What To Watch For This Weekend In College Baseball (5/5)

While many schools are in the middle of final exams, this weekend makes for a bit of a lighter schedule. Unlike seemingly every other weekend this spring, there are no true blockbuster matchups on the slate. However, with conference races in full swing and the battle for coveted regional berths heating up by the day, there is plenty of action from coast to coast. Out west, No. 18 Arizona State and No. 8 Stanford will battle for Pac-12 supremacy, No. 25 Boston College travels to No. 2 Wake Forest for a key ACC series and No. 5 Florida visits College Station to take on a strong Texas A&M squad. Plus, there’s a marquee mid-major series between two excellent Colonial Athletic Association teams. 

No. 8 Stanford (28-13, 15-6) at No. 18 Arizona State (29-15, 14-6)

In what is the most high-profile series on the docket this weekend, No. 8 Stanford makes the trip south to take on No. 18 Arizona State in a battle for first place atop the Pac-12 standings. The teams enter this weekend heading in slightly opposite directions as the Sun Devils have lost three of their last four games, while Stanford has won four of its last five. Although ASU has not played its best baseball in the last week, it is still just half a game behind Stanford for first place in the Pac-12 and has the benefit of playing this key series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, where it is 20-5 this season. With an RPI of 32 and a strength of schedule ranking of 43, the Sun Devils desperately need a series win to remain in contention to host a regional. Willie Bloomquist’s offense is one of the most prolific in the country, and it gets a big boost this weekend with the return of star sophomore catcher Ryan Campos. Campos leads the ASU offense with a .417 average to go along with seven doubles, seven home runs and an on-base percentage of .523 thanks to a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 26-to-12. 

Between the hitter-friendly confines of Phoenix Municipal Stadium and the depth of its starting nine, runs likely will not be hard to come by for Arizona State this weekend. It will, however, need its pitching staff to step up. Against No. 17 Oregon last weekend, no Arizona State starter threw more than five innings, which put a serious strain on its bullpen—a unit that has been bitten by the injury bug. Both Khristian Curtis (4-3, 6.70) and Ross Dunn (4-3, 4.50) are legitimate draft prospects with big-time stuff, but they have yet to string together consistent quality starts. A quality start from one, or even both, would go a long way in securing a massive series victory for the Sun Devils. Out of the bullpen, junior righthander Owen Stevenson (4-1, 4.85 ERA) has allowed just two earned runs in his last five appearances and has collected 40 strikeouts across 39 innings pitched.  

Stanford is currently alone at the top of the conference standings and is fresh off a hard-fought series win over UCLA. Like Arizona State, Stanford is a team whose offense is its greatest strength with a team average of .301 and a handful of dynamic hitters, led by potential top-20 overall draft pick Tommy Troy (.383/.459/.624). One clear advantage the Cardinal has is possessing a bonafide ace on its pitching staff in lefthander Quinn Mathews (5-3, 2.70 ERA). You can almost always count on Mathews to turn in a quality start, and he has gone seven or more innings in each of his last six starts. His pitchability is impressive and his plus changeup is a weapon that keeps opposing hitters off balance. If Mathews can set the tone with another strong outing, the Cardinal will be in an excellent spot to take the series and put a stranglehold on first place in the Pac-12. For as good as Mathews has been all season, seemingly every other arm has struggled. Freshman Matt Scott (5-3, 3.97 ERA) has thrown well, but has allowed 16 earned runs in his last 20.2 innings pitched. With an ERA of 4.28, Brandt Pancer has been the most reliable arm out of the bullpen.  

Given both teams’ difficulties on the mound, combined with the firepower of each offense, this weekend will have no shortage of runs scored and home runs hit. In Arizona State’s biggest home series in quite some time, there should be a great crowd on hand and there is no doubt the Sun Devils will be fired up. Stanford will undoubtedly match that energy, which will make for an exciting weekend. 

No. 25 Boston College (29-14, 13-11) at No. 2 Wake Forest (37-6, 16-4)

Boston College this weekend faces its biggest test of the 2023 season as it takes on Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, where the Demon Deacons have a record of 24-1 this season. The Eagles to this point have built an impressive resume that includes a road win over No. 21 Tennessee, a midweek win over No. 23 Connecticut and road series wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. With an RPI of 14 and a strong resume, BC is squarely in contention to host a regional for the first time in program history. While a series win might be hard to come by, coming out of this weekend with even one win would be big for the Eagles. Boston College’s success this season has been thanks to timely hitting and a pitching staff that attacks the strike zone and avoids hard contact. Outside of likely day one draft selection Travis Honeyman (.304/.383/.534) and potential top-10 round draft pick Joe Vetrano (.293 with 11 home runs), it is not the most prospect-laden group on offense, but nine players have driven in at least 16 runs and each hitter makes for a difficult at-bat for opposing pitchers. Even with how overmatched the Eagles might be on paper, they will give the Demon Deacons all they can handle this weekend. 

