2022 SEC College Baseball Preview
The SEC has consistently been the best conference in college baseball for more than a decade. Its teams have won seven of the last 12 national championships and in 2021 it was an all-SEC affair in the finals as Mississippi State defeated Vanderbilt in Omaha.
Look for more of the same in 2022. The SEC has six teams ranked in the top 10 and eight teams overall rank in the Preseason Top 25. The SEC will again challenge to break the record for most teams from one conference to advance to the NCAA Tournament. The record—held by the ACC and SEC—stands at 10, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the SEC send anywhere from 10-12 teams to regionals in 2022.
The conference also has elite individual talent. The SEC accounted for five of this season’s 14 first-team Preseason All-Americans and led all conferences with 18 players honored across the three teams.
There are two new coaches in the conference, as Jay Johnson takes over at Louisiana State and Jim Schlossnagle does so at Texas A&M. Both Johnson and Schlossnagle led their former teams, Arizona and Texas Christian, respectively, to the College World Series and will be asked to do the same quickly at their new schools.
In short, 2022 is shaping up to be another exciting season in the SEC with plenty to watch around the conference.
Player of the Year: Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State
Crews was one of the best prep players in the 2020 draft to reach campus and he lived up to that billing as a freshman, hitting .362/.453/.663 with 18 home runs and 12 stolen bases. He last season led the SEC in total bases (163) and ranked in the top five in the conference in batting, on-base percentage, hits (89), runs (64) and home runs. After playing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team over the summer, he’s back to anchor a powerful LSU lineup as a sophomore and should be among the most formidable hitters in the nation.
Pitcher of the Year: Landon Sims, RHP, Mississippi State
Sims is coming off a sensational season as Mississippi State’s relief ace and played a critical role in the Bulldogs’ national championship. He went 5-0, 1.44 with 13 saves and 100 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. Now, he’ll transition to the front of Mississippi State’s rotation, bringing his powerful fastball-slider combination. While the transition won’t be easy, Sims has already pitched in high-leverage situations and was stretched out to throw up to four innings last season. Bringing his dynamic ability to Friday night starts is the next step.
Freshman of the Year: Peyton Stovall, INF, Arkansas
Stovall was in consideration to be a first-round pick in July but slipped in part due to a strong commitment to Arkansas and now is one of the best freshmen in the nation. He has a smooth lefthanded swing, above-average power potential and uses the whole field to hit. The Razorbacks have a crowded infield, but Stovall’s talent is special enough to break through and make an impact.
Predicted Order of Finish (2021 record)
1. Vanderbilt (49-18, 19-10)
Vanderbilt last season finished as runner-up in the College World Series, falling to Mississippi State in three games. From that team, the Commodores lost righthanders Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter, who were both drafted in the top 10 picks, co-closer Luke Murphy and three starters in their lineup. But the Commodores are not lacking on talent. Domonic Keegan (.345/.427/.638, 15 HR), who last season led the team in hitting, opted to return for a fourth year of school and will move behind the plate, helping to replace catcher CJ Rodriguez. Outfielder Enrique Bradfield Jr. (.336/.451/.414, 47 SB) returns after an electrifying freshman season that saw him lead the nation in stolen bases. Shortstop Carter Young (.252/.341/.559, 16 HR) showed off big power in 2021 and he’s back as well, anchoring the infield.
The questions for Vanderbilt come on the mound, as Leiter and Rocker were instrumental to the team’s success. Sophomore righthanders Patrick Reilly (4-2, 4.98) and Christian Little (3-2, 5.48) got their feet wet last year and will be asked to take on larger roles in 2022. Freshman lefthander Carter Holton impressed this fall and could step right into the rotation. Righthanders Chis McElvain (5-1, 4.34) and Thomas Schultz (4-2, 4.09) figure to pitch important innings in some role. Righthander Nick Maldonado (1-2, 2.31, 9 SV), meanwhile, returns to anchor the bullpen. The Commodores have plenty of options on the mound, but they may need a few weeks to work out their best alignment.
