2018 SEC Preview

 (Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos/Getty Images)

Team to beat: Florida.

The Gators have some key pieces to replace from last year’s national championship team, including College World Series Most Outstanding Player Alex Faedo, but they enter the year as the top-ranked team in the country and a roster brimming with talent. Righthanders Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Tyler Dyson form what might again be the best rotation in the country and all project to be drafted in the first round over the next two years. All-American closer Michael Byrne returns after leading the country with 19 saves last season, and the Gators’ pitching staff should be even deeper this year than it was in 2017. Offensively, Florida returns outfielder Nelson Maldonado, its leading hitter, and catcher J.J. Schwarz, it’s leading power hitter. The Gators also brought in the No. 2 ranked recruiting class in the country, headlined by shortstop Brady McConnell, who has the tools to immediately fill the hole left by Dalton Guthrie moving on to pro ball. Repeating as champions is never easy, but the Gators have all the pieces necessary to claim another title.

Player of the Year: Tristan Pompey, OF, Kentucky.

Pompey earned All-America honors last season as a sophomore after hitting .361/.464/.541 with 10 home runs and nine stolen bases. The Wildcats have to replace some key pieces of their lineup, including leading hitter Evan White, but Pompey is ready to take on a larger role. Pompey is one of the toolsiest players in the conference and his play will be critical as the Wildcats look to make their first ever CWS appearance.

Pitcher of the Year: Brady Singer, RHP, Florida.

Singer will take the mantle this spring from Faedo as Florida’s ace and enters the year as the top ranked prospect in the 2018 draft class. The junior is coming off an impressive season that saw him go 9-5, 3.21 with 129 strikeouts in 126 innings and finish the year with a sensational performance in the CWS. Singer will face stiff competition from the conference’s many other elite pitchers, but he has the stuff, experience and demeanor to dominate this spring.

Freshman of the Year: Daniel Cabrera, OF/LHP, Louisiana State.

Cabrera ranked No. 82 on last year’s BA500 and looks like the next great LSU outfielder. His pure hitting ability, especially his barrel control and pitch recognition, should help him make a smooth transition to the college ranks. He also can help LSU as a pitcher, likely providing the Tigers with another lefthander out of the bullpen.

Top 25 Teams: Florida (1), Arkansas (4), Kentucky (8), Texas A&M (10), Mississippi (16), Louisiana State (17), Vanderbilt (18), Mississippi State (23).

Other Projected Regional Team

Auburn: The Tigers were one of last season’s biggest surprises, peaking at No. 4 in the Top 25 in coach Butch Thompson’s second season on The Plains. Auburn has some key pieces to replace – veteran righthander Keegan Thompson and center fielder Jonah Todd, the Tigers’ leading hitter, both moved on to pro ball – but it remains in a strong position entering the season. The Tigers have an impressive pitching staff fronted by All-American righthander Casey Mize, who is in contention to be the first overall draft pick in June. Righthander Davis Daniel was inconsistent as a freshman, but now has a year’s worth of experience as a starter in the SEC and should take a step forward. The lineup is experienced with infielders Josh Anthony, Will Holland and Luke Jarvis all returning. And Auburn added the sixth-ranked recruiting class in the country, headlined by righthander/outfielder Tanner Burns, the highest ranked prep player to get to campus this year. If he and the other newcomers make quick adjustments to college, Auburn will again be a force in the SEC West.

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