Eight Underclassmen To Watch In The College World Series

Image credit: UNC sophomore first baseman Michael Busch

OMAHA, Neb — The College World Series this year is not short on star power. Florida righthander Brady Singer, the College Player of the Year, is one of nine players in this year’s field who were this month selected in the top 100 picks of the draft.

Those players are already familiar names to many around baseball and will soon move on to pro ball. But over the next two weeks in Omaha, new stars will emerge and use the CWS as a launching pad to become the next big thing.

A year ago, players such as Singer, Oregon State’s Nick Madrigal and Louisiana State’s Zach Watson were introduced under the bright spotlight of the CWS. Who will this season take the opportunity to shine? Here are eight freshmen and sophomores who will impact the CWS and are players to watch in the 2019 and 2020 drafts.

Michael Busch, 1B, North Carolina

Busch has taken on a key role in the Tar Heels’ lineup, where he is the biggest power threat. The sophomore is hitting .333/.478/.548 with a team-high 13 home runs. His emergence after hitting .215/.349/.341 with three home runs has been critical to North Carolina’s success. Busch said while he made some minor mechanical adjustments to his swing, his improvements have more been a result of getting acclimated to the college game. “I just felt like I started seeing the ball better,” Busch said. “I just tried to see the ball well and just get used to all this pitching. I felt a lot better in the box than I have in the past.”

Jordan Butler, LHP, Florida

Butler pitched on some big stages in high school, twice playing for USA Baseball’s 18U national team. That experience has translated well as he’s moved on to Florida, where he’s become the Gators setup man. The freshman is 6-2, 4.11 with 56 strikeouts and 24 walks in 50.1 innings. Butler ranks second on the team only to closer Michael Byrne in appearances with 28 and Florida is sure to call on the lefty in some big spots in Omaha. “I just try to come in and get my job done,” he said. “Throw strikes, get the lefties out and battle against the righties. Just get my job done and get the game to (closer Michael) Byrne, because that’s kind of like a done-deal when it gets to him.”

Justin Foscue, 3B, Mississippi State

Several underclassmen have taken on everyday roles in Mississippi State’s lineup, including Foscue, a freshman. He’s hitting .256/.348/.372 and is playing solid defense for the Bulldogs. Foscue can help Mississippi State in a variety of ways and said he has this year made his biggest strides mentally. “It’s such a long season,” he said. “You’ve really got to get your mind right to keep grinding through. You’ve got to get yourself to stay calm and slow the game down.”

David Hamilton, SS, Texas

Hamilton came to Texas in the fall of 2016 as a highly regarded recruit and took over as the Longhorns’ shortstop, though he struggled offensively. This year he’s continued to provide strong defense while also emerging as Texas’ leadoff hitter and batting .294/.404/.453 with 31 stolen bases. Hamilton has well above-average speed and has the look of a top-two rounds pick next year. Texas needs him to set the table offensively at the CWS while also anchoring its infield defensively. Hamilton said since arriving at Texas, he has taken a lot of pride in his defense. “I hate every time I make an error,” he said. “I feel so bad because I want to make every play for the pitchers and I feel like I’m letting them down when I do make errors.”

Josh Jung, 3B, Texas Tech

Jung earned All-America honors this year and is hitting .390/.493/.651 with 12 home runs. Still, it feels like the CWS may be where America is introduced to Jung, a potential top-15 pick next year. The sophomore is an incredibly talented hitter with power and solid defensive skills. Jung has a mature approach at the plate that has paid off for him. “I would say I’m a nice, calm, gap-to-gap hitter,” Jung said. “I’m not trying to hit the long ball. Hit for average and if a ball goes over the fence, it goes over the fence.”

Nick Kahle, C, Washington

The sophomore catcher stepped up this year when Willie MacIver broke his hamate bone and missed the start of the season. Kahle became the Huskies’ primary catcher and hit .293/.392/.458 with six home runs in the process. He’s been especially hot down the stretch for Washington and all six of his home runs have come in the last month, including one in both regionals and super regionals.

Casey Martin, 3B, Arkansas

Arkansas’ 2017 recruiting class ranked No. 3 in the country and it has this season been critical to the Razorbacks. Martin, the 2017 Arkansas Gatorade player of the year, has been one of the stars of the freshman class and is the team’s leading hitter with a line of .344/.422/.571 with 13 home runs. He this year moved from the middle of the infield to third base and has had some growing pains defensively but has shown an aptitude for making highlight reel plays in addition to providing a key bat in the middle of the order.

Adley Rutschman, C, Oregon State

In Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier, Oregon State already has three players in its lineup drafted in the top 40 picks. Rutschman is sure to join that group next year and the sophomore has a chance to be the highest pick of any of them, surpassing even Madrigal who went fourth overall. Rutschman is a premier defensive catcher with a well above-average arm and last year took over immediately behind the plate for the Beavers. This year, he’s taken a step forward at the plate, becoming one of Oregon State’s most important hitters and is batting .386/.485/.595 with seven home runs. Much has been made about the Beavers’ trio of juniors, but Rutschman’s time to shine is coming and he has the ability to impact the CWS in several ways.

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