2023 Southeastern Conference College Baseball Preview
The SEC has consistently been the best conference in college baseball for more than a decade. Its teams have won eight of the last 13 national championships and three straight, most recently Mississippi winning the 2022 title.
Look for more of the same in 2023. 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 up to 12 teams to regionals in 2023.
The conference also has elite individual talent. The SEC accounted for eight of this season’s 14 first-team Preseason All-Americans and led all conferences with 16 players honored across the three teams.
Despite a hyperactive coaching market during the offseason that saw 48 programs make a head coaching change, the SEC goes into the 2023 season with the same roster of head coaches it had last year. While stability has become more common in the conference in recent seasons, no changes is still a rarity. While it gives the conference more continuity, it also could raise the stakes for a few teams this spring.
In short, 2023 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 last year shared this honor with Auburn’s Sonny DiChiara. Now, Crews is back for his junior season and enters the year as the favorite to be the No. 1 draft pick and the focal point of the Tigers’ lineup. He last season hit .349/.463/.691 with 22 home runs and scored 73 runs in 62 games. His combination of hittability, power and speed makes him a unique talent in college baseball.
Pitcher of the Year: Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee. Dollander had a breakout 2022 season and was one of the driving forces of the Volunteers’ incredible campaign. After an unremarkable freshman season at Georgia Southern, he transferred to Tennessee and went 10-0, 2.39 with 108 strikeouts and 13 walks in 79 innings. He was named SEC pitcher of the year and enters 2023 regarded as the top college pitcher in the draft class. He has premium stuff, a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and plus control.
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Dutkanych, RHP, Vanderbilt. Dutkanych was seen as a potential first-round pick before he formally removed his name from the draft and headed for Vanderbilt. He’s the latest premium prep pitcher to join the Commodores and has the tools to make an instant impact. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he has a strong build, a powerful arm that gets his fastball up to 95 mph and two quality breaking balls that he can land for strikes. The Vanderbilt pitching staff is crowded this year, but he has what it will take to break through.
Predicted Order of Finish (2022 record)
1. Tennessee (57-9, 25-5)
The Volunteers last year had a sensational season, spending most of the year at No. 1 in the rankings and winning both the SEC regular season and tournament titles. Their national championship hopes were dashed in super regionals, however, when Notre Dame upset them in Knoxville. While the Vols lost eight regulars from their lineup and had four pitchers drafted, they remain immensely talented and are expected to be right back in the mix as one of the best teams in the nation.
For Tennessee, it all starts on the mound. The Vols last season led the nation in team ERA (2.51) and from that group they return their rotation of righthanders Chase Dollander (10-0, 2.39), Chase Burns (8-2, 2.91) and Drew Beam (8-1, 2.72) as well as veteran relievers Kirby Connell and Camden Sewell, who have combined for 130 career appearances. Offensively, Tennessee last season had an explosive offense and led the nation in home runs (158) and ranked fourth in scoring (9.3 runs per game). The Vols’ lineup will have a new look after all the departures, but it will still be dangerous. Blake Burke, Jared Dickey and Christian Moore last season combined to hit 31 home runs despite none of the trio getting more than 118 at-bats. They will now step into full-time roles, while newcomers like shortstop Maui Ahuna (Kansas) and outfielder Griffin Merritt (Cincinnati), the 2022 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, will help Tennessee quickly reload.
2. Florida (42-24, 15-15)
The Gators haven’t been to Omaha since 2018 but this season have the star power to snap that drought. All-American outfielder Wyatt Langford (.355/.447/.719, 26 HR) returns to anchor the lineup and is one of the players in consideration to be the No. 1 draft pick. Florida also returns veterans Colby Halter, Josh Rivera and B.T. Riopelle, who all had interest from pro ball a year ago. On the mound, the Gators are as deep as ever. Righthander Brandon Sproat returns despite being drafted 90th overall by the Mets. The Gators added righthander Hurston Waldrep (Southern Mississppi), a projected first-round pick, through the transfer portal, while sophomores Jac Cagliannoe and Pierce Coppola are healthy ahead of their sophomore seasons after being limited by injury a year ago.
