It starts in January with our voluminous College Preview issue. It continues through week after week of Top 25 Rankings, chats, podcast, 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 points to.
You’ll see our main CWS Preview with scouting reports on the site tomorrow. But we can’t wait until then to write about it. So here’s a quick look at each of the eight CWS teams as they get ready to play.
2007 Draft Picks: Six, from 6-foot-7 closer Trystan Magnuson (supplemental first round, Blue Jays) to 5-foot-3 shortstop Chris Cates (38th, Twins).
Who’s Hot: The team’s hitting .362 in eight tournament games, so pretty much everybody. Redshirt freshman third baseman Chris Dominguez has five homers in the NCAA tournament while batting .333. DH Jorge Castillo has a team-hit 17 RBIs while hitting .400/.432/.686. Middle reliever Kyle Hollander has been lights out (11 SO/9 IP).
Who’s Not: Louisville’s pitching carried it in the regular season but not as much in the postseason. Swingmen James Belanger (6.14 ERA, 7 1/3 IP), Colby Wark (7.11 ERA in 6 1/3 IP) and Skylar Meade (7.50 ERA in 6 IP) need to be better if called upon in Omaha.
Stat That Matters: Louisville controls the running game. Leadoff man Boomer Whiting leads the nation with 73 stolen bases in 86 attempts and the team has 153 thefts. Plus, it can shut down opposing running games–catcher Derrick Alfonso & Co. have thrown out 34 of 68 baserunners, a cool 50 percent.
Stat That Doesn’t: Closer Trystan Magnuson went 56th overall in the draft, the highest spot ever for a Louisville player.
Best CWS Moment: This is it, though coaches Dan McDonnell and assistants Chris Lemonis and Roger Williams all have been to Omaha as players or coaches in the past.
Made-For-TV Story: Prepare for myriad pieces on Cates, who rivals San Jose State’s second baseman, Brian Stream (listed at 5-foot-5), for shortest CWS player in recent memory.
Winnability: 30 (graded on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). This is a good team, but it’s fighting almost 60 years of history. More likely, the Cardinals will have a stay like those of past Cinderella teams such as San Jose State (2000) and Southwest Missouri State (2003).
2007 Draft Picks: 14, more than any other team and tied for the most in draft history from one college.
Who’s Hot: Rice hasn’t hit in the postseason (.275/.378/.419, just 22 runs in five games), but it’s pitched very well. Reliever Bobby Bramhall has 11 strikeouts and one hit allowed in 6 2/3 innings, while Matt Langwell is 2-0, 0.68 in two starts with 15 strikeouts in 13 1/3 frames.
Who’s Not: Second baseman Aaron Luna has contributed significantly to the team’s offensive torpor, with one hit in 21 at-bats (.048/.130/.048).
Stat That Matters: Owls pitchers have 48 strikeouts in 46 postseason innings and are holding opponents to a .190 average.
Stat That Doesn’t: Rice has won 27 of its last 28 games, but that means squat now. The Owls need five more wins.
Best CWS Moment: While winning the championship series against Stanford in 2003 was obviously nice, Rice fans probably liked beating Texas twice in route to the title more.
Made-For-TV Story: Bramhall had to have a second procedure to correct a botched Lasik surgery that left him with deteriorating vision. Catcher Danny Lehamann, who’s hitting a team-best .474 in NCAA tournament play, is the nephew of reality TV star “Dog The Bounty Hunter”.
Winnability: 65. The Owls may not be 100 percent healthy, but they have all the ingredients for a title run and enter the CWS ranked first.
2007 Draft Picks: Six, with four in the first seven rounds, but juniors Seth Williams and Chad Flack were not among the players picked.
Who’s Hot: Reliever Rob Wooten has dominated in the NCAA tournament–3-0 with 14 strikeouts in 9 2/3 scoreless innings. Outfielder Seth Williams leads a deep lineup at .444 (8 for 18) and has added six walks for a .583 OBP.
