College World Series 2014: Previewing The Field

In our preseason Top 25 capsules, we used the 20-80 scouting scale to grade each team in various facets of the game. Five of the eight teams that reached the College World Series were ranked in our preseason Top 25, so we thought it would be instructive to revisit and revise our preseason grades for those seven teams. Texas Tech, Mississippi and UC Irvine were not ranked in the preseason and will be subjected to the scrutiny of the 20-80 scale for the first time. Here’s how we explained our grading system in the preseason (we’ll use the same criteria here):

Scouts grade prospects on how their tools compare with those of an average major leaguer, but for our Top 25′s purposes, we rate talent relative to an average NCAA tournament team. 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. In this case, the OFP represents our assessment of a team’s overall strength and its chance to win the College World Series.


 

College World Series Matchups (all times Eastern)
Saturday, 3 p.m.
ucirvineUC IRVINE
Record: 40-23.
Preseason ranking: NR.
Ranking at end of regular season: NR.


Season In A Nutshell: The Anteaters flew under the radar in the first half, losing nonconference series to Fresno State, Nebraska and San Diego State. They won their first five Big West series, capped by a sweep of UC Santa Barbara that propelled them into the Top 25, but then they lost their final eight conference games against powers Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, squeaking into the NCAA tournament as one of the final four teams in the field. The Anteaters traversed the most rigorous road to Omaha of any CWS team, winning a regional hosted by No. 1 national seed Oregon State, then sweeping a super regional against Big 12 regular-season champion Oklahoma State to reach Omaha for the first time since 2007.


An opposing coach breaks down UC Irvine


GRADING THE ANTEATERS
Hitting
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 45
UCI’s offense is a mirror image of Texas’ offense; both are predicated on small ball and execution. Irvine ranks second in the nation with 88 sacrifice bunts, behind only the Longhorns. The Anteaters do all the things you’d expect a Mike Gillespie-coached team to do: they get hit by pitches, they squeeze a lot, they hit situationally, hit-and-run, and generally just turn in quality at-bats. They aren’t a powerhouse offense, ranking 132nd in the nation in batting (.272) and 219th in scoring (4.4 runs per game). But Connor Spencer (.370), Jerry McClanahan (.320) and Taylor Sparks (.307) give the ‘Eaters a trio of accomplished veteran hitters to lead the offense. And Sparks and Spencer are both hot, hitting .458 and .455 in the postseason, respectively.


Power
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 35
Like Texas, the Anteaters play in a home ballpark that virtually eliminates the home run—they have just 12 as a team, ranking 218th in the nation. But Sparks, the Reds’ second-round pick, has plus raw power and slugged .502 this spring (16 doubles, five triples, five homers), making him one of the few players in Omaha with a real chance to go deep at TD Ameritrade park. Kris Paulino has five of Irvine’s remaining seven homers. Clearly, power is not a big part of this team’s attack.


Speed
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 35
Speed isn’t a big part of Irvine’s game, either. The Anteaters rank 263rd in the nation in stolen bases per game; Spencer (eight) and Sparks (eight) are the only Anteaters with more than three steals on the year, and neither player is what you’d call a burner.


Defense
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 60
Irvine is a fundamentally sound club with a .974 fielding percentage. Sparks and shortstop Chris Rabago are playmakers on the left side of the infield, but they make their share of errors too. The outfield is solid but not overly rangy. Catcher Jerry McClanahan is the leader of the defense; he blocks balls well and controls the running game, throwing out 44 percent of basestealers this spring.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
Big West pitcher of the year Andrew Morales is a consummate winner whose stuff has improved as a senior, helping him climb into the second round (Cardinals) as a senior money-saver with legitimate big league potential. He works in the low 90s and mixes in three solid secondary pitches, highlighted by a swing-and-miss slider. Soft-tossing lefty Elliot Surrey and senior Evan Brock (a stock righthander with loads of experience and competitiveness) aren’t flashy but do a good job throwing strikes and letting their defense make plays behind them.


