What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (3/24)

Image credit: Josh Rivera (By Michael Wade)

After a midweek slate that was relatively quiet outside of Charlotte knocking off No. 14 South Carolina, this weekend should provide plenty of fireworks. Top teams in both the SEC and ACC face off against one another, while in the Pac-12 a dark horse club faces its biggest test yet.

No. 6 Arkansas (19-2, 3-0) at No. 1 Louisiana State (19-2, 2-1)

In what is the biggest series of the 2023 season to date, 19-2 Arkansas travels to Baton Rouge to take on Louisiana State. Dave Van Horn’s club comes into this weekend riding a 14-game winning streak, which is the second-longest streak in the country. The Razorbacks have done an excellent job dealing with several injuries, including losing top pitching prospect Jaxon Wiggins before the season even started, reliable bullpen arm Koty Frank (0-0, 3.09 ERA) going down for the season and Brady Tygart (1-0, 5.68) also missing some time. This weekend also brings the first road games of the 2023 season for Arkansas, and a trip to The Box, which is one of the most raucous environments in college baseball, will be a huge test. On the mound, Arkansas is led by lefthander Hunter Hollan (4-0, 2.36) who has done an excellent job this spring, while Jace Bohrofen (.406/.541/.734) and Jared Wegner (.390/.510/.805) headline the offense. Sophomore Kendall Diggs has also had a strong start to his 2023 season to the tune of a .344 average, six home runs and 24 RBIs. 

Coming into the season LSU has had some of the highest expectations for any team in recent memory. So far, the Tigers have certainly lived up to the hype by cruising to a 19-2 record with their only blemishes coming against ranked opponents. This weekend will be their biggest test to date, but there is no doubt Jay Johnson’s club is well equipped for it. Dylan Crews is off to a torrid start, hitting .515 and getting on base in nearly two-thirds of his plate appearances with a .656 on-base percentage. Third baseman Tommy White is hitting .409 and leads the team in RBIs with 34, while freshman Jared Jones (.365), who might have the most raw power on the team, has a team-leading seven home runs. On the mound, Paul Skenes has established himself as the best starting pitcher in college baseball. He has been lights out, pitching his way to a 0.59 ERA with 59 strikeouts to just four walks in 30.1 innings pitched. His fastball has been clocked upwards of 101 mph with ample arm-side run, and his slider has been hellacious with a miss rate over 50% to this point. Thatcher Hurd (2-0, 2.57) has been fantastic, while Vanderbilt transfer Christian Little (1.80 ERA, 21 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched) has been formidable out of the bullpen. This series is going to be a clash of the titans, but it is hard to not give the edge to the Tigers thanks to their home crowd. 

No. 13 Miami (15-6, 5-1) at No. 4 Wake Forest (19-3, 4-2)

This is the best series of the ACC slate this weekend as Miami, who was in a precarious position after starting 8-5 overall before the start of conference play, heads to Wake Forest—the team sitting atop the ACC standings. The Hurricanes have gotten to this point with marquee series wins over two previously ranked teams in North Carolina State and Virginia Tech. Last weekend against the Hokies, the Hurricanes hung 37 runs across three games and are swinging the bats as well as anyone in the country right now. Yohandy Morales has been as advertised, hitting .346 with five doubles and 22 RBIs, but C.J. Kayfus is a huge reason for why the Hurricanes have seen a huge increase in production over the last two weeks. The junior first baseman has seen his average skyrocket over 100 points and is now hitting .350 while being tied for the team lead in doubles with six, ranking second on the team in home runs with six and posting more walks (15) than strikeouts (12). Freshman Blake Cyr arrived in Coral Gables with plenty of buzz and he’s exceeded those lofty expectations; Cyr leads the team with a .361 batting average, is tied for the team lead in home runs with six and leads the Hurricanes with 29 RBIs. Like Kayfus on offense, righthander Gage Ziehl has had everything clicking on the mound in his last two starts. He’s allowed just one earned run in his last 13 innings pitched, logging 16 strikeouts in the process. Righthander Karson Ligon (2-0, 4.11) has been solid all season, while Andrew Walters (0.00 ERA, 17 strikeouts in 8.1 innings pitched) and Chris Scinta (1-0, 2.87 ERA) have anchored the bullpen.  