Florida hasn’t won a regional since 2018, despite hosting each of the last two seasons. It has the talent to go to Omaha and compete for a national title, especially on the mound, where the Gators may have the best staff in the country. But all those arms will have to find their proper roles and Florida will need to stay healthier than last year, when its plans were thrown into disarray by injuries. With some better injury luck, and if Florida’s lineup gels around Langford, the Gators should be able to make their return to the sport’s top echelon.
3. Vanderbilt (39-23, 14-16)
The Commodores had an up-and-down 2022 and ended with a losing record in the SEC for the first time since 2009. They still nearly made a fifth-straight super regional, falling by one run to Oregon State in the Corvallis Regional final. Now, the Commodores will look to get back to competing at the top of the sport thanks to a wealth of pitching talent.
Vanderbilt arguably has the deepest pitching staff in the nation. It starts with Freshman All-American Carter Holton (8-4, 3.14) returning to lead the rotation. Also back are veterans Nick Maldonado (3-1, 3.96) and Thomas Schultz (4-2, 2.88, 8 SV), despite both earning draft interest. Added to that mix is righthander Andrew Dutkanych, who was rated as a potential first-round pick before formally withdrawing his name from the draft. With other very talented pitchers like Bryce Cunningham, Devin Futrell, Hunter Owen and Patrick Reilly back in the fold as well, the Commodores will have no shortage of options to fill any role.
Offensively, Vanderbilt will build around All-American outfielder Enrique Bradfield (.317/.415/.498, 46 SB), the most dynamic player in the country. The Commodores do have to replace five regulars from their lineup, including first-round pick Spencer Jones, leading hitter Dominic Keegan and shortstop Carter Young. Vanderbilt will especially need to find a new source of power in the lineup, as Jones and Keegan were the only two Commodores to slug above .500 last season. A player to watch is outfielder R.J. Schreck, who transferred from Duke after hitting 26 home runs over the last two seasons.
4. Georgia (36-23, 15-15)
The Bulldogs started SEC play strong last season but sputtered down the stretch, losing their last four series and then going 1-2 in the Chapel Hill Regional. Georgia this year has a solid core, built around veteran hitters and a promising pitching staff.
Outfielder Connor Tate (.345/.436/.614, 13 HR) and third baseman Parks Harber (.307/.365/.528, 13 HR), the team’s two leading hitters from 2022, return, as do outfielder Ben Anderson (.274/.386/.453, 9 HR, 9 SB) and DH Corey Collins (.256/.387/.453, 11 HR). That quartet gives Georgia a solid group to build around and the Bulldogs added veteran infielders Will David (Samford) and Sebastian Murillo (Long Beach State) out of the transfer portal. Getting David and Murillo to settle in defensively up the middle will also be important as Georgia typically stands out for its defense under coach Scott Stricklin. If they form a solid double-play combination, combined with catcher Fernando Gonzalez and Anderson in center field, the Bulldogs’ backbone will be a strength.
On the mound, Georgia must replace ace Jonathan Cannon and closer Jack Gowen, who are both now in pro ball. The Bulldogs will turn to lefthander Jaden Woods (1-1, 4.64, 3 SV) at the front of the rotation. He’s the Bulldogs’ most talented pitcher but he has just five career starts. If he and lefthander Liam Sullivan (4-3, 4.62) can combine to form a solid 1-2 punch at the front of the rotation and transfers Zach DeVito (Tulane) and Kyle Greenler (Elon) settle into roles in the bullpen, the staff has upside. But there are some real questions to be answered this spring on the mound for the Bulldogs.
5. South Carolina (27-28, 13-17)
The Gamecocks are coming off their first losing season since 1996—the season before Ray Tanner was hired to take over the program. It was a busy offseason for coach Mark Kingston as he worked to get the Gamecocks back on track in 2023. They hit the transfer portal hard, bringing in several veterans who will step right into significant roles, and they also landed another top 25 traditional recruiting class.
