Ranking Former College Players Competing in Division Series

Image credit: Mike Zunino (Photo by Tom DiPace)

After last week’s wild card round, MLB’s playoffs this week progress to the division series, being held in Southern California and Texas. 

Last week, we examined which college programs had produced the most players on postseason rosters this year. Today, we identify the 25 biggest college stars who remain in the World Series hunt as the division series begin. 

While four winners of Baseball America’s Player of the Year award were on rosters to begin the playoffs, just one—Mike Zunino—advanced past the wild card round. He tops this list, but he’s far from the only former college star still chasing a championship this October.

1. Mike Zunino, Rays (Florida)

Zunino won the 2012 Baseball America Player of the Year award as a junior at Florida. With the Gators, he was a career .327/.393/.620 hitter with 58 doubles, 47 home runs and 175 RBIs. Zunino was a key building block of the Florida program, as he made trips to the College World Series all three seasons on campus. 

2. Alex Bregman, Astros (Louisiana State)

Few players have made a bigger impact as a freshman than Bregman at LSU in 2013, when he hit .369/.417/.546 and was named Freshman of the Year. For his career in Baton Rouge, he hit .337/.409/.514, earning first-team All-American honors twice along the way. Whether at LSU or with the Astros, Bregman has been no stranger to postseason baseball. 

3. Dansby Swanson, Braves (Vanderbilt)

Swanson’s career progression at Vanderbilt was impressive, going from seldom playing as a freshman due to injury, becoming a quality contributor at the plate and in the field in his second season and then developing into the biggest star in college baseball. That season, he hit .335/.423/.623 with 15 home runs as his final chapter in Nashville. 

4. George Springer, Astros (Connecticut) 

On extremely talented Connecticut teams full of star players, Springer shined brightest and dominated Big East pitching from the moment he stepped on campus until he became a first-round pick. For his career, he hit .348/.469/.653 with 46 home runs, 196 RBIs and 76 stolen bases. He was the catalyst on the 2011 Huskies team that came closest to returning the program to the CWS for the first time since 1979. 

5. Drew Pomeranz, Padres (Mississippi)

When you look at his career numbers, including a 3.17 career ERA and 344 strikeouts in 267.1 innings, it’s possible Pomeranz is underrated for what he did at Mississippi. The lefthander was a workhorse all three years in Oxford, but he saved his best for his junior season, when he went 9-2 with a 2.24 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 100.2 innings. 

6. Gerrit Cole, Yankees (UCLA)

Cole did his part to make the UCLA rotation that included him and Trevor Bauer one of the most famous and feared in college baseball history. Although he was drafted first overall after his junior season, having struck out 376 batters in 322.1 innings with the Bruins, Cole’s best work was probably as a sophomore, when he went 11-4 with a 3.37 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 123 innings for the CWS runners-up. 

7. Kyle Wright, Braves (Vanderbilt)

Wright is one of the most recent ace pitchers to come out of the Vanderbilt pipeline. After spending his freshman season in 2015 as a key piece of the Commodores’ bullpen, the righthander developed into a workhorse over his last two seasons on campus. For his career, he went 19-11 with a 2.79 ERA and 290 strikeouts in 255.1 innings. 

8. Walker Buehler, Dodgers (Vanderbilt)

Buehler came just before Wright in the Vanderbilt program and put up pretty similar numbers, going 21-7 over three seasons with a 2.88 ERA and 260 strikeouts in 253.2 innings. As a sophomore in 2014, he went 12-2 with a 2.64 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 102.1 innings to help lead the Commodores to their first national title. 

9. Jonathan Holder, Yankees (Mississippi State)

With 37 career saves, Holder was Mississippi State’s closer throughout his career, but it’s perhaps more accurate to say that he was an ace who happened to pitch out of the bullpen. Far from a short reliever, Holder ended up throwing 135.2 career innings at MSU, putting up a 1.60 ERA and 191 strikeouts along the way. 

10. Tony Kemp, Athletics (Vanderbilt)

Proving that size doesn’t have to mean much of anything, the diminutive Kemp was a dynamo at Vanderbilt, winning SEC freshman of the year honors in 2011 and the player of the year award in 2013. He hit .329/.434/.431 for his career, and while power wasn’t part of his game, making things happen on the bases was, as evidenced by his 21 career triples and 72 stolen bases. 

11. Justin Turner, Dodgers (Cal State Fullerton)

Turner’s numbers at Cal State Fullerton were good, as he hit .328/.397/.427 with 61 doubles and 157 RBIs in his career, but more than that, he was the heart and soul of Titans teams that went to the CWS three times while he was there and won a national title in 2004. 