2. Florida (38-22, 17-13)
The Gators were the top-ranked team entering 2021 but never quite seemed to find their stride and were upset in the Gainesville Regional as the No. 15 overall seed. Florida lost some key pieces from last season, including leading hitters Nathan Hickey and Jacob Young and key pitchers Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich, but has no shortage of talent on the roster this spring. Lefthander Hunter Barco (10-3, 4.01) is ready to take over at the front of the rotation and is a potential first-round draft pick. Righthander Brandon Sproat (2-1, 6.65) spent the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and offers plenty of upside. Offensively, Florida got a boost when outfielder Jud Fabian (.249/.364/.560, 20 HR) did not sign with the Red Sox after being drafted in the second round. With Fabian returning, as well as slugger Kris Armstrong (.289/.352/.535, 8 HR), second baseman Colby Halter (.302/.379/.453), shortstop Josh Rivera (.253/.324/.389) and outfielder Sterlin Thompson (.301/.396/.470), the Gators have a deep and experienced lineup and a solid defense. With another impressive group of newcomers in Gainesville, the pieces are all there for a big season.
3. Georgia (31-25, 13-17)
The Bulldogs just missed the NCAA Tournament in 2021 but their 2022 season got a lift following the draft in July. Righthander Jonathan Cannon could have been drafted in the top five rounds but opted to return for a third season in Athens and the Bulldogs got their recruiting class through unscathed, bringing even more talent to campus. The result is a deep, veteran roster for 2022. Cannon (4-2, 3.98) will front the rotation, followed by lefthander Liam Sullivan (1-2, 3.99), who is ready to take a step forward as a sophomore, and righthander Dylan Ross, the top junior college transfer in the country. Georgia returns eight regulars to its lineup and added infielder Cory Acton as a transfer from Florida, where he has plenty of SEC experience. While the lineup is back largely intact, the Bulldogs will need the group to improve after last season averaging 5.4 runs per game (13th in the SEC). Sophomore Parks Harber and freshman Cole Wagner will factor into the lineup in some role and will add power.
4. Tennessee (50-18, 20-10)
The Volunteers in 2021 won the SEC East by a half-game ahead of in-state rival Vanderbilt and then advanced to Omaha for the first time since 2005. Tennessee lost several important players from that team to professional baseball, but still is well equipped to contend in 2022. Offensively, outfielders Jordan Beck (.271/.336/.523, 15 HR) and Drew Gilbert (.274/.341/.437, 10 HR, 10 SB) give the lineup plenty of firepower. The Vols will have a new-look infield after losing three starters and developing that group will be critical. On the mound, Tennessee must replace ace Chad Dallas and closer Sean Hunley. Sophomore righthander Blade Tidwell (10-3, 3.74) was expected to step to the front of the rotation after a strong freshman year but will be sidelined by shoulder stiffness at the outset of the season. That will put more pressure on newcomers Chase Dollander (Georgia Southern) and freshman Chase Burns. Finding the right formula on the mound and defensively will be key for the Vols.
5. South Carolina (34-23, 16-14)
After a strong start to the season, South Carolina slumped down the stretch in 2021 and finished the season with just one win in four postseason games between the SEC Tournament and regionals. The Gamecocks return veteran outfielder Andrew Eyester (.279/.371/.484, 11 HR), their leading hitter, and exciting infielder Braylen Wimmer (.271/.322/.512, 11 HR). Freshmen Michael Braswell and Carson Hornung, as well as slugger Brandt Belk (Missouri) can give a lift to a lineup that is replacing Wes Clarke and his 23 home runs. On the mound, South Carolina must replace top starters Thomas Farr and Brannon Jordan, as well as relief ace Brett Kerry. Lefthander Julian Bosnic (4-2, 2.84) and righthander Will Sanders (6-3, 3.54) both flashed strong performances in 2021 and will now be asked to step forward this spring. South Carolina has a lot of new faces—including on the coaching staff where Mark Kingston had to replace both full-time assistants—but if the Gamecocks can settle into their new roles, there is upside in Columbia.
6. Kentucky (29-23, 12-18)
The Wildcats took a step forward in 2021 but finished on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. Ryan Ritter (.275/.323/.365, 8 SB) is one of the best shortstops in the SEC and slugger Oraj Anu (.265/.322/.434, 8 HR) gives the Wildcats a veteran at the heart of the order. Kentucky added several important transfers who will be asked to fill some holes in the lineup. Perhaps most notable among the newcomers is outfielder John Thrasher (Hartford), who was the 2021 America East Conference Player of the Year. On the mound, righthander Cole Stupp (4-5, 4.76) is back to lead the rotation and righthander Zack Lee (4-6, 5.31) also has plenty of starting experience. Kentucky added transfers Tyler Bosma (Miami (Ohio)) and Darren Williams (Eastern Kentucky) and if they are able to make the transition to the SEC, the Wildcats figure to have solid depth. A return to regionals would make for a successful 2022.
