College Baseball What To Watch For: Week 2


Image credit: (Photo by Eddie Kelly / ProLook Photos)

The college baseball season is in full swing, and after an exciting opening weekend plus a midweek slate that saw UNCG topple No. 1 Wake Forest, expect more fireworks this weekend.

The state of Texas is at the epicenter of college baseball this weekend as it hosts a marquee multi-team event plus a high-quality series between two ranked opponents. Out east, the Jax College Baseball Classic boasts a strong four team field and in North Carolina two ranked, in-state rivals square off.

Additionally, here are some helpful links to aid your college baseball consumption this weekend…

Kubota College Baseball Series

The first weekend of a multi-weekend event features a loaded four-team field of No. 3 Arkansas, No. 4 Oregon State, Michigan and Oklahoma State. The best matchup not only this weekend, but of the college baseball season to this point, is tomorrow night between the Razorbacks and Beavers.

Arkansas is 3-1 to this point with its only blemish being a 7-3 loss to James Madison. The Razorbacks feature a balanced offensive attack with a number of weapons. So far, a trio of transfers—Jared Sprague-Lott (3-for-9), Hudson White (5-for-14) and Ty Wilmsmeyer (5-for-15)—have been three of the team’s most productive hitters, while leading hitter Kendall Diggs, Wehiwa Aloy and Ben McLaughlin are also off to strong starts.

I’m most curious to see how staff ace Hagen Smith looks after a rough first start in which he was pulled after one inning in which he allowed three runs and two walks. Smith’s talent is undeniable, but he’ll have his work cut out for him with Oregon State’s lineup. The pitching staff as a whole has performed quite well early on with both Brady Tygart and Mason Molina making quality first starts, and the duo of Will McEntire and Koty Frank anchoring the bullpen.

It’s early, but Oregon State looks like a juggernaut. The Beavers are now 5-0, most recently beating No. 17 Texas Tech 10-4 on Wednesday. Their lineup is perhaps the most dangerous in college baseball, and it is headlined by potential No. 1 overall pick Travis Bazzana. Bazzana is off to a blazing start and has routinely flashed his impressive combination of explosive bat speed and feel for the barrel, and his three home runs lead the team.

True freshman Trent Caraway has also hit the ground running and is 9-for-19 with five extra-base hits. The outfield trio of Brady Kasper, Micah McDowell and Gavin Turley are also off to fast starts, and Turley and Kasper’s nine RBIs are tied for the team lead. It’s not just the offense getting it done, as on the mound the pitching staff has a total ERA of 2.00. Aiden May in his first start allowed one earned run across 4.2 IP and boasts the best stuff on the staff with a mid-90s fastball paired with a quality sweeper. Head coach Mitch Canham has a bevy of weapons in the bullpen as well, and his club is well-equipped for any type of game.

Oklahoma State will be looking to bounce back after a tough first weekend in which it lost two-of-three to Sam Houston. Unlike in previous seasons, the pitching staff early on has been the Cowboys’ biggest strength. They last week got two quality starts from Brian Holiday and Janzen Keisel who spun six and five shutout innings, respectively. The bullpen faltered a bit, but there are still a handful of relief arms who head coach Josh Holliday will feel comfortable deploying on a regular basis.

The lineup will look to carry over the momentum it built in last Sunday’s 19-2 shellacking. It is led by potential first-round pick Carson Benge (7-for-12), who on top of being the team’s leading hitter to this point also leads the team in extra-base hits and RBIs. Mississippi State transfer Lane Forsythe and spark plug Zach Ehrhard have both looked comfortable in the box in the early going, and if they can continue to be regular contributors it would provide a real boost to the offense. Reigning Big-12 freshman of the year Nolan Schubart (2-for-12) struggled last week, and him getting going will be key for the Cowboys.

Rounding out the field is Michigan, who last week went 2-2 against Western Michigan but did win the last two games of the series to end the weekend on a somewhat high note. The biggest bugaboo last week for the Wolverines was its pitching staff, who compiled a team ERA north of 7.00.

Prized freshman righthander Dylan Vigue struggled with command in his first-career outing, but he has the best stuff of any Wolverine arm and will look to fare better than he did last Friday. Offensively, the Wolverines are led by sophomore centerfielder Jonathan Kim, who after hitting over .300 as a true freshman is off to a 9-for-17 start and leads the team with five RBIs. Cole Caruso (6-for-15) and Greg Pace Jr. (4-for-13) both had solid first weekends as well. They’ll go through a gauntlet this weekend, but it would not shock me if Michigan left Arlington with a win.

How to stream

Those interested in watching the Kubota College Baseball Series this weekend will need access to FloBaseball and the FloSports app.

Games kick off Friday with Michigan vs. Oklahoma State (4 p.m. ET) and No. 4 Oregon State vs No. 3 Arkansas (8 p.m. ET).

Jax College Baseball Classic

The Jax College Baseball Classic boasts a stacked four-team field of No. 10 Virginia, No. 18 Iowa, No. 20 Auburn and Wichita State.

