College Baseball What To Watch For: Week 6


Image credit: James Tibbs III (Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images)

Last week was by far the most chaotic week of the season to this point, as 12 ranked teams took series losses and four new teams joined the Top 25. N.C. State, Auburn, Texas and Texas Tech all dropped out following tough series losses, which opened the door for No. 14 Oklahoma, No. 16 Mississippi State, No. 17 Mississippi and No. 25 Southern Mississippi. Of the four newcomers, the Bulldogs notched the most impressive series victory, as they took down No. 2 LSU.

Looking toward this weekend, there are again a number of marquee series. On top of a rematch of last year’s championship series, there is a top-10 matchup in the ACC, a ranked showdown in Knoxville and the No. 2 team in the country has its biggest test of the season to this point.

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

No. 7 Florida State (19-0, 3-0 ACC) at No. 3 Clemson (18-2, 2-1 ACC)

The highest profile series on this weekend’s slate is a battle for early-season ACC supremacy. Florida State—who is the only undefeated team in the country and on paper has played a light schedule—travels to Clemson to take on the third-ranked Tigers. While the Seminoles schedule has not been the most challenging, they do have a midweek win over No. 8 Florida and boast one of the most well-rounded and talented rosters in the country.

Offensively, their .356 team average is tied for first nationally and there are no easy outs in the lineup. It is led by two likely first rounders in Cam Smith (.476/.543/.756) and James Tibbs III (.387/.467/.827), but also features a number of key supplemental pieces in Daniel Cantu (.385/.488/.477), Drew Faurot (.358/.393/.580) and Jaime Ferrer (.314/.412/.700). Everyone takes mature and professional at-bats, but also has the ability to drive the baseball with authority.

The Seminoles also boast a dynamic one-two punch on the mound in Jamie Arnold (5-0, 0.33 ERA) and Cam Leiter (4-0, 3.38 ERA). Arnold is a low-slot lefty who features an explosive fastball that will touch 96, as well as a plus sweeping slider. Leiter is a completely different look for hitters, but also flashes two plus offerings in his mid-90s heater and hammer curveball. It doesn’t stop with the rotation, though. Head coach Link Jarrett and company also feature a bevy of bullpen weapons like veteran Brennen Oxford (0-0, 2.31 ERA), Carson Dorsey (2-0, 2.93 ERA) and John Abraham (1-0, 2.35 ERA).

Perhaps the best quality of this Florida State team is the polish with which it plays. It consistently wins the free-base battle—an imperative ingredient for sustained success—and its .985 fielding percentage ranks second nationally. Clemson is by far the biggest challenge the ‘Noles have had to this point, but they will be far from overmatched.

Outside of a puzzling 18-1 loss to Kennesaw State, Clemson has no real blemishes on its rock-solid resume. On top of a two-game sweep of rival South Carolina, the Tigers last weekend downed No. 6 Duke for their second big-time series win of the season. Following a loss in the series opener to preseason all-American Jonathan Santucci, they won a pair of highly-contested games.

Like Florida State, it is hard to poke a hole in Clemson’s roster. They have a deep lineup that is a melting pot of impact transfers, experienced veterans and key returners, a pair of quality starters and a handful of reliable bullpen arms. Blue chip sophomore Cam Cannarella (.329/.402/.524) is still the straw that stirs the drink, but infielder Blake Wright—who yesterday hit three home runs against Presbyterian—has been the team’s hottest hitter as of late, and is slashing .356/.376/.628 with a team-leading 10 home runs and 25 RBIs. Michigan transfer Jimmy Obertop (.328/.528/.574) has also emerged as a big bat, and last weekend against Duke he hit two massive home runs that were a key reason for Clemson’s series win.

Richmond transfer Alden Mathes provides positional versatility, but is also an impact bat to the tune of a .313/.483/.413 slash line with six extra-base hits and 12 RBIs. Austin Gordon (0-1, 7.90 ERA) has had his ups-and-downs in the Friday starter role, but lefthander Tristan Smith (2-0, 2.55 ERA) and Aidan Knaak (1-0, 3.42 ERA) have stepped up behind him. Smith last Saturday collected a career-high 10 strikeouts, while Knaak on Sunday struck out nine and allowed one earned run across 6.1 innings.

Having a plethora of proven relievers helps to take some pressure off the rotation, and if Clemson is able to come away with a series win this weekend, it will need one of Rob Hughes (1-0, 0.00 ERA), Lucas Mahlstedt (0-0, 3.21 ERA), Matthew Marchal (4-0, 3.55 ERA) or Rocco Reid (1-0, 2.53 ERA) to again step up.