The pitching staff is the Gamecocks’ strength. Righthander Will Sanders (7-3, 3.42) is a Preseason All-American and can be one of the best pitchers in the nation. Righthander Noah Hall (3-5, 4.34) is a solid option behind him. Righthander Jack Mahoney missed last season due to Tommy John surgery but has high-end stuff and righthander Eli Jerzembeck has premium potential as a freshman. Righthander Cade Austin (5-2, 3.17) and lefthander Matthew Becker (2-4, 5.21) have plenty of experience in the bullpen and if righthander James Hicks and lefthander Jackson Phipps come back strong from Tommy John surgery, they add two more big arms to the staff.
The focus of South Carolina’s efforts in the transfer portal were on its lineup. The Gamecocks averaged 5.71 runs per game last season, which ranked last in the SEC and 209th nationally. To make matters worse, South Carolina lost Josiah Sightler, Brandt Belk and Andrew Eyster, its top three hitters by OPS, to pro ball. Infielder Braylen Wimmer (.312/.361/.466, 13 SB) is back after being drafted in the 18th round and along with infielder Michael Braswell (.284/.365/.378), he leads the returners. South Carolina will need to get a spark out of its transfers like Dylan Brewer (Clemson), Gavin Casas (Vanderbilt), Jacob Compton (Memphis) and Caleb Denny (Oral Roberts). Thanks to their pitching staff, the Gamecocks don’t need their offense to go from worst-to-first to make a leap as a team, but they will need to find some consistency with their new look.
6. Kentucky (33-26, 12-18)
The Wildcats in 2022 suffered another near miss for the NCAA Tournament and have now not made regionals since 2017. As Kentucky looks to snap that skid, it will do so with a very different look. All nine of the Wildcats’ regulars from 2022 have moved on, including shortstop Ryan Ritter, who was drafted in the fourth round. On the mound, Kentucky had four pitchers drafted, including All-American relief ace Tyler Guilfoil. To fill all those holes, Kentucky again hit the transfer portal hard and brought in a big class that ranked No. 6 nationally.
One of Kentucky’s few returners is sophomore catcher Devin Burkes, who came on strong at the end of the season. He’ll take over behind the plate, while redshirt freshman James McCoy brings big power to the lineup. Among the transfers, watch out for outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt (Charleston Southern), who brings dynamism to the lineup; outfielder Kendall Ewell (Eastern Kentucky), who hit 14 home runs a year ago; and shortstop Grant Smith (Incarnate Word), who brings experience at a critical position.
On the mound, Kentucky returns righthanders Ryan Hagenow and Darren Williams and lefthander Tyler Bosma, all of whom bring important experience and solid stuff. Righthander Logan Williams, a transfer from Division III Sewanee (Tenn.), impressed with a good fastball-slider combination in the fall and could be a big find for the Wildcats. With other exciting arms like lefthander Magidel Cotto and righthanders Seth Chavez and Ryder Giles, Kentucky has no shortage of options. With so many new faces, the Wildcats will have to spend some time figuring out the best roles for everyone on the roster, but if it all clicks, they could surprise this spring.
7. Missouri (28-23, 10-20)
The Tigers have spent the last two seasons in the SEC East cellar and climbing out of that position this spring won’t be easy. But Missouri has an intriguing group of incoming transfers, which ranked No. 16 nationally, that will try to help it make a jump.
The Tigers have to replace their top two hitters—Torin Montgomery and Josh Day, who were both drafted—but do bring back their top power threat, third baseman Luke Mann (.270/.401/.595, 17 HR). He and Trevor Austin (.297/.417/.476), who fits at both second base and left field, figure to be the lineup’s cornerstones. Newcomers like second baseman Matthew Garcia (Bethune-Cookman) and Hank Zeisler (Nevada-Las Vegas) could make quick impacts, while a second-year jump from sophomore shortstop Justin Colon would be a welcome development for the Tigers.
