What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (3/31)
With No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 11 Tennessee kicking off the fireworks last night, college baseball fans are in for another exciting weekend with two marquee Big 12 series, a heavyweight matchup to open up Big Ten play and a high-quality mid-major series in the Sunshine State.
No. 19 Texas (19-7, 3-0) at No. 17 Oklahoma State (20-6, 4-2)
The Longhorns currently own the longest active winning streak in the country, they’ve won 15 straight, and after an impressive midweek win over in-state rival Texas A&M, make the trip north to Stillwater to take on No. 17 Oklahoma State in a Big 12 showdown. The Cowboys are fresh off a midweek shutout loss at the hands of Dallas Baptist and are searching for their first marquee conference series win of the 2023 season.
Texas is a team that is built on experience and continuity, but like seemingly everyone in college baseball, made a few key additions in the transfer portal this past offseason that have paid dividends. Redshirt junior outfielder Porter Brown comes to Austin by way of Texas Christian and his play has been outstanding so far. He is hitting .363 with eight doubles and six home runs, and leads the team in RBIs with 28. USC transfer Garret Guillemette has been a reliable backstop for David Pierce, but he has also produced with the bat to the tune of a .314 batting average with nine doubles and three home runs. Redshirt senior outfielder Eric Kennedy is on pace for the best season of his collegiate career, but what has been most impressive this season is the emergence of some more thump in his bat. He is hitting .374 and leads Texas in both doubles (10) and home runs (7). Reliable southpaw Lucas Gordon has been the Longhorns’ best arm to date, and the pitchability specialist has a 1.65 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 32.2 innings pitched. USC transfer Charlie Hurley has excelled in a hybrid role, pitching his way to a 1.86 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .188 average. Lebarron Johnson Jr. (2.97 ERA, 34 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched), Zane Morehouse (3.12 ERA, 31 strikeouts in 26 innings pitched) and David Shaw (1.86 ERA, 22 strikeouts in 19.1 innings pitched) have all been key arms as well.
Oklahoma State has a record of 16-1 at O’Brate Stadium and is happy to get the Longhorns in its own backyard. As a team it is hitting .314 with 50 home runs in 26 games played and boasts one of the best lineups in the conference. Star freshman Nolan Schubart leads the way for Josh Holliday’s bunch, boasting an eye-popping .402 average along with eight home runs and a team-leading 31 RBIs. After missing the entire 2022 season rehabbing from Tommy John Surgery, redshirt freshman Carson Benge has made his presence felt on both sides of the baseball. At the plate he’s hitting .354 with eight doubles and four home runs, while on the bump he has emerged as a solid midweek option. The electrifying Roc Riggio is hitting .330 with nine doubles and eight home runs, and his double play partner Marcus Brown is hitting a respectable .289 with four home runs. Veteran catcher Chase Adkison has been a catalyst in the Cowboys’ lineup thanks to a .356 average, and the same goes for senior infielder Davis Mendham. Mendham is hitting .321 and has laced nine doubles and eight home runs. Two-way star Nolan McLean boasts a .298 average with seven home runs, while dominating in a closer role on the mound with a 1.35 ERA and six saves in nine appearances. Junior Juaron Watts-Brown has been excellent as the Friday night starter and has a 2.97 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 33.1 innings pitched. Out of the bullpen, sidewinder Isaac Stebens has been the most relied upon arm and across 10 appearances has an ERA of 1.88 with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 34-to-6. The Big 12 race is shaping up to be a tight one, and this weekend’s series in Stillwater will go a long way in determining how the standings shape up in May.
TCU (16-9, 4-2) at No. 20 Texas Tech (18-8, 2-4)
In another pivotal series within the Big 12, the surging Horned Frogs of TCU travel to Lubbock to take on No. 20 Texas Tech—a team that is desperately looking for a spark after a hot start. After losing two of three against Oklahoma two weeks ago, TCU has since won six games in a row and is playing its best baseball of the season. On the flip side, the Red Raiders have lost their last four games in a row and five of their last six. They are suddenly sitting at just 2-4 in conference play and another series loss this weekend would put them in a precarious position.
