2019 SEC College Baseball Preview
- Vanderbilt (35-27, 16-14)
- Florida (49-21, 20-10)
- Georgia (39-21, 18-12)
- South Carolina (37-26, 17-13)
- Tennessee (29-27, 12-18)
- Kentucky (34-22, 13-17)
- Missouri (34-22, 12-18)
- Louisiana State (39-27, 15-15)
- Mississippi State (39-29, 15-15)
- Mississippi (48-17, 18-12)
- Auburn (43-23, 15-15)
- Arkansas (48-21, 18-12)
- Texas A&M (40-22, 13-17)
- Alabama (27-29, 8-22)
Team to beat: Vanderbilt.
The Commodores enter the year as the top-ranked team in the country and look to be perhaps the most complete team in the nation. Vanderbilt returns eight regulars from its lineup, as well as its full rotation and some key relievers. The Commodores have five seniors on its roster, a luxury for a program that is used to seeing its players get drafted and sign as juniors. To that mix, Vanderbilt added the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Vanderbilt is looking for its first SEC title since 2013, and this team has everything it needs to get back atop the standings.
Player of the Year: Jake Mangum, OF, Mississippi State.
There are sure to be no shortage of SEC player of the year candidates, but the nod here goes to Mangum in what is admittedly a career-achievement award. Mangum has been a catalyst for the Bulldogs since he arrived in Starkville and now enters his senior season needing 78 hits to break former Louisiana State star Eddy Furniss’ SEC career record (352). If Mangum does that, as he is expected to, while leading Mississippi State to another special season, he’ll be as deserving as anyone.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Dyson, RHP, Florida.
Dyson is the latest in Florida’s seemingly unending pipeline of star pitchers. Voted a first-team Preseason All-American by MLB scouting directors, Dyson has the stuff to excel at the front of the Gators’ rotation. He still must prove he can handle the role consistently, but he’s already shown flashes of brilliance his first two years in Gainesville.
Freshman of the Year: Landon Marceaux, RHP, Louisiana State.
Marceaux was one of the most polished prep arms in last year’s draft and pitched for USA Baseball’s 18U team at the 2017 World Cup. At 5-foot-11, he’s a bit undersized for a righthander, which is part of the reason he’s in college, but his above-average control and three-pitch arsenal figure to play right away for the Tigers.
Top 25 Teams: Vanderbilt (1), LSU (2), Florida (4), Mississippi State (9), Mississippi (13), Georgia (15), Auburn (17), Arkansas (18).
Other Projected Regional Teams
Texas A&M: The Aggies last year had a young lineup and battled inconsistency as a result. But after taking those lumps, Texas A&M returns most of its offense, including shortstop Braden Shewmake (.327/.395/.453), a potential first-round draft pick. With the bulk of this year’s lineup expected to be sophomores and juniors instead of freshmen and sophomores, the Aggies should be in better shape offensively. Texas A&M did lose two members of its rotation and its closer, leaving things a little more uncertain on the mound. But lefthanders John Doxakis (8-5, 2.70) and Asa Lacy (3-1, 2.75) have premium potential, and A&M has some other intriguing options on the mound. The Aggies hauled in a top-10 recruiting class for the first time in a decade, headlined by lefthander Jonathan Childress (no relation to coach Rob Childress). If some newcomers are able to make an immediate impact, Texas A&M has the pieces to make some noise.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks last year had an impressive midseason turnaround, going from a team that looked like it would miss the NCAA Tournament to reaching super regionals in just a couple months. Now, coach Mark Kingston has another challenge as he tries to get the Gamecocks back into the NCAA Tournament in his second year in Columbia. South Carolina must replace five of its best hitters from last year’s team, as well as its top two starters (Adam Hill and Cody Morris) and relief ace Eddy Demurias. The Gamecocks will have a different look in 2019, but there’s still plenty of talent on the roster, starting with Preseason All-American second baseman Noah Campbell. The dynamic sophomore hit .270/.372/.380 last season and is coming off an excellent summer in the Cape Cod League. And despite all the turnover, South Carolina will have three seniors in its lineup in catcher Chris Cullen and outfielders TJ Hopkins and Jacob Olson. On the mound, South Carolina will ask sophomore righthander Carmen Mlodzinski (3-6, 5.52), a premium recruit a year ago, to step up in the rotation. In both the lineup and pitching staff, South Carolina will need newcomers from its latest Top-25 recruiting class to provide immediate impact. The class was heavy on junior college transfers, such as outfielder Andrew Eyster, who brings a powerful bat, and righthander Hayden Lehman, who last year was a key part of Walters State (Tenn.) JC’s runner-up finish in the Junior College World Series. It may take Kingston and the Gamecocks a while to find the right combination again, but he should again be able to push the right buttons to get them back into regionals.