On the mound, Missouri must replace Friday starter Spencer Miles (5-5, 6.20), who didn’t have the best raw numbers, but did post and eat innings for the Tigers. Lefthander Tony Neubeck (3-3, 5.63) returns having made nine starts a year ago and Mizzou has no shortage of competitors for rotation spots. Watch for transfers Zach Franklin (Western Carolina) and Chandler Murphy (Arizona) to immediately step into key roles for the Tigers.
1. Louisiana State (40-22, 17-13)
The Tigers have the most talented roster in the country after a sensational offseason that saw them bring in the nation’s top-ranked classes of traditional recruits and transfers. Those newcomers only served to strengthen an already impressive roster that featured outfielder Dylan Crews, the 2022 co-SEC Player of the Year, and first baseman Tre’ Morgan, a Preseason All-American.
LSU projects to have the best lineup in the country, anchored by Crews, Morgan and third baseman Tommy White, who joins LSU as a transfer after winning Freshman of the Year honors with North Carolina State. On the mound, LSU has retooled after an, at times, trying 2022. Paul Skenes, an All-American two-way player, is set to lead the rotation after transferring from Air Force. Righthander Thatcher Hurd (UCLA) gives the Tigers another prominent transfer who projects to be a part of the rotation and the return of righthander Ty Floyd, who was draft eligible a year ago, is another boost.
LSU enters the season ranked No. 1 for the first time since 1996 and expectations are sky high. But with so much talent, it’s easy to see why.
2. Texas A&M (44-20, 19-11)
Texas A&M last year engineered a worst-to-first turnaround in the SEC West in Jim Schlossnagle’s first season in College Station. The Aggies’ run reached Omaha, where they won their first CWS games since 1993. From that team, A&M returns leading hitter Jack Moss and No. 1 starter Nathan Dettmer, giving it cornerstones to build around in the lineup and on the mound.
The Aggies do have some key pieces to replace, veterans like catcher Troy Claunch, starter Micah Dallas, relief ace Jacob Palisch and outfielder Dylan Rock, who keyed last season’s success. Newcomers will provide many of the answers, as A&M brought in several new pitchers, both through the transfer portal and traditional recruiting, and lefthander Josh Stewart (Texas) and Troy Wansing (Purdue) could quickly take on key roles. Junior college transfer JD Gregson is expected to take over catching duties. Figuring out exactly how to replace clutch performers like Rock and Palisch will likely take time, as players have to grow into those kinds of roles.
But after the success of last season and with the all-around talent on the A&M roster, there’s plenty of reason for optimism heading into 2023 in College Station.
3. Mississippi (42-23, 14-16)
The Rebels took a wild ride to the 2022 national championship, going from one of the last teams included in the NCAA Tournament field to being the last team standing in Omaha. Some of the stars of that team have moved on, including CWS Most Outstanding Player Dylan DeLucia, captain Tim Elko and lineup stalwarts Justin Bench and Kevin Graham.
Even with those departures, Ole Miss is not lacking for talent. Shortstop Jacob Gonzalez (.273/.405/.558, 18 HR) was voted a first-team Preseason All-American by MLB scouting directors and he’s in consideration to be the No. 1 overall pick in July. Outfielder Kemp Alderman (.286/.388/.522, 11 HR) and catcher Calvin Harris (.336/.417/.500) are ready to step into bigger roles, while second baseman Peyton Chatagnier (.248/.317/.461, 11 HR) and outfielder TJ McCants (.236/.324/.410, 10 SB) return to the lineup. Ole Miss also added a couple key transfers in first baseman Anthony Calarco (Northwestern) and outfielder Ethan Groff (Tulane). Ole Miss averaged 7.4 runs per game last season and this year’s offense should again be at that level.
On the mound, Ole Miss must replace DeLucia, who emerged as the team’s ace, and closer Brandon Johnson. The Rebels do bring back lefthander Hunter Elliott (5-3, 2.70), a Freshman All-American who spent the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, as well as Mason Nichols (1-0, 2.84) and Jack Dougherty (4-3, 4.91). Newcomers like freshman Grayson Saunier and transfer Xavier Rivas (Indianapolis) will likely quickly take on key roles on the staff.
