So you don’t check in on college baseball until you hear the word “Omaha”? Well, you’ve missed a lot of great action so far, but we’re here to bring you up to speed. You already have our complete College World Series preview to find out the lowdown on all eight teams (not to mention the top 10 stories of the year), and now we’ll give you a closer look at a star player from each squad—our picks to click, if you will—who will be a key to his team’s success in Omaha and should go on to major league success as well.
First up are the four teams in bracket one, which opens the CWS with two games on Saturday:
Buster Posey, Jr., C
During his three years as a Seminole, Posey has taken his place among the all-time greats in a program that has produced standout players for the last 25 years. After a standout high school career as a two-way player, Posey began his college career as a shortstop, starting all 65 games as a freshman and batting .346 in 2006. Florida State coach Mike Martin then decided Posey’s exceptional athleticism could work behind the plate, so he moved to catcher in 2007. Despite never playing the position before, Posey took to it well, committing just three errors, throwing out 41 percent of basestealers, and leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in fewest stolen bases attempted under his watch. He continued to excel with the bat, batting .382 and finishing among the ACC leaders in most offensive categories, and made first-team all-ACC and second-team BA All-American.
Posey has capped his career with an amazing 2008 season, adding relief pitching to his range of duties—eight scoreless appearances and six saves—continuing his strong defense and performing even better with the bat. He was BA’s College Player of the Year as well as the ACC player of the year, and could win the college baseball triple crown if he maintains his home run lead through the College World Series. Headed into Omaha, he was batting .460 with 26 home runs and 92 RBIs. His big jump in power production from 2007 (when he hit just three home runs) caused his draft stock to surge, and he was selected fifth overall by the Giants. Before Posey starts his professional career, however, he will lead Florida State into its first CWS action since 2000. He hit his 26th homer in Tallahassee in the super regional finale against Wichita State, but bringing the school its first national championship would make him a Seminoles folk hero.
Jason Castro, Jr., C
Castro symbolizes a resurgent Stanford program, as he has delivered on his promise this season and the Cardinal return to Omaha for the first time since 2003. Castro was a touted high school player in Northern California, but after batting .283 as a freshman he slumped to .167 in an injury-plagued sophomore season. He got himself back on track in the Cape Cod League last summer, batting .341 to earn all-star recognition.
Castro carried his strong summer into this season, posting a .379/.431/.617 line heading into the College World Series and leading the Cardinal in most offensive categories. He also looked good behind the plate, throwing out 41 percent of basestealers and starting 60 games at the position after splitting time between catcher, first base and DH in his first two years. In Stanford’s regional championship game against Pepperdine, Castro looped a two-RBI double that keyed a six-run fifth inning in a 9-7 win, and he continued to provide timely offense in the super regional against Cal State Fullerton. He launched his second home run of the postseason in a 4-3 victory in the first game, then hit a three-run double to break a 5-5 tie in the second game to clinch the trip to Omaha.
Castro’s strong season—as well as baseball’s continual search for quality catchers—catapulted him all the way to the 10th overall pick in the draft, where the Astros took him. He was the second catcher taken, after Posey, and interestingly, he and Posey were teammates on the Cape last summer, with Posey catching and Castro playing first base or a corner outfield spot. The nation’s top two catchers will meet again on Saturday, this time as opponents, when Stanford takes on Florida State in the CWS opener.
Gordon Beckham, Jr., SS
Beckham has been a centerpiece from the time he stepped on campus at Georgia, starting all 70 games as a freshman, hitting in the middle of the lineup and grabbing the shortstop spot on BA’s Freshman All-America Team after batting .280 with 12 home runs. He led the team with 19 doubles, 13 home runs, 51 RBIs and 16 stolen bases as a sophomore, and has posted even better numbers in his All-America junior season. He’s among the national leaders in several offensive categories and is tied for the national home run lead with 26 after hitting two homers—including one in his final at-bat—in a memorable farewell to Athens in Georgia’s super regional win over North Carolina State. This was no shock after he led the Cape Cod League with nine home runs last summer.
As expected, opposing pitchers have had trouble keeping Beckham’s bat under wraps in this year’s NCAA tournament. Against N.C. State’s deep pitching staff, Beckham went 5-for-10 (with three walks and two HBPs) and had seven RBIs in three games, boosting his season line to .401/.513/.802. It’s no wonder the White Sox were delighted when Beckham was available with the eighth overall pick in the June draft, and he should be on the fast track to the big leagues. His only real question mark is whether his glove will allow him to stay at shortstop in the big leagues.
Georgia is making its fourth College World Series appearance in the last eight years, and Beckham will try to lead the school to its first national title since 1990, a process that begins Saturday when the Bulldogs take on No. 1 national seed Miami.
Yonder Alonso, Jr, 1B
It takes a special hitter to stand out in a lineup that features as much pro potential as Miami’s does, but that’s exactly what Alonso has done. Like Beckham, Alonso also played in the College World Series as a freshman and started every game for his team (at first base). He led the Hurricanes in homers (10) and RBIs (69), just the second Hurricane to do so after current Brewers slugger Ryan Braun did it in 2004. Alonso raised his average from .295 to .376 as a sophomore, added a .519 on-base percentage and .705 slugging percentage and again led the club (as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference) in home runs (18) and RBIs (74), totals that placed him at the very top of the ACC. That was good enough to make him a second-team BA All-American, and he added to his resume by batting .338 in the Cape Cod League last summer and leading the league with a .468 OBP.
Scouts rave about Alonso’s professional approach at the plate, and the Reds took him with the No. 7 overall selection in the draft with the idea that he can develop into a middle-of-the-order hitter. He has a great understanding of the strike zone, walking more than twice as much as he has struck out this season and compiling a .535 OBP. He added 23 home runs and 71 RBIs for a Miami squad that lost just nine games all season, including two in the super regional against Arizona. In the decisive third game of the series with the Wildcats, Alonso homered in the first inning to jumpstart the offense and carry the Hurricanes to their fifth College World Series appearance in eight years. Miami will depend on its offense, with Alonso’s bat as the centerpiece, as it tries to capture its first national championship since 2001.