It starts in January with our voluminous College Preview issue. It continues through week after week of Top 25 Rankings, chats, podcasts, blog posts, Three Strikes and Top 25 Trackers. Baseball America’s coverage of college baseball starts long before the College World Series. But this is what it all builds toward.
|No. 1 MIAMI|
Season In A Nutshell: Miami won the ACC’s regular-season and tournament titles and has spent more time at No. 1 in the rankings than any other team in 2008.
Who’s Hot: Just one Miami regular is batting over .300 in the postseason (Jemile Weeks at .304), but outfielder Adan Severino has made the most of his limited playing time, going 4-for-10 in six games (just one start). Righthander Kyle Bellamy has been stellar in the bullpen, going 1-0, 2.16 with 14 strikeouts and three walks in eight innings over all six Miami postseason games.
Who’s Not: The Hurricanes are batting just .258 as a team in the postseason, and junior outfielder Dennis Raben has struggled the most, batting .162. Still, all four of Raben’s hits have gone for extra bases: two doubles and two homers.
Stat That Matters: Miami has premium defenders up the middle in center fielder Blake Tekotte, shortstop Ryan Jackson, second baseman Jemile Weeks and catcher Yasmani Grandal, and the team’s .975 fielding percentage in 2008 leads all CWS teams.
Stat That Doesn’t: Just six Miami pitchers have seen action in six postseason games. If all goes as planned, six is all the Hurricanes will need.
X-factor: Miami lacks pitching depth, so it needs sophomore lefthander Eric Erickson to pitch like he did in regionals against Mississippi (7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER), and not like he did in super-regionals against Arizona (3.1 IP, 5 H, 7 R, 3 ER).
Made-For-TV Story: Outfielder Dave DiNatale transferred from Central Florida as a sophomore last year but struggled through a deep bone bruise on his hand after being hit by a pitch early in the season. He got healthy in the summer but was hit by another pitch in the Cape Cod League—this time in the face, breaking eight bones. He has emerged as one of Miami’s best clutch hitters as a junior this spring.
Winnability: 65 (graded on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). No team is stronger in every facet of the game than Miami, but if the Hurricanes fall into the loser’s bracket they could be in serious trouble.
|No. 2 North Carolina|
Season In A Nutshell: After finishing as national runners-up to Oregon State each of the last two years, North Carolina is the only team that has been ranked in the top five from start to finish in 2008.
Who’s Hot: All-Americans Tim Fedroff (.571/.640/.762 with 10 RBIs) and Dustin Ackley (.500/.538/.727 with six RBIs) have been red-hot in the postseason, leading a North Carolina offense that is batting .337 in five postseason games.
|TAR HEELS IN
|7||Tim Fedroff, of||Indians|
|7||Tim Ferderowicz, c||Red Sox|
|13||Rob Wooten, rhp||Brewers|
|21||Tyler Trice, rhp||Rockies|
|36||Adam Warren, rhp||Indians|
|40||Seth Williams, of||Mets|
Who’s Not: Second baseman Kyle Seager has been a force for the Tar Heels all season, leading the ACC in doubles and ranking third in RBIs. But he’s batting just .200 in the postseason, though he still leads the team with eight walks while striking out only once.
Stat That Matters: North Carolina’s pitching staff leads the nation in ERA (2.83), strikeouts per nine innings (10.1) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.47).
Stat That Doesn’t: The Tar Heels rank 103rd in the nation and seventh among CWS teams in home runs per game. But their power numbers were suppressed by playing their home games in the spacious USA Baseball complex in Cary, N.C. UNC leads the nation with 166 doubles, and expect some of those two-baggers to turn into round-trippers at Rosenblatt Stadium.
X-factor: Freshman righthander Matt Harvey has the kind of electric stuff that could make him the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, and he dazzled in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament but has pitched just three innings during North Carolina’s dominant run through regionals and super-regionals. Walks have been his bugaboo at times this year (he has 44 of them in 61 innings), but he has also dominated at times, striking out 74 and going 7-2, 2.52 overall. If he’s on, Harvey gives the Tar Heels a third dynamite starter alongside righties Alex White and Adam Warren.