7. Missouri (15-36, 8-22)
The Tigers are coming off a poor 2021 season that saw them finish last in the conference—although they did win a series at eventual national champion Mississippi State. As Mizzou looks to bounce back in 2022, it returns some key players like shortstop Josh Day (.250/.374/.316), catcher Tre Morris (.258/.308/.342) and righthander Spencer Miles (2-6, 7.01). But, given how last season went, it’s no surprise that the Tigers will also be looking to a raft of newcomers to step into big roles in 2022. Infielders Nander De Sedas (Florida State) and Fox Leum (Coastal Carolina) and righthanders Austin Marozas (Charlotte) and Carter Rustad (San Diego) join from the transfer portal, while outfielders Carlos Pena and Juju Stevens are among the freshmen who could make an impact. Mizzou finished last in the SEC in both scoring (5.27 runs per game) and team ERA (7.24—a mark that ranked 268th nationally). Getting right on the mound is probably the Tigers’ first priority, but improvement this spring in all facets is necessary.
1. Mississippi State (50-18, 20-10)
The Bulldogs last season won the national championship—their first in program history. Entering 2022, expectations are just as high as they ever are in Starkville. The Bulldogs must replace SEC player of the year Tanner Allen and righthander Will Bednar, the CWS Most Outstanding Player, as well as lefthander Christian MacLeod and outfielder Rowdey Jordan, but they are not short on talent. Righthander Landon Sims (5-0, 1.44, 13 SV) last season earned first-team All-America honors as a reliever and this year will make the transition to No. 1 starter. His elite fastball-slider combination should play well in his new role—he pitched in a multi-inning role last season, extending out to four innings multiple times—and gives confidence in a new-look rotation. Righthander Jackson Fristoe (3-3, 5.69) showed promise as a freshman and righthanders Preston Johnson (4-0, 3.82) and Cade Smith (3-0, 2.40) are options to move from the bullpen to the rotation. Finding new answers in relief will be critical, but Mississippi State is not lacking for options.
Offensively, losing Allen and Jordan, the Bulldogs’ top two hitters, is a blow. But catcher Logan Tanner (.287/.417/.546, 15 HR) brings a powerful bat to the middle of the order. Kellum Clark (.237/.355/.495), Luke Hancock (.262/.393/.408, 10 HR) and Kamren James (.264/.354/.456, 12 HR, 20 SB) all have breakout potential, and the Bulldogs will need them—or others—to make good on it. Defensively, with Tanner behind the plate and Lane Forsythe (.231/.321/.274) at shortstop, Mississippi State should be solid, further bolstering its upside. Repeating as national champions is difficult—only South Carolina (2010-11) and Oregon State (2006-07) have done so this century—but Mississippi State has the depth, talent and experience to make a run at it.
2. Arkansas (50-13, 22-8)
The Razorbacks were the No. 1 team in the country for most of the regular season and won both the SEC regular-season and tournament titles before getting upset in the Fayetteville Super Regional by North Carolina State. They had one of the best offenses in the nation, averaging 7.7 runs per game, and much of that lineup returns. Arkansas is spoiled on the infield with shortstop Jalen Battles (.269/.371/.407) and second baseman Robert Moore (.283/.384/.558, 16 HR) returning up the middle, sophomore Cayden Wallace (.279/.69/.500, 14 HR) taking over at third base and freshman Peyton Stovall, who drew first-round consideration in the draft, ready to step in at first base. Arkansas also added to its offensive riches in the transfer portal, bringing in outfielder Jace Bohrofen (Oklahoma), slugger Chris Lanzilli (Wake Forest) and catcher Michael Turner (Kent State). All of that should translate to another season of a standout offense and defense for the Razorbacks. As good as the news is for the lineup, Arkansas is facing some difficult questions on the mound. It will be without its top-five pitchers from 2021 by innings pitched, including Golden Spikes Award winner Kevin Kopps, No. 1 starter Patrick Wicklander and projected Opening Day starter Peyton Pallette, who was ruled out for the season in January due to Tommy John surgery. The Razorbacks have options on the mound—sophomore righthander Jaxon Wiggins spent the summer with Team USA, righthander Connor Noland was a starter on the 2019 CWS team and freshmen Nick Moten and Hagen Smith have plenty of promise—but they will need some new pitchers to step up to fulfill their exceptional promise.