Bullpen
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 50
Splitter specialist Sam Moore led the nation with 23 saves during the regular season, but hitters figured him out late, and he has made just one appearance in the postseason. Wily lefthander Evan Manarino and quick-armed righty Mitch Merten have been the go-to relievers during the NCAA tournament, though Morales and Surrey have pitched deep enough into games that the ‘Eaters haven’t had to lean too heavily on their ‘pen.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
No current member of the Anteaters has played in Omaha, of course, but the roster is loaded with savvy upperclassmen who do all the little things necessary to win. Irvine is resilient, battle-tested and extraordinarily well coached by the universally respected Gillespie.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
As one of the last teams into the field of 64, Irvine was a major long shot to win a regional in Corvallis, and it was a heavy underdog on the road in super regionals at Oklahoma State. The Anteaters proved their mettle in those two weekends, but they still head to Omaha as underdogs in a field loaded with more talented teams. If they can stay in the winners’ bracket—and Morales and Surrey give them a chance to do so—they have a chance to shock the college baseball world again.

 

 

 

 

 

texasTEXAS
Record: 43-19.
Preseason ranking: 18.
Ranking at end of regular season: 21.


Season In A Nutshell: After missing regionals in back-to-back seasons, the Longhorns bounced back strong in 2014, getting off to a 29-8 start that boosted them to No. 6 in the BA Top 25 on April 14. They lost their next three series to fall to No. 25, but they never dropped out of the rankings, and they beat rivals Rice and Texas A&M to win the Houston Regional as a No. 2 seed. Then the ‘Horns allowed just two runs total in a two-game sweep of Houston in the Austin Super Regional, propelling them to Omaha for the first time since 2011.


An opposing coach breaks down Texas


GRADING THE LONGHORNS
Hitting
Preseason: 50
Revised: 45
The Texas offense is much more competent than it was in its disastrous 2013 season, but nobody will mistake it for a juggernaut—it ranks 161st in the nation in batting (.268) and 191st in scoring (4.6 runs per game). But the Longhorns are disciplined up and down the lineup, drawing 271 walks (13th in the country), and they execute Augie Garrido’s West Coast offense proficiently, leading the nation with 96 sacrifice bunts. Senior OF Mark Payton, who has reached base safely in a Big 12 record 101 straight games, is one of college baseball’s toughest outs, hitting .326/.467/.464 with 55 walks and just 22 strikeouts in 224 at-bats.


Power
Preseason: 30
Revised: 35
UT’s Disch-Falk Field suppresses power, so the team’s total of 21 home runs (124th in the nation) is a bit misleading. Ben Johnson (6 HR) and Tres Barrera (5 HR) give this lineup some punch, and Payton racks up his share of doubles and triples. Still, this is primarily a singles-hitting offense that bunts runners over and manufacturers runs using small ball, and by forcing opponents to make mistakes.


Speed
Preseason: 55
Revised: 55
The Longhorns don’t run a ton, but they have a pair of very proficient basestealers in the blazing-fast Johnson (21-for-21) and the heady Payton (19-for-20). Collin Shaw, Zane Gurwitz and C.J Hinojosa also have solid speed.


Defense
Preseason: 60
Revised: 60
The Longhorns rank 26th in Division I with a .975 fielding percentage, although they certainly benefit from the room-service hops provided by the turf surface at Disch-Falk Field. But this defense is solid everywhere on the diamond, particularly up the middle, where Hinojosa and Brooke Marlowe (.994 fielding percentage) make a slick double-play tandem. Texas has turned 67 double plays this year, fourth in the nation.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: 70
Revised: 65
With ace lefthander Dillon Peters lost to injury late in the season, Texas takes a hit in this category, but the staff still ranks sixth nationally with a 2.32 ERA. Senior bulldog Nathan Thornhill sets the tone, and junior righty Parker French has similarly solid stuff, though neither will light up radar guns the way Vanderbilt’s and Louisville’s aces will. With Peters out, Lukas Schiraldi moves into the No. 3 starter role; he has tantalizing talent but has not been efficient this year, walking 39 in 64 innings.