This weekend’s clash at Doug Kingsmore Stadium projects to be a professional and extremely well-played series. It in all likelihood will come down to a decisive third game on Sunday, and I give the slightest of edges to Florida State, who has the deeper lineup.

How To Stream

The series begins tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ACC Network, but both Saturday and Sunday’s games can be streamed via ACC Network Extra.

No. 8 Florida (12-8, 2-1 SEC) at No. 5 LSU (18-4, 1-2 SEC)

In what is a rematch of last year’s championship series that LSU won in three games, Florida travels to one of the most difficult places to play in the country, Alex Box Stadium, in search of momentum after being upset on Tuesday by Jacksonville. While LSU is fresh off a series loss to No. 16 Mississippi State and Florida picked up a huge series win over No. 10 Texas A&M, each team is trending in a different direction.

I went in depth on Florida last week, but its lack of pitching depth has reared its head in the early going. Regardless of what his numbers show, southpaw Cade Fisher (2-1, 7.94 ERA) is too talented to not get into a groove at some point and Jac Caglianone (2-0, 1.77 ERA) is, well, Jac Caglianone. Outside of those two, it has been tough sledding. It was inevitable, but closer Brandon Neely (1-0, 5.14 ERA)—who last week threw six scoreless innings—has seemingly returned to form, but he can’t do it all by himself in the bullpen. Other arms like Fisher Jameson (1-0, 4.15 ERA) and Ryan Slater (1-0, 3.74 ERA) have looked good at times, but both have struggled recently.

Florida’s lineup will be able to produce enough to likely keep it in every game this weekend and beyond, but it must get more length out of its starters not named Jac Caglianone as well as more consistency out of its bullpen. The lineup has been a bright spot and again is led by Caglianone, who is slashing a gaudy .414/.485/.736 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs, but Ty Evans (.360/.461/.587), Colby Shelton (.329/.465/.776) and Tyler Shelnut (.329/.424/.740) provide both depth and firepower.

LSU struggled last weekend in its series with No. 17 Mississippi State. Both Luke Holman and Thatcher Hurd got hit around, while its defense made six errors. It was an uncharacteristically sloppy weekend for the Tigers, who will look to flush their poor performance at home. Outside of last week, Holman (4-1, 0.63 ERA) has been outstanding for the Tigers and has pitched his way to a remarkable 43-to-five strikeout-to-walk ratio. Gage Jump (2-0, 2.12 ERA) has also looked great in his return from injury, but Thatcher Hurd (1-2, 6.55 ERA) has yet to get into a rhythm. The junior righthander is plenty talented with loud stuff to boot, but he has gotten hit around to this point.

It has not been announced yet, but keep an eye out for freshman Kade Anderson (2-0, 1.04 ERA)—who is usually the team’s midweek starter—as someone who could make the jump into the weekend rotation. It might not be this weekend, but it is certainly something to monitor going forward. LSU’s bullpen last weekend was shaky, but there is no real cause for concern given how talented and proven the quartet of Nate Ackenhausen (2-1, 4.72 ERA), Gavin Guidry (1-0, 2.45 ERA), Fred Ulloa (0-0, 1.93 ERA) and Griffin Herring (2-0, 4.76 ERA) is.

Tommy White (.348/.433/.596) got off to a bit of a slow start, but has homered in each of his last four games while going 9-for-18 (.500). Veteran catcher Hayden Travinski (.333/.480/.627) leads the team with 24 RBIs, while the imposing Jared Jones has flashed his immense raw power to the tune of a team-leading eight home runs. Freshman Steven Milam (.310/.420/.352) has carved out an everyday role for himself, but I’m curious to see if any other regulars are able to take that next step as conference play rolls along.

It is hard to deem a series “must-win” a little over a month into the season, but if Florida drops this series, whether it’s a pair of losses or a sweep, it will come out of this weekend with double-digit losses. LSU certainly has the advantage, but the Gators will give it all it can handle.

How To Stream

The series kicks off tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. ET with a nationally televised game on ESPNU, but Saturday’s game can be streamed via SEC Network+. Like Friday’s contest, Sunday’s series finale will be broadcast nationally via SEC Network.  

No. 17 Mississippi (16-6, 2-1 SEC) at No. 11 Tennessee (19-3, 1-2 SEC)

Following a disastrous 2023 season, in which it won just one SEC series and failed to make the tournament, Ole Miss has surged its way back into the Top 25 and is playing some of the best baseball of any team in the country. The Rebels have won 10 of their last 11 games, including a series win over Iowa, ranked series win over South Carolina and another ranked win over Southern Mississippi. Head coach Mike Bianco has his group firing on all cylinders, but this weekend is a good barometer to see how they stack up against one of the SEC’s best.