12. Tommy La Stella, Athletics (Coastal Carolina)

One of the first national stars to come out of the Coastal Carolina program, La Stella mashed for the Chanticleers, hitting .384/.461/.637 in his career. In 2010, he was part of a vaunted CCU team that was one of the very best in program history. 

13. Hunter Renfroe, Rays (Mississippi State)

Renfroe’s first two seasons at MSU weren’t easy. He played in just 14 games as a freshman and then hit .252/.328/.374 with four home runs as a sophomore before developing into one of the best sluggers in the country as a junior in 2013. In that junior season, he hit .345/.431/.620 with 16 home runs and helped the Bulldogs come up just two wins short of a national title. 

14. Ryne Stanek, Marlins (Arkansas)

In his first two seasons at Arkansas, Stanek was a very effective pitcher, going 4-2 with a 3.94 ERA as a freshman and 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA as a sophomore. His numbers as a junior in 2013, however, were on another planet. In that season, he went 10-2 with a 1.39 ERA in 97.1 innings of work. 

15. Brett Gardner, Yankees (College of Charleston)

A four-year player at College of Charleston, Gardner was a spark plug of a player in college, hitting .368/.441/.489 with 96 stolen bases. His best season was his senior campaign, when he hit .447/.506/.571 as part of a Cougars team that went 48-15 and 27-3 in conference play. 

16. Mark Canha, Athletics (California)

After serving in a part-time role as a freshman, Canha emerged as one of the best sluggers on the West Coast over his last two seasons at Cal. As a sophomore, he hit .366/.450/.634 with 12 home runs and followed that up by hitting .319/.423/.520 with 10 homers as a junior. He was part of regional teams at Cal in 2008 and 2010, although he missed going to the CWS by one year when the Bears got there in 2011. 

17. Adam Duvall, Braves (Louisville)

After beginning his college baseball career at Western Kentucky, Duvall found his stride at Louisville, which at the time was developing into the national power we see today. In his college career, which included just 17 at-bats at WKU, Duvall hit .323/.407/.548 with 23 homers and 100 RBIs. 

18. Jake Cronenworth, Padres (Michigan)

Before he became a sensation for the Padres in 2020, Cronenworth was a two-way star who captured the Big Ten’s imagination, particularly in his junior season in 2015, when he helped the Wolverines to their first postseason appearance since 2008. That season, he hit .338/.419/.494 at the plate and saved eight games with 53 strikeouts in 49 innings on the mound. 

19. Max Muncy, Dodgers (Baylor)

Muncy famously re-invented himself to become a power-hitting star for the Dodgers over the last several years. At Baylor between 2010-2012, he was as steady as they came, hitting .315/.408/.501 with 27 home runs and 153 RBIs. In each season in Waco, he hit at least .300 with 10 or more doubles and seven or more home runs. 

20. Aaron Judge, Yankees (Fresno State)

Judge’s career at Fresno State coincided with an extremely depressed offensive environment in college baseball, so the prodigious power that we’d come to see regularly with the Yankees took a while to show itself in college. For his career, Judge hit .345/.451/.529 with 18 home runs at Fresno, with 12 of those homers coming in his junior season alone. 

21. Sean Manaea, Athletics (Indiana State)

Throughout his college career, Sean Manaea forced the baseball world to pay attention to Indiana State. In three seasons with the Sycamores, he put up a 3.14 ERA and 290 strikeouts over 261.2 innings. He was an effective pitcher that entire time, but he took his game to another level as a junior in 2013, when he had a 1.47 ERA and struck out 93 in 73.1 innings. 

22. Adam Ottavino, Yankees (Northeastern)

Ottavino has now carved out a long career as a bullpen ace for the Rockies and Yankees, but before that, he was a workhorse starting pitcher for Northeastern. In three seasons with the Huskies, he had a 3.09 ERA and 290 strikeouts in 253.1 innings, which helped him earn his place as a first-round pick. 

23. Shane McClanahan, Rays (South Florida)

McClanahan was at South Florida for just two years before he was drafted in the first round, but he made them count, putting up a 3.31 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 152.1 innings. A late addition to the Rays postseason roster after not pitching in the big leagues during the regular season, McClanahan will look to have his electric stuff make a difference early, just as it did at USF. 

24. Ryan Thompson, Rays (Campbell)

Two-season samples don’t get much better than what Thompson did in two years as a reliever at Campbell. In 2013, he had a 0.88 ERA and saved 10 games in 71.2 innings. The next year, his ERA was 1.33 and he saved 17 games in 88 innings, once again all out of the bullpen. 

25. Stephen Piscotty, Athletics (Stanford)

Piscotty contributed on the mound in his final season at Stanford in 2012 with a 3.05 ERA in 41.1 innings, but he was much more of a difference maker at the plate, where he hit .341/.410/.466 with 131 RBIs in his career. 

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