Bullpen
Preseason: 60
Revised: 70
Hard-throwing John Curtiss returned from Tommy John surgery this year and embraced a bullpen role, giving the Longhorns a shut-down closer. The supporting cast is talented, deep and versatile, providing Texas some peace of mind in case their starters struggle early in games. Chad Hollingsworth, Travis Duke, Morgan Cooper and Ty Culbreth are all reliable options.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: 50
Revised: 60
Because Texas missed the postseason each of the last two seasons, only seniors Thornhill and Payton entered the season with meaningful postseason experience, but both of them have been to Omaha, and they have provided sterling leadership all season long. Texas leans plenty on underclassmen in the lineup and bullpen, but they are winning players who have fully bought into Garrido’s team-first ethos.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: 55
Revised: 60
Pitching and defense wins in Omaha, and Texas pitches and defends very well. This team is strikingly similar to UCLA’s national championship club a year ago, with a staff led by pair of veteran strike-throwers with savvy and average velocity (Thornhill and French), and an offense that knows how to execute.
 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 8 p.m.
louisvilleLOUISVILLE
Record: 50-15.
Preseason ranking: 20.
Ranking at end of regular season: 13.


Season In A Nutshell: Louisville experienced just one losing weekend en route to the American Athletic Conference regular-season title, then went 5-0 in regionals and super regionals for the second straight year to reach the 50-win plateau for the second straight year.


An opposing coach breaks down Louisville


GRADING THE CARDINALS


Hitting
Preseason: 50
Revised: 60
The Cardinals have a gritty, line-drive-oriented offense with a nice balance of righties and lefties throughout the order. They rank 26th in the nation in scoring, 47th in batting and 22nd in doubles, making them one of the better offenses in Omaha statistically. They also are well-stocked with accomplished bat-handlers who can move runners along and lay down bunts.


Power
Preseason: 40
Revised: 50
Jeff Gardner has slugged nine home runs for the second straight year, giving the lineup a dangerous centerpiece. Grant Kay and Zach Lucas have five homers apiece, and Cole Sturgeon wears out the gaps, with 16 doubles and seven triples. Freshmen Nick Solak and Corey Ray have emerging pop too.


Speed
Preseason: 70
Revised: 70
As usual, Louisville has serious speed and loves to use it to push the action. The Cardinals rank second in the nation with 132 stolen bases, led by speed merchant Sutton Whiting (37-for-43), the younger brother of former Cardinals speedster Boomer Whiting, who stole 73 bases for the 2007 Omaha team. Sturgeon (19 SB) and Kay (23 SB) are also accomplished basestealers, while Solak, Ray and reserve outfielders Colin Lyman and Mike White bring additional speed.


Defense
Preseason: 60
Revised: 60
Louisville’s .971 fielding percentage (84th in the nation) is the lowest of the eight CWS teams, but this is still an athletic defense that makes plenty of highlight-reel plays, especially in the outfield, where Sturgeon is a dynamo. 3B Alex Chittenden, 1B Grant Kay and 2B Zach Lucas give the Cardinals three former shortstops at other infield positions.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: 55
Revised: 55
Kyle Funkhouser blossomed into a bona fide ace and an All-American as a sophomore this year, and he can dominate with a 92-96 fastball and a power slider. Anthony Kidston works in the mid-to-upper 80s but has a very good changeup and 12-to-6 curveball, making him an effective No. 2. The Cardinals lost No. 2 starter Jared Ruxer to Tommy John surgery at the end of the regular season, but freshman lefty Josh Rogers pitched well in a win against Kentucky in regionals, giving the Cardinals confidence in him going into Omaha.