It wasn’t easy, but the Cavaliers last weekend came away with a sweep of Hofstra. The offense was firing on all cylinders and scored 42 runs across three games, but the starting pitching—outside of Evan Blanco—struggled. Jack O’Connor got tagged for eight hits and three runs in his four innings, while Jay Woolfolk struggled with command and allowed six runs in just two innings, due in large part to the five walks he surrendered. However the bullpen for the most part has been outstanding, and both O’Connor and Woolfolk figure to get better as they continue to round into form. This is a particular period of adjustment for Woolfolk who just this year made the transition from the bullpen into the rotation.

Through four games the Cavaliers as a team are hitting .374. Indiana transfer Bobby Whalen is 6-for-10 with six RBIs, while true freshman Harry Ford is 8-for-15 with six RBIs of his own. Ford has looked excellent in his first handful of games, and could be the next great hitter to come out of Charlottesville. Star shortstop Griff O’Ferrall seems to have added some more strength which has led to an uptick in power. On top of being 8-for-17, O’Ferrall leads the team with seven RBIs and his two long balls might not jump off the page as being super impressive, but he hit just one in 2023.

I tabbed sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick as a potential breakout candidate for the ‘Hoos, and so far this year he’s 7-for-17 with and leads the team in home runs (3), extra-base hits (5) and RBIs (7). I’m interested to see how the lineup fares against Iowa on Saturday against Marcus Morgan who has electric stuff.

Speaking of the Hawkeyes, they are 3-1 this season following a two-win weekend at the Shipyard Tournament and a 20-6 win over Loras College (division-III). Their rotation has arguably the best collective stuff of any team in the country and is led by flame-thrower Brody Brecht. Brecht struggled at times last week to find the strike zone, but he allowed one run and struck out 11 across 4.1 innings.

Piggybacking Brecht is fellow righthander Marcus Morgan who in his first start twirled 5.2 shutout innings and struck out nine. He pairs his riding mid-90s fastball with a plus sweeper, and last week both generated whiffs. Low slot lefthander Cade Obermueller rounds out the rotation, and he fired four shutout innings of his own last week with seven strikeouts. The leader of the lineup is outfielder Sam Petersen who is off to a torrid start and is 10-for-16 with three extra-base hits. Raider Tello (7-for-18) is also seeing the ball well, and his two home runs and eight RBIs both lead the team.

Auburn is off to a hot 4-0 start thanks to a sweep of Eastern Kentucky and midweek win over UAB. There have been a few bright spots on offense like blue chip sophomore Ike Irish (6-for-18), toolsy outfielder Chris Stanfield (5-for-13) and veteran Cooper Weiss (5-for-13), but the real story is the pitching staff. Through four games, it has a total ERA of just 1.85. UAB transfer Carson Myers dazzled in his first start and allowed just two hits with eight strikeouts across six shutout innings.

The Tigers also welcomed back Joseph Gonzalez, who after one start last season missed the rest of the year with an injury. In his return to the bump, Gonzalez worked five shutout innings and allowed two hits. If Gonzalez is able to stay healthy and even somewhat return to his 2022 self, it makes this Auburn team a heck of a lot more dangerous. Outside of one shaky appearance, the bullpen has been virtually lights out with a plethora of arms logging a quality appearance. With a pair of ranked matchups on the docket, this weekend will be a big early test.

Wichita State has had to weather perhaps the most roster turnover of any team in the country, but the Shockers fared well in their first weekend and notched a series win over Arkansas-Little Rock while scoring 36 runs. The lineup is led by a quartet of weapons in Ryan Callahan (7-for-13), Camden Johnson (8-for-15), Mauricio Millan (5-for-11) and veteran slugger Seth Stroh (4-for-13). The staff is especially high on Millan. He provides an advanced defensive skill set and is a threat at the plate.

Righthander Daniel Zang is a quality starting option for the Shockers, and last week he spun six shutout innings and notched eight strikeouts. One of the few returners from last year, Nate Adler is a viable option out of the bullpen who last week tossed three scoreless innings. This year is supposed to be a year of growth for the Shockers, and this weekend they are essentially playing with the house’s money in their three high-profile matchups.

How To Stream

The tournament schedule can be found here and games will be streamed here.

Top 25 Matchups

No. 15 East Carolina at/vs. No. 16 North Carolina

In what is my favorite individual series of the weekend, East Carolina and North Carolina will face off in three different ballparks in as many days. The series opens up Friday in Chapel Hill, and then the two play a neutral site game in Fayetteville before closing out the series in Greenville. The Pirates last weekend comfortably swept Rider, but are fresh off a tough one-run loss to Campbell.

On the mound, the one-two punch of Trey Yesavage and Zach Root makes for an extremely formidable duo. Yesavage last weekend struck out eight and allowed one run across four innings, while Root fanned seven in 4.2 shutout innings of his own. In addition to Yesavage and Root, the staff as a whole has allowed just five earned runs through four games which is good for a minuscule team ERA of 1.29.