Wake Forest has cruised to a 19-3 record to this point with two of its three losses coming at the hands of ACC opponents. The Demon Deacons are one of the most balanced and deep teams in the country with both an outstanding pitching staff and star-studded lineup. Although losing Teddy McGraw for the season was a tough blow, the three-headed monster of Rhett Lowder (4-0, 1.74 ERA), Sean Sullivan (3-1, 1.75 ERA) and Josh Hartle (4-1, 1.86 ERA) has been lights out. The trio has a combined strikeout-to-walk ratio of 136-to-15 across 85.2 innings pitched and has carved its way through opposing lineups with relative ease. Wake Forest’s electrifying closer, Camden Minacci, has done a fantastic job finishing games to the tune of a 1.93 ERA and 16 strikeouts to three walks in 9.1 innings pitched. Righthander Seth Keener has dazzled in a hybrid role, pitching his way to a 0.90 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 20 innings pitched. The offense is hitting .313 as a team, but it is led by sophomore Tommy Hawke (.430/.546/.570), Nick Kurtz (.375/.506/.859), Adam Cecere (.356/.505/.836) and potential first-round pick Brock Wilken (.333/.458/.821). 

No. 2 Florida (19-4, 2-1) at No. 15 Mississippi (15-6, 0-3)

The defending national champions started off their SEC schedule on a sour note by getting swept at Vanderbilt in dominant fashion. The Rebels were outscored, 37-4, over the span of three games and their excellent lineup was kept in check. They have a chance to bounce back in a big way this weekend as they welcome No. 2 Florida to Swayze Field. Although it was kept quiet last weekend, Ole Miss’ offense is its calling card. It is hitting .316 as a team, and is led by junior catcher Calvin Harris, who is hitting a team-leading .378 with four doubles and three home runs, Kemp Alderman, who is hitting .364 and leads the team in both home runs (9) and RBIs (30), and projected top-10 pick Jacob Gonzalez, who has a very advanced approach and is hitting .342 with six doubles and four home runs. Tulane transfer Ethan Groff has proven to be a key piece of the Rebels’ offense right away, hitting .355 with seven doubles, four home runs and ranking second on the team with 29 RBIs. Some of the Rebels’ troubles have stemmed from finding consistency in their rotation, but injuries to premier 2024 draft prospect Hunter Elliott and star reliever Josh Mallitz have certainly not helped the cause. With Xavier Rivas (4-1, 5.40 ERA), Jack Dougherty (2-2, 6.14 ERA) and Grayson Saunier (1-1, 6.30 ERA) there is plenty of raw talent to go around, but the key will be putting it all together as Ole Miss gets into the meat of its SEC schedule. Brayden Jones and Mason Nichols, who each have an ERA of 1.54 in 11.2 innings pitched, have been strong out of the bullpen.

The No. 2 Gators roll into Oxford fresh off a series win against Alabama to begin SEC play and a 9-5 midweek victory over in-state rival Florida State. With a team average of .335 (third-best nationally), the Gators’ offense is a force to be reckoned with. Junior shortstop Josh Rivera has been a revelation for Kevin O’Sullivan, and he leads the team with a .417 average and 37 RBIs. He has also belted 10 home runs and has walked more than he’s struck out, which has led to a gaudy on-base percentage of .514. True freshman second baseman Cade Kurland has been outstanding, and in an everyday role is hitting .386 with six doubles, seven home runs and 26 RBIs. Veteran backstop B.T. Riopelle (.314, 28 RBIs) and speedy center fielder Michael Robertson (.308 average, .471 on-base percentage) have also been key producers. However, the headliner for the Gators is sophomore two-way star Jac Caglianone. The 6-foot-5 slugger is hitting .380 and leads the country in home runs with 13, while posting exit velocities upward of 120 mph. On the mound, he is the team’s Sunday starter and is armed with a fastball that has been up to 99 and a slider that shows promise as a putaway pitch. So far, he has a 3.20 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 25.1 innings pitched, while holding opponents to a measly .159 batting average. Caglianone is a legitimate contender for the Golden Spikes Award and is on the short list to be drafted first overall in 2024. On top of Caglianone, the Gators’ rotation is made up of Brandon Sproat (4-0, 2.73 ERA), who threw a complete game shutout last weekend, and Hurston Waldrep (3-1, 4.00 ERA). Waldrep’s numbers may look modest to this point, but the electric righthander has some of the best stuff in all of college baseball. His split-change may be the best of its kind and his fastball and power curveball are also plus pitches. Going into one of the best environments in college baseball is no easy task, but the Gators are armed with the tools to succeed.

No. 18 Missouri (17-3, 3-0) at No. 14 South Carolina (20-2, 3-0)

Both No. 18 Missouri and No. 14 South Carolina have been two of the most surprising teams in college baseball this spring. The Tigers come into this weekend’s showdown with a 17-3 record and opened SEC play with a stunning sweep of Tennessee. Junior second baseman Trevor Austin (.369/.500/.631), senior outfielder Ty Wilmsmeyer (.333/.423/.424), fifth-year senior Luke Mann (.329 with five home runs) and sixth-year senior Hank Zeisler (.323 with nine home runs) spearhead a veteran Tigers offense. The Missouri pitching staff has also been excellent so far, with a team ERA of 3.49. Arizona transfer Chandler Murphy has come into his own, pitching his way to a 3.04 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched. Freshman Logan Lunceford likely won’t pitch this weekend after throwing six innings in Wednesday’s game against Kansas, but he has notched a 1.56 ERA with 27 strikeouts across 17.1 innings pitched. Another fifth-year senior in Rorik Maltrud has been stellar with a 2.37 ERA and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 30-to-2 in 19 innings pitched. Sixth-year senior Zach Franklin, who most notably allowed just one earned run in the March 19 finale against Tennessee, has an ERA of 3.65 and is striking out more than two hitters an inning with 35 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. 