Who’s Not: Freshmen Tim Fedroff (.259/.300/.333), Dustin Ackley (.182/.367/.182) and Alex White (0-1, 12.96) have had a rude welcome to postseason play.
Stat That Matters: Starting pitchers have logged just 30 of North Carolina’s 53 innings pitched in the postseason. Righties White and Luke Putkonen must go deeper and pitcher better for the Tar Heels to repeat last year’s run to the championship series.
Stat That Doesn’t: UNC has only one home run in the postseason. It was a game-winner by Chad Flack in the super-regional finale against South Carolina.
Best CWS Moment: Senior Robert Woodard’s complete-game three-hit shutout of Clemson was the best individual performance in North Carolina’s five CWS trips.
Made-For-TV Story: Assistant coach Chad Holbrook has a son, Reece, whose battle with leukemia has spawned a charity golf tournament and a slew of shaved heads on the Tar Heels roster (though many have grown their hair back).
Winnability: 65. North Carolina has everything in place–hitting, bullpen, ace starting pitcher, savvy, experience. But unlike last year, starting pitching is the biggest question mark.
2007 Draft Picks: Eight, four of them in the first seven rounds.
Who’s Hot: Third baseman C.J. Retherford made just five starts in the regular season but has hit three homers and has eight RBIs in 10 postseason at-bats. Catcher/DH Kiel Roling is the team’s hottest regular at 7-for-15 in the postseason with a pair of homers.
Who’s Not: Sophomore outfielder Ike Davis has a team-worst six strikeouts and is just 4-for-19 in the NCAA tournament.
Stat That Matters: Arizona State is hitting .350/.436/.537 as a team.
Stat That Doesn’t: Just 10 Sun Devils have pitched at all this season. Most teams don’t like to use more than six or seven pitchers in Omaha anyway.
Best CWS Moment: Any one of those five championships will do, but the last one came in 1981. In recent vintage, how about Jeff Larish slamming three homers to beat Nebraska in 2005?
Made-For-TV Story: Outfielder Mike Jones plays on the ASU football team; outfielder Matt Spencer was in Omaha last year playing for North Carolina.
Winnability: 70. It’s a West Coast party, with four West teams in the CWS field, and Arizona State is the best of the West.
2007 Draft Picks: Eight, from Eddie Kunz and Mitch Canham in the supplemental first round to outfielder Chris Hopkins in the 44th round.
Who’s Hot: Shortstop Darwin Barney has found his stroke in the postseason (team-best .345, six RBIs). The entire pitching staff has thrown well, particularly versatile lefthander Joe Paterson (3-0, 0.64, one save).
Who’s Not: Redshirt junior catcher Mitch Canham still is the team’s leader but has not hit down the stretch, including a 4-for-28 postseason.
Stat That Matters: Oregon State went 10-14 in the Pac-10 and an amazing 34-4 against non-Pac-10 teams. Problem is, its bracket includes Pac-10 champ Arizona State and two other West teams in UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton.
Stat That Doesn’t: Oregon State has allowed just three home runs in 67 postseason innings. But Rosenblatt Stadium plays a lot smaller than Virginia’s Davenport Stadium or OSU’s Coleman Field.
Best CWS Moment: Anything involving Kevin Gunderson . . .
Made-For-TV Story: Canham’s story has several angles, from his mother’s death in his freshman season to his rap career.
Winnability: 50. The Beavers have the pitching depth and the heart. Now they have to hit.
2007 Draft Picks: Four–catcher Ed Easley went 61st overall, to the Diamondbacks in the supplemental round, but righthander Josh Johnson went next in the 16th round (Rangers).
Who’s Hot: Mitch Moreland has his power schwerve going, with four homers and two doubles contributing to a .810 slugging percentage in NCAA tournament play. He’s also gotten five outs without giving up a baserunner on the mound. Closer Aaron Weatherford also is dealing with 10 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings, giving up only one hit.
Who’s Not: Junior catcher Edward Easley led the team in home runs (12) and RBIs (63) but doesn’t have an extra-base hit in the postseason (.273/.304/.273).