Made-For-TV Story: Redshirt freshman reliever Colin Bates missed all of 2007 after having thoracic outlet decompression surgery to relieve a blood clot in his shoulder. He emerged as one of UNC’s most reliable righthanded relievers this spring, going 6-1, 2.98 with 53 strikeouts and 17 walks in 51 innings (25 appearances). He often carries part of the rib removed during the surgery in his back pocket when he pitches.
Winnability: 65. North Carolina is the only team in the field that hasn’t lost a weekend series all year. The Tar Heels are filled with Omaha veterans and won’t get rattled by the pressure of the CWS.
|No. 4 Florida State|
Season In A Nutshell: Florida State began the season unranked but solidified itself as one of the nation’s elite teams by midseason and reached Omaha for the first time since 2000. FSU’s only two series losses of the season were to the other two ACC teams in Omaha.
Who’s Hot: Who isn’t? Florida State is batting .384 as a team in the postseason, led by Player of the Year Buster Posey (.412/.545/1.029 with seven homers and 19 RBIs) and table-setters Tyler Holt (.469/.605/.531) and Jason Stidham (.486/.556/.686).
|1||Buster Posey, c||Giants|
|6||Tony Delmonico, ss||Dodgers|
|9||Ryan Strauss, of||White Sox|
|13||Jack Rye, of||Yankees|
|17||Dennis Guinn, 1b||Rangers|
|27||Elih Villanueva, rhp||Marlins|
|35||Matthew Fairel, lhp||Reds|
Who’s Not: No. 2 starter Elih Villanueva has struggled in two postseason appearances, going 1-1, 8.18 in 11 innings. Bullpen stalwart Jimmy Marshall has also been roughed up the last two weekends, posting a 9.00 ERA in nine innings.
Stat That Matters: No team is better at putting runners aboard than the Seminoles, who lead the nation in batting (.354) and walks (424).
Stat That Doesn’t: The Seminoles lost their opener in both regionals and super-regionals. No matter: they scored 99 runs in their other six games (all wins).
X-factor: Freshman lefthander John Gast was drafted in the fifth round out of high school last year even after having Tommy John surgery, but his rehab went smoothly and he worked his way into the bullpen mix in the second half of the season, posting a 2.38 ERA in 12 appearances. Gast is the key lefty in a very righthanded bullpen.
Made-For-TV Story: It’s a family affair in Tallahassee. Buster Posey’s brother Jack also plays for FSU and has delivered a number of big hits off the bench this spring as a freshman. Shortstop Tony Delmonico and his father, assistant coach Rod, both came to FSU from Tennessee after the elder Delmonico was fired as Tennessee’s head coach last summer. And of course, head coach Mike Martin and his son, assistant Mike Martin Jr., are Seminoles through and through. The elder Martin is seeking his first national title in his 13th Omaha appearance.
Winnability: 55. Florida State has more than enough offensive firepower to bludgeon its way to a title, but its defense is a significant concern. FSU’s .960 fielding percentage ranks 171st in the nation and lowest among CWS teams.
|No. 6 Rice|
Season In A Nutshell: The Owls cruised to their third straight Conference USA regular-season title but went a stunning 0-2 in the conference tournament before bouncing back to reach their third straight College World Series.
Who’s Hot: First baseman J.P. Padron finally posted his long-awaited breakout season as a senior, leading Rice with a .362 batting average. He’s been even better in the postseason, batting a team-best .435/.480/.652 with one of the team’s two home runs and six RBIs.
|1s||Bryan Price, rhp||Red Sox|
|7||Cole St.Clair, lhp||Dodgers|
|7||Adam Zornes, c||Padres|
|9||Aaron Luna, of||Cardinals|
|11||Matt Longwell, of||Indians|
|13||Jared Gayhart, rhp||Tigers|
|18||Bobby Bell, rhp||Blue Jays|
|21||Lucas Leutge, lhp||Brewers|
|29||Jonathan Runnels, lhp||Dodgers|
|44||J.P. Padron, 1b||Nationals|
Who’s Not: Notoriously streaky outfielder Aaron Luna has been in a funk during the postseason, batting .154 in five games, though he does lead the team with seven walks. Sophomores Jared Gayhart (.150) and Diego Seastrunk (.136) have struggled even more.