For the Horned Frogs, their offense is led by Tre Richardson, who is hitting .337 with six doubles, and junior infielder Cole Fontenelle, who is hitting .320 with seven doubles and five home runs and is tied for the team lead in RBIs with 21. Although his numbers might not jump off the stat sheet, junior third baseman and potential top-20 overall draft pick Brayden Taylor leads the Horned Frogs with eight home runs. His advanced approach and sound swing decisions have led to an on-base percentage north of .400, and it seems like an explosive weekend is on the horizon. True freshman shortstop Anthony Silva is someone that the staff is very high on, and he has really come on as of late. Silva is now hitting .333 and has hit three home runs in his last two games.
On the mound, Cam Brown has been fantastic with a 2.08 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched. True freshman Kole Klecker has been equally impressive, with a 2.30 ERA of his own and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 25-to-4 in 31.1 innings pitched. Ryan Vanderhei has a mid-90s fastball and, aside from two hiccups against San Diego and Kansas, has been solid as the Horned Frogs’ Friday starter. Freshman lefthander Chase Hoover (1.08 ERA in 16.2 innings pitched) and fellow freshman Luis Rodriguez (1.20 ERA, 15 strikeouts in 15 innings pitched) have held down the bullpen along with Cal Berkeley transfer Sam Stoutenborough (3.52 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 15.1 innings pitched).
Texas Tech is a team built on offense, thanks to an impressive .319 team average and a whopping 112 total extra-base hits in 26 games played. Texas transfer Gavin Kash has continued his outstanding start to the season and leads the Red Raiders in batting average (.417), home runs (9) and RBIs (38). Redshirt freshman Kevin Bazzell has also been one of the biggest producers on offense thanks to a .359 average and a team-leading 13 doubles. Bazzell has an elite approach at the plate which has led to him walking more than twice the amount he has struck out, with 23 walks to just 10 strikeouts. Veterans Austin Green (.378/.509/.707) and Nolen Hester (.346/.535/.407) each have on-base percentages over .500 and their production has been a big reason why the Red Raiders offense is so explosive. Freshman outfielder Gage Harrelson (.309) and sophomore catcher Hudson White (.308) are also key pieces for the Red Raiders.
It’s a bit hazier on the mound for Tim Tadlock’s bunch. Mason Molina has pitched his way to a 2.93 ERA with 40 strikeouts in 30.2 innings pitched, but the team needs more consistent arms behind him. Brendan Girton has been effective with a 4.28 ERA and an opponent batting average of just .230, as has Brandon Beckel. Beckel has been lights out in the bullpen with a 0.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched. He is fresh off a four-game suspension and his arm will be huge to have back. Zach Erdman (1.86 ERA) and Andrew Devine (2.53 ERA) have each been solid in limited time out of the bullpen. Although the Red Raiders may not have a lot of pitching depth, their offense can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the country. Add in the fact that they are 17-2 at the friendly confines of Dan Law Field this spring, and this series looks more and more like a winnable one for the Red Raiders.
Maryland (15-9, 0-0) at No. 22 Iowa (19-4, 0-0)
Unlike other conferences, the Big Ten staggers the beginning of its conference slate. For both Maryland and Iowa, this weekend is their first conference series—and a big one at that. After a slow start, the Terrapins have won five of their last six games and are fresh off a quality series win at Central Florida. The Hawkeyes are off to one of the best starts in program history at 19-4 but did lose to Illinois State on Tuesday—a loss that would quickly be forgotten with a series win this weekend.
For Maryland, junior shortstop Matt Shaw has gotten off to a strong start to the tune of a .319 average, nine doubles and eight home runs. He’s got thunderous bat speed and a great approach as well, which has led to an on-base percentage of .443. Senior Nick Lorusso has exploded this spring, leading the Terrapins in average (.369), home runs (10) and RBIs (39). Catcher Luke Shliger is one of the best in this year’s draft class and has proven it thus far, as he is hitting .319 with 11 doubles. Jason Savacool and Kyle McCoy make for a great 1-2 punch on the mound, with an ERA of 2.81 and 2.43, respectively. McCoy is coming off the best outing of his young collegiate career, as he threw eight shutout innings against Central Florida with nine strikeouts. Savacool has been the tone-setter on Friday nights and struck out 10 last week against Central Florida. Maryland has had some inconsistency in the bullpen, but junior Nigel Belgrave has been its go-to guy. He throws a heavy fastball that he can run up into the mid 90s and has pitched his way to a 3.21 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 14 innings pitched.
