They’re still partying in the streets of Baton Rouge after Louisiana State took home its sixth national championship, but it’s never too early to look ahead at some of the teams that could be in Omaha in 2010. Four of the 2009 College World Series participants (LSU, Texas, North Carolina and Cal State Fullerton) graced our Eight for Omaha list a year earlier, and three of those teams appear once again on this year’s list. Keeping in mind that summer draft signings could alter the landscape, here’s a very early prediction for next year’s CWS field, and a look some other teams outside the eight favorites that can harbor Omaha hopes.
Cal State Fullerton
The Titans arrived in Omaha expecting the win the 2009 national title, but they were humbled by a shocking 0-2 showing. They must replace valuable fifth-year seniors Jared Clark, Joe Scott and Dustin Garneau, plus talented junior outfielders Josh Fellhauer and Khris Davis, but the parts that remain are plenty good enough to get back to the CWS and make a run at the 2010 championship. Expect speed merchant Gary Brown to take over for Fellhauer in center field and blossom into a superstar, and two-way talents Tyler Pill and Nick Ramirez should develop into quality regulars. Fullerton might have the nation’s best shortstop in Christian Colon (a second-team All-American as a sophomore this year). The real strength of the team should be a pitching staff that returns its entire talented weekend rotation (righthanders Daniel Renken, Noe Ramirez and Pill) plus its closer (Nick Ramirez).
The Gators won the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division and reached super regionals with a very young pitching staff this spring, and they look poised to break through to Omaha in coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s third season in Gainesville next year. Rising sophomores Nick Maronde, Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Panteliodis should make for one of the nation’s best weekend rotations, and Florida’s staff should be plenty deep. First baseman Preston Tucker, a freshman All-American this spring, gives Florida an elite power hitter in the middle of the lineup, and infielder Josh Adams has hit eight homers in each of the last two years. The outfield could be anchored by Matt den Dekker, a potential five-tool talent with premium defensive skills in center field. Den Dekker had a disappointing junior season and slipped to the 16th round of the draft, and he could be back to boost his stock as a senior. If the Gators can sneak even half of their rich recruiting class to campus, they could be a top contender for the national title.
The Seminoles won the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Atlantic Division title and reached super regionals with a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores in 2009. All-America outfielders Mike McGee and Tyler Holt will be back for their junior years in 2010, and All-America shortstop Stephen Cardullo is likely to return for his senior season, as he wasn’t drafted this June. Rising junior third baseman Stuart Tapley will join that group to form one of the nation’s most formidable quartets. McGee, a two-way star, is also one of three weekend starters who will be back in Tallahassee, joining freshman lefthanders Sean Gilmartin and Brian Busch.
ACC pitcher of the year Deck McGuire, a potential top-10 overall pick in next year’s draft, will anchor a staff rich with power arms. Righties Brandon Cumpton and Kevin Jacobs can both run their fastballs into the mid-90s and flash plus breaking balls; if they can harness their command, hits will be hard to come by for Tech’s opponents. Tech’s deep bullpen will be built around another righthander with serious arm strength, Mark Pope. The Yellow Jackets should hit plenty, too, led by a powerful duo on the left side of the infield (shortstop Derek Dietrich and third baseman Matt Skole, who were freshman All-Americans in 2008 and 2009, respectively) and a premium leadoff man in center fielder Jeff Rowland (a 21st-round pick as a draft-eligible sophomore). First baseman Tony Plagman (a 46th-rounder) has slugged 16 homers each of the last two seasons.
The Tigers have plenty of key pieces to replace (CWS Most Outstanding Player Jared Mitchell, first-team All-American Louis Coleman and team hitting leader D.J. LeMahieu, to name a few near-certain departures), but their foundation remains strong. First and foremost, LSU will have something no staff in the country can match: a proven championship-caliber ace in righty Anthony Ranaudo, who could be the first college player drafted next June. The back of the pitching staff is just about as strong thanks to closer Matty Ott, a first-team All-Freshman choice. The Tigers should be able to fill in the rest of the staff with talented recruits and returnees like righthander Austin Ross, who served as their No. 3 starter as a sophomore this spring. No outfield in America will be able to match LSU’s for athleticism and explosiveness, no matter who plays alongside Mikie Mahtook and Leon Landry. The infield will feature a top-flight defensive shortstop (Austin Nola) and a hitting machine (Tyler Hanover). LSU also will have one of the nation’s top all-around catchers in Micah Gibbs.
Pitching will be a question unless co-aces Ryan Berry (a ninth-round pick) and Mike Ojala (a 34th-rounder) return for their senior seasons and return to full health, but coach Wayne Graham always manages to put together good staffs regardless. The lineup should be exceptional, led by the nation’s best left side of the infield in third baseman Anthony Rendon and shortstop Rick Hague. Expect catcher Diego Seastrunk (a 31st-round pick) and center fielder Steven Sultzbaugh (41st) to return for their senior seasons, making this lineup deep and experienced. The outfield will be one of the nation’s most athletic, with speedsters Chad Mozingo and Michael Fuda flanking Sultzbaugh.