Stat That Matters: The Owls won their first two CWS games each of the last two years before losing two straight each season to fall short of the finals. As a result, their roster is loaded with players who have Omaha experience and will be hungry to finish their season on a stronger note this time around.
Stat That Doesn’t: Rice failed to produce an All-American in 2008 for the first time since 2001.
X-factor: Rice’s bullpen has kept opposing offenses in check, but the Owls must get stronger starting pitching to win in Omaha. Rice has gotten just one start that lasted five innings or more in five postseason games. The onus will be on righthanders Chris Kelley, Mike Ojala and Matt Langwell to return to midseason form.
Made-For-TV Story: Redshirt junior righthander Bobby Bell has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career but has also battled injuries. He had Tommy John surgery last April but made a very quick recovery and was on the mound a year later. He has blossomed into one of the anchors of Rice’s deep bullpen, going 1-0, 0.00 in nine postseason innings and 1-0, 0.92 in 20 innings overall.
Winnability: 60. Though the Owls lack the offensive firepower of most of the teams in the field and can’t match North Carolina’s big guns on the mound, they are a balanced squad with no discernible weakness and loads of Omaha experience.
|No. 7 Louisiana State|
Season In A Nutshell: The Tigers were just 23-16-1 overall (and 6-11-1 in the SEC) on April 20 before ripping off an incredible 23-game winning streak that did not end until super-regionals. LSU finally lost in the first game of the Baton Rouge super-regional against UC Irvine, but the Tigers overcame a five-run deficit in the final two innings of Game Two and destroyed the Anteaters in Game Three to get back to Omaha for the first time since 2004.
Who’s Hot: Sophomore outfielder Blake Dean powered his way to first-team All-America honors during LSU’s second-half surge. He’s batting .434/.524/.896 with 12 homers and 38 RBIs during LSU’s current 25-1 stretch, and he’s batting .463/.551/1.098 with seven homers and 22 RBIs in 10 postseason games. Second baseman Ryan Schimpf (.455) and first baseman Matt Clark (.417 with seven homers) are also on postseason rampages.
|9||Ryan Verdugo, lhp||Giants|
|12||Matt Clark, 1b||Padres|
|17||David Martin, lhp||Twins|
|18||Jared Bradford, rhp||Cardinals|
|20||Michael Hollander, ss||Rangers|
|39||Jordan Brown, rhp||Cubs|
Who’s Not: Outfielder Derek Helenihi is the only LSU regular hitting below .271 in the postseason. He’s batting .114/.273/.200. Righthander Jared Bradford, who has been LSU’s most valuable pitcher over the last two years, has an ERA of 8.00 in nine postseason innings.
Stat That Matters: The Tigers aren’t just a bunch of mashers; they can also pitch. LSU’s 4.02 ERA ranks 20th in the nation and fourth-best of the eight CWS teams.
Stat That Doesn’t: Did we mention LSU won 23 games in a row heading into super-regionals? That’s impressive, but it’s also history.
X-factor: The Tigers need to be wary of the “happy-to-be-there” syndrome. It’s imperative LSU wins its first game to keep its momentum going, which means beating a North Carolina team that has reached the CWS finals each of the last two years. UNC’s three best hitters are lefthanded, so the Tigers have a good shot to keep the Tar Heels in check with lefty Ryan Verdugo on the mound. If Verdugo pitches well and the Tigers start off in the winner’s bracket, there could be no stopping them.
Made-For-TV Story: Freshman Micah Gibbs came out of nowhere to supplant Sean Ochinko as LSU’s starting catcher this spring. Gibbs was forced to sit out his senior year of high school after transferring to another school in Texas so his mother, a nurse, could cut down on her long commute.
Winnability: 50. Louisiana State is the hottest team in the field and the best story in college baseball in 2008. The Tigers are balanced, athletic, powerful and deep. The one thing they are not is experienced in Omaha—those five national titles from 1991-2000 won’t help them now.
|No. 8 Georgia|
In A Nutshell: The Bulldogs tested themselves early this season with tough series losses to Pacific-10 Conference foes, but they quickly got on the right track and ran away with the SEC’s regular-season title. The Bulldogs limped to a 6-9 finish to the regular season and lost their regional opener to Lipscomb, but they battled through the loser’s bracket and took two of three from North Carolina State to reach Omaha for the third time in five years.