Bullpen
Preseason: 65
Revised: 70
Nick Burdi is college baseball’s hardest thrower, with a fastball that reaches triple digits and a filthy low-90s slider, giving the Cardinals a premier closer. Sturgeon is a key two-way piece who joins with Kyle McGrath to form a stellar duo of lefthanded setup men. Freshman Jake Sparger is the primary righthanded middle relief option, and the Cardinals have plenty of trust in him. Burdi, Sturgeon and McGrath all have struck out more than a batter per inning (and Burdi has struck out close to two batters per inning). This bullpen’s ability to miss bats is a huge advantage in tight spots.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: 65
Revised: 70
Louisville is the only team in this field that reached Omaha last year. Though the Cardinals have rebuilt their pitching staff since the end of 2013, they still have plenty of Omaha holdovers on the roster who know what to expect from the big stage. This program knows how to win in the postseason, and the coaching staff excels at putting players in the best position to succeed.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: 55
Revised: 65
The Cardinals are balanced, experienced and confident. Their elite speed and collection of big-time power arms are separators for them. This team has a strong chance to win the first national championship in program history, but staying in the winners’ bracket is important because the staff isn’t as deep without Ruxer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

vanderbiltVANDERBILT
Record: 46-19.
Preseason ranking: 10.
Ranking at end of regular season: 20.


Season In A Nutshell: The Commodores went 16-2 in preconference play, then went 17-13 in an up-and-down SEC performance. During one stretch in March and April, they lost four series in five weeks, but the played better down the stretch and still wound up hosting a regional, which they won in three games. Stanford pushed Vandy to three games in super regionals, but the Commodores rode hot bats to 23 runs in their two wins in that series.


An opposing coach breaks down Vanderbilt


GRADING THE COMMODORES
Hitting
Preseason: 55
Revised: 60
Vanderbilt excels at driving the gaps, ranking third in the nation with 136 doubles and 55th in scoring (5.8 runs per game). Three Commodores are hitting better than .300 and have OBPs better than .400 (Bryan Reynolds, Dansby Swanson and Vince Conde), but outfielders John Norwood and Rhett Wiseman have also heated up at the right time, helping fuel Vandy’s offensive surge in the postseason. Reynolds is leading the charge, however, batting .520/.552/.640 in the NCAA tournament.


Power
Preseason: 55
Revised: 50
Zander Wiel leads the team with just five home runs, so the Commodores won’t hurt opponents with the long ball. But as mentioned above, they hit a lot of doubles—and in the BBCOR era, doubles power is power. Reynolds and Swanson lead the way with 24 doubles apiece, tied for sixth in the nation. You might be surprised to learn that Vanderbilt has a higher slugging percentage (.388) than Virginia (.382).


Speed
Preseason: 65
Revised: 70
The Commodores are loaded with athleticism and like to put pressure on opponents with their speed—they rank fifth in the nation with 103 stolen bases. While the Commodores don’t have one elite burner like Louisville’s Sutton Whiting, they do have seven regulars with double-digit steals, illustrating their ability to force the action up and down the lineup. Swanson (18-for-23) is the most dangerous stolen base threat.


Defense
Preseason: 65
Revised: 65
The Commodores are fielding a rock-solid .975 (33rd in the nation), and their athleticism plays all over the diamond, making them even better than their fielding percentage suggests. Vince Conde (.984 fielding percentage at shortstop) and Swanson (.968) make for a stellar middle-infield duo, while Xavier Turner and Wiel have been very solid on the infield corners. Reynolds, Norwood and Rhett Wiseman cover abundant ground in the outfield, and freshman Jason Delay has answered the big question mark facing Vandy behind the plate; he blocks balls in the dirt well, giving pitchers confidence to bury breaking balls.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: 60
Revised: 70
Vandy’s rotation gelled when the Commodores moved Carson Fulmer from the back of the bullpen into the No. 2 starter spot in the second half. He holds his plus velocity deep into games and offers a pair of wipeout secondary pitches in his filthy breaking ball and changeup. Two-time first-round pick Tyler Beede has had an uneven junior year thanks to command that comes and goes, but he’s a proven competitor with an electric fastball and devastating changeup. Walker Buehler and Tyler Ferguson give Vandy two more power-armed starters, making this rotation absurdly deep.


