Baseball America

Eight For Omaha 2009

They’re still sweeping up the confetti on the streets of Fresno, but it’s time to look ahead to 2009. Plenty can change between now and next June, of course, and these predictions could become obsolete if a few unexpected things happen with the draft. But here’s an early look at some of the teams who could make it to the College World Series in 2009.

Cal State Fullerton

The core of Fullerton’s explosive offense returns in center fielder Josh Fellhauer and freshman All-Americans Christian Colon and Gary Brown. All three play with energy and make things happen on the basepaths, as well as in the field. First baseman Jared Clark should be back as a fifth-year senior to give the middle of the order some pop, and catcher Dustin Garneau will be back as a senior to anchor a defense that should be outstanding. Pitching is more of a question mark, but coach Dave Serrano always maximizes his team’s talent on the mound. Expect big years from righthanders Daniel Renken and Michael Morrison and lefty Jason Dovel.

Louisiana State

The Tigers used the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class to make a run to Omaha in 2008, and that deep class should leave them well-positioned to get back to the CWS in 2009. Standout freshmen D.J. LeMahieu, Micah Gibbs and Leon Landry will only get better, strengthening a lineup that boasts returning stars Blake Dean (a first-team All-American this spring), Ryan Schimpf and Jared Mitchell. LSU will miss the grit of departed seniors Michael Hollander and Jared Bradford, but the players that remain aren’t lacking in that area. Expect young pitchers Anthony Ranaudo and Austin Ross to emerge as stars on the mound in 2009.

Miami

It’s hard to imagine Miami getting back to Omaha after losing stars Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks, Blake Tekotte, Dennis Raben and Carlos Gutierrez, but the Hurricanes should still be loaded without that group of players, all of whom went in the top three rounds of the draft. Freshman of the Year Chris Hernandez and Eric Erickson give Miami a pair of stellar lefthanders atop the rotation, and righty Kyle Bellamy will be back to anchor the bullpen. Between Jason Santana, Alex Koronis, D.J. Swatscheno and Iden Nazario, the ‘Canes should have enough power arms to fill out the rest of the key pitching roles. Miami should still be strong up the middle thanks to premium defenders Yasmani Grandal behind the plate and Ryan Jackson at shortstop. Getting draft-eligible sophomore Mark Sobolewski, a fourth-round pick by the Twins, back for his junior year would be a boon, but Miami is counting even more upon the return of corner bat Adan Severino, a 26th-rounder who could be poised for a monster senior year. Outfielder Dave DiNatale will be back for his senior season, and Joey Terdaslovich could become Miami’s next great slugger.

North Carolina

The Tar Heels have to be the favorites to start 2009 ranked No. 1 in the nation and strong contenders to reach the College World Series for the fourth straight year. Accomplished seniors such as Chad Flack, Rob Wooten and Seth Williams might be gone, but UNC was a sophomore-dominated team in 2008 anyway. Two-time All-American first baseman Dustin Ackley and standout second baseman Kyle Seager will be back to lead the offense, and Tim Fedroff (a seventh-round pick as a draft-eligible sophomore this June) will be back also unless the Indians pony up well-above-slot money to sign him. All-American righthander Alex White was the best pitcher in Omaha last year and will be one of the top candidates for national Player of the Year honors in 2009, along with Ackley. Rising sophomore righty Matt Harvey has just as good an arm as White, and righty Adam Warren should be back for his senior year as well. The Tar Heels could be embarrassingly deep on the mound if recruits such as Tim Melville, Jimmy Messer and Quinton Miller arrive to bolster the pitching staff further.

Oregon State

The Beavers missed the NCAA tournament with a very young team in 2008, but they should leap back to national title contention as the members of their highly touted 2007 recruiting bonanza mature. Oregon State has young, power arms from the right side (Greg Peavey, James Nygren and Kevin Rhoderick) and from the left side (Tanner Robles and Josh Osich), and all should be improved with a year of experience under their belts. Expect second baseman Garrett Nash and first baseman Stephen Hagan to take major steps forward next year, and Ryan Ortiz to continue to blossom into one of the nation’s best catchers. It will be crucial for righthander Jorge Reyes, the 2007 CWS Most Outstanding Player, to put his horrid sophomore season behind him and re-emerge as the veteran ace of the pitching staff.