Who’s Hot: Outfielder Matt Olson earned Athens regional MVP honors with a torrid weekend and continued to hit in the super-regional. He’s batting .568/.605/.703 with eight RBIs in the postseason to lead a Georgia offense that is hitting .389 as a team in eight games. First-team All-America shortstop Gordon Beckham (.441/.548/.824 with three homers and 15 RBIs) is finishing the season the way he started it—ablaze.
|1||Gordon Beckham, ss||White Sox|
|1||Joshua Fields, rhp||Mariners|
|10||Stephen Dodson, rhp||Rockies|
|11||Nathan Moreau, lhp||Orioles|
|12||Ryan Peisel, 1b||Rockies|
Who’s Not: The Bulldogs lost starting second baseman Michael Demperio to injury down the stretch, and replacement David Thoms has struggled with the bat, hitting .211/.286/.211 in the postseason. Several key UGa. pitchers have also taken their lumps in the NCAA tournament. Lefthander Nathan Moreau (1-1, 6.52), righty Stephen Dodson (0-1, 9.00) and relievers Joshua Fields (0-0, 15.00), Dean Weaver (1-0, 10.38) and Justin Grimm (0-0, 32.40) have all struggled to replicate their regular-season success.
Stat That Matters: For all the talk about how deep and talented Georgia’s pitching staff is, the Bulldogs have the highest overall ERA of the eight Omaha teams (4.82). It’s even worse in the postseason (5.58). Georgia simply must pitch better to have a chance to win the title, because while its offense has been hot, UGa. doesn’t figure to have quite enough offensive firepower to compete in a slug-fest with Miami, Florida State or Stanford.
Stat That Doesn’t: 2008, as in the year. If it’s an even year, it must be a good one for the Bulldogs, who also reached Omaha in 2004 and 2006 but failed to make regionals in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
X-factor: Senior righty Nick Montgomery had spent nearly the entire year in the bullpen but was pressed into duty as a starter in an elimination game against Georgia Tech in regionals. He responded with nine strikeouts in a complete-game, four-hit shutout. He picked up the win in the clincher against N.C. State the next week with six strong innings, and Georgia needs him to keep it going in Omaha, because it’s hard to know what to expect from Moreau or Dodson.
Made-For-TV Story: Beckham, the son of a former South Carolina football player, eschewed gridiron opportunities out of high school in favor of baseball. He’s charismatic on and off the field and prides himself on being a fun player to watch.
Winnability: 40. You’ve got to like Georgia’s experience—it’s an older team with plenty of holdovers from the 2006 College World Series run. You’ve also got to like its hot bats. But Georgia needs to pitch like it did at midseason in order to take home the title.
Season In A Nutshell: Stanford started the year unranked after missing regionals in 2007, but the Cardinal climbed as high as No. 3 in the rankings this year on the strength of 10 straight series wins, including sets against powers Nebraska, Cal State Fullerton, Texas, Arizona State and Oregon State. The Cardinal ran through the loser’s bracket of the Stanford regional and went on the road to sweep Cal State Fullerton in super-regionals.
Who’s Hot: Four Stanford regulars are hitting .375 or better in the postseason, led by junior catcher Jason Castro (.464/.531/.821 with two homers and 13 RBIs in seven games), a third-team All-American and the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. Lefthander Jeremy Bleich has yet to allow an earned run in 10 postseason innings.
|THE CARDINAL IN
|1||Jason Castro, c||Astros|
|1s||Jeremy Bleich, lhp||Yankees|
|3||Cord Phelps, 2b||Indians|
|4||Sean Ratliff, of||Mets|
|12||Austin Yount, 3b||Dodgers|
|13||Erik Davis, rhp||Padres|
|42||Randy Molina, 1b||Mariners|
Who’s Not: First baseman Brent Milleville might be the most important hitter in the Cardinal lineup—a righthanded threat in the middle of a very lefthanded-leaning bunch. But Milleville’s lone big hit in the postseason was a go-ahead two-run homer in the ninth inning of an elimination game against UC Davis. On the whole, he’s batting .167/.219/.267 in the postseason.
