Under-The-Radar College Baseball Teams To Watch in 2020
Who is this season’s Georgia Tech, a team that came from outside the Preseason Top 25 to earn the No. 3 national seed in the postseason? Or what about this year’s Elon, a team that ran away with the regular season championship in the Colonial Athletic Association with its most talented team in years?
Last year, those were two of 10 teams we highlighted as under-the-radar teams to watch in the 2019 season. To be considered under the radar, the team must be outside the Top 25, with a lean toward teams outside of the traditional power conferences.
Here are 10 such teams ahead of the 2020 season.
Chances are Boston College will be more of a player on the national stage in 2021 thanks to its excellent core made up of players currently sophomores, but if they blossom early, the Eagles could end up ahead of schedule. Specifically, outfielder Sal Frelick, right-handed pitcher Mason Pelio and shortstop Cody Morrisette are among the 10 best prospects from the ACC for the 2021 draft, but all three had solid freshman campaigns and could become bona fide stars this season. Toss in established veterans like Chris Galland, Brian Dempsey and Dante Baldelli, and you have a team that could find its way into a regional, even in a very crowded ACC.
Few saw coming what Central Michigan did in year one under coach Jordan Bischel. The Chippewas won the Mid-American Conference regular season title, won 47 games overall and then beat Miami in its first regional trip since 1995. Now, most of that team is back and looking to at least repeat what they did last season, and ideally, take things a step further. Shortstop Zavier Warren, a top 2020 draft prospect, will lead a deep lineup and returning starter Cameron Brown headlines a pitching staff more than capable of mitigating the loss of staff ace Pat Leatherman. A team this talented with a postseason appearance already under their belts is a dangerous team indeed.
Last season, after dealing with lots of roster attrition and injury, Iowa still managed to be in a position to get into the postseason, and even gave itself an outside shot of winning the Big Ten, in the month of May. The Hawkeyes faded down the stretch, but with a healthy team full of returners, the 2020 team looks poised to finish what it couldn’t last season. A pitching staff led by lefthander Jack Dreyer, chief among those returning to health this season, Grant Judkins, Cam Baumann and Grant Leonard will be supported by the likes of Izaya Fullard and Austin Martin in the lineup, and that should be enough to bring the Hawkeyes back to the forefront this season.
The Cougars will come into the season hungry after missing the NCAA Tournament in 2019, and with a talented roster, they have what it takes not only to return to June baseball, but also stay a while. In Lael Lockhart and Clay Aguilar, they have a one-two punch in the rotation that will give them a shot to win every weekend series, and the team welcomed in a strong junior college recruiting class, headlined by Ryan Hernandez, Andrew Papatonis, who began his college career at Virginia, Brett Cain and Steven Rivas. Houston hosted a regional in 2015 and 2017, and it’s very possible that this team is closer to those than the one that was left at home for regionals in 2019.
Coming off of their first regional appearance since 2003, McNeese returns a team capable of producing back-to-back postseason trips, which would go a long way toward turning the Southland Conference’s hierarchy, for so long dominated by Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana, on its head. With Nate Fisbeck and Clayton Rasbeary back in the lineup and Will Dion back on the mound, to be joined by top recruit Cameron Meeks, the Cowboys are a dangerous team that can beat you in a lot of different ways.
They may not always be the most talented team in the Western Athletic Conference and they may not often finish the season at the top of the standings, but the Hornets are the most consistent. In 2020, they also happen to be the most talented team and the one projected to win the conference. Righthanders Parker Brahms, Scott Randall and Eli Saul give Sac State a high-ceiling rotation and a lineup led by senior outfielder Matt Smith should be improved. Suffice it to say that this program has the look of one ready to move from consistent winner in the WAC to a player on the national stage.
One of the most quietly consistent programs in college baseball, Casey Dunn’s Bulldogs have won 32 or more games in each of the last six seasons and they’re coming off of a 41-win campaign. Returning righthanders Zach Hester, Jesse McCord and Samuel Strickland lead what could again be the best pitching staff in the Southern Conference and the lineup returns a couple of mashers in Brooks Carlson and Sonny DiChiara. The SoCon is a gauntlet and good teams from the league are left out of regionals annually, but if Samford can get through the conference tournament and get there, no one is going to want to see them pop up in their regional.
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San Diego State
The Aztecs were one of our under-the-radar teams last year, and for most of the same reasons, they’re here again. They are always right in the thick of the Mountain West Conference race, and more importantly, they’re almost always in the mix to be an at-large team into the NCAA Tournament. The 2020 team is particularly intriguing, however, thanks to Preseason All-American third baseman/righthander Casey Schmitt, catcher Wyatt Hendrie, an unsigned tenth-round pick of the Cubs, and a pitching staff of talented young pitchers, including sophomores Mike Paredes and Aaron Eden. Eventually, SDSU is going to advance out of a regional, and it’s conceivable that 2020 could be the season for it.
South Alabama coach Mark Calvi never lets his team stay down for long, and after back-to-back seasons missing regionals, the Jags have the assembled talent to make a return in 2020. Righthander Drake Nightengale is one of the best pitchers in the league and an outstanding Friday starter. Outfielder Ethan Wilson is coming off of a Freshman All-American season and projects as a top draft pick in 2021, and in Michael Sandle and Kaleb De La Torre, he has outstanding lineup protection as well. Coastal Carolina is still the favorite in the Sun Belt, but USA isn’t far behind.
UC Santa Barbara
Coming off of having ten players drafted after an outstanding 2019 season that saw the Gauchos win the Big West regular season title, their first since 1986, and 45 games overall, it seems natural to expect a step back this season. But in a wide-open Big West, that might not be the case. Lefthander Rodney Boone and rigthhander Michael McGreevey are two of the best arms in the league and the middle infield duo of second baseman Marcos Castanon and shortstop McClain O’Connor provides value at the plate and as an experienced double play combination. Perhaps the team isn’t quite what it was last season, but there’s more than enough talent present to make a run in June.