South Carolina has been doing just fine, thanks.
The Gamecocks are just the fourth team to win consecutive College World Series since the NCAA switched to metal bats in 1974, and they enter this season ranked No. 3 with a legitimate chance to make it three championships in a row.
Their hopes for a three-peat would be even stronger if MLB mirrored the NFL and required players to attend college for three years before turning pro. Instead of worrying about replacing five starters from last year’s team, South Carolina would be celebrating one of the best outfields in college baseball history.
Wil Myers, one of the minors’ top hitting prospects, would be the Gamecocks’ junior left fielder. Mason Williams, a Yankees farmhand rated the New York-Penn League’s top prospect last summer, would be their sophomore center fielder.
And in right? None other than Bryce Harper.
Harper famously left high school after his sophomore season and went No. 1 in the 2010 draft after a season at the JC of Southern Nevada. In our alternate reality, Harper would be a South Carolina freshman. In real life, he committed to the Gamecocks as a backup plan, and his brother Bryan pitched on the 2011 championship club.
Myers and Harper would make our revamped preseason All-America team, which includes two players from the actual team.
Mike Zunino, c, Florida: Zunino rated as just the fourth-best catcher in a loaded Florida high school crop in 2009. His his play with the Gators has pushed him past Steven Baron (Mariners), Austin Maddox (his teammate at Florida) and J.R. Murphy (Yankees) as a prospect.
Jonathan Singleton, 1b, Long Beach State (Astros): Hunter Pence might not be a Phillie if Singleton hadn’t signed for $200,000 as an eighth-rounder in 2009. Singleton could have been the most devastating hitter in 49ers history, with more power than Jason Giambi had in college.
Cory Spangenberg, 2b, Miami (Padres): Would Spangenberg have transferred from Virginia Military to Indian River (Fla.) JC last year if it wouldn’t have made him eligible for the 2010 draft? The move paid off when Spangenberg went 10th overall last June.
Nolan Arenado, 3b, Arizona State (Rockies): The minor league RBI leader (122) and Arizona Fall League MVP in 2011, Arenado wouldn’t be the top prospect on the Sun Devils. That still would be shortstop Deven Marrero, who’d be relegated to the All-America second team by . . .
Manny Machado, ss, Florida International (Orioles): The No. 3 overall pick in 2010, Machado would have become the highest Panthers draft choice ever, surpassing Josh Banks (50th overall, 2003), and made a run at besting Mike Lowell as the top player in the program’s history.
Bryce Harper, of, South Carolina (Nationals): Harper may make his major league debut before his first college season would have ended. It’s scary to imagine the damage he could have wrought if the NCAA hadn’t toned the bats down.
Mike Trout, of, East Carolina (Angels): Baseball America’s 2011 Minor League Player of the Year, Trout would have been a good bet to become the earliest draft pick (Pat Watkins, 32nd overall, 1993) and best player (Chad Tracy) ever produced by the Pirates.
Christian Yelich, of, Miami (Marlins): With the additions of Spangenberg, Yelich, third baseman Nick Castellanos (Tigers) and righthander A.J. Cole (Athletics), the Hurricanes would shoot several spots up our preseason Top 25 from their current No. 18 ranking.
Wil Myers, dh, South Carolina (Royals): Myers began his pro career as a catcher before moving in 2011, and the Gamecocks may have deployed him behind the plate as well.
Brian Johnson, ut, Florida: Johnson joins Gators teammate Zunino as the only true collegians on this what-might-have-been team. A majority of scouts prefer Johnson as a polished lefthanded pitcher, and his lefty power is also attractive.
Dylan Bundy, rhp, Texas (Orioles): Besides Harper, Bundy would be the only other freshman on this squad. He’d be the cherry on top of a ridiculous Longhorns pitching recruiting class that includes John Curtiss, Parker French, Ricky Jacquez and Dillon Peters.
Shelby Miller, rhp, Texas A&M (Cardinals): The Aggies would have the nation’s best weekend rotation with Miller, projected first-rounder Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling, who’d be relegated to Sunday duty after tying for the NCAA Division I lead with 14 victories last spring.
Tyler Skaggs, lhp, Cal State Fullerton (Diamondbacks): The Titans’ projected weekend rotation combined for just four college victories in 2011. Skaggs, meanwhile, was excelling in Double-A a year after the Angels used him as the final piece in a trade package for Dan Haren.
Jameson Taillon, rhp, Rice (Pirates): Selected in between Harper and Machado in 2010, Taillon would team with Austin Kubitza and John Simms to give the Owls three possible first-round pitchers for the 2013 draft.
Jacob Turner, rhp, North Carolina (Tigers): Trout and Turner are the only players on this team who already have appeared in the big leagues. Like Rick Porcello before him, Turner picked the Tigers over the Tar Heels and made it to the majors in his second year as a pro.