What To Watch For During College Baseball’s Opening Weekend


Image credit: Kaelen Culpepper (Ken Murphy/Four Seam Images)

College baseball is back! After a long and eventful offseason that spanned nearly eight months, “The Greatest Show on Dirt” finally returns tomorrow. While there is not a singular marquee matchup, there are a few in-season tournaments to keep an eye on as well as a couple of other intriguing series.

2024 Draft Rankings

See where college baseball’s best rank in our updated MLB Draft Top 200 draft rankings.

Baseball At The Beach

The Baseball At The Beach Tournament features four tournament teams from last year in No. 16 Duke, No. 19 Coastal Carolina, Indiana and George Mason. The tournament marks the official start of the season, as Duke takes on Indiana on Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST in what is a big-time tilt. The Blue Devils will trot out prized lefthander Jonathan Santucci (2-2, 4.30 ERA) to take on a dangerous Hoosiers lineup that features last year’s Big Ten freshman of the year, Devin Taylor (.315/.430/.650). Indiana will be without star righthander Luke Sinnard this season, which gives it a big question mark on the mound, but I think the Hoosiers’ bats this weekend will be able to supply plenty of fireworks in what is a hitter-friendly park. 

Later in the day, the host Chanticleers square off against George Mason, who last year won the Atlantic 10 for the first time since 2014. Coastal’s offense—that features potential 2024 top two–round pick Derek Bender and one of the best pure hitters in the country in Caden Bodine—might be a bit too much for the Patriots to keep up with, but don’t be surprised to see George Mason come out of this weekend with at least one win. On top of returning its three most productive hitters from last year’s squad, it also boasts a dynamic one-two punch on the mound in Chad Gartland (7-2, 3.39 ERA) and Konner Eaton (1-3, 6.38 ERA).

Each of the participating teams will get three games this weekend, and this is arguably the highest quality field of any opening weekend tournament. For any team that is able to come away with the equivalent of a series victory, it will be a testament to the caliber of that club and also give it plenty of momentum to begin the season.

Shriners Children’s College Baseball Showdown

In what has become a high-quality event each year, this year’s installment of the Shriners Children’s College Baseball Showdown has five participants in No. 8 Tennessee, No. 18 Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon and Nebraska. The matchup both I, and everyone, have circled is tomorrow night between the Volunteers and Red Raiders. In what was a little bit of a curveball, Coach Vitello yesterday announced that sophomore righthander AJ Russell (2-0, 0.89 ERA) will be the team’s opening day starter instead of first-team preseason All-American and potential first-round draft pick, Drew Beam (9-4, 3.63 ERA). I think this is more of a “chess not checkers” move by Coach Vitello, and certainly not a knock against Beam’s ability. The Vols lineup is deep with an exciting blend of returners and newcomers, while their pitching staff also boasts plenty of depth. It will be interesting to see how they fare tomorrow night against a vaunted Texas Tech lineup that includes a dangerous middle-of-the-order of Kevin Bazzell (.348/.453/.572), Gavin Kash (.327/.397/.692) and Gonzaga transfer Cade McGee (.293/.430/.587).

My dark horse down in Arlington this weekend is Oklahoma. It took a step back last year after its magical run to the College World Series championship series in 2022, but on offense it returns four of its five leading hitters from last year’s team as well as highly-touted freshman shortstop Jaxon Willits and impact transfer Michael Snyder. Center fielder John Spikerman (.270/.413/.383) will be the team’s X-factor, and he is a double-plus runner with an advanced feel to hit and his fingerprints are sure to be all over the box score night in and night out. Sam Houston State transfer Braden Davis (5-4, 2.78 ERA) will be the team’s Friday starter, and he has the chance to establish himself as a bonafide ace as the season goes on. The Sooners love to push the pace on opposing teams, and their up-tempo style of play could cause fits for their opponents both this weekend and beyond. It would not totally surprise me if they are able to notch two wins this weekend.

How To Stream College Baseball Games In 2024

We put together a college baseball streaming guide to help make sense of all the options available.

Oregon last year was just one win away from advancing to the College World Series, and will look to start its season on a high note with a strong showing deep in the heart of Texas. The Ducks lost five of their six most productive hitters from last year’s team, but they return a pair of key returners in Drew Smith (.365/.430/.552) and Bennett Thompson (.340/.402/.613). They also added two transfers who will make an immediate impact in Justin Cassella (.345/.404/.719) and Jeffery Heard (.292/.399/.567). RJ Gordon is back to anchor the rotation after missing the 2023 season due to an injury, and he will look to lead the Ducks to an impressive opening day win tomorrow against the Sooners.

Similar to the Baseball At The Beach Tournament, it would be quite the statement made by any team that comes out of this weekend with at least two wins, but especially Tennessee, Texas Tech or Oregon.

MLB Desert Classic

The Desert Classic this year has an eight-team field that includes Boston College, BYU, California, Georgetown, Grand Canyon, Ohio State, Kansas State and Southern California. While there are no ranked teams in this year’s tournament, there are a handful of highly-talented teams with aspirations to play well into June. The best matchup tomorrow night is Kansas State against California, especially due to the number of blue chip draft prospects it features. The Wildcats have a duo of first-team All-Americans in shortstop Kaelen Culpepper (.325/.423/.576) and closer Tyson Neighbors (5-1, 1.85 ERA), while the Bears have potentially the best catcher in college baseball in Caleb Lomavita (.316/.367/.612) and tooled-out outfielder Rodney Green Jr. (.293/.388/.558).

