Opening Day has arrived for college baseball after a long offseason. Before the first pitches are thrown, however, Teddy Cahill and Michael Lananna look into the crystal ball to make a few predictions for the 2018 season.
Teddy: Florida. The Gators last June won the first national championship in program history and return much of that team, including a trio of Preseason All-American righthanders in starters Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar and closer Michael Byrne. Even after losing College World Series Most Outstanding Player Alex Faedo to the draft, Florida’s pitching staff is deeper this season and its young hitters have another year of experience. The Gators have all the pieces necessary to repeat as national champions.
Michael: Oregon State. With an absurd 56-6 record, the 2017 Beavers had a compelling case as the greatest team of all time—until they fell just short in Omaha. The good news for Oregon State, and bad news for the rest of the country, is that the Beavers lost very little from that squad. Pat Casey’s team is stacked with talent, especially up the middle with infielders Nick Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier, catcher Adley Rutschman and center fielder Steven Kwan. Add a deep pitching staff to that equation, and the Beavers should be primed for yet another deep run.
Teddy: Oklahoma. The Sooners last year made their first appearance in regionals since 2013 and return many key pieces, including every pitcher that started a game last season. With such an experienced pitching staff and Preseason All-American outfielder Steele Walker anchoring the lineup, Oklahoma can make Skip Johnson’s first year as head coach a memorable one.
Michael: Connecticut. Snubbed from regionals last year, the Huskies enter 2018 with a chip on their shoulders. They also boast one of the best one-two punches in the country in southpaws Tim Cate and Mason Feole at the top of their rotation. UConn is a veteran group, with key returners Zac Susi at catcher and Anthony Prato at shortstop. If the Huskies can hit just enough to support their stellar pitching, they could be a force in the Northeast.
Player of the Year
Teddy: Luken Baker, 1B, Texas Christian. One of college baseball’s most powerful players, Baker last year hit .317/.454/.528 with eight home runs before an injury to his left arm ended his season in May. Now fully healthy, Baker is back at the heart of the Horned Frogs’ lineup and is ready to help them back to Omaha for the fifth year in a row.
Michael: Travis Swaggerty, OF, South Alabama. A star this summer for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team, Swaggerty has all of the tools scouts look for at the top of the draft. His combination of speed and power fueled him to a .356/.484/.571 sophomore season with 11 homers and 19 stolen bases. All signs point to similar, if not better, production this season.
Pitcher of the Year
Teddy: Brady Singer, RHP, Florida. Singer will take over this year as Florida’s ace after going 9-5, 3.21 with 129 strikeouts in 126 innings as a sophomore. He was dominant during the CWS and should thrive on the big stage of pitching on Friday nights in the Southeastern Conference.
Michael: Colton Eastman, RHP, Cal State Fullerton. Injury limited Eastman to 33.2 innings last season, but as a freshman the righthander went 8-3, 2.24 with a sparkling 100 strikeouts to 20 walks in 100.2 innings. Eastman fits the Fullerton mold of a zone-pounding, intelligent ace, with a deep mix of pitches and excellent feel. In the pitcher-friendly Big West Conference, Eastman should dominate.
Freshman of the Year
Teddy: Garrett Mitchell, OF, UCLA. The third-highest ranked player on the 2017 BA 500 to make it to campus, Mitchell will immediately step into UCLA’s lineup in right field. He gives the Bruins a dynamic, toolsy player who has the potential to quickly become one of the Pac-12 Conference’s most exciting players.
Michael: Reid Detmers, LHP, Louisville. While Detmers won’t open the season in Louisville’s weekend rotation, he has the talent, poise and command to work his way into that group at some point this season. Though not overpowering, Detmers has a polished three-pitched mix and an advanced approach that should serve him well in the college game.