Bullpen
Preseason: 75
Revised: 65
With Fulmer in the rotation, this grade drops, but Vandy still has an ultra-experienced closer with 26 career saves in sidewinder Brian Miller, plus a power-armed stopper in Adam Ravenelle, and a freshman who misses bats at a remarkable clip in Hayden Stone, owner of a vicious slider. Lefty Jared Miller is another seasoned junior who can start or relieve as needed.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: 55
Revised: 60
No holdovers remain from Vandy’s only previous CWS team in 2011. This is a young team stuffed with underclassmen in the starting lineup—Conde and Norwood are the only upperclassmen, while Beede, Ravanelle and the Millers give the pitching staff four juniors to lean upon. But by this point in the season, Vanderbilt’s new starters have proven themselves, and the Commodores showed plenty of toughness in the super regional, answering Stanford’s Game Three rally with one of their own.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: 60
Revised: 65
Vanderbilt, Virginia and TCU have the most impressive collections of power arms in this CWS field, and it is easy to envision any of the three riding its pitching to the national title. The performance of Vandy’s offense in the postseason also gives reason for encouragement; this team is playing well in all facets heading into Omaha.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 3 p.m.
texastechTEXAS TECH
Record: 45-19.
Preseason ranking: NR.
Ranking at end of regular season: NR.


Season In A Nutshell: In coach Tim Tadlock’s second season at the helm, the Red Raiders smashed expectations. They were picked to finish eighth in the nine-team Big 12 in the preseason coaches’ poll, but they quickly caught the attention of the college baseball world by taking three of four from preseason No. 3 Indiana to open the season. They also won a series at TCU en route to a 14-10 showing in the Big 12 and a No. 2 seed in the Coral Gables Regional, where they went 2-1 against host Miami to reach their first super regional. Texas Tech then shut out College of Charleston in back-to-back 1-0 wins to reach Omaha for the first time in program history.


An opposing coach breaks down Texas Tech


GRADING THE RED RAIDERS
Hitting
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 60
The Red Raiders are an aggressive, hard-nosed offensive team, fitting Tadlock’s mold. Their offense is well tailored for the spacious gaps of TDAP, ranking eighth in the nation in doubles (123) and seventh in triples (24). They also rank 50th in batting and 39th in scoring, making them one of the better statistical offenses in Omaha. Several Red Raiders walk more than they strike out (Stephen Smith, Jake Barrios, Tyler Neslony and Tim Proudfoot), emblematic of a team that doesn’t give away any at-bats.


Power
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
Texas Tech has a trio of dangerous power hitters in Eric Gutierrez (.312/.410/.557, 12 HR), Adam Kirsch (.300/.390/.553, 10 HR) and Neslony (.388/.468/.612, 4 HR). The rest of the lineup lacks thump, but those three run producers are formidable. And Bryant Burleson has good power to the gaps, as evidenced by his 20 doubles.


Speed
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 30
No Texas Tech regular has more than four stolen bases; as a whole, the team ranks 291st out of 300 Division I teams in stolen bases per game.


Defense
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 70
TTU’s defense isn’t flashy, but it makes all the routine plays, ranking fifth in the nation with a .981 fielding percentage in seventh with 64 double plays. Heady veteran shortstop Proudfoot is the infield glue, while Conley is a standout in center field—he helped preserve a 1-0 lead in the super regional clincher with a brilliant diving catch in right-center.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 50
For most of the season, Texas Tech starters rarely worked deep into games, but they have elevated their performance in the postseason, helping the Red Raiders shut out their opponents four times in six NCAA tournament games. Chris Sadberry, Dylan Dusek and Cameron Smith give Tech a trio of lefthanders who have proven themselves as starters (Smith shut out Miami in the regional clincher in just his fourth start of the year). Sadberry is the only power arm of the bunch, however.


