2012 College Station Regional Preview

College Station Regional

Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park, College Station, Texas (Host: Texas A&M)

No. 1 Texas A&M (42-16, 16-8 in Big 12)

28th appearance (sixth straight), at-large, second place in Big 12

No. 2 Texas Christian (36-19, 18-6 in MWC)

11th appearance (ninth straight), at-large, Mountain West regular-season co-champion

No. 3 Mississippi (35-24, 14-16 in SEC)

17th appearance (last in 2010), at-large, fourth place in SEC West

No. 4 Dayton (31-28, 17-7 in A-10)

First appearance, automatic, Atlantic 10 regular-season co-champion and tournament champion

Texas A&M’s two-headed monster of Michael Wacha (8-1, 2.21) and Ross Stripling (10-3, 2.90) is a big reason the Aggies must be regarded as a heavy favorite in this regional; simply put, Wacha and Stripling form the best one-two pitching punch in college baseball. Wacha stands a strong chance to be among the first 10 players drafted on Monday thanks to the best changeup in the draft, a plus fastball, an improving slider, good command and competitiveness. Stripling’s overhand curveball is one of the best in the country, and he pounds the zone with an 88-91 fastball and solid changeup. The Aggies also have two talented freshmen starters behind them in Rafael Pineda and Daniel Mengden, and the bullpen offers a variety of different looks, from little lefty Estevan Uriegas to hulking sidewinder Kyle Martin. Offensively, the Aggies have the athletic personnel to thrive in their aggressive, high-pressure attack. Seven Aggies have recorded double-digit steals this season, helping the team rank fourth in the nation with 127 stolen bases. The biggest difference maker is junior right fielder Tyler Naquin, who leads the team in hitting (.384), doubles (15), triples (six) and is tied for the team lead with 21 steals. In addition to being one of the nation’s best pure hitters, Naquin has perhaps college baseball’s best outfield arm—though he’s tested so rarely he has just one assist. The primary power threat is senior first baseman Jacob House (.308, 8 HR, 55 RBI).

Texas Christian was decimated by injuries in the first half of the season, but the Horned Frogs found their stride once they got healthy. But the injury bug bit them again late, as one of the best run producers in school history, Jason Coats, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the regular-season finale. The TCU offense has underachieved even with Coats in the lineup, ranking 199th in the nation in average (.268), 119th in scoring (5.5 runs per game) and 124th in homers (26). Coats’ absence puts even more of the offensive burden on the shoulders of junior catcher Josh Elander (.314/.442/.505, 8 HR). Freshman Kevin Cron (.366/.412/.496) has emerged as the offensive force the Frogs were hoping he’d be in the 36 games he has played since getting healthy, and veteran third baseman Jantzen Witte (.331/.388/.444) has also provided some offense and characteristically strong defense despite playing most of the season at less than 100 percent. But it has become clear that TCU’s strength is on the mound, not in the lineup. Freshman submariner Preston Morrison (9-1, 1.73) has been TCU’s most consistent starter all season, and he’ll take the mound in the opener against Ole Miss. Morrison is a strike-throwing machine (64-8 K-BB in 99 IP) with an 80-81 mph fastball, a Frisbee breaking ball and a changeup. Power righthander Andrew Mitchell is TCU’s X-factor; he has the biggest arm on the staff, with a 90-94 mph fastball and devastating power curve, but his command has been erratic. For TCU to win this regional, it must get a strong outing from Mitchell, the likely game two starter.

Mississippi opened its season against TCU in Fort Worth, splitting a pair of games in a weather-shortened series. Bobby Wahl beat Mitchell in that game, and Wahl will get the ball again this time around against the Frogs. With a plus fastball, quality breaking ball and changeup, Wahl (6-3, 2.26) is a true ace, and righthander Mike Mayers (5-3, 3.52) is a solid No. 2 starter. Righty R.J. Hively (5-5, 2.88), whose devastating hard slider has helped him record 89 strikeouts in 75 innings, took the SEC tournament off to rest his fatigued arm, but he is expected to reassume his hybrid moment-of-truth reliever (if needed) or third starter role this weekend. For much of the season, offense was Mississippi’s calling card, but the Rebels struggled to score runs down the stretch and limped into the field of 64 as one of the final at-large teams. The Rebels are a very dangerous No. 3 seed if their bats get going. Senior Matt Snyder (.333/.401/.568, 12 HR, 57 RBI) is a physical presence in the middle of the lineup with a flair for the dramatic, and switch-hitting second baseman Alex Yarbrough (.389/.442/.517) is one of the best pure hitters in college baseball—in addition to being one of the most sure-handed second basemen around (two errors, a .992 fielding percentage). Defense is a strength for the Rebels (fielding .976 as a team), who have quality athletes all around the diamond. In addition to Yarbrough, third baseman Andrew Mistone (.976) and center fielder Auston Bousfield are true defensive standouts.

Dayton won its final six games, including a 3-0 run through the A-10 tournament, to clinch a spot in regionals for the first time in program history. Dayton’s biggest assets are its experience and its team speed. Its top four hitters are all seniors: Brian Blasik (.344), Bobby Glover (.331, 9 HR, 41 RBI), Zach Stewart (.314) and C.J. Gillman (.314, 5 HR, 63 RBI). Blasik (35 steals in 38 tries) is an igniter out of the leadoff spot, pacing a team that leads the nation with 162 stolen bases. Controlling the running game will be crucial in the opener for both Texas A&M freshman catcher Troy Stein and Dayton’s Josh Jeffery or Kuris Duggan, who split the catching duties. The pitching staff is anchored by three more seniors: physical righties Michael Hauschild (7-2, 4.29) and Tim Bury (8-2, 3.14) lead the rotation, while 6-foot-6, 260-pound behemoth Burny Mitchem (6-7, 3.65, 7 SV) is the centerpiece of the bullpen.