College Baseball What To Watch For: Week 7


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

This past week featured some of the most marquee series of the season so far. Clemson trailed by four or more runs in each of its three games against Florida State—including 8-1 in the ninth inning on Saturday and 11-2 in the sixth on Sunday—but mounted a trio of comebacks to sweep the previously undefeated Seminoles. Speaking of the Sunshine State, Florida went on the road and notched an impressive series win over LSU due in large part to its performance on the mound.

Elsewhere, South Carolina soundly swept Vanderbilt and outscored the Commodores by a combined margin of 26-9. Tennessee bookended a tough loss on Saturday to Mississippi with a pair of run-rule victories, while Georgia—thanks to a pair of outstanding performances by Charlie Condon and Corey Collins—swept Alabama. Outside of Arkansas staying at No. 1 and Oregon State at No. 3, there were plenty of changes in this week’s Top 25. Everything gets pushed up a day this week with Easter being on Sunday, so the vast majority of series begin today.

Looking toward this weekend’s slate, the ACC and SEC provide us with the usual handful of ranked matchups, but there is also an intriguing Sun Belt series to keep a close eye on.

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

No. 9 LSU (20-6, 2-4) at No. 1 Arkansas (20-3, 5-1)

The most prominent series this weekend will take place in the famous Baum-Walker Stadium, as the ninth-ranked Tigers visit the top-ranked Razorbacks. LSU is in a little bit of a precarious position. While it remains a top-10 team and boasts an impressive 20 wins, it has lost each of its first two SEC series. The optics of being winless in SEC series in the beginning of April aren’t the best, especially for a team the caliber of LSU, but picking up a pair of wins this weekend is certainly a tall task.

I dove deep on LSU last week, and the overarching themes remain the same. Luke Holman last week bounced back from his rough start at Mississippi State and allowed one run with 13 strikeouts to lead the Tigers to a series-opening win, but the offense—and pitching outside of Gage Jump (5.2 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 8 K)—struggled on both Saturday and Sunday. Across the last two games of the series, the bullpen allowed 11 runs across 8.2 innings pitched. The offense was rather quiet, so the series loss is by no means 100% on the bullpen, but those kinds of numbers are far from a recipe for success.

Hayden Travinski (.333/.482/.667) and Tommy White (.321/.411/.557) continue to provide most of the production, while Jared Jones (.289/.459/.759) has routinely flashed his immense power to the tune of a team-leading 10 home runs. Mac Bingham (.301/.431/.518)—who last weekend turned in a pair of multi-hit performances—has recently come alive. If he is able to continue to be a productive hitter as SEC play rolls along, it would be huge for a lineup that is looking for a spark.

It might be a little bit of a lukewarm take, but I am not overly concerned about LSU’s pitching. Luke Holman (5-1, 0.78 ERA) and Gage Jump (2-0, 2.38 ERA) make for quite the one-two punch, and while Thatcher Hurd (1-3, 7.09 ERA) has endured a difficult season, freshman southpaw Kade Anderson (2-0, 2.21 ERA) could eventually assume the Sunday starter role if need be. A litany of bullpen arms struggled last weekend, but the Tigers still boast a handful of viable relief options. If their poor performances become a theme instead of a one-off, then there is of course more cause for worry. But, until that happens, if it even does, I won’t press the panic button.

The Razorbacks right now are firing on all cylinders. Since their 2-1 loss way back on Feb. 24, they have gone 16-1 with a pair of conference series wins over Missouri and Auburn, respectively. Their offense is solid, but where they particularly shine is on the mound. Their team ERA of 2.50 leads the country and they have three extremely reliable rotation arms, including perhaps the best pitcher in college baseball.

The trio of Hagen Smith (4-0, 1.24 ERA), Brady Tygart (3-0, 1.59 ERA) and Mason Molina (3-0, 2.57 ERA) have been the best rotation in the country to this point and have allowed a total of just four earned runs in their last 30.2 innings. Circling back to Smith, he has been largely untouchable since his one bad inning on Opening Day. Across his last four starts (28 innings), Smith has allowed only four hits, one run and has collected a video game-like 60 strikeouts. He pairs his thunderous, high-90s fastball with a hellacious mid-80s sweeping slider that has generated a ridiculous 63% miss rate. Smith is squarely in contention to be the first arm off the board this July and is a potential top-five overall pick.

Tygart and Molina have also been great, but especially Molina given that he has flown a little bit under the radar compared to his rotation counterparts. He has allowed more than two earned runs in only one start this season and is consistently around the strike zone with his four-pitch mix. Arkansas has yet to play a rubber game this season, but Molina is as good a Sunday starter as you will find and is someone the coaching staff can feel supremely confident in giving the ball to.