Stat That Matters: Eight, as in head coach Ron Polk’s eight CWS trips. Six have come with the Bulldogs, and one apiece at Georgia Southern (1973) and Georgia (2001).
Stat That Doesn’t: But it’s interesting . . . Mississippi State’s last four games were against Atlantic Coast Conference teams Florida State and Clemson, all wins, and the Bulldogs open with the ACC’s tournament champ, North Carolina.
Best CWS Moment: In 1985, the Bulldogs’ greatest team–which featured future big leaguers such as Jeff Brantley, Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro and Bobby Thigpen–won its first two games in Omaha, beating Oklahoma State and Arkansas, before being eliminated in losses to Texas and eventual national champion Miami. That’s still the best showing in Mississippi State’s seven previous CWS trips.
Made-For-TV Story: Ron Polk’s Don Quixote-like quest to free college baseball from the shackles of NCAA domination.
Winnability: 30. Technically, this is the same team that lost eight of its last 10 games of the regular season. The Bulldogs’ pitching has to be considered the weakest in the field with its 4.76 ERA.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
2007 Draft Picks: 10, led by supplemental first-rounder Wes Roemer.
Who’s Hot: You mean besides the whole team? How about Clark Hardman–the redshirt junior, the team’s best hitter all year anyway, is a scalding 12-for-23 (.522) in the postseason with two homers. Senior third baseman Evan McArthur found the right time to get going as well, hitting .450 with a homer.
Who’s Not: Cleanup man Nick Mahin’s hitting just .222 in the tournament but has contributed a team-high five walks (.391 OBP). Shortstop Joe Scott is out there for his glove and is hitting like it (1-for-17, .053).
Stat That Matters: On the mound, the Titans have a 1.80 ERA on the postseason.
Stat That Doesn’t: The Titans’ 23 losses are the most in the CWS field.
Best CWS Moment: So many to choose from, but Mark Kotsay’s tour de force in 1995 stands out. In the title game, Kotsay homered twice to drive in Fullertons’ first five runs against Southern California, then got the last five outs on the mound to preserve an 11-5 victory.
Made-For-TV Story: Injuries have devastated Fullerton’s infield, from McArthur (wrist), first baseman Matt Vasquez (wrist) to second baseman Joel Weeks (broken ankle). Looks like Fullerton has recovered.
Winnability: 40. The Titans clearly had some pixie dust sprinkled on them this postseason, but Oregon State, UC Irvine and Arizona State have some mojo of their own, as well as more talent.
2007 Draft Picks: Eight, most in program history.
Who’s Hot: Scott Gorgen is like those players back in the day on NBA Jams–he’s on fire. He’s given up one run in 19 innings in the postseason, and his last two regular-season starts were both complete-game shutouts as well–that’s one run in 37 innings. Fellow starter Wes Etheridge has yet to allow an earned run in 17 postseason frames.
Who’s Not: Shortstop Ben Orloff (2-for-14, .143) and catcher Aaron Lowenstein (3-for-17, .176) are doing more to help with their gloves than their bats.
Stat That Matters: Together, Etheridge and Gorgen have thrown 36 of Irvine’s 45 postseason innings.
Stat That Doesn’t: Irvine hasn’t hit a home run yet in the postseason.
Best CWS Moment: First trip, but assistant coach Dave Serrano won the title in ’04 with Fullerton. The Anteaters won back-to-back D-II titles with Gary Adams at the helm in 1973-74.
Made-For-TV Story: The Anteaters’ team is chock full of loose personalities. If you haven’t seen any of UC Irvine’s pregame skits, check out one of them, part of CSTV’s “Goin’ Yard” series (hosted by former BA staffer Matt Meyers), at the school’s website on the baseball home page.
Winnability: 50. Irvine can beat anyone when Gorgen and Etheridge are on. How do they react when they aren’t? It’s the first-time Omaha visitor with a better chance to make noise than Louisville, however.