The Rebels’ new-look lineup is led by Ethan Lege (.384/.490/.699)—who has more home runs (6) than strikeouts (5)—Florida Atlantic transfer Jackson Ross (.347/.520/.597) and former Duke slugger Andrew Fischer (.316/.443/.789). Second-year Rebel Ethan Groff (.310/.429/.500) continues to see the ball well, while Mercer transfer Treyson Hughes (.279/.346/.338) and Arizona State transfer Luke Hill (.233/.387/.315) have both gotten hot as of late.

Ole Miss boasts a surprising amount of depth on the mound with four viable starters. It has seemed to have found its weekend trio going forward in Gunnar Dennis (3-0, 4.56 ERA), Grayson Saunier (3-2, 4.09 ERA) and Liam Doyle (2-0, 3.95 ERA). A junior college transfer from Meridian CC, Dennis has slid rather seamlessly into the Friday starter role, while Doyle—a Coastal Carolina transfer—has appeared to have established himself as a stalwart in the weekend rotation after last week’s 10-strikeout performance against a high-powered South Carolina lineup.

There are also a plethora of viable bullpen options to turn to, including Mason Nichols (2-0, 0.79 ERA), Mason Morris (1-1, 3.09 ERA) and Josh Mallitz (0-0, 2.45 ERA). Those three have been the standouts to this point, but there are also a few additional arms who the coaching staff can feel confident in giving them one-to-two quality innings.

While Tennessee lost its series last weekend to No. 10 Alabama in gut-wrenching fashion, my opinion on the Vols remains largely unchanged. They are an incredibly well-rounded team, and their 55 home runs rank second nationally, while their team ERA of 3.10 ranks fourth. Their schedule will not blow you away by any means, but if you watch this team play, their talent level is evident.

The Volunteers are a well-oiled machine on offense, a unit that is led by a quartet of high-profile draft prospects in Clemson transfer Billy Amick (.375/.457/.800), whose nine home runs lead the team, Blake Burke (.375/.444/.825, 20 extra-base hits), Christian Moore (.365/.460/.694) and Dylan Dreiling (.348/.471/.783), whose 29 RBIs lead the team. Kavares Tears (.368/.477/.691, six home runs and 19 RBIs) is in the midst of a breakout season, while Missouri transfer Dalton Bargo (.368/.479/.632) has recently cemented himself as an everyday player. Nearly every member of the lineup is a threat to leave the yard, but they don’t give away at-bats to opposing pitchers.

The 2024 edition of the Tennessee Volunteers are hardly a one-trick pony, though. Its rotation is anchored by potential first-round draft choice Drew Beam (3-1, 3.03 ERA), who is joined by sidewinder AJ Causey (3-0, 1.65 ERA) and standout sophomore AJ Russell (0-0, 2.89), who is beginning to ramp back up after missing a pair of starts due to an injury. Wiley veteran Zander Sechrist (0-0, 3.31) has been the team’s midweek starter, but he will be an especially key piece in the postseason, where the strain on the pitching staff drastically increases.

The bullpen is led by fireballer Nate Snead (4-1, 3.20 ERA), but he has been stretched out to go four, five and even six innings at a time, and has been deployed as almost a second starter. Lefthanders Andrew Behnke (0-0, 1.80 ERA) and Kirby Connell (2-0, 2.79 ERA) make for a tough look for opposing hitters, while Aaron Combs (0-1, 6.75 ERA) and his outlier fastball are a lot better than the back of the baseball card suggests.

When the Vols are firing on all cylinders, they look like one of the best teams in the country. However, Ole Miss comes into this weekend as hungry as ever and will be playing with a massive chip on its shoulder. I think the Rebels are able to pick up a win, but ultimately I give the nod to Tennessee due to its deep lineup and the home-field advantage it has playing at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

How To Stream

The series gets underway tomorrow evening at 6:30 p.m. ET and all games can be streamed via SEC Network+.

No. 2 Vanderbilt (19-3, 3-0 SEC) at No. 21 South Carolina (16-5, 1-2 SEC)

The third-ranked SEC series features the second-ranked Commodores traveling to No. 21 South Carolina. It is the first true road matchup for Vanderbilt, and the Gamecocks this season are an impressive 13-1 at Founders Park. I dove deep on Vanderbilt last week, and hardly anything has changed. They continue to play perhaps the best baseball of any team in the country and are fresh off a sweep of previously-ranked Auburn.