Bullpen
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
Veteran lefty Jonny Drozd has been a bullpen workhorse, posting a 2.00 ERA and five saves in 72 innings over 26 relief appearances. His deception and command help his pedestrian stuff play up. Righthander Ryan Moseley has more arm strength and can serve as a starter or reliever as needed. The same goes for Corey Taylor and Smith. The Red Raiders will piece together their pitching based on matchups and who has the hot hand, rather than let conventional roles dictate their mound strategy.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
The Red Raiders have reached new heights this postseason—the program had never even been to a super regional, and its last trip to regionals came 10 years ago. Still, it’s a blue-collar bunch that plays very hard and smart, and the sum is greater than its parts.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
Texas Tech seems like a long shot to win a bracket filled with three considerably more talented teams, but the Red Raiders have defied expectations all season long and are one of the last eight teams standing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

texaschristianTEXAS CHRISTIAN (No. 7 national seed)
Record: 47-16.
Preseason ranking: 19.
Ranking at end of regular season: 9.


Season In A Nutshell: After a 15-12 start, TCU has been the hottest team in college baseball, going 32-4 since the calendar flipped to April. The Frogs finished second in the Big 12’s regular-season standings behind Oklahoma State, then beat the Cowboys in the conference tournament championship game. They allowed just four runs in three games (over 42 grueling innings) in the Fort Worth Regional. Pepperdine pushed the Frogs to the brink in super regionals, but TCU scored two in the ninth to earn a thrilling come-from-behind victory in Monday’s series finale, getting them back to Omaha for the second time (the first since 2010).


An opposing coach breaks down TCU


GRADING THE HORNED FROGS
Hitting
Preseason: 45
Revised: 50
A lifeless offense doomed the Frogs in 2013, when they ranked 270th in the nation in batting and 245th in scoring. With largely the same group of players, TCU took a major step forward this spring, ranking 63rd in batting (.283) and 133rd in scoring (5.1 runs per game). The Frogs still aren’t an imposing offensive club, and they win plenty of games 2-1 or 3-2. But they compete; they get enough timely hitting, they turn in quality at-bats up and down the lineup, and six of their nine starters have OBPs better than .370, led by top hitter Garrett Crain (.335/.418/.431).


Power
Preseason: 40
Revised: 35
TCU has just 13 home runs as a team (210th in the nation), and hulking Kevin Cron (five homers) is the only real power threat in the lineup. Cron also leads the team with 18 doubles, but no other Frog has more than 18 extra-base hits. Boomer White, Dylan Fitzgerald and Jerrick Suiter have some physicality and some gap-to-gap ability, but this is mostly a singles-hitting team.


Speed
Preseason: 50
Revised: 50
What coach Jim Schlossnagle said about his team in the preseason still holds true: the Frogs have one “banger” (Cron), one “burner” (Cody Jones, who has 28 stolen bases), and a bunch of baseball players. White, Keaton Jones and the rest of those “baseball players” will pick their spots on the basepaths, but none is a plus runner.


Defense
Preseason: 50
Revised: 70
TCU wound up defending much better than expected, posting a .978 fielding percentage (11th in the nation). Derek Odell transitioned smoothly to third base, allowing Crain to slide into the lineup at second, where he has fielded .991. Keaton Jones has been a rock for three years at shortstop, and Kyle Bacak is an unsung hero behind the plate. Cody Jones has superb range in center field, which will be a major asset in cavernous TDAP.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: 65
Revised: 70
TCU leads Division I in ERA (2.19) and WHIP (1.02), and ranks sixth in strikeouts per nine innings (8.4). This staff has a blend power arms and “pitchability guys,” giving hitters a variety of looks. First-round pick Brandon Finnegan has electric stuff from the left side, but he wasn’t the Big 12 pitcher of the year. That honor belonged to sidearmer Preston Morrison, a groundball machine with pinpoint command. Freshman lefthander Tyler Alexander pitched extremely well down the stretch, showing moxie and command beyond his years, giving TCU a trio of excellent starters.