4. Arkansas (46-21, 18-12)
The Razorbacks will have a new look in 2023 after they lost nine players through the draft, including top-100 picks Cayden Wallace, Peyton Pallette and Robert Moore. The lineup especially was impacted and just a few regulars return. But after bringing in a top 25 traditional recruiting class and transfer class, the Razorbacks again look dangerous.
Arkansas returns Peyton Stovall (.295/.373/.425), voted a Preseason All-American by MLB scouring directors, and Brady Slavens (.255/.332/.523, 16 HR), giving it some experience in the lineup. The Razorbacks last year mostly stuck to the same lineup all season, but Jace Bohrofen (.228/.333/.435) and Kendall Diggs (.197/.367/.361) both did see action and will now be counted on in larger roles. Among the key newcomers are outfielders Tavian Josenberger (Kansas) and Jared Wegner (Creighton) and infielders Harold Coll and Caleb Cali, who both come from the junior college ranks.
The Razorbacks have more experience back on the mound. Righthander Jaxon Wiggins (6-3, 6.55) has one of the biggest arms in the country but is still learning to harness his stuff. If he can do so, he has first-round upside. Also back are sophomores Hagen Smith (7-2, 4.66) and Brady Tygart (3-4, 3.82, 8 SV), who took on significant roles as freshmen. An X-factor for the Razorbacks was the return of lefthander Zack Morris (6-1, 2.31), who had professional interest but now is back and can fill a variety of high-leverage roles on staff.
5. Auburn (43-22, 16-13)
The Tigers have gone to Omaha in two of the last three seasons and won a regional in three of the last four. Last year’s success was a surprise after a disappointing 2021 season, but Auburn was able to rebuild quickly through the transfer portal. The Tigers are built more traditionally in 2023 and are again ready to compete at the highest level.
Replacing co-SEC player of the year Sonny DiChiara is no easy task, especially as he accounted for nearly a third of the team’s 74 home runs. Auburn does return five regulars from last year’s lineup, giving it a solid core to build around. If newcomers like freshman Ike Irish and transfers Justin Kirby (Kent State) and Cooper McMurray (Kansas) can fit in around veterans like Cole Foster (.267/.395/.488) and Bobby Peirce (.284/.350/.562, 10 HR), the Tigers have the makings of a deep, talented lineup.
On the mound, righthander Joseph Gonzalez (7-4, 3.22), who spent the summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, gives the Tigers an ace. They have plenty of depth behind him but will need to find a No. 2 in the rotation. Sophomore Chase Allsup (1-0, 3.38) is ready to step into a bigger role and could help solidify the rotation.
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6. Alabama (31-27, 12-17)
A year after making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, Alabama made a late push to return to regionals, but ultimately fell on the wrong side of the bubble. There is optimism in Tuscaloosa that after years of strong recruiting under coach Brad Bohannon the Crimson Tide are ready to this spring make a jump.
If Alabama lives up to that potential, it’s likely to start on the mound. The Tide returns its rotation of lefthander Grayson Hitt (4-3, 5.34) and righthanders Garrett McMillian (4-5, 4.29) and Jacob McNairy (6-2, 4.63). McMIllian and McNairy were both drafted last year but opted for another season in Tuscaloosa, giving Alabama a real veteran presence. Hitt has made a jump ahead of his junior season and is ready to move to the front of the rotation. Alabama will need to find some new pitchers to step up in the bullpen, but it has strong overall depth.
Offensively, Alabama returns seven regulars from a season ago. While that continuity and experience is beneficial, Alabama did only average 5.78 runs per game last season, a mark that ranked 201st nationally and 13th in the SEC. Alabama has a solid group of newcomers, but improvement is likely going to have to come from within. With the Tide’s strong pitching staff, the offense doesn’t need to carry the team, but getting to above-average would be a useful jump.