San Diego

The Toreros couldn’t win a regional—let alone get to Omaha—in three years with lefthanders Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski leading the way, but they’re still positioned to break through without that outstanding duo in 2009. USD should still feature one of the best pitching staffs on the West Coast, led by freshman All-America righthander Kyle Blair and standout closer A.J. Griffin. Lefty Sammy Solis should parlay his solid freshman year into a big sophomore season, righty Matt Thomson has a power arm and could be primed for a huge junior season, and senior righty Matt Couch will be back from Tommy John surgery. The lineup won’t scare anyone, but it has some excellent pieces to build around with freshman All-America third baseman Victor Sanchez; outfielders James Meador and Kevin Muno; and infielders Sean Nicol, Zach Walters and Stephen Kaupang. Kaupang is a key—the hulking first baseman was a disappointment as a freshman but has big-time power potential.

Texas

The Longhorns haven’t been to Omaha since winning the 2005 national title, but they’ve got enough young talent in place to end that drought in 2009. The lineup could get a boost if seventh-round pick Jordan Danks returns for his senior year, but even if he does not, Texas shouldn’t be hurting for offensive firepower. Outfielder/DH Russell Moldenhauer should emerge as one of the best hitters in the Big 12 as a junior next year, and he’ll be surrounded by an exciting group of sophomores in Cameron Rupp, Runey Davis, Bobby Buckner, Tant Shepherd and Kevin Keyes. That group should take a big step forward in 2009. The lineup also has good veteran leadership with catcher/third baseman Preston Clark and infielders Michael Torres, David Hernandez and Brandon Belt. The pitching staff will be anchored by All-American Chance Ruffin, lefthander Riley Boening and righty Brandon Workman, who has a big-time power arm and must take a major step forward.

Texas A&M

The Aggies have fallen to Rice in super-regionals each of the last two years, but they should have enough pitching in 2009 to break through to Omaha. Freshman All-Americans Barret Loux and Brooks Raley could be joined in a star-studded weekend rotation by righthander Alex Wilson, who sat out last season with Tommy John surgery but showed big-time power stuff before transferring from Winthrop. Wilson was a 10th-round pick of the Cubs as a redshirt sophomore and his return would be a huge boon for the Aggies. Clayton Ehlert, Travis Starling, Shane Minks and Scott Migl further bolster a staff that should be one of the nation’s deepest. Much will depend upon whether Wilson, righthander Kyle Thebeau (ninth) and first baseman Luke Anders (16th) sign pro contracts, but it’s entirely possible that all three could return. Anders, in particular, would provide a boost to a lineup that will rely heavily upon Kyle Colligan, Brodie Greene and Kevin Gonzalez.

FOUR MORE TO FOLLOW

Auburn

After failing to qualify for the SEC tournament for the third straight year despite a talented team, Auburn fired coach Tom Slater and hired John Pawlowski away from College of Charleston. Pawlowski inherits a talented team, led by freshman All-Americans Hunter Morris and Brian Fletcher, and the lineup has other potential impact bats in Trent Mummey, David Cunningham, Joseph Sanders and Kevin Patterson. Eighth-round pick Mike Bianucci could be back for his senior year, which would be a huge boost. The pitching staff was carried by freshmen Grant Dayton and Cory Luckie in 2008, and that duo figures to get more help in 2009 from quality young arms like Taylor Thompson, Austin Hubbard and Scott Shuman.

Baylor

The Bears were one of the nation’s biggest disappointments in 2008, as their top-ranked 2006 recruiting class failed to develop as hoped. Next year will be a referendum on that class: Have Dustin Dickerson, Aaron Miller, Raynor Campbell, Shaver Hansen, Shawn Tolleson, Kendal Volz, et al just underachieved, or were they never that good in the first place? Craig Fritsch and Willie Kempf are also capable of bigger things.

Rice

The Owls have made three straight trips to Omaha and will have a chance to make a fourth in 2009. As usual, Rice should have plenty of pitching depth, led by righthanders Ryan Berry and Mike Ojala and lefty Matt Evers. Losing junior center fielder/righthander Jared Gayhart as a 13th-round pick to the Tigers was a significant blow, but the lineup still has a strong core of dynamic players in shortstop Rick Hague, third baseman Diego Seastrunk and outfielder Chad Mozingo. Junior college transfers Brock Holt and Steven Sultzbaugh will help bolster the lineup, and the bulk of the recruiting class will provide reinforcements on the mound.

Vanderbilt

The Commodores were a veteran-laden team in 2008, but they’re chock full of quality young players who will now get a chance to seize regular playing time. Andrew Giobbi held his own in a starting role after an injury sidelined Pedro Alvarez last year, and youngsters Curt Casali, Aaron Westlake, Joey Manning and Steven Liddle should make similar steps forward in 2009. A loaded recruiting class will provide further reinforcements, from slugging outfielder Matt Marquis to electric righty Sonny Gray. The rotation should remain intact, with Mike Minor, Caleb Cotham and Nick Christiani, but some young arms could push for rotation spots as well.

College | #2008 #College World Series #Postseason

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