3. Mississippi (45-22, 18-12)
The Rebels battled through some difficult injuries in 2021 to reach super regionals, where they lost in three games at Arizona. Ole Miss this season brings back its powerful lineup, which last season averaged 7.1 runs per game. Slugger Tim Elko (.325/.444/.675, 16 HR) is back and should be fully healthy after last season being limited in the second half by a knee injury. Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez (.355/.443/.561, 12 HR) also returns, looking to build on a sensational freshman season. On the mound, Ole Miss has more questions to answer. Its 1-2 punch of Doug Nikhazy and Gunnar Hoglund have moved on to pro ball, as did closer Taylor Broadway. That trio anchored the pitching staff in 2021 and replacing them won’t be easy. Righthander Derek Diamond (3-5, 5.26) has shown promise in his first two seasons and will be asked to take on a bigger role in the rotation. Ole Miss added lefthander John Gaddis (Texas A&M-Corpus Christi) and righthander Jack Washburn (Oregon State) from the transfer portal, and both will pitch in important roles. The progress of the pitching staff will determine how far the Rebels go in June.
4. Louisiana State (38-25, 13-17)
LSU enters a new era as Paul Mainieri retired following the 2021 season—which ended in super regionals—and Jay Johnson was hired away from Arizona as the Tigers’ new coach. Johnson, who is one of college baseball’s best hitting coaches, inherited a strong offensive team and further strengthened it in the transfer portal. Jacob Berry, who earned All-American honors as a freshman, followed Johnson from Arizona to LSU and catcher Tyler McManus brings his big bat from Samford. They join a lineup that already included Dylan Crews (.362/.453/.663, 18 HR, 12 SB), Gavin Dugas (.295/.407/.641, 19 HR), Cade Doughty (.308/.368/.546, 13 HR) and Tre’ Morgan (.357/.441/.526, 15 SB). Together, they could create the best lineup in the nation. LSU’s pitching staff is not as well established, however. The Tigers have no shortage of options on the mound, but few proven options. Lefthander Javen Coleman (3-2, 5.79) is poised to take a step forward as a sophomore and veteran righthander Devin Fontenot (4-2, 2.86, 5 SV) is sure to pitch important innings in some role. LSU’s potent lineup will give its pitching staff a cushion, but sooner than later it will need a few pitchers to step up.
5. Alabama (32-26, 12-17)
The Crimson Tide last season were one of the last teams in the Field of 64, earning their first NCAA Tournament bid under coach Brad Bohannon and their first since 2014. Now, the challenge is repeating that performance in the rugged SEC West. Alabama must replace some key pieces it lost to pro ball, such as Peyton Wilson, a second-round pick, but most importantly will be without ace Connor Prielipp, who had Tommy John surgery last May. The Tide will need some pitchers to step up this spring. Righthander Dylan Ray, who missed last season due to injury, could be one such player, as well as righthander Jacob McNairy (1-1, 5.59) and lefthander Antoine Jean (2-1, 3.76). Offensively, Alabama returns leading hitter Zane Denton (.308/.405/.489, 10 HR) and slugger Owen Diodati (.230/.314/.420, 11 HR), who form a powerful middle of the lineup duo, and shortstop Jim Jarvis (.237/.362/.306) is back to anchor the defense. The Tide have recruited well under Bohannon, now they will need some of those younger players to step up.
6. Texas A&M (29-27, 9-21)
The Aggies last season finished last in the SEC West and missed the conference tournament. Following the season, coach Rob Childress was dismissed, and Jim Schlossnagle was hired away from Texas Christian to replace him. Schlossnagle hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in a large group of players to bolster the roster. The transfers include first baseman Jack Moss (Arizona State), catcher Troy Claunch (Oregon State) and righthander Micah Dallas (Texas Tech), all of whom will be impact players. The lineup especially will have a totally new look, while the pitching staff does feature some significant returners like lefthanders Jonathan Childress (3-4, 4.61) and Joseph Menefee (4-2, 3.00). If the newcomers click quickly, the Aggies have a high ceiling and could quickly engineer a turnaround. But with so much new in College Station in 2022, there’s a wide range of outcomes this season.