On the pitching staff, Chris Flynn (6-2, 3.97 ERA) has struggled a bit in recent weeks, but he is still the best BC starter by a decent margin. Fellow graduate transfer Andrew Roman (2-0, 0.90 ERA) has been lights out in the bullpen, while righthanders Julian Tonghini (2-1, 3.13 ERA) and Joey Ryan (1-0, 4.08 ERA) have also been strong out of the bullpen. In his last nine appearances, which amounts to 13 innings, Ryan has allowed only two earned runs. He relies heavily on a plus changeup that generates plenty of swing-and-miss, and he projects to make multiple appearances this weekend.  

It is no secret that Wake Forest is one of the most well-rounded teams in college baseball. For as loaded as its offense is with its .308 average and 184 extra-base hits in 43 games, Wake’s pitching staff is the best in the country. It ranks first in team ERA with a 2.40 mark, and its rotation of Rhett Lowder (9-0, 1.83 ERA), Sean Sullivan (5-2, 2.50 ERA) and Josh Hartle (8-2, 2.18 ERA) has been outstanding all season. All three possess the rare combination of excellent stuff and advanced pitchability that enables them to carve their way through opposing lineups. Offensively, five of Wake Forest’s nine regulars have more walks than strikeouts and every single hitter in the lineup can do damage on any given day. While it did not have a conference game last week, Wake Forest did notch impressive double-digit wins over No. 7 Coastal Carolina and Wofford. It is comfortably a top-eight national seed at this point, but Wake is looking to secure the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.  

No. 5 Florida (36-10, 14-7) at Texas A&M (26-19, 9-12)

While there isn’t a top-10 matchup in the SEC this weekend, the Gators and Aggies do have an intriguing series in College Station. After sweeping a doubleheader to win its series with previously ranked Kentucky, Texas A&M limps into this weekend having lost five of its last six games. If it wasn’t for a come-from-behind win over Tarleton State on Tuesday, the Aggies would be amid a six-game losing streak. While it is still an NCAA Tournament team for now, A&M lacks a big-time series win for it to hang its hat on. An upset series win this weekend would put the Aggies solidly in the tournament field and give them plenty of momentum heading into the last two weekends of the regular season. 

Although A&M’s offense has a modest average of .272, it is led by a pair of juniors in Jack Moss and Hunter Haas. Moss is hitting .358 with nine doubles, four home runs and 30 RBIs, while Haas is hitting .337 with nine doubles and six home runs. Each has a mature approach at the plate with more walks than strikeouts. Jim Schlossnagle looks to have a star in the making in 6-foot-6 freshman Jace LaViolette. Laviolette has thunderous raw power and leads the Aggies offense in doubles (10), home runs (11) and RBIs (43). Veteran outfielder Brett Minnich has also been productive since returning from an injury to the tune of a .291 average and seven home runs.

On the mound, Texas A&M has struggled to find consistency. Nathan Dettmer (1-3, 6.08) has loud stuff, but has lacked command for the better part of this season. The Aggies’ best arms are in their bullpen in lefthanders Evan Aschenbeck (6-1, 3.77) and Brandyn Garcia (1-1, 3.76). Aschenbeck has an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio of 53-to-13 in 45.1 innings, while Garcia has a 40-to-11 mark in 26.1 innings pitched. Slowing down Florida’s offense is no easy task, so the Aggies will need all three to have their best stuff this weekend to have a chance. 

Florida has won its last five games since being swept by No. 4 South Carolina. It is a very physical bunch on offense, led by the three-headed monster of Jac Caglianone, Wyatt Langford and Josh Rivera. Caglianone is arguably the top two-way player in the country and is hitting .364 with 12 doubles and a nation-leading 26 home runs, while also collecting 52 strikeouts across 44 innings pitched. Langford is a potential top-five draft pick this July and is hitting .403 with 14 doubles and 11 home runs, while Rivera is enjoying a career year and is hitting .377 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. Although that trio provides the bulk of the production for the Gators, freshmen Cade Kurland (.304/.398/.601) and Luke Heyman (.375/.430/.708) have gotten their collegiate careers off to strong starts. 

