Dick Howser Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla. (Host: Florida State)
No. 1 Florida State (44-15, 20-10 in ACC)
51st appearance (36th straight), at-large, ACC Atlantic Division champion, No. 7 national seed
Top 500 Prospects: C Stephen McGee (No. 392), OF Marcus Davis (No. 409)
No. 2 Alabama (34-26, 14-15 in SEC)
20th appearance (last in 2011), at-large, fifth place in SEC West
No. 3 Troy (40-18, 20-10 in Sun Belt)
Sixth appearance (last in 2011), at-large, Sun Belt Conference regular-season co-champion
No. 4 Savannah State (33-21, 17-7 in MEAC)
First appearance, automatic, Mid-Eastern Atlantic Conference tournament champion
Top 500 Prospects: RHP Kyle McGowin (No. 211)
Despite losing its entire starting infield, its first-team All-America center fielder, its first-team All-America closer and its No. 2 starter from last year’s Omaha team to the draft or injuries, Florida State won the ACC’s Atlantic Division for the seventh straight year, earning it a national seed despite its 0-3 showing in the ACC tournament. Some things remain constant for FSU from year to year, like its relentlessly patient offensive approach--the Seminoles rank third in the nation with 320 walks, eighth with a .406 OBP and sixth with 132 doubles. Freshman D.J. Stewart (.348/.451/.534, 4 HR, 51 RBI) and junior-college transfer Marcus Davis (.298/.376/.500, 9 HR, 55 RBI) stepped into the heart of the order and have provided much-needed power. Catcher Stephen McGee (.296/.458/.522, 46 RBI) also ramped up his power production, smacking eight home runs as a senior after hitting none over his first three collegiate seasons. Florida State is a good offensive team that wears out the gaps and delivers competitive at-bats up and down the lineup, but the Seminoles aren’t an offensive juggernaut like they were last year. They have reinvented themselves as a pitching-oriented team, and Luke Weaver (6-2, 2.13), Brandon Leibrandt (9-4, 3.21) and Scott Sitz (9-1, 1.73) comprise one of the nation’s best rotations. Weaver gives FSU the power-armed ace it hasn’t had in years, pitching at 92 and topping out at 96 with a swing-and-miss slider. Leibrandt is a polished lefthander with outstanding feel for pitching, and Sitz is a proven big-game bulldog who attacks hitters with his fringy fastball and quality breaking ball. Sitz will start the Friday opener. The deep bullpen is anchored by sinkerballer Robby Coles (4-2, 1.60, 9 SV), submariner Gage Smith (4-1, 2.39), lefthander Bryant Holtmann (3-0, 4.15) and electric two-way and two-sport talent Jameis Winston (1-2, 2.88), who can run his fastball into the mid-90s. If Florida State has a weakness, it is the infield defense, as third baseman Jose Brizuela (.856 fielding percentage) has 21 errors, and Giovanny Alfonzo (.946) is a solid shortstop but lacks the arm strength and experience of injured Justin Gonzalez.
Alabama finished in the SEC West baseman last year (9-21), but reloaded with the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class last fall, and talented freshmen have helped the Tide put together a solid SEC season this year. The crown jewel of that class, shortstop Mikey White (.286/.363/.373), has recovered from a slow start to lead the Tide in hitting while playing very steady defense at shortstop (.967 fielding percentage). Fellow freshman second baseman Kyle Overstreet (.983 fielding percentage) teams with White to form a strong double-play tandem, while freshman center fielder Georgie Salem (.272/.346/.303, 9 SB) has provided a spark near the top of the lineup with his ability to work counts and his speed. Another freshman, righthander Ray Castillo (2-2, 2.61, 11 SV), brings power stuff to the back of the bullpen, with an 88-93 fastball that has bumped 95, a good changeup and an inconsistent downer curveball that can be a weapon when it’s on. The key to Alabama’s success has been its pitching. Senior righthander Charley Sullivan (5-6, 3.56) is a classic strike-pumping, grinding bulldog with an 88-91 mph fastball and the ability to mix three pitches. Sophomore righthander Spencer Turnbull (4-3, 3.75) struggled early in the year but came on in the second half, locating his 90-94 mph fastball and developing slider better. The Tide is solid but unspectacular on the mound, very good defensively, and below-average offensively, hitting just .257 (229th in the nation) and scoring just 5.2 runs per game (144th).
Troy is the most offensive team in this regional, ranking in the nation’s top 10 in scoring (7.3 runs per game, ninth in the nation), doubles (144, third) and slugging percentage (.463, ninth). The Trojans are also 12th in the country with 52 home runs. Logan Pierce (.373/.480/.591, 8 HR, 62 RBI), the son of Troy coach Bobby Pierce, is a dangerous power hitter who is also an extremely tough out, as evidenced by his 45-19 walk-strikeout mark. Danny Collins (.363/.455/.646, 11 HR, 67 RBI) has exceptional hand-eye coordination and huge strength in his righthanded swing. And Troy has another very physical presence hitting behind them in lefthanded slugger Trae Santos (.292/.372/.593, 16 HR, 66 RBI), who has made a huge impact after transferring in from the junior-college ranks. Troy’s most improved player from a year ago is junior shortstop Tyler Vaughn (.339/.411/.426), an ideal leadoff man with 24 walks and nine strikeouts. Despite his below-average arm, Vaughn is a rock-solid defensive shortstop (.981 fielding percentage), anchoring a defense that ranks sixth in the nation with a .980 fielding percentage. Center fielder Ali Knowles also brings plus defense and a strong arm to center field. But the Trojans really struggle to control opponents’ running games, allowing 75 percent of basestealers to succeed. The Trojans lack overpowering arms, but they are well-stocked in the rotation and the bullpen with strike-throwers who mix speeds and locations. The staff is good enough to give Troy a chance to win this regional thanks to its offensive firepower and defensive prowess.
Savannah State is one of college baseball’s best turnaround stories this year. The Tigers went 19-34 overall last year and 11-13 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, in its first year in the conference. But Savannah State went 33-21 overall this year and 17-7 in the MEAC to tie Bethune-Cookman for the Southern Division title. B-CU, which had won eight straight MEAC titles, rallied through the loser’s bracket to face Savannah State in the MEAC tournament finals, where the Wildcats ran into a buzzsaw--junior righthander Kyle McGowin (12-1, 1.33), the league’s best prospect and pitcher. McGowin, who works in the 89-93 mph range, touches 95 and flashes a plus slider, allowed just one run in a complete game in Savannah State’s tournament opener against Maryland-Eastern Shore, then bounced back with a masterpiece in Sunday’s title game. He threw 144 pitches over 10 shutout innings, scattering seven hits and two walks while striking out 11. McGowin is a tough assignment for Florida State in the opener, and the Tigers will count on cutter specialist Rexford Davis (6-2, 4.50) and savvy senior righty Jack May (5-3, 4.31) in subsequent games. Savannah State’s offense is predicated on speed, as its 127 stolen bases rank sixth in the nation. Darien Campbell (24 steals in 25 tries) and Antonio Scott (23-for-26) are the team’s primary threats on the basepaths, but six Tigers have recorded double-digit steals. Savannah’s best run producers are veterans Joe McCrary (.296/.341/.393, 32 RBI, 12 2B) and Todd Hagen (.320/.408/.390, 26 RBI, 12 2B), but its best pure hitter might be athletic freshman outfielder Mendez Elder (.307/.379/.401, 23 RBI).