Arkansas also boasts a bevy of weapons in the bullpen, led by Will McEntire (2-0, 1.57 ERA), freshman Gabe Gaeckle (0-2, 4.40 ERA) and Koty Frank (0-0, 3.07 ERA). Those three have been head coach Dave Van Horn’s go-to arms, but a handful of others have also emerged as more than viable options.

Its offense is not the most high-powered unit, but it features a bunch of steady, experienced hitters who consistently turn in quality at-bats. The most positive recent development has been the resurgence of prized shortstop Wehiwa Aloy, who is 18-for-55 (.327) in his last 15 games with five home runs and 20 RBIs. His 24 RBIs on the season lead the team and his five home runs are tied for the team lead. Jared Sprague-Lott (.323/.447/.484), Ben McLaughlin (.316/.465/.500), Peyton Stovall (.310/.400/.548) and Kendall Diggs (.302/.413/.593, five home runs) make for a tough heart of the order for opposing pitchers. 

Arkansas won its series last weekend thanks to its stellar pitching, and I’m curious to see how their offense fares if it needs to eventually keep pace in a game—or series—that turns into a slugfest. LSU is a high-quality team that I think will be able to get into rhythm, but I don’t think that happens this weekend. I would be surprised if the Tigers got swept, but I give the advantage to the Razorbacks and their loaded pitching staff.

How To Stream

Both today and Friday’s games will be nationally televised on ESPN2 and SEC Network, respectively, while Saturday’s series finale can be streamed via SEC Network+.

No. 8 Virginia (21-4, 6-3) at No. 11 Duke (18-7, 4-5)

Virginia this week hits the road for a high-profile ACC Coastal Division clash with Duke. The Cavaliers currently sit at 21-4, but it has been far from easy. They have mounted a plethora of comeback victories and their offense is at the root of their success. Outside of a tough series loss at Miami, Virginia has a strong series win over Wake Forest and quality wins over Wichita State, Auburn and Georgetown.  

As mentioned, Virginia’s dynamic offense is the straw that stirs the drink for this year’s team. Its .359 average ranks second nationally and first among all power five programs. What makes the lineup even more formidable, especially down the road, is that neither Griff O’Ferrall (.322/.371/.449) nor Ethan Anderson (.314/.413/.467) have really gotten going yet. The back of their respective baseball cards show a solid slash line, but neither have enjoyed world-beating seasons so far.

Indiana transfer Bobby Whalen currently leads the team in hitting with a .410 average, while freshman first baseman Henry Ford (.379/.468/.670) and sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick (.353/.459/.775)—who leads the team in both home runs (12) and RBIs (40)—have been the two most productive bats. A draft-eligible sophomore, Didawick boasts a big-league body to go along with plus bat speed and comfortably above-average, and plus to the pull-side, raw power. He covers plenty of ground in the outfield and this July figures to be selected somewhere between the fifth and eighth rounds.

Casey Saucke has reverted back to his freshman self and is currently hitting .390/.455/.648 with 13 extra-base hits and 30 RBIs, while Henry Godbout is in the midst of a breakout sophomore campaign to the tune of a .383/.485/.654 slash line and 15 extra-base hits. Godbout has a simple operation with some quickness in his hands as well an advanced feel for the barrel and plus contact ability. When all is said and done, you would be hard-pressed to find a deeper, more relentless lineup in college baseball.

Where things get a bit murky for the ‘Hoos is on the pitching side. Cullen McKay (2-0, 3.75 ERA) and Evan Blanco (2-1, 3.77 ERA) have appeared to have established themselves as the respective Friday and Saturday starters, but after that it is anyone’s guess. Jack O’Connor (0-1, 7.50 ERA) really struggled early on as a starter, but has thrown seven shutout innings in which he has collected 13 strikeouts since making the move to the bullpen. Outside of O’Connor, the only two reliable bullpen arms have been Angelo Tonas (0-0, 1.80 ERA) and true freshman Matt Augustin (2-0, 3.86 ERA).

Virginia is in desperate need of a quality third starter, and it remains to be seen who emerges in that role. Sophomore righthander Kevin Jaxel (4-0, 8.62 ERA) allowed one run across five innings in his start last weekend, Jay Woolfolk (1-0, 7.04 ERA) could be moved back to the rotation—though I highly doubt it at this point—or maybe even Augustin could be used as an opener who could go upwards of three innings. Regardless, the Cavaliers have to gain stability within their pitching staff.