For the SEC, 2018 was a quiet year on the coaching carousel as only Mississippi State enters this season with a new coach (Chris Lemonis). Of course, the Bulldogs’ search was the most prominent in the country and came with a healthy dose of drama. But after some tumultuous summers, last year was a welcome change for the league’s coaches. Nothing is certain in a conference where “it just means more,” but barring any flameouts or surprise retirements, this summer should be similarly quiet. All but one of the conference’s coaches (Georgia’s Scott Stricklin) have held their job for less than four years or more than 10.
The stadium building boom continues in the SEC. This year Mississippi State and Kentucky will open new stadiums that cost more than $100 million combined, and Florida is set to break ground on a new stadium that is expected to cost $65 million. The new Dudy Noble Field in Starkville is the most anticipated new college baseball stadium since Louisiana State built a new Alex Box Stadium a decade ago. The construction included creating a second deck, new entryways and a new Left Field Lounge grilling area. Kentucky Proud Park replaces Cliff Hagan Stadium, the Wildcats’ home for 50 years. Florida’s new stadium is slated to open in 2021.
The SEC last year very nearly broke the record for most NCAA Tournament bids with 11, but Kentucky finished just on the wrong side of the bubble. The Wildcats had a solid resume but were undone by a 13-17 conference record and an opening-round loss at the SEC Tournament. The SEC again figures to have more than 10 teams in the mix for the NCAA Tournament, but as was the case last year, the conference may be too strong top-to-bottom to get more than 10 bids. The selection committee last year emphasized having a conference record of at least .500. Because there are no easy weekends in the SEC—13 teams last year won at least 12 conference games—it is difficult for the league’s bubble teams to build the conference record they need to make regionals.
West Virginia Ace Alek Manoah Brings Big Presence To The Mound
West Virginia righthander Alek Manoah is surging on the mound and draft boards at just the right time.
Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects
- Zack Thompson, LHP, Kentucky
- Tyler Dyson, RHP, Florida
- Will Holland, SS, Auburn
- Braden Shewmake, SS, Texas A&M
- JJ Bleday, OF, Vanderbilt
- Kameron Misner, OF, Missouri
- Zack Hess, RHP, Louisiana State
- Matt Cronin, LHP, Arkansas
- Isaiah Campbell, RHP, Arkansas
- Dominic Fletcher, OF, Arkansas
- Josh Smith, SS, Louisiana State
- Brady McConnell, SS, Florida
- Davis Daniel, RHP, Auburn
- Cam Shepherd, SS, Georgia
- John Doxakis, LHP, Texas A&M
- Zach Watson, OF, Louisiana State
- Wil Dalton, OF, Florida
- Pat DeMarco, OF, Vanderbilt
- Parker Caracci, RHP, Mississippi
- Aaron Schunk, 3B/RHP, Georgia
Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects
- Tanner Burns, RHP, Auburn
- Casey Martin, SS, Arkansas
- J.T. Ginn, RHP/1B, Mississippi State
- Heston Kjerstad, OF, Arkansas
- Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia
- Noah Campbell, 2B, South Carolina
- Daniel Cabrera, OF, Louisiana State
- Steven Williams, OF, Auburn
- Jack Leftwich, RHP, Florida
- Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
Top 10 Newcomers
- Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt
- J.T. Ginn, RHP/1B, Mississippi State
- Landon Marceaux, RHP, Louisiana State
- Cole Wilcox, RHP, Georgia
- Gunnar Hoglund, RHP, Mississippi
- Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
- Jaden Hill, RHP, Louisiana State
- Austin Becker, RHP, Vanderbilt
- Tyler Ras, RHP/OF, Alabama
- Cory Acton, 3B, Florida
Best Pure Hitter: Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
Best Power Hitter: Heston Kjerstad, Arkansas
Best Strike-zone Discipline: Braden Shewmake, Texas A&M
Best Athlete: Casey Martin, Arkansas
Fastest Runner: Zach Watson, Louisiana State
Best Baserunner: Jay Charleston, Tennessee
Best Defensive Catcher: Cooper Johnson, Mississippi
Best Defensive Infielder: Will Holland, Auburn
Best Infield Arm: Aaron Schunk, Georgia
Best Defensive Outfielder: Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
Best Outfield Arm: Dominic Fletcher, Arkansas
Best Fastball: Matt Cronin, Arkansas
Best Breaking Ball: Ma’Khail Hilliard, Louisiana State
Best Changeup: John Doxakis, Texas A&M
Best Control: T.J. Sikkema, Missouri