Bullpen
Preseason: 70
Revised: 70
Riley Ferrell has overpowering stuff. Virginia’s Nick Howard, Louisville’s Nick Burdi and Ferrell are the three most electric closers in college baseball, with mid-to-upper-90s fastballs and devastating breaking balls, and all made it to Omaha. Trey Teakell, Alex Young and Jordan Kipper (who can also start if needed) form a versatile and excellent supporting cast.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: 55
Revised: 65
The Frogs feature eight upperclassmen in the everyday lineup and two seasoned juniors atop the rotation. A number of its juniors were key pieces of a super regional team as freshmen, so they have won their share of big games—and shown plenty of character by bouncing back from a very trying 2013 campaign.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: 55
Revised: 65
TCU’s elite pitching staff and airtight defense is capable of carrying it all the way to the national championship. The Frogs are the least offensive of the three teams on their side of the bracket, but they are built to win in spacious TD Ameritrade Park, and they haven’t lost back-to-back games since March.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, 8 p.m.
virginiaVIRGINIA
Record: 49-14.
Preseason ranking: 1.
Ranking at end of regular season: 8.


Season In A Nutshell: Virginia was preseason No. 1 for the first time in program history and lived up to its billing, spending a total of eight weeks atop the rankings over the course of the season. The Cavs lost just one series all season—their regular-season finale at Wake Forest—but have gotten their bats going in the postseason to reach Omaha for the third time since 2009.


An opposing coach breaks down Virginia


GRADING THE CAVALIERS
Hitting
Preseason: 75
Revised: 65
OK, so the Cavaliers have not been the offensive juggernaut we expected heading into the season; they rank 80th in the nation in scoring, 76th in batting and 85th in slugging. But in the last two weeks, they have finally started to perform at a level commensurate with their prodigious talent. The modest season numbers force us to slightly downgrade our assessment of Virginia’s hitting, but this is still the most talented offensive team in college baseball, with depth, star power and patient approaches.


Power
Preseason: 70
Revised: 60
Again, we are giving Virginia a higher grade than its numbers would seem to merit. The Cavs have 33 home runs as a team (48th in the nation) and a .382 slugging percentage (85th), but Mike Papi, Joe McCarthy, Derek Fisher and Brandon Downes are all physical specimens with legitimate power potential. This team is geared to hit doubles and triples—which is exactly the kind of power that plays at TD Ameritrade Park. In that respect, the offense is constructed a lot like Arizona’s 2012 national championship club.


Speed
Preseason: 65
Revised: 60
Fisher can fly, while Downes, McCarthy, John La Prise and Branden Cogswell are also solid-average to above-average runners. Papi, Kenny Townes and Daniel Pinero are decent runners too—there are no slugs in this lineup, although the Cavs do not rely heavily on the stolen base (McCarthy leads the team with 11).


Defense
Preseason: 60
Revised: 70
Virginia ranks third in the nation with a .982 fielding percentage. Cogswell played a good shortstop as a sophomore but has slid to second base as a junior in deference to Pinero, a tall, smooth defender with a strong, accurate arm. Cogswell is fielding .990 at second base, and the Cavs have three other up-the-middle standouts in center fielder Downes and catchers Nate Irving and Robbie Coman.


Starting Pitching
Preseason: 60
Revised: 70
Nathan Kirby is a first-team All-American and potential 2015 first-round pick atop the rotation, while fellow sophomore lefty Brandon Waddell spent all of last year as the Friday starter, giving the Cavs a pair of proven big-game winners. Senior Artie Lewicki and sophomore Josh Sbroz give Virginia a pair of power-armed righties who can reach the mid-90s, making this rotation four men deep with ease.


Bullpen
Preseason: 60
Revised: 65
The Cavaliers have a first-round pick at the back of the bullpen in Nick Howard, and a wily senior long reliever/stopper in Whit Mayberry. Freshman Connor Jones has a huge arm and pitched a lot of meaningful innings this year before struggling with his command late and evidently falling out of the circle of trust in the postseason. But UVa. can use Lewicki or Sborz in relief if necessary, and Austin Young is a quality option from the right side.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: 65
Revised: 65
The Cavs haven’t been to Omaha since 2011, so most of the roster is new to the CWS scene. But this is a veteran team loaded with upperclassmen who know how to win, and the exceptional coaching staff knows its way around Omaha from two previous trips since 2009.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: 70
Revised: 70
Virginia has no holes. It is the most talented team in the nation, and it is playing its best at the optimal time. The Cavaliers enter the CWS as the clear favorites to win the national championship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

olemissMISSISSIPPI
Record: 46-19.
Preseason ranking: NR.
Ranking at end of regular season: 12.


