
Hitting: 60. LSU must replace four key regulars, including two of its three leading hitters in Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes. But Bregman established himself as one of college baseball’s very best hitters as a freshman, when he garnered first-team All-America and national Freshman of the Year honors. Like Bregman, Ibarra and McMullen are line-drive machines who walk as much as they strike out, and Hale is another promising gap-to-gap hitter. Stevenson made great strides in the Northwoods League last summer, hitting .363, and he looks ready to assume the leadoff role. Laird, the likely No. 2 hitter, has breakout star potential, and the scrappy Zardon is a tough out with a knack for putting balls in play.
Power: 40. LSU isn’t physically imposing like its great teams of the ’90s—Hale is the only projected regular taller than 6-foot-1. Bregman, Ibarra and McMullen have plenty of strength in their compact frames, and all three should hit six to 10 homers. But Katz’s graduation leaves LSU without any true sluggers.
Speed: 65. The Tigers have exceptional speed in the outfield, where Stevenson, Laird and Foster are all plus runners and Chris Sciambra also has good speed. Bregman has slightly above-average speed and plenty of baserunning savvy.
Defense: 65. After six straight years with either Micah Gibbs or Ty Ross running the show behind the plate, LSU enters 2014 with a question mark at catcher, where Moore could share time with Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque. The left side of the infield could be the best in the nation, as Bregman and Ibarra are rock-solid playmakers. Stevenson and Laird made plenty of sensational plays last year, and Foster or Sciambra will join them to form an elite outfield. The right side of the infield is inexperienced, but Hale and Zardon both impressed defensively in the fall.
Starting Pitching: 60. Nola’s uncanny command and control make him truly special, as evidenced by his absurd 8.45 career strikeout-walk ratio. He also has very good stuff: a lively 89-94 mph fastball from a low three-quarters slot, a plus changeup and an effective high-70s slurve. Glenn came into his own last year when he dropped his slot and learned to pitch to contact with an 84-87 fastball that bumps 88-89, rather than trying to overpower hitters. He also has solid feel for his changeup and curve. Poche has advanced feel for pitching with an 87-90 fastball, quality curveball and developing changeup. Three sophomores who pitched sparingly last year—RHPs Hunter Newman and Mitch Sewald plus LHP Hunter Devall—had good summers and will also compete for starts.
Bullpen: 55. Chris Cotton (1.16 ERA, 16 saves), Joey Bourgeois, Brent Bonvillain and Nick Rumbelow are gone, but LSU has several promising candidates to assume prominent bullpen roles. Leading the pack is Domangue, a sinkerballer whose “competitive zeal” and repertoire reminds Paul Mainieri of former LSU star Jared Bradford. Sr. RHP Kurt McCune is very experienced and versatile, capable of working long relief or setup with a solid but not overpowering three-pitch mix. The 6-foot-6 Sewald and Jr. RHP Joe Broussard give LSU two more good options from the right side. The Tigers have eight lefties on the roster, but all of them except Glenn need to establish themselves.
Experience/Intangibles: 60. LSU lost a bushel of key players from last year’s Omaha team. The lineup still has good leadership thanks to Bregman (who took charge of the clubhouse as a true freshman) and Ibarra, and the top two pitchers in the rotation have plenty of experience. But the rest of the pitching roles will be filled by unproven players, creating a bit of uncertainty.
Baseball America OFP: 65. The coaching staff is confident that the Tigers reloaded effectively and that its less experienced sophomores are ready to take on larger roles. The roster’s overall athleticism should ensure the Tigers remain an elite defensive team and a very good offensive club. With returning first-team All-Americans leading the pitching staff and the lineup, LSU has the star power to get back to Omaha.
2013 Record (Ranking): 54-12 (9). RPI: 2.
Coach (Record at school): Tim Corbin (465-229, 11 years).
Postseason History: 12 regionals (active streak: 8), 1 CWS trip (last in 2011), 0 national titles.