7. Auburn (25-27, 10-20)
The Tigers last season had a losing record for the first time since 2016, coach Butch Thompson’s first at the program’s helm. Little went right for Auburn, which struggled on the mound and was hit by injuries. The Tigers dipped into the transfer portal for reinforcements, but especially on the mound it will be up to their younger players to step up and deliver a turnaround in 2022. Righthander Mason Barnett (2-4, 5.40) is coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League and lefthander Carson Skipper (2-2, 4.25) looks ready to take a step forward as he moves into the rotation. Auburn must replace its top three hitters, including shortstop Ryan Bliss, who was drafted in the second round. Brody Moore (.292/.341/.380) will move to shortstop and, along with center fielder Kason Howell (.260/.382/.463, 8 HR, 8 SB), will keep the Tigers strong up the middle. Samford transfers Brooks Carlson and Sonny DiChiara are experienced hitters with impact potential. A player to watch is sophomore infielder Cole Foster, who was one of the top recruits in the class of 2020 but had limited impact as a freshman. A step forward from him would be a big boost for the Tigers. Even in the rugged SEC West, Auburn has the talent to bounce back quickly from last year’s disappointment. Finding some impact arms will be critical for success this spring.
Quick SEC Tournament Exit Leaves Ole Miss Playing Waiting Game
Ole Miss was eliminated from the SEC Tournament with a loss to Vanderbilt in its opening game. Now, the Rebels wait to learn their NCAA Tournament future.
Top 20 2022 Draft Prospects
1. Jacob Berry, 1B/3B, Louisiana State
2. Peyton Pallette, RHP, Arkansas
3. Blade Tidwell, RHP, Tennessee
4. Robert Moore, 2B, Arkansas
5. Connor Prielipp, LHP, Alabama
6. Logan Tanner, C, Mississippi State
7. Cayden Wallace, 3B/OF, Arkansas
8. Hayden Dunhurst, C, Mississippi
9. Landon Sims, RHP, Mississippi State
10. Hunter Barco, LHP, Florida
11. Carter Young, SS, Vanderbilt
12. Cade Doughty, 3B, Louisiana State
13. Jordan Beck, OF, Tennessee
14. Jud Fabian, OF, Florida
15. Jonathan Cannon, RHP, Georgia
16. Ryan Ritter, SS, Kentucky
17. Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida
18. Spencer Jones, OF, Vanderbilt
19. Mason Barnett, RHP, Auburn
20. Josh Rivera, SS, Florida
Top 10 2023 Draft Prospects
1. Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State
2. Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
3. Enrique Bradfield Jr., OF, Vanderbilt
4. Patrick Reilly, RHP, Vanderbilt
5. Jace Bohrofen, OF, Arkansas
6. Tre’ Morgan, 1B, Louisiana State
7. Jaxon Wiggins, RHP, Arkansas
8. Michael Robertson, OF, Florida
9. Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina
10. Mac Guscette, C, Florida
Top 10 Freshmen
1. Peyton Stovall, INF, Arkansas
2. Chase Burns, RHP, Tennessee
3. Davis Diaz, INF, Vanderbilt
4. Pierce Coppola, LHP, Florida
5. Michael Robertson, OF, Florida
6. Carter Holton, LHP, Vanderbilt
7. Camden Hayslip, OF, Alabama
8. Michael Braswell, INF, South Carolina
9. Philip Abner, LHP, Florida
10. Coleman Willis, RHP, Georgia
Best pure hitter: Dylan Crews, Louisiana State
Best power hitter: Jud Fabian, Florida
Best strike-zone discipline: Luke Hancock, Mississippi State
Best athlete: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Fastest runner: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Best baserunner: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Best defensive catcher: Logan Tanner, Mississippi State
Best defensive infielder: Carter Young, Vanderbilt
Best infield arm: Jalen Battles, Arkansas
Best defensive outfielder: Jud Fabian, Florida
Best outfield arm: Jud Fabian, Florida
Best fastball: Landon Sims, Mississippi State
Best breaking ball: Landon Sims, Mississippi State
Best changeup: Blade Tidwell, Tennessee
Best control: Nick Maldonado, Vanderbilt