Vanderbilt has now won 14-straight games since its 9-8 loss to Gonzaga. Carter Holton (3-0, 3.96 ERA) has allowed only one earned run with 20 strikeouts across his last two starts, while Bryce Cunningham (3-0, 2.45 ERA) has continued to see his draft stock soar, thanks to a strong start to the season. Freshmen Miller Green (0-1, 1.12 ERA) and Brennan Seiber (1-0, 1.93 ERA) have firmly established themselves as go-to bullpen arms, but Ryan Ginther (1-0, 0.90 ERA) and Greysen Carter (2-0, 6.23 ERA)—who is almost unhittable when he’s around the strike zone—are two more viable options Coach Corbin can turn to late in games.

The strength of Vanderbilt teams in years past has typically been its pitching. The same can be said this season to an extent, especially given the rotation depth, but it is hard to argue against the Commodores’ .326 team average. Alan Espinal—who last week went 10-for-16—now leads the team with a .392 average, while both Jayden Davis (8-for-14, five RBIs) and Jonathan Vastine (7-for-13, seven RBIs) also enjoyed a strong series.

What stands out the most about the lineup is that to this point it has gotten contributions from every hitter one-through-nine. It has star power with RJ Austin (.376/.466/.482), but veteran Troy LaNeve (.313/.466/.612) ranks second on the team with 23 RBIs and speedster Calvin Hewett (.322/.437/.407, 14 stolen bases) is able to change the game with his speed. There isn’t an overwhelming amount of power, but everyone is consistently on the barrel and has the innate ability to turn in quality at-bats.

South Carolina comes into this weekend with a 16-5 record, but it is lacking in the quality win department. The Gamecocks three weeks ago were swept by arch-rival Clemson, and last weekend dropped their series with Mississippi. The biggest surprise to this point has been the offense, or lack thereof. Rather than star sophomore Ethan Petry (.306/.500/.667), junior backstop Cole Messina (.260/.426/.636) and Gavin Casas (.208/.449/.438) providing most of the fireworks, it is Kennedy Jones (.364/.485/.636) and Dylan Brewer (.338/.473/.479). The production of those two has been a welcome addition, but the slow starts from other key pieces have been a hindrance.

It has largely been the pitching that has kept the Gamecocks in most of their games to this point. Both Eli Jones (2-0, 2.22 ERA) and Dylan Eskew (2-2, 3.91 ERA) have thrown well, while Roman Kimball (1-1, 3.86 ERA) and his fiery mound presence has proven to be a steady option on Sundays. There are also a bevy of weapons in the bullpen, but the quartet of Tyler Pitzer (3-0, 0.73 ERA), Garrett Gainey (0-1, 0.79 ERA), Parker Marlatt (1-0, 1.17 ERA) and Ty Good (1-0, 1.32 ERA) have stood out among the rest. 

A somewhat worrisome trend, and one that only adds pressure to the pitching staff, is that if someone turns in a bad outing, the offense has been unable to produce enough to pick that pitcher up. They have more than enough talent on paper where that should not be an issue, but this is a team that right now is not comfortable in a slugfest.

South Carolina is a good, regional-caliber team that I don’t think will have any problem getting into the tournament. It plays especially well at home, but I think Vanderbilt comes away with a series win, thanks to its relentless lineup and strong starting pitching.

How To Stream

The series begins tomorrow night at 7 p.m. ET and all games can be streamed on SEC Network+.

Other Notable Matchups

  • No. 1 Arkansas (17-2, 3-0 SEC) at Auburn (14-6, 0-3 SEC)
  • No. 10 Alabama (18-3, 2-1 SEC) at Georgia (18-4, 0-3 SEC)
  • No. 16 Mississippi State (16-6, 2-1 SEC) at No. 10 Texas A&M (19-2, 1-2 SEC)
  • No. 20 Dallas Baptist (17-3) at Sam Houston State (15-7, 2-1 C-USA)
  • Georgia Tech (3-0 ACC) at No. 23 North Carolina (18-4, 4-2 ACC)
  • West Virginia (12-9, 2-1 Big 12) at No. 14 Oklahoma (13-7, 6-0 Big 12)
  • Utah (14-6, 3-3 Pac-12) at California (13-5, 4-2 Pac-12)

Prospect Watch: Where To Watch Baseball America’s Top 10 College Prospects (listed alphabetically)

1. Travis Bazzana, Oregon State

2. Brody Brecht, Iowa (pitching on Friday)

  • Opponent: Purdue (subscription required).

3. Chase Burns, Wake Forest (pitching on Friday)

4. Jac Caglianone, Florida (pitching on Sunday)

  • Opponent: LSU.

5. Charlie Condon, Georgia

6. Vance Honeycutt, North Carolina

7. Seaver King, Wake Forest

8. Nick Kurtz, Wake Forest

9. Braden Montgomery, Texas A&M

10. Hagen Smith, Arkansas (pitching today)

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