Since beginning the season 13-2—including a sweep of the Baseball At The Beach field and a series win over then top-ranked Wake Forest—and soaring to as high as No. 3 in the Top 25, Duke has gone 5-5 with series losses to Clemson and N.C. State. Last weekend in Raleigh, the Blue Devils’ bullpen squandered a five-run, ninth inning lead to clinch a series loss. Their bullpen is still a big strength, but I think it recently has experienced the side effects of starters not being able to consistently pitch deep into games.

Jonathan Santucci (4-0, 2.70 ERA) has been outstanding for the most part, though his command has been inconsistent. Andrew Healy (2-1, 5.32 ERA) is still looking to round into form and with star freshman Kyle Johnson (3-0, 1.12 ERA) on the shelf, Duke will need some help in the back end of its rotation. Ryan Higgins (0-0, 3.24 ERA) seems to be the man for the job, and last weekend against the Wolfpack he fired four shutout innings. The Blue Devils could also eventually turn to David Boisvert (2-0, 0.00 ERA). Boisvert has fared incredibly well as the team’s midweek starter, and on Tuesday he turned in four shutout innings against Campbell.

It will be important to keep a close eye on the bullpen and its workload. Charlie Beileinson (0-2, 3.60 ERA) had a rough outing last weekend but has otherwise been excellent, while Owen Proksch (2-0, 2.92 ERA), Gabriel Nard (0-1, 3.71 ERA), Jimmy Romano (1-0, 0.93 ERA) and James Tallon (0-0, 6.75 ERA) make for a quartet of other solid options.

Duke’s lineup, which was the team’s biggest question mark heading into the season, has been fantastic. It has gotten production from almost every hitter one-through-nine, and everyone has shown the ability to drive the baseball with authority. A trio of veteran transfers in Ben Miller (.444/.530/.838), Zac Morris (.366/.463/.683) and Logan Bravo (.323/.435/.570) have all produced at an impressive clip, while junior Devin Obee (.367/.453/.633) is currently enjoying the best season of his college career. The freshman duo of AJ Gracia (.352/.482/.659) and Macon Winslow (.321/.396/.551) have both cemented themselves as key pieces to the lineup as well.

I really don’t know what to make of this series. I give the slightest of edges to Virginia given both how deep their lineup is and the recent struggles of Duke’s bullpen, but the Blue Devils pitching staff is the best the ‘Hoos have faced this season. No matter what happens, I fully expect this series to come down to a decisive rubber game on Saturday.

How To Stream

The series begins tonight at 6 p.m. ET, and all games can be streamed on ACC Network Extra.

No. 10 South Carolina (20-5, 4-2) at No. 15 Alabama (19-6, 2-4)

Fresh off a convincing sweep of No. 8 Vanderbilt, South Carolina squares off with Alabama this weekend in what is a key SEC series. I went in-depth on the Gamecocks last week, but their sweep of the Commodores has me more bullish on their long-term ceiling. I mentioned how some key pieces of South Carolina’s lineup had yet to get going, but Cole Messina (4-for-12, four RBIs), Gavin Casas (2-for-6) and most notably Ethan Petry (4-for-8, two home runs) all had strong weekends, while Kennedy Jones (.362/.494/.667) remains scorching hot. Dylan Brewer, who last weekend went 4-for-10 with a home run and two RBIs, has also continued to hit which gives the lineup a huge boost.

What impressed me the most about South Carolina, though, was its pitching. It got two excellent starts from Eli Jones (6.1 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 4 K)—who retired the first 18 hitters in Friday’s game—and freshman Tyler Pitzer (6.1 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K). Garrett Gainey (0-1, 0.64 ERA), Parker Marlatt (1-0, 0.93 ERA), Matthew Becker (4-0, 2.08 ERA), Ty Good (3-0, 1.96 ERA) and Chris Veach (1-1, 3.78 ERA) have all been solid in their respective roles and give the pitching staff an immense amount of depth. The pitching staff has not been a benefactor of weak competition, either. It has performed well against a trio of ranked teams in Clemson, Mississippi and now Vanderbilt.

Alabama is looking to bounce back after a tough sweep at the hands of No. 24 Georgia. The Tide could have won the series, but they blew leads in both game two on Saturday and Sunday’s series finale. My tune has not totally changed on Alabama, though. Its lineup is for real, and it has gotten production from almost all of its hitters.

Gage Miller (.429/.500/.847) has lit the world on fire and still leads the offense in almost every statistical category, while veterans Bryce Eblin (.365/.434/.622), TJ McCants (.355/.435/.776), Ian Petrutz (.330/.457/.479) and Evan Sleight (.316/.405/.551) have continued to swing the bat well. There is also a lot to like with true freshman Justin Lebron (.325/.453/.530), who has present bat speed and barrel skills to go along with a polished defensive skill set.