The Classic will have a total of 12 games played between tomorrow and Monday, but one other matchup I will be focused on is between Grand Canyon and Southern California on Saturday. 2023 was an excellent start to the Coach Andy Stankiewicz era, and the Trojans notched their most wins in a single season (34) since 2015. They return five of their six top hitters from 2023, including potential day one draft pick and all-conference selection Austin Overn (.314/.402/.530). Overn has blazing speed, and last year his program-record 14 triples led the country. Their rotation is headlined by righthander Caden Aoki (4-3, 2.98 ERA), who is a strike-throwing machine and is sure to be in contention to take home Pac-12 pitcher of the year honors. The Lopes will be without last year’s dynamic duo of Jacob Wilson and Homer Bush Jr., but they do return one of the best pure hitters in the country in first baseman Zach Yorke (.368/.471/.549) and experienced outfielder Tyler Wilson (.303/.396/.438). I’m particularly excited about their talent on the mound, especially righthander Danny Avitia (7-1, 3.92 ERA)—who has some of the best command and control in the country—and a pair of relievers in Nate Ward (1-0, 0.72 ERA) and Grant Richardson (1-0, 6.55 ERA). They also have two exciting freshman arms who are expected to contribute right away in Connor Mattison and Hunter Watkins. GCU this year could be a team that takes a bit to hit its stride, but expect the Lopes to once again compete for a WAC championship.

Elsewhere in the field, tomorrow marks the start of the Coach Todd Interdonato at Boston College. Interdonato is an excellent recruiter who is incredibly respected in the coaching world, and I am confident that he will turn the Eagles into a perennial contender in the ACC. Also in the field, make sure to tune in and watch Ohio State lefthander Landon Beidelschies, who had a strong freshman season (0-2, 4.15 ERA) and an all-star summer on the Cape. He features a fastball that has been up to 96, as well as an effective low-80s gyro slider. Georgetown righthander (1-1, 2.57 ERA) Cody Bowker will be the Hoyas’ best arm, and he throws a riding fastball in the low 90s that has been up to 95 as well as an effective slider and changeup.

Around The Country

I will also be dialed in to the USF Baseball Tournament that features two tournament teams from last year in Connecticut and Indiana State, as well as Louisville and South Florida. UConn will be the class of the Big East until it proves otherwise, but I’m particularly interested in how Louisville looks after a down 2023 in which they missed the tournament for the second time in three seasons. The Cardinals have a quality returning core of toolsy outfielder Eddie King Jr. (.274/.350/.457), fellow outfielder JT Benson (.288/.397/.497), infielder Logan Beard (.282/.379/.471) and breakout candidate Gavin Kilen (.265/.321/.338). Kilen will be the team’s everyday shortstop and has advanced barrel skills at the plate. He could be in line for a breakout sophomore season. 

I am especially excited to see how Louisville’s rotation will look with the addition of 2023 Horizon League pitcher of the year Sebastian Gongora (10-1, 3.25 ERA). Gongora’s experience combined with his advanced pitchability makes him the perfect option to get the ball each Friday, and he also brings invaluable leadership qualities to the clubhouse. Patrick Forbes logged just 9.1 innings last season, but he performed well this fall and has some of the best stuff on the staff. Rounding out the weekend rotation is righthander Carson Liggett, who enjoyed a very strong sophomore season to the tune of a 7-2 record with a 3.42 ERA. The Cardinals have talent, and this weekend is a huge opportunity for them to start their season off on the right foot and pick up a couple quality wins.

From this chair, the best individual series this weekend is between UC Santa Barbara and Campbell. The Gauchos travel east to Buies Creek to take on a Campbell squad that has won five straight regular-season conference championships and four conference tournament championships in the last five seasons. UCSB has one of the best rotations in the country in 2023 Big West pitcher of the year Matt Ager (5-4, 3.12 ERA), Mike Guttierez (4-2, 2.54 ERA) and 2022 Big West freshman pitcher of the year Ryan Gallagher. The ‘Chos also have one of the best relief pitchers in the country in Hudson Barrett (5-1, 1.92 ERA), who last year was the Big West’s freshman pitcher of the year. They return six of their top hitters from last season, but an uptick in production across the board will go a long way toward reaching their high ceiling.

Campbell lost a lot of production from last season, but getting 2023 Big South player of the year Lawson Harrill back is a huge bonus. Harrill last year hit .371/.475/.761 and led the team in both home runs (22) and RBIs (69). Another key returner is Max Weller, who had a strong season of his own to the tune of a .331/.471/.504 slash line with 13 extra-base hits. On the mound, Gaston College (N.C.) transfer Derek Vartanian leads the rotation. He had a fantastic fall season and looks the part of a high-end Friday starter. Even though the Camels lost a lot and they aren’t as strong on paper as they’ve historically been, I’m not going to be the one to bet against Coach Justin Haire’s squad. No matter who ends up winning the series this weekend, it is sure to be a fantastic series that will likely come down to a decisive game three on Sunday.

Other series I’ll be paying close attention to include Cal State Fullerton at No. 15 Stanford, No. 21 Oklahoma State versus Sam Houston State and No. 23 Northeastern at Arizona. Enjoy the great baseball this weekend. There is sure to be a lot to unpack come Sunday evening.

Download our app

Read the newest magazine issue right on your phone