Stat That Matters: No Stanford player enters the CWS with double-digit errors. The Cardinal’s .974 fielding percentage is the second-best in the field, and they’re very strong up the middle with center fielder Sean Ratliff, shortstop Jake Schlander, second baseman Cord Phelps and catcher Castro.
Stat That Doesn’t: Stanford, one of two California teams in the CWS, might be the farthest thing from a typical West Coast-style team of the eight teams still standing. The Cardinal ranks 229th in the nation in stolen bases per game, 177th in sacrifice bunts and 260th in hit batsmen.
X-factor: Bleich missed most of the season with a strained elbow but returned as the regular season was winding down. He’s got three quality pitches from the left side and has pitched well in two postseason starts, and the Cardinal must hope he’s back to full strength for good.
Made-For-TV Story: Stanford lost an integral member of its baseball family on Wednesday when longtime baseball office administrative coordinator Kathy Wolff died unexpectedly in her sleep. Wolff worked in the Cardinal baseball office for 21 years and had worked at Stanford since 1976.
Winnability: 50. Stanford played one of the best all-around super-regionals last weekend, excelling in all phases of the game to win a tight series against a good Cal State Fullerton club. The Cardinal have the deepest lineup in the field, with quality righty/lefty platoons at the corner outfield spots and impact players coming off the bench. It will be critical for Stanford to stay out of the loser’s bracket, because pitching depth is not its greatest strength.
Season In A Nutshell: Despite winning the Western Athletic Conference’s regular-season and tournament titles, Fresno State lost 27 games in the regular season and was sent to the deepest, most competitive regional (Long Beach) as a No. 4 seed. Even without injured ace Tanner Scheppers, the Bulldogs became the second No. 4 seed to win a regional since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, then shocked Arizona State to become the first No. 4 seed to reach Omaha.
Who’s Hot: Closer Brandon Burke has been a rock during the postseason. Burke allowed just one hit over 3 2/3 shutout innings of relief in Fresno’s regional-clinching win over San Diego, then threw another 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in Fresno’s first of two wins against Arizona State. The Bulldogs needed him the next day even though he was gassed, and despite allowing two runs he managed to get the final two outs, propelling the Bulldogs to the CWS.
|2||Tanner Scheppers, rhp||Pirates|
|5||Justin Wilson, lhp||Pirates|
|13||Erik Wetzel, 2b||Rockies|
|16||Justin Miller, rhp||Rangers|
|19||Steve Susdorf, of||Phillies|
|27||Clayton Allison, rhp||Dodgers|
Who’s Not: Ace lefty Justin Wilson was pounded in his super-regional start against ASU, allowing eight runs (six earned) on nine hits over 4 1/3 innings. Wilson was much better in regionals against Long Beach State, however, striking out 11 over seven strong innings.
Stat That Matters: Fresno State is the lowest-scoring team in the field (6.9 runs per game, 102nd in the nation) and also has the second-highest ERA (4.69, 60th in the nation).
Stat That Doesn’t: Fresno State strikes out a lot. The Bulldogs have whiffed 523 times in 71 games, led by third baseman Tommy Mendonca’s Division I-high 90. But high strikeout totals come with the territory, as the Bulldogs excel at working counts and drawing walks. They rank 12th in the nation with 304 walks.
X-factor: Wilson can be dominant, or he can be erratic. When he’s on, Wilson is effectively wild; when he’s not, he’s just wild. The Bulldogs need Wilson at his best to have a chance to make some noise in Omaha.
Made-For-TV Story: Shortstop Danny Muno stepped into the starting role as a freshman when veteran Todd Sandell was lost to injury, and he has brought energy to the top of Fresno’s lineup. Muno had to eliminate his brother, San Diego outfielder Kevin Muno, in regionals.
Winnability: 30. As a No. 4 seed in a regional, the Bulldogs haven’t carried the favorite tag at any point in the postseason, and they certainly won’t be wearing that label now. Fresno’s a great program that makes regionals year after year, but the bottom line is this is a Cinderella story, and the clock almost always strikes midnight for Cinderellas. Of course, nobody gave the Bulldogs much of a chance to beat Arizona State, either . . .