Offensively, ECU is led by potential day one draft pick Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (7-for-16). On top of being the team’s leading hitter, Jenkins-Cowart also leads the team with five extra-base hits. Veteran Carter Cunningham (7-for-18) is also off to a strong start and has driven in a team-leading six runs. The Pirates pitching will keep them in every game, but I am curious to see who this weekend steps up outside of Jenkins-Cowart and Cunningham.

The Tar Heels are off to a perfect 4-0 start. On opening weekend they scored 46 runs en route to a sweep of Wagner before earning a hard-fought 8-7 win on Tuesday against Elon. As a team, UNC is hitting an impressive .362 and is averaging four extra-base hits per game. Junior outfielder Casey Cook (10-for-16) is off to a roaring start and on top of being the team’s leading hitter, he also leads the team with nine RBIs. Veteran slugger Alberto Osuna (5-for-15, 2 home runs) has flashed his power prowess early on and Georgia transfer Parks Harber’s (7-for-16) fingerprints have been all over the box score game in and game out. You can’t forget about premier centerfielder Vance Honeycutt, who on top of making a number of excellent plays early on, has flashed his plus power to the tune of a team-leading three home runs. 

Carolina’s pitching staff before the season was dealt a sizable blow Jake Knapp was ruled out for the season. In his absence, a pair of freshman righthanders each enjoyed productive collegiate debuts, as Folger Boaz allowed one run and struck out five in as many innings, while Olin Johnson allowed one earned run and punched three tickets across 2.2 innings pitched. The Tar Heels also boast an exciting mix of veterans and newcomers in the bullpen, all of whom have been excellent in the early going. Dalton Pence has been a particular weapon and has 4.2 scoreless innings and seven strikeouts to his name. This profiles to be an extremely hard-fought series that in all likelihood will come down to a decisive third game on Sunday.

How To Stream

The series kicks off Friday at 4 p.m. ET, which you can stream on ESPN+.

No. 24 UCLA at No. 6 TCU

On top of the Kubota College Baseball Series and the Round Rock Classic, the Bruins this weekend descend upon Texas for a big-time ranked matchup against the Horned Frogs. Following a down year in 2023 in which it failed to make the tournament for the first time since 2016, UCLA started its season off on a high note with a sound sweep of Gonzaga.

I was most impressed with Cody Schrier and how he started the season after battling injuries during the 2023 campaign. The slick-fielding shortstop last weekend went 7-for-12 with a double and a home run. His double-play partner Duce Gourson had a great series of his own, going 4-for-10 with a pair of home runs. Roch Cholowsky, who was arguably the most highly touted true freshman to make it to campus, showed well in his debut weekend and went 4-for-12 with two RBIs.

Although Luke Jewett was hit around a bit in his first start, the righthander was one of the Bruins best arms this fall and boasts a quality pitch mix. Sophomores Michael Barnett (5 shutout innings, six strikeouts) and Finn McIlroy (5 innings, one earned run, three strikeouts) were fantastic last weekend and combined to allow one run in their 10 total innings. Following a weekend in which each of its starters went at least five innings, the UCLA bullpen heads into this weekend without much wear-and-tear, and each of its go-to relievers will be ready to go.

TCU sits at a perfect 4-0, but none of its wins have come easy. Last weekend against Florida Gulf Coast, the Horned Frogs erased six run deficits on back-to-back days en route to two thrilling walk-off wins. If you thought Sunday’s win was easier given the 11-6 margin of victory, you would be incorrect as TCU trailed 6-5 before a six-run outburst in the bottom of the sixth inning put the game out of reach. Most recently, the Frogs led wire-to-wire in their win over Texas State but the Bobcats cut their lead to one run in both the fifth and eighth inning. 

For as shaky as its pitching has been early on, TCU’s offense has been the exact opposite. The Horned Frogs as a team are hitting .347 and have laced 18 extra-base hits, including eight home runs. Anthony Silva, who is the best college shortstop in this year’s draft, is 9-for-17 and fellow sophomore Karson Bowen is 6-for-17 with six RBIs. The story so offensively is how well true freshman Chase Brunson has done. The 6-foot-3 outfielder is 7-for-13 with five RBIs, and his four extra-base hits lead the team. What I will be paying extra attention to is how the rotation responds after a rough opening weekend. Kole Klecker and Payton Tolle both allowed four earned runs in their three innings pitched, while Zack Morris also allowed four runs in his four innings. 

There is no doubt that this is a talented trio and there is no reason to be sounding any alarms this early in the season, but it will be something to watch going forward. The bullpen so far is the bright spot of the pitching staff. Unsurprisingly Ben Abeldt has notched two saves across two spotless appearances, but junior Zachary Cawyer has been a pleasant surprise to the tune of 4.2 shutout innings and six strikeouts. I think TCU ultimately takes two-of-three, but it would not shock me at all to see UCLA leave the Lone Star State with a top 10 series win under their belt.

How To Stream

The series begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be streamed on ESPN+.

Other Notable Matchups

  • Round Rock Classic (Kansas, Kentucky, Texas State, Washington State)
  • Gonzaga at No. 7 Vanderbilt
  • Sacramento State at UC Santa Barbara
  • No. 21 UC Irvine at Tulane
  • Connecticut at California

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