The Gamecocks come into this series with a record of 20-2, although they did suffer a hiccup this past Tuesday with a loss to unranked Charlotte. Like Missouri, South Carolina also opened SEC play with a road sweep—it outscored Georgia, 29-7, across three games. The Gamecocks have a high-powered group on offense, led by freshman sensation Ethan Petry. Petry is hitting .434 with nine home runs and has a team-leading 31 RBIs. Senior shortstop Braylen Wimmer is hitting .363 with six home runs and 13 stolen bases, while another freshman in Cole Messina has also been a big-time producer with a .349 average, nine home runs and 30 RBIs. Since transferring from Vanderbilt, junior first baseman Gavin Casas has blossomed and is hitting .319 while leading the Gamecocks with 12 home runs. Noah Hall (4-0, 2.59 ERA) and Jack Mahoney (3-0, 2.67 ERA) lead the way for a South Carolina pitching staff that ranks seventh in the country with a team ERA of 2.70. James Hicks (0.93 ERA) and freshman Eli Jones (1.50 ERA, 22 strikeouts to two walks in 18 innings pitched) have each been fantastic out of the bullpen. This is one of the more intriguing series on this week’s schedule and the winner will have put itself in prime position to qualify for an NCAA Tournament berth.

Washington (14-5, 2-1) at No. 9 UCLA (15-3, 5-1)

Washington’s program has found new life thanks to the hiring of Jason Kelly and is off to a strong 14-5 start with a Pac-12 series win already under its belt. Sophomore outfielder A.J. Guerrero is off to a scorching-hot start, with a .389 average and seven extra-base hits. Shortstop Cam Clayton is hitting .349 with nine doubles, six home runs and is second on the team in RBIs with 20. Veteran slugger Will Simpson has been the biggest source of production for the Huskies, with a .321 batting average, a team-leading 24 RBIs and nine home runs. Freshman infielder Sam DeCarlo has shown promise in the early going as well with a .333 average and seven extra-base hits. The Washington pitching staff is led by potential day one draft pick Kiefer Lord, who has pitched his way to a 2.73 ERA with 35 strikeouts in 27.2 innings pitched. Lord is armed with an upper-90s fastball and a shorter slider that is an effective pitch. Stu Flesland has also been superb with a 2.48 ERA and a 33-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 29 innings pitched. Case Matter (0.79 ERA) and Josh Emanuels (1.10 ERA) make for an effective 1-2 punch out of the bullpen. 

No. 9 UCLA is quietly playing some of the best baseball in the country and has won 10 of its last 11 games, including a sweep of Pac-12 foe Arizona. Junior third baseman Kyle Karros leads the way with a .364 average and 21 RBIs, while sophomore infielder Duce Gourson has compiled a .348 average of his own. Gourson is second on the Bruins with six home runs and 20 RBIs. Sophomore first baseman Jack Holman has taken a step forward and is hitting .333 with eight extra-base hits. After a freshman All-American campaign in 2022, Cody Schrier is hitting .310 to start 2023 with four doubles and three home runs. Sophomore outfielder JonJon Vaughns, who is also a linebacker on the UCLA football team, has a team-leading seven home runs. On the mound is where the Bruins really shine, with a team ERA of 2.37 (second nationally). Senior righthander Kelly Austin has been great and has a minuscule ERA of 0.99 with 31 strikeouts in 27.1 innings pitched. Potential day one draft pick Alonzo Tredwell has also gotten off to a strong start in 2023, with a 2.53 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched, while Chris Aldrich (0.00 ERA in 13.2 IP), Cody Delvecchio (0.66 ERA in 13.2 IP), and Michael Barnett (1.76 ERA in 15.1 IP) have anchored the bullpen. 

Other Series of Note

—No. 12 Texas A&M (14-6, 1-2) at No. 11 Tennessee (16-6, 0-3) 

—North Carolina State (16-5, 2-4) at No. 17 Boston College (15-4, 4-2)

—No. 16 Texas Tech (18-4, 2-1) at Texas (15-7, 0-0)

—Sam Houston State (13-9, 6-1) at Grand Canyon (14-6, 5-1)

—No. 25 Kentucky (19-2, 3-0) at Alabama (18-4, 1-2)


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