10 Under-The-Radar College Baseball Teams To Watch in 2021
At this time each of the last two years, we’ve assembled a list of 10 under-the-radar teams to follow as the season unfolds. On these lists, we’re on the lookout for the next team that could go from outside the Top 25 to hosting a regional in the end, or the darling mid-major program that is cresting in such a way that it could perhaps make a run at winning a regional.
In 2020, we never got to see those potential storylines through, but that will only serve to make the 2021 version of this list even more intriguing. In a year when there is more talent on college baseball rosters than ever, the national landscape is loaded with under-the-radar teams with the potential to make postseason noise come June.
To be considered for this list, a team must be outside the preseason Top 25, with a lean toward teams that are not in a major conference. Here are 10 teams flying under the radar to watch in 2021.
College of Charleston
Expectations were relatively modest for College of Charleston going into last season after it turned over much of the roster coming off of a successful 2019 season, but then the Cougars went out and started the season 12-2. Not surprisingly given the youth of last year’s team, they bring back every lineup regular from a group that hit .291, including a longtime offensive leader in first baseman Ari Sechopoulos, and most of the top pitchers from a staff that ended the season with a 2.13 ERA. Charleston has consistently won since Chad Holbrook arrived in time for the 2018 season, but it is still looking for its first postseason appearance since 2015, when current Clemson coach Monte Lee was at the helm. The 2021 Cougars could get it done.
In a season when they open a new stadium and re-join the Big East, there was always going to be excitement around UConn baseball, but on top of all that, they have a team that could make a deep postseason run. Two sets of brothers, Pat and Chris Winkel and Christian and Kyler Fedko, along with second-year freshman Reggie Crawford, give the Huskies’ lineup depth, while a pitching staff led by Ben Casparius, Joe Simeone and perhaps Crawford as a two-way contributor has a high ceiling. UConn looks to have what it takes to establish itself as the class of the Big East right away, and given the ample postseason experience for most of this roster, it will be ready to compete if it gets a shot in June.
With no postseason appearances since 2013, Kansas State has been as under the radar as a program can be in a power conference like the Big 12, but it's 2021 team is undoubtedly the most talented one to take the field since that team that hosted eight years ago. With Jordan Wicks and Carson Seymour leading the way, the Wildcats have one of the most talented rotations in the country, and third starter Connor McCullough is a premium talent and prospect in his own right. The lineup doesn’t have the star power of the pitching staff, but it’s a veteran group that has been through the tough years of the rebuild in Manhattan and is eager to win big.
Even in just four weeks of play, it was clear that ULM was undergoing an impressive turnaround for a program that not long ago was mostly concerned with trying to avoid finishing in the basement of the Sun Belt Conference. Every major contributor from a lineup that hit .316/.445/.483 is back this season, including Ryan Humeniuk and Andrew Beesley, who both hit over .400 last season. Also back on the mound are top starting pitcher Ty Barnes and last season’s primary closer Landon Longsworth. The 2021 season could be the breakthrough ULM has been looking for since it hired Michael Federico prior to the 2018 season.
Louisiana Tech has been just about as good as a team can possibly be over the last four seasons without breaking through to the postseason, but the 2021 team has a real chance to be the one that gets over the hump. Productive veterans like Parker Bates, Steele Netterville, Alex Ray, Hunter Wells and Taylor Young should make the La Tech lineup one of the most dynamic, if not the most dynamic, in Conference USA. And a pitching staff that had a 3.03 team ERA last season and just one pitcher with an ERA above 4.00 returns key pieces, including all three weekend starters in Jonathan Fincher, Jarret Whorff and Tyler Follis and veteran reliever Kyle Griffen. The Bulldogs have a team ready to open up newly-rebuilt J.C. Love Field in style.
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The Terrapins haven’t finished above .500 in the Big Ten since John Szefc left for Virginia Tech, but the talent on the 2021 roster suggests that this particular team is capable of much more than just getting over .500. In Sean Burke, it has one of the best arms in the Big Ten, and in freshman pitcher Jason Savacool, the gem of the most recent recruiting class, it has a pitcher who could join Burke in that group very soon. Offensively, Maxwell Costes and Randy Bednar are both players who could be Big Ten player of the year come May. The Terps have a lot to prove, but they look ready to do so.
The Cowboys were included on last year’s list because they brought back a veteran team, had high-end talent on the mound led by Will Dion and had been recruiting well. They’re on the list again because all of those things are still true, and in fact, the veteran nature of the team has only been accentuated by the circumstances surrounding the way last season ended. After the 2020 season was canceled, most of McNeese’s most impactful seniors, led by top hitters Jake Dickerson and Nate Fisbeck, very quickly and very publicly committed to coming back. That should once again give the Cowboys a lineup capable of putting up runs against anyone, and with Dion at the front of the rotation, the ceiling is still high for a talent pitching staff that will carry its own weight.
Another team that was also on the 2020 list, Samford checks all the boxes you would want checked in a mid-major team that can make noise nationally. The Bulldogs have a senior-laden team that will give it an experience advantage, even in a season when every team will be more experienced. It’s a group used to winning, as it won 41 games in 2019 and then got off to a 12-4 start in 2020. It’s also a group with pro prospects in its ranks, most notably lefthander Samuel Strickland and second baseman Brooks Carlson. If it ends up in the postseason, Samford has what it takes to make it through the weekend.
San Diego was perhaps on its way to the best season it has enjoyed in a long time in 2020, but didn’t get the chance to see it through. Instead, it will go into 2021 with some momentum, and crucially, the talent to make a postseason run. Carter Rustad, one of the best arms on the West Coast, will lead a rotation that also includes Grady Miller and Jake Miller, with the latter having thrown a no-hitter last season. In a pitching-heavy West Coast Conference, the Toreros’ lineup stands out for its depth, headlined by the catcher/first base platoon of Caleb Ricketts and Shane McGuire, second baseman Thomas Luevano and third baseman Adam Lopez. If USD finishes in 2021 what it started in 2020, it could end up playing June baseball for the first time since Kris Bryant was on campus.
Texas State has garnered some attention this offseason, and deservedly so, for being one of the most experienced teams returning to college baseball. But it’s not just that this team is old; it’s also quite talented and has more than a puncher’s chance to get to the postseason for the first time since 2011. Consider that this is mostly the same group that went 36-20 in 2019, likely coming just a couple of wins short of earning an at-large bid, and got off to a 14-4 start in 2020. The pitching staff had a 2.85 ERA last season, and this group, led by veteran starter Zachary Leigh, should have a realistic chance of doing something similar this season. The offense should also provide plenty of pop thanks to the return of Wesley Faison and John Wuthrich, who combined for 10 homers a season ago. The Bobcats fit the classic mid-major profile of an old team that will be undaunted going into any postseason environment.