7. Mississippi State (26-30, 9-21)
The Bulldogs last season crashed into the conference’s cellar after winning the 2021 national championship. It was a challenging season that was made worse by a rash of injuries. In an effort to reset, Mississippi State brought in a large transfer class that ranked No. 4 nationally.
The Bulldogs must replace four of their top five hitters from last season with only slugger Hunter Hines (.300/.393/.600, 16 HR), a Freshman All-American, returning. Outfielder Colton Ledbetter (Samford) is the Bulldogs’ top newcomer among position players, and he is coming off a strong fall. Just as important as incorporating the newcomers will be getting some improvement from returners like Kellum Clark (.257/.369/.556, 14 HR) and Slate Alford.
On the mound, Mississippi State will be led by righthander Cade Smith (4-4, 3.86). There are lots of questions behind him, however. Transfers like Nate Dohm (Ball State), Landon Gartman (Memphis) and Aaron Nixon (Texas) are likely to be counted on in key roles, but they have no SEC experience. Returners like KC Hunt (2-4, 7.46) and Parker Stinnett (4-1, 6.12) have big stuff, but will have to show it in big roles. The freshman class has high-end talent, such as switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje, adding more depth to the team. If Mississippi State is to get back on track in 2023, finding some answers on the mound will be critical.
Top 20 2023 Draft Prospects
- Dylan Crews, OF, Louisiana State
- Chase Dollander, RHP, Tennessee
- Wyatt Langford, OF, Florida
- Jacob Gonzalez, SS, Mississippi
- Enrique Bradfield, OF, Vanderbilt
- Paul Skenes, RHP/C, Louisiana State
- Maui Ahuna, SS, Tennessee
- Hurston Waldrep, RHP, Florida
- Will Sanders, RHP, South Carolina
- Grant Taylor, RHP, Louisiana State
- Patrick Reilly, RHP, Vanderbilt
- Tre’ Morgan, 1B, Louisiana State
- Brandon Sproat, RHP, Florida
- Jaxon Wiggins, RHP, Arkansas
- Joseph Gonzalez, RHP, Auburn
- Grayson Hitt, LHP, Alabama
- Nathan Dettmer, RHP, Texas A&M
- Magdiel Cotto, LHP, Kentucky
- Jaden Woods, LHP, Georgia
- Jack Moss, 1B, Texas A&M
Top 10 2024 Draft Prospects
- Chase Burns, RHP, Tennessee
- Tommy White, 3B, Louisiana State
- Thatcher Hurd, RHP, Louisiana State
- Peyton Stovall, SS, Arkansas
- Pierce Coppola, LHP, Florida
- Carter Holton, LHP, Vanderbilt
- Hunter Elliott, LHP, MIssissippi
- Michael Braswell, SS, South Carolina
- Jac Caglianone, LHP/1B, Florida
- Drew Beam, RHP, Tennessee
Top 10 Freshmen
- Andrew Dutkanych, RHP, Vanderbilt
- Brady Neal, C, Louisiana State
- Paxton Kling, OF, Louisiana State
- Chase Shores, RHP, Louisiana State
- Eli Jerzembeck, RHP, South Carolina
- Grayson Saunier, RHP, Mississippi
- Cade Kurland, INF, Florida
- Ike Irish, C, Auburn
- J.T. Quinn, RHP, Mississippi
- Dylan Dreiling, OF, Tennessee
Best pure hitter: Dylan Crews, Louisiana State
Best power hitter: Wyatt Langford, Florida
Best strike-zone discipline: Jacob Gonzalez, Mississippi
Best athlete: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Fastest runner: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Best baserunner: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Best defensive catcher: Nate LaRue, Auburn
Best defensive infielder: Maui Ahuna, Tennessee
Best infield arm: Maui Ahuna, Tennessee
Best defensive outfielder: Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vanderbilt
Best outfield arm: Dylan Crews, Louisiana State
Best fastball: Chase Dollander, Tennessee
Best breaking ball: Chase Dollander, Tennessee
Best changeup: Hurston Waldrep, Florida
Best control: Chase Dollander, Tennessee