College World Series Showcases Transfer Portal Successes

Image credit: Auburn's Sonny DiChiara (Photo courtesy of Auburn Athletics)

OMAHA — One look at the talent currently sitting in the transfer portal is probably enough to sell any college coach on the value of at least dabbling in supplementing a roster with transfers. 

But if that doesn’t do it, watching the College World Series might. Everywhere you looked through the first week of games, there were transfers coming through in big spots. 

Oklahoma closer Trevin Michael, who arrived in Norman from Lamar in the offseason, threw a combined 6.2 scoreless innings in three Sooners wins. Notre Dame lefthander John Michael Bertrand, who began his career at Furman, tossed a gem in the team’s opening win against Texas. 

Chris Lanzilli, originally from Wake Forest, and Michael Turner, who began his career at Kent State, combined for six hits in Arkansas’ blowout win over Stanford, and Lanzilli had three home runs in Arkansas’ first four games in Omaha. Lefthander Tommy Sheehan, who came over from Notre Dame, got important outs for Auburn in a win against Stanford, and the Tigers also had the most prominent transfer in the field in first baseman Sonny DiChiara, who came from Samford. 

All eight teams in Omaha have at least one transfer playing a role, and most of the teams here count transfers among the most important players on the roster. 

Some of these teams used the transfer portal in a pretty traditional way, to add a finishing piece or to fill an immediate need. 

With the departure of third baseman Cam Williams via the draft after last season, Texas had a need at the position and was able to fill it with Skyler Messinger from Kansas. At Oklahoma, Jason Ruffcorn and Luke Taggart, two top relievers, had to be replaced, so the Sooners went out and got Michael. 

Arkansas grabbed Lanzilli out of the portal to help replace the production of the likes of Christian Franklin and Matt Goodheart and Turner to replace the departed Casey Opitz behind the plate.

“With Michael Turner, we did a lot of evaluating of his catching to see if he could catch first. And it was all done with the computer, just watching pitches. How did he catch? We graded him out really high,” said Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn. “(We) made a few phone calls and did a couple Zoom calls with him and his parents. And he told me basically, I remember, he told me ‘you just give me a chance,’ because people weren’t beating his door down to take him. And that was a pretty good move by us taking him.”

Texas A&M, however, shopped the entire store in the transfer portal in a way that few teams did. 

Recall that in 2021, Texas A&M didn’t just miss the NCAA Tournament but also missed the SEC Tournament. To be better in 2022, it needed a quick infusion of talent and upon coming over from Texas Christian, coach Jim Schlossnagle wasted little time looking toward the portal to get it. 

As a result, the Aggies arrived in Omaha with four starting position players—first baseman Jack Moss, left fielder Dylan Rock, catcher Troy Claunch and shortstop Kole Kaler—from the transfer portal, plus the team leader in strikeouts on the mound, Micah Dallas, and their most trusted reliever, Jacob Palisch

“Early in the season, (it) took us a little bit to get going, but I think that just came down to learning how to play with each other, learning again how to trust each other. Baseball can be an individual game sometimes, but it’s very much a team game,” Claunch said. “Once we kind of learned to trust each other, once we learned how to play with each other, the connection was already there off the field, the relationships that we had, the friendships, the brotherhood, that was there. And once it clicked on the field, we just started rolling.”

Perhaps leaning that heavily on transfers is just a stopover solution for Texas A&M given the situation it found itself in after the 2021 season—although A&M already has transfer commitments for next season from Arizona State shortstop Hunter Haas, Southern California righthander Carson Lambert and Quinnipiac lefthander Brandyn Garcia—but it also goes to show that if you find the right pieces, it’s possible to build an Omaha team largely from the portal.

“This last time last year we didn’t even have a coaching staff. A third of this team wasn’t even a Texas A&M Aggie yet. We were still recruiting out of the transfer portal,” Schlossnagle said. “You look up a year later and we’re in the Final Four of college baseball.”

From the player standpoint, it’s no real coincidence that things ended up this way. Most of the high-impact transfers on the field in Omaha moved up from mid-major programs or lower level power conference programs specifically to have a chance to be in this position. 

“First and foremost, (I) just wanted to go somewhere where I had a shot to win a national title (and) play in Omaha,” Messinger said. 

Building through transfers isn’t for everyone. For some coaches, it’s just not how they prefer to do business, choosing instead to build the traditional way. For others, it’s just not much of an option at their particular school because of the admissions and academic requirements. 

But clearly gone are the days when any coach can look at the transfer portal and dismiss it as a place where one simply can’t build a championship-caliber roster. 

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