Season In A Nutshell: The Rebels got off to a strong start, going 17-2 in preconference play, then went 19-11 in the SEC to capture the West Division crown. After a 1-2 showing in the SEC tournament, Ole Miss allowed just five runs during a 3-0 showing in the Oxford Regional, then went on the road and beat the top-ranked team in the nation in super regionals, dropping the series opener against Louisiana-Lafayette but rallying with two straight victories to reach Omaha for the first time since 1972.


An opposing coach breaks down Mississippi


GRADING THE REBELS
Hitting
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
Statistically, Ole Miss has the most potent offense in Omaha, ranking 14th nationally in batting (.303), 36th in scoring (6.1 runs per game) and 17th in doubles (116). Upperclassmen Auston Bousfield (.349/.395/.495), Will Allen (.345/.382/.513) and Austin Anderson (.331/.421/.469) are the team’s three leading hitters, giving Ole Miss a trio of doubles machines in the heart of the lineup. Braxton Lee is a catalyst atop the lineup, and even Will Jamison and Errol Robinson are pesky outs at the bottom of the lineup.


Power
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
The Rebels are clearly the most powerful team in the CWS field, with physicality throughout the lineup. Sikes Orvis (14 HR) is the most accomplished power hitter on a team that ranks 16th nationally with 42 home runs. Bousfield, Allen, Anderson and Preston Overbey provide good pop to the gaps and occasional home run power as well.


Speed
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
Not only are the Rebels physical, but they are athletic and fast. Lee (30-for-35 in stolen bases) is a disruptive force on the basepaths, while Bousfield (17-for-18), Anderson (10-for-16), J.B. Woodman (10-for-15), Jamison (6-for-7) and Robinson (5-for-8) are additional basestealing threats on a team that is not afraid to run. Allen and Orvis are not runners, however.


Defense
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 60
Like Louisville, Mississippi’s defense is better than its .971 fielding percentage suggests. No group of outfielders in Omaha covers more ground than the trio of Lee, Bousfield and Jamison, and that range is a major asset in spacious TD Ameritrade Park. The infield features three steady veterans and a slick freshman shortstop in Robinson, who has 18 errors but is capable of making dazzling plays at times. No team has won the CWS with a freshman shortstop since LSU in 2009 (Austin Nola).


Starting Pitching
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 55
Mississippi’s rotation doesn’t miss bats the way TCU’s, Virginia’s, Vanderbilt’s or Louisville’s do, but the Rebels have had plenty of success with Chris Ellis, Christian Trent and Sam Smith on the mound this year. The lefthanded Trent has the best out pitch of the three with his slider, along with a fastball that bumps 90, while the righthanded Ellis has more arm strength but has fanned just 64 in 107 innings. This staff will pitch to contact and let its defense work.


Bullpen
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
Maybe Ole Miss doesn’t have a big-name closer like Nick Howard, Nick Burdi or Riley Ferrell, but the Rebels can shorten games with their deep, reliable bullpen. Aaron Greenwood is a battle-hardened moment-of-truth stopper, and Josh Laxer has taken a quantum leap forward as a junior, giving the Rebels a late-game option with a 93-95 fastball and swing-and-miss slider. Scott Weathersby and Jeremy Massie are two valuable long men, one from the right side and one from the left. Wyatt Short is another trustworthy option.


Experience/Intangibles
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 60
The Rebels famously haven’t been to Omaha in 42 years, so they must avoid letting the hoopla surrounding the end of their drought overwhelm them. But this is a veteran team in the lineup and on the mound, and the coaching staff has been to Omaha before with other programs, so they know what to expect and will have their Rebels ready.


Baseball America OFP
Preseason: N/A
Revised: 65
Ole Miss is one of the most balanced teams in Omaha, and it is certainly good enough to win the national championship. Staying in the winners’ bracket—starting with a victory against a loaded Virginia team in the opener—is important, but Massie and Weathersby can eat up innings should the Rebels need to make a run through the losers’ bracket.