Hitting: 55. Even after losing six key regulars, Vanderbilt stands a good chance to be an above-average offensive team, as players from the program’s back-to-back top-ranked recruiting classes get chances to step into prominent roles after waiting in the wings over the last year or two. Swanson was a key piece of 2012’s class, and his line-drive stroke gives him a good chance to hit for average. Fellow sophomores Turner, Wiseman and Wiel established themselves as offensive forces last year, and all three should be even better this spring. Conde proved to be more than just a contact hitter last year, showing a knack for working counts and driving the gaps. The 5-foot-5 Coleman has a line-drive stroke from both sides of the plate and could become a sparkplug in the mold of 2013 SEC player of the year Tony Kemp.
Power: 55. Wiel wielded a powerful righthanded bat in limited playing time last year, coming out of nowhere to entrench himself in the middle of the lineup down the stretch. The ultra-athletic Wiseman has emerging lefthanded power to the pull side. Norwood, Smith and Harvey all have solid-average to plus raw power that they need to harness now that they are assuming everyday roles. Turner also has yet to harness his power potential, but his size and quick hands suggest it’s in there.
Speed: 65. Vanderbilt is loaded with athleticism up and down the lineup. Coleman, Wiseman, Norwood and Swanson are all plus runners, while Turner runs very well for his size and is not afraid to steal bases.
Defense: 55. The Commodores have a high defensive ceiling, but there may be some growing pains as talented new starters learn the ropes at second base (Swanson), center field (Coleman), first base (Wiel) and catcher (Harvey). Spencer Navin won’t be easy to replace behind the plate, but Harvey progressed well during his two-year apprenticeship, and he has the intelligence and arm strength to succeed. Conde has sure hands, smooth actions, outstanding instincts and an accurate arm at short, though it is not a cannon. Turner, Wiseman and Norwood have the athleticism to become defensive standouts, but they are still developing.
Starting Pitching: 60. After two seasons, Beede’s decision to attend Vanderbilt instead of signing as a first-round pick looks like it will pay off, because he has performed at an All-America level and shown top-five-picks stuff—a plus fastball, a plus changeup and a solid-average curve. He must cut down his walk rate, but he did a better job throwing strikes in the fall. Jared Miller, a 6-foot-6 lefty with a deceptive delivery, looks ready to assume a rotation spot after showing the makings of three average big league pitches in the Cape Cod League. Pecoraro has three years of experience as a starter and has good command of his own quality three-pitch mix. So. RHPs Tyler Ferguson and Walker Buehler give Vandy two more talented starting options, or one of them could bring his power stuff to the bullpen.
Bullpen: 75. Vanderbilt’s bullpen is among the nation’s best, with an unflappable closer surrounded by a deep stable of thoroughbreds. Brian Miller, who set the school’s single-season saves record last year, eats up righthanded hitters with his lively sinker and slider from a sidearm slot, and he can vary his arm angle when necessary. So. RHP Carson Fulmer regularly reaches the high-90s and features a devastating power slider, though he has a max-effort delivery and is still refining his command. Buehler works at 90-94 and has another swing-and-miss breaking ball. Jr. RHP Adam Ravenelle has a 93-97 fastball and flashes a solid-average slider, but his mechanics and command must be more consistent than they have been in the past. Sr. LHP Steven Rice attacks lefthanded hitters with an excellent curveball, helping Vandy play the matchups. Fr. LHP John Kilchowski has good feel for three pitches, and Fr. RHP Hayden Stone has a filthy curveball that could make him very useful immediately. Fr. RHP Jordan Sheffield showed 94-98 mph heat before having Tommy John surgery last April, and he could provide a boost down the stretch.
Experience/Intangibles: 55. Pecoraro is Vandy’s lone holdover who played a meaningful role on the 2011 Omaha team, but the ‘Dores have plenty of experience at the front and back of the staff. Six new everyday players have loads of talent but much to prove.
Baseball America OFP: 60. Vanderbilt’s incredible bullpen depth should give it an advantage in most close games this year, and the pitching should carry the team through any rough patches while the youngsters in the lineup get their bearings. This team does not look as complete as the Vandy club that dominated the SEC last year and fell in a home super regional against Louisville, but it has Omaha ability just the same.