Image credit: Jac Caglianone (Danny Parker/Four Seam Images)
Before the first pitch of the season is thrown, Teddy Cahill and Peter Flaherty look into the crystal ball to make a few predictions for the 2024 season.
This is one installment of our annual college baseball preview. Find other elements below.
Player of the Year
Teddy: Jac Caglianone, 1B/LHP, Florida.
Caglianone last season hit .323/.389/.738 with 33 home runs (a BBCOR record) and went 7-4, 4.34 with 87 strikeouts in 74.2 innings as a weekend starter. He’s not without flaw as a player—he strikes out too much as a hitter and his control needs to be refined on the mound—but let scouts worry about that. He has game-changing power and can touch 100 mph from the left side. There’s no more talented player in the country.
Peter: Travis Bazzana, 2B, Oregon State.
A dynamo in every sense of the word, Bazzana is one of the premier players in the sport and the potential No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft. Bazzana last year was an all-conference selection after hitting .374/.500/.622 and then went on to win MVP of the Cape Cod League after hitting .375/.456/.581. He can impact the game in myriad ways, and is a winner who makes everyone with whom he shares a dugout better. While it will be difficult, Bazzana has the toolset to potentially post an even gaudier stat line than he did last season.
Pitcher of the Year
Teddy: Josh Hartle, LHP, Wake Forest.
Hartle came to Wake with significant hype—he was a projected top-50 draft pick before formally withdrawing from the event as a high school senior. He’s lived up to it, last year as a sophomore earning first-team All-American honors as he went 11-2, 2.81 with 140 strikeouts in 102.1 innings. This year, he’ll move to the front of the Demon Deacons rotation and look to surpass his already gaudy numbers.
Peter: Chase Burns, RHP, Wake Forest.
Armed with a thunderous fastball and hellacious slider, Burns has some of the best pure stuff in the country. He split his time last year at Tennessee between the rotation and the bullpen, but will be a key piece in what is a loaded Wake Forest rotation. Both his changeup and curveball made positive strides this fall, and he looks the part of a potential future ace.
Freshman of the Year
Teddy: Drew Burress, OF, Georgia Tech.
Listed at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, Burress doesn’t stand out physically. But don’t let his size fool you. He has impressive all-around tools and is ready to step right into center field and the top of the order for the Yellow Jackets. He’s a well above-average runner and makes a lot of hard contact at the plate.
Peter: Trent Caraway, 3B, Oregon State.
Caraway is one of the most highly touted freshman bats in the country and will be an everyday member of what is a stacked Oregon State lineup. He is ultra-physical and has the unique ability to hit for both average and power, and figures to be a high-impact player in his first year.
Yes, no team has won back-to-back College World Series titles since South Carolina in 2010-11. And, yes, LSU must replace the two best players in the country in Paul Skenes and Dylan Crews. But, also yes, I’m picking the Tigers to repeat. Top to bottom, I don’t think there’s a more talented roster in the country and coach Jay Johnson has shown throughout his career that he’s adept at pulling the most out of his players. Combine that with the Tigers’ combination of star power and depth, and I like their chances in 2024.
Peter: Wake Forest.
After finishing third in last year’s College World Series—their first trip to Omaha since 1955—the Demon Deacons this offseason went into the transfer portal and reloaded. On top of key returners like Nick Kurtz (.353/.527/.784), Josh Hartle (11-2, 2.81 ERA) and Michael Massey (3-1, 2.59 ERA), Wake Forest brought in two of the best transfers in the country in center fielder Seaver King (.411/.457/.699) and righthander Chase Burns (5-3, 4.25 ERA). Armed with plenty of depth on both sides of the baseballs, Wake Forest has what it takes to be the last team standing this June.
Teddy: West Virginia.
The Mountaineers have never reached the College World Series. This year could be the season of their breakthrough, however. It starts with shortstop JJ Wetherholt (.449/.517/.787, 16 HR, 36 SB), the reigning Big 12 player of the year and last season’s national batting champion. WVU has plenty of big arms on the mound, and while they’re a bit light on Big 12 starting experience, the foundation is there for a strong pitching staff. It also gets the added motivation of this being the final season for coach Randy Mazey, who is retiring following his 12th season at the program’s helm. This could be a storybook sendoff.
Peter: UC Santa Barbara.
From this chair, the Gauchos have the most underrated rotation in college baseball. Potential top two–round pick Matt Ager (5-4, 3.12 ERA) is the headliner, but southpaw Mike Gutierrez (4-2, 2.54 ERA) is an extremely advanced strike-thrower and righthander Ryan Gallagher (8-0, 3.25 ERA) is back after missing all of last season. Sophomore righthander Tyler Bremner (5-4, 5.37 ERA) might have the best stuff on the staff, while lefthander Hudson Barrett (5-1, 1.92 ERA) is a lights-out backend option. With a deep pitching staff and a lineup chock full of returners, the Gauchos this season will be able to play with anyone.