 Alabama’s pitching staff was in a rut last weekend, and it is hard to not feel confident about a weekend rotation that features Ben Hess (3-0, 5.11 ERA), Greg Farone (3-0, 2.49 ERA) and Zane Adams (2-1, 4.26 ERA). Alton Davis II (1-1, 3.00 ERA) also had a tough weekend, but he remains an excellent bullpen option. Coulson Buchanan (1-1, 4.70 ERA), Tyler Fay (1-0, 3.48 ERA) and Braylon Myers (1-0, 1.80 ERA) have also proven that they can contribute valuable innings out of the bullpen.

This projects to be a hard-fought, ultra-competitive series that comes down to an all-important third game. Alabama’s lineup will give South Carolina’s pitching staff all it can handle, but I think the Gamecocks keep their momentum rolling with another marquee series win.

How To Stream

Both tonight and Friday’s games will be broadcast nationally on SEC Network, while Saturday’s game can be streamed on SEC Network+.

Troy (17-9, 3-3) at Southern Mississippi (16-9, 4-2)

There are a couple of other key ranked series, but I wanted to highlight what should be a great series between two of the top teams in an extremely competitive Sun Belt Conference. Troy, who last weekend lost its series against South Alabama, has a solid series win over Indiana on its resume so far. Southern Mississippi was ranked No. 25 as recently as last week, but fell out of the Top 25 following a series loss last weekend at Georgia Southern. The Golden Eagles’ resume is a little beefier than Troy’s, as they have impressive series wins over Indiana State and Louisiana Tech and a midweek win over No. 15 Alabama.

Troy is respectable on both sides of the baseball, but its biggest strength has been its pitching. Luke Lyon (3-0, 0.62 ERA)—whose ERA ranks third nationally—has anchored the pitching staff, while Noah Manning (3-0, 1.08 ERA), Brady Fuller (0-0, 2.20 ERA), Connor Burt (0-0, 3.27 ERA) and Clete Hartzog (3-2, 4.21 ERA) have all thrown well.

The Trojans boast a relatively deep starting lineup as well, led by Ethan Kavanaugh (.385/.500/.531). Fellow infielder Aidan Gilroy (.373/.482/.463) is off to a hot start of his own, and the trio of Kole Myers (.367/.515/.673), Will Butcher (.327/.468/.694, 38 RBIs) and Tremayne Cobb Jr. (.319/.466/.527) provide some thump in the middle of the order.

Southern Miss is a team that relies heavily on its pitching—and for good reason. The Golden Eagles have a plethora of weapons both in the rotation and in the bullpen. It is a pitching staff that consistently goes after hitters, attacks the strike zone and does not give opposing teams a lot of free bases. Billy Oldham (3-0, 2.62 ERA) leads the way for the rotation, but the improved command and control shown by Niko Mazza (4-1, 4.01 ERA) has only helped his already-loud arsenal.

There are a host of bullpen arms off to great starts. Colby Allen (3-0, 1.53 ERA) has largely been lights out, while Chase Adams (2-0, 3.48 ERA), pitchability specialist Kros Sivley (1-3, 3.52 ERA) and the electric JB Middleton (1-0, 3.38 ERA) round out what is one of the best bullpens in the Sun Belt.

Its lineup has struggled, and so far has amassed a team average of just .253. Dalton McIntyre (.345/.398/.452) and Billy Butler (.328/.463/.578) are off to good starts, but it is thin elsewhere. Slade Wilks and Carson Paetow have combined for 10 of the team’s 24 home runs with five apiece, and Nick Monistere’s 16 RBIs rank second on the team. Southern Miss’ pitching will only be able to carry the team so far, and it is important that a handful of guys are able to increase their production as conference play continues.

Other Notable Matchups

  • No. 2 Clemson (22-2, 5-1) at Miami (14-10, 5-4)
  • No. 17 Mississippi State (18-8, 3-3) at No. 4 Florida (14-10, 4-2); begins Friday
  • No. 19 North Carolina (22-4, 7-2) at No. 13 Wake Forest (17-7, 4-5); begins Friday
  • No. 23 Kentucky (21-4, 5-4) at No. 22 Mississippi (18-8, 3-3)
  • No. 24 Georgia (21-4, 3-3) at No. 6 Tennessee (22-4, 3-3)
  • Texas (15-10, 4-2) at Kansas State (17-6, 5-1)
  • Louisiana (17-8, 5-1) at Texas State (15-10, 4-2)

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: Minnesota (subscription required, series begins Friday).

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

4. Jac Caglianone, Florida (pitching on Sunday)

5. Charlie Condon, Georgia

  • Opponent: Tennessee (series begins Friday).

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 tonight at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2)

  • Opponent: LSU.

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