The Gators have thrown the ball better as of late and have one of the best rotation duos in the country in Brandon Sproat (6-2, 4.67 ERA) and Hurston Waldrep (6-2, 4.74 ERA). Waldrep has struggled in his last two starts but getting him back on track this weekend would be key for the Gators as they close out the regular season. Out of the bullpen is where Florida has lacked consistency at times, but Brandon Neely (0-1, 3.99 ERA) and Philip Abner (3-0, 4.22 ERA) have both been solid. Nick Ficarrotta (4.85 ERA) and Blake Purnell (1-0, 6.23 ERA) each make for difficult at-bats and getting Purnell back to his 2022 self would pay massive dividends for Kevin O’Sullivan’s club. While going on the road and winning a series is never easy in the SEC, Florida’s relentless lineup should prove to be too much for the Aggies to handle. 

Northeastern (35-7, 16-5) at UNC Wilmington (25-16, 14-5)

The CAA is home to some of the best mid-major talent the country has to offer and this weekend pits first-place Northeastern against second-place UNCW. The Huskies have quietly put together an excellent season that includes a series sweep over Indiana State, a win at No. 9 Duke, a win over No. 25 Boston College and a win over No. 23 Connecticut. Its RPI is currently at 39 without a ton of room to get higher in the last few weeks of the season, but the Huskies should be one of the toughest non-host teams in the Field of 64. While it does not have the 35 wins that Northeastern does, UNCW is enjoying a strong season of its own that includes two victories over No. 13 East Carolina and a series win at Texas Christian. 

Northeastern is a well-rounded club with a team average of .313 and a team ERA of 3.56. It has a legitimate star in center fielder Mike Sirota, who has five-tool potential. Sirota is hitting .342 with six doubles, 12 home runs and 38 RBIs in as many games played. A plus runner, Sirota has swiped 17 bases and his speed coupled with his baseball sense allows him to cover plenty of ground in center field. He is as twitchy as they come at the plate, and he has lightning-quick hands with the ability to drive the ball with authority to all fields. Joining Sirota in the outfield is star freshman Cam Maldonado. Maldonado leads the Huskies with a .396 average to go along with nine doubles, 10 home runs and 21 stolen bases. At 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, it is easy to envision Maldonado filling out a bit physically, which will lead to even more impact at the plate. Both are likely day one draft picks in their respective draft years and make for one of the best outfield duos in the country. Veterans Tyler MacGregor (.344/.420/.624), Danny Crossen (.339/.415/.577) and Alex Lane (.338/.460/.649) have all been big-time producers and round out the most impressive lineup in the Northeast.  

The rotation has been masterful all season thanks to the services of freshman Aiven Cabral (5-3, 2.68), junior Wyatt Scotti (6-1, 3.38 ERA) and junior Eric Yost (5-0, 4.55 ERA). Cabral does not have premium velocity quite yet, but he profiles to add a few ticks as he fills out more. He moves well on the mound and is an above-average athlete. Cabral’s slider flashes plus at times and projects to be a true out-pitch down the road. The trio’s combined strikeout-to-walk ratio is an incredible 140-to-21 in 166.1 innings pitched. Graduate student Griffin Young has been Northeastern’s best bullpen arm and as the Huskies’ closer, has a 1.27 ERA with 42 strikeouts to seven walks in 35.1 innings pitched.  

UNCW has a blend of veterans and underclassmen on its roster and has gotten contributions from a number of its players. Redshirt junior infielder Jac Croom leads the way for the Seahawks on offense with a .384 average and a team-leading 10 doubles, while sophomore outfielder John Newton is hitting .344 with nine home runs and 30 RBIs. The biggest producer for the Seahawks to this point has been freshman first baseman Tanner Thach. The 6-foot-5 Thach is hitting .287 and leads the team in both home runs (11) and RBIs (51). He has plus power that he has no problem getting to in games and is one of the best freshmen in the conference. Speaking of freshmen, Brock Willis is hitting .298 with 11 doubles. Willis has a tantalizing tool set and will be a player to follow closely going forward. 

The Seahawks have struggled on the mound, especially their bullpen, but starters Jacob Shafer (6-2, 3.97 ERA) and Zane Taylor (4-2, 4.37) have each been bright spots. Both are pitchability specialists who rely on their ability to throw quality strikes to generate soft contact and get outs. In the bullpen, Brett Banks (0-2, 3.81 ERA) has some of the most thunderous stuff in college baseball, but a lack of command has been a bugaboo for the junior righthander this season. Ethan Chenault (2-2, 6.15 ERA) has thrown better than the back of his baseball card indicates, with his calling card being a plus slider that generates plenty of swing-and-miss. 

Louisville (29