The Hawkeyes boast a balanced attack on offense with six regulars hitting .305 or better. Brennen Dorighi (.369), Kyle Huckstorf (.364), Sam Peterson (.343) and Raider Tello (.343) lead the way, and all have hit seven doubles. Two-way player Keaton Anthony has gotten off to a strong start as well, thanks to a .329 average, a team-leading nine doubles and a respectable 3.38 ERA on the mound. Speaking of the Hawkeyes’ pitching, sophomore righthander Brody Brecht has some of the best stuff of any arm in the country. He has a 2.20 ERA and is averaging almost two strikeouts per inning, with 46 in 28.2 innings. Brecht is armed with a fastball that has eclipsed triple-digits and a devastating power-slurve breaking ball that is a plus-plus pitch. After announcing last week that he will be focusing on baseball full-time, Brecht should only improve and add more polish to both his delivery and stuff. Accompanying Brecht in the rotation is junior righthander Ty Langenberg, who has pieced together a strong season with a 4.34 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 26.2 innings pitched. Sophomore righthander Marcus Morgan’s numbers are rather modest, but he has an upper-90s fastball, a plus sweeping slider and a solid changeup. Freshman southpaw Cade Obermuller (3.86 ERA) looks to be the next Iowa ace, and thanks to an already-plus slider with spin rates near 3,000 rpm has been extremely effective in his 9.1 innings pitched.
Jacksonville (18-8, 4-2) at No. 21 Florida Gulf Coast (21-4, 5-1)
This weekend’s series between Jacksonville and Florida Gulf Coast pits the two best teams in the Atlantic Sun against each other. The Dolphins come into this weekend riding a five-game winning streak, including two consecutive run-rule victories over Central Arkansas. Florida Gulf Coast is on a seven-game winning streak of its own, which includes two wins over Liberty and an impressive midweek victory over South Florida. For Jacksonville, Kris Armstrong has been one of the best hitters in the country to this point and is hitting .358 with a whopping 16 home runs, a total that puts him second nationally. Senior infielder Chase Malloy is hitting .290 with five home runs of his own, while Blake DeLamielleure is hitting .289 and tied for the team-lead in doubles with eight. The Dolphins have a bona-fide ace on the mound in freshman righthander Evan Chrest. Chrest has been the team’s Friday starter all season and has an ERA of 1.75 with 47 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched. Chris Lotito (1.74 ERA), Scout Updike (2.20 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 16.1 innings pitched) and Divine Valle (2.70 ERA) have all been reliable bullpen arms as well.
Florida Gulf Coast has one of the most vaunted offenses in the country and ranks fifth nationally in both team batting average (.327) and total home runs (56). Senior slugger Alejandro Figueredo is hitting .408 with nine home runs and 33 RBIs, sophomore infielder Edrick Felix is hitting .392 with 12 doubles and nine home runs, senior Joe Kinker is hitting .382 with eight home runs and is the team leader in RBIs with 34, and Jacob Lojewski is hitting .325 with nine home runs as well. Suffice to say, this lineup has been a nightmare for opposing pitching staffs all season and it shows no signs of slowing down. Senior reliever L.J. McDonough has been the best arm for the Eagles with a 0.69 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched. FGCU has also gotten quality innings from Connor O’Hara (2.92 ERA), Justin Henschel (3.33 ERA) and Alejandro Valiente (3.60 ERA). A series win for Florida Gulf Coast would put it in an excellent position to finish the regular season atop the Atlantic Sun, while a Jacksonville win could suddenly vault it to the top of the conference standings.
Other Series of Note
—West Virginia (19-6, 0-0) at Kansas State (18-9, 4-2)
—Missouri (19-6, 3-3) at No. 18 Kentucky (22-3, 5-1)
—No. 8 Louisville (20-4, 3-3) at North Carolina State (18-7, 3-6)
—Oregon State (16-9, 3-3) at Washington (17-6, 4-2)