2019 College Baseball Watch Lists
College baseball is now more than a month into the season, as the spring continues to fly by. With the season now more than a third over, Baseball America is taking stock of the season so far. Here is an early look at the Player and Freshman of the Year races, five surprise teams and five teams who have questions to answer in the second half.
Player of the Year Watch List
Hunter Bishop, OF, Arizona State — Spencer Torkelson is the more recognizable name on the ASU roster, but Bishop has been making his own name this spring and playing himself up draft boards at the same time. In fact, he has been among the best hitters in college baseball, hitting .438/.549/.968 with six doubles, 10 home runs and eight stolen bases. How well he fares against the meat of the Sun Devils’ schedule is something to watch, but his start to his season can’t be ignored.
J.J. Bleday, OF, Vanderbilt — Bleday has picked up where he left off last season and has lived up to every expectation so far this season. He went 6-for-16 in Vandy’s season-opening tournament against Virginia, Cal State Fulleton and Texas Christian, and he hasn’t looked back since. He’s been the best player in a potent lineup that has Vanderbilt among the national title contenders. He’s hitting .363/.439/.650 with five doubles and six home runs.
Tanner Burns, RHP, Auburn — Burns had the unenviable task of replacing Casey Mize as Auburn’s ace in 2019, but so far, the sophomore righthander’s numbers have not been all that dissimilar from what we came to expect from Mize. He is 3-0, 0.54 with 48 strikeouts and five walks in 33.1 innings. Burns taking home the hardware would make it the first time that it has been awarded to a pitcher three years running, with Florida’s Brady Singer and Louisville two-way player Brendan McKay winning the last two years.
Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville — For the Cardinals to be as good as they can be, they needed someone to step up and serve as a true ace. So far, Detmers has done so, establishing himself as a player to watch in the 2020 draft class. He’s 4-0, 0.53 with 50 strikeouts and six walks in 33.2 innings.
Tommy Henry, LHP, Michigan — Henry was as good as anyone to start the season, propelling himself up draft boards and the Wolverines to a strong start ahead of Big Ten Conference action. The only Big Ten player to win this award was Michigan outfielder Casey Close back in 1986. Henry could give the Wolverines another real contender. All told, he’s 5-0, 0.51 with 49 strikeouts and four walks in 35 innings and pitching his way up draft boards.
Kameron Misner, OF, Missouri — While the Missouri program is in a strange place as it fights the postseason ban the NCAA levied a week before Opening Day, Misner has been unbothered. He’s shown five-tool potential and played his way up draft boards with an excellent start to the season, hitting .324/.483/.574 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases.
Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State — No spotlight has been brighter in college baseball than the one on Rutschman coming into the season, not only as the best-known name on the roster of the defending national champions, but also as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the draft. All he’s done under that level of attention is hit .456/.619/.895 with eight home runs, 26 walks and 10 strikeouts. His ability to handle the rigors of a full season spent behind the plate and do it as well as he does only makes him a better overall candidate.
Bryson Stott, SS, Nevada-Las Vegas — Stott last year hit .365/.442/.556 and during the summer earned the starting shortstop job for USA Basketball’s Collegiate National Team. He’s continued to hit this spring and is doing so for more power to boot, as he’s hitting .333/.505/.667 with five home runs, 25 walks and 17 strikeouts. He’s climbing draft boards as a result and could be a top-10 pick.
Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State — Torkelson enjoyed a freshman season like few others last season, breaking Barry Bonds’ program record for home runs by a freshman on the way to leading the nation with 25. The power hasn’t quite come on so far this season, as he has three home runs, but he hasn’t slowed down otherwise, hitting .385/.468/.551. Even without the gaudy power numbers, he’s still a very productive hitter for an ASU team that looks to have a good shot at getting into a regional, but he’ll have to pick it up in that regard to truly compete with the other names on this list for the award.
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, California — Coming off a sophomore season that saw him hit .402/.531/.819 with 23 home runs and win the Golden Spikes Award, Vaughn came flying out of the gate in 2019. He is hitting .414/.580/.793 slash line with seven homers and 20 walks compared to just eight strikeouts. As very much a known commodity and the clear centerpiece of the Cal lineup, that level of production, and that level of willingness to take his walks, is impressive.
Arizona State — The Sun Devils have gone 23-32 in back-to-back seasons, marking the first time they have had consecutive losing seasons in program history. The tide appears to be turning here in 2019, as ASU is 19-0 and the last undefeated team in the country, led by a powerful offense. The Sun Devils are on track to return to the NCAA Tournament and could be thinking more with a strong second half.
Miami — Like Arizona State, traditional college baseball power Miami has been absent from regionals the last two seasons and looks poised to turn things around this season. An often-anemic offense has been the Hurricanes’ undoing of late, and improvement in that regard has been the biggest catalyst for their success in 2019. Shortstop Freddy Zamora and first baseman Alex Toral have taken big jumps from their freshman to sophomore seasons to lead Miami’s lineup.