Coach Augie Garrido said after the Longhorns lost to LSU in the CWS Finals that this is the beginning of a new era for Texas in Omaha. On paper, the ‘Horns look like the early favorite for the 2010 national title, as they’ll lose just two drafted players from their national runner-up entry. Righthanders Taylor Jungmann, Chance Ruffin, Cole Green and Brandon Workman were the nation’s best group of starters in 2009, and they should be even better in 2010. Texas will miss gritty senior lefthander Austin Wood, but rising sophomore Austin Dicharry (or Workman) should slide seamlessly into the closer role. The Longhorns will return their most talented hitters in catcher Cameron Rupp, outfielders Kevin Keyes and Connor Rowe and DH Russell Moldenhauer.
The Cavaliers broke through to make their first CWS appearance a year ahead of schedule in 2009 with a team dominated by underclassmen. Senior Andrew Carraway is gone, but just about every other significant contributor will be back. Two-way standout Danny Hultzen and rising junior righty Robert Morey will make for a dynamite one-two punch atop the rotation, and setup man Tyler Wilson could stretch out and join them in the rotation. Closer Kevin Arico and 2008 national ERA leader Matt Packer (a 32nd-round pick) will most likely be back to hold down the bullpen, unless Packer moves back to a starting role. The lineup was deep, powerful, athletic and fast this spring, and it will be all of those things again next year. Virginia returns true impact players in outfielders Jarrett Parker, Dan Grovatt and John Hicks; infielders Steven Proscia, Tyler Cannon, Keith Werman, Phil Gosselin and Hultzen; and catcher Franco Valdes.
Eight More To Follow
The Razorbacks return several pillars of their 2009 Omaha team, including powerful corner infielders Andy Wilkins and Zack Cox and explosive two-way talent Brett Eibner. The key for Arkansas will be the development of talented rising sophomores Drew Smyly, Jarrod McKinney, James McCann and Bo Bigham.
Pitching depth was Clemson’s calling card this spring, and many of its best arms (definitely Casey Harman and Scott Weismann, maybe Chris Dwyer and Graham Stoneburner) will be back in 2010. The lineup will be packed with athletic line-drive hitters, led by Jeff Schaus, Brad Miller, Jason Stolz and Chris Epps.
The Bulldogs brought in the best recruiting class in school history last fall, and rising sophomores Zach Cone, Chase Davidson, Michael Palazzone and Cecil Tanner could become superstars in 2010—an even year, remember. The Bulldogs have been to Omaha in 2004, ’06 and ’08.
The Beavers reaped a recruiting bonanza after winning back-to-back national titles in 2006-’07, but their heralded ’07 recruiting class has thus far failed to live up to expectations, and OSU has gone two years without winning a regional. Assuming Oregon State’s bevy of power arms (freshman All-American Sam Gaviglio, lefties Tanner Robles and Josh Osich plus righties Greg Peavey, Tyler Waldron, Kevin Rhoderick and maybe Jorge Reyes) develop as hoped, the Beavers should have an elite pitching staff in 2010.
Injuries torpedoed the Toreros in 2009, but they could be scary-good if rising juniors Kyle Blair, Sammy Solis and Victor Sanchez come back strong. Matt Thomson (12th round) and A.J. Griffin (34th round) could be back for their senior seasons to give the pitching staff quality depth. The supporting cast, led by West Coast Conference player of the year James Meador and the versatile Zach Walters, is solid.
It looks like flamethrower Sam Dyson (a 10th-round pick this June) will be back as South Carolina’s Friday starter next year, and he should be ready to blossom into one of the nation’s best starters. Jackie Bradley Jr., Nick Ebert and Whit Merrifield lead a Gamecock offense that will mash as usual.
The Hurricanes could have one of the ACC’s best weekend rotations if ace Chris Hernandez returns to his 2008 Freshman of the Year form, lefty Eric Erickson returns strong from Tommy John surgery and power-armed lefty Iden Nazario takes a step forward as a junior. The lineup will be led by rising senior Scott Lawson, junior Yasmani Grandal and sophomores Harold Martinez and Nathan Melendres, all of whom could blossom with another year in Coral Gables.
The Bruins have been one of the nation’s biggest disappointments over the last two seasons, but they could take a step forward next year as their electric youngsters come into their own. The strength of the team will be the uber-talented weekend rotation, which will feature future first-round picks Gerrit Cole (who was already a first-rounder of high school) and Trevor Bauer, as well as bulldog lefty Rob Rasmussen.
Alabama, Arizona State, Coastal Carolina, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.