San Diego — USD hasn’t made regionals since 2013, the year that then-Toreros third baseman Kris Bryant exploded for 31 home runs. This year’s team may have a chance to end that streak after a solid start. The West Coast Conference is one of those leagues where everyone beats up on each other as the season rolls on, but early returns suggest that USD is capable of withstanding that type of pressure.
Tennessee — The Volunteers’ streak of 13 seasons without a postseason appearance appears to be in peril in 2019. They made an immediate statement by shutting out the opposition in five of the first six games of the season, and they didn’t allow more than three runs in any single game until a 13-9 win over Fresno State on March 10. A pitching staff that we’ve seen developing over the last few years, led by lefthander Garrett Crochet, righthander Zach Linginfelter and righthander Garrett Stallings, has really come into its own.
UC Santa Barbara — The Big West Conference has been no more than a two-horse race lately. In 2017, it was Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. Last year, it was Fullerton and no one was really close. Fullerton and UC Irvine looked the part coming into the season, and now UCSB looks ready to join the fray. Outfielder Tommy Jew and lefthanders Ben Brecht and Jack Dashwood, all players recruited to campus in the immediate aftermath of the Gauchos’ 2016 College World Series run, will look to lead the team back to the postseason for the first time since that magical season.
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Teams with Questions
Baylor — The preseason No. 16 team in the country slipped out of the rankings after the first four weeks of the season. Preseason All-American catcher Shea Langeliers broke his hamate bone on Opening Weekend and missed a few weeks, and lefthander Cody Bradford, the Bears’ ace, was lost for the season due to thoracic outlet syndrome. There is still time to get back on track, but the effect of those losses leaves less margin for error for Baylor.
Minnesota — The Gophers dealt with a lot of turnover on the offensive side of the ball after last season, but confidence in a pitching staff, led by righthanders Patrick Fredrickson and Max Meyer, and in the Minnesota program to develop new impact bats, led them into the preseason rankings at No. 24. Things just simply haven’t gone according to plan for the Gophers, albeit against a very tough early season schedule that was played entirely on the road due to their winter home U.S. Bank Stadium being unavailable while the NCAA prepared it to host the Final Four. They suffered losing weekends in each of the first four weekends of the season before winning a series at Long Beach State, and the offense hasn’t come together. Minnesota is talented enough to be a factor in Big Ten Conference play, but it dug itself an early hole.
Missouri State — Count the Bears as another team that has had its season compromised by a myriad of injuries. Before the season even began, expected Friday night starter Ty Buckner went down with a season-ending injury, and potential Missouri Valley player of the year catcher Drew Millas missed time as well. Meanwhile, MVC rivals Dallas Baptist and Indiana State raced out to strong starts, passing Missouri State as conference title favorites.
Virginia — The Cavaliers missed the NCAA Tournament last year as injuries piled up and eventually compromised their season. Virginia has again stumbled out of the gate and is 9-10 and 2-4 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having lost tough series against Duke and at Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers have talent, but they’re a young team, especially on the mound, and will need to grow up quickly against a tough conference slate.
Wake Forest — The Demon Deacons were in the Preseason Field of 64, but they’ve struggled to get going this season. Righthanded co-aces Colin Peluse and Morgan McSweeney have been solid, but they haven’t gotten enough support from the rest of the staff. Playing in the ACC provides a team with ample chances for resume-boosting wins, but you also have to take care of the teams you are expected to take care of and the Demon Deacons haven’t done that consistently so far.
Freshman Of The Year Watch List
Cade Beloso, 1B, Louisiana State — If you had to bet before the season on an LSU player winning freshman of the year, smart money would have been on either Jaden Hill or Landon Marceaux, two heralded righthanders. But in the early going, Beloso, who did not receive as much acclaim as some other members of the top-ranked recruiting class, has emerged as another masher in the order alongside veterans like Josh Smith, Antoine Duplantis, Zach Watson and Daniel Cabrera.
Kendrick Calilao, 1B, Florida — Calilao has been a huge part of Florida’s offensive resurgence after a slow start to the season. His best work has also often come in the team’s biggest games. He went 7-for-12 in the Gators’ series win over rival Miami, and in a 20-7 midweek win over another rival, Florida State, Calilao went 4-for-6 with six RBIs. Suffice it to say that he and freshman outfielder Jud Fabian have given Florida quite the shot in the arm.
Nander De Sedas, SS, Florida State — The highest ranked position player in this year’s freshman class, De Sedas has lived up to that billing so far. He’s stepped right in at shortstop for the Seminoles and is off to a solid start at the plate, quickly becoming one of their most important hitters.
JT Ginn, RHP, Mississippi State — Ginn is the clear early frontrunner for this award. An unsigned first-round pick, he immediately stepped into Mississippi State’s rotation as its No. 2 starter and has taken college baseball by storm. From a team standpoint, Ginn and lefthander Ethan Small help make the Bulldogs a legitimate national title contender, and individually, Ginn has been the most outstanding freshman in the country.
Davis Sharpe, UTL, Clemson — Sharpe is a two-way threat who has stepped immediately into a big role for the Tigers both in the rotation and in the lineup. If the Tigers are to contend in the ACC, he’ll be a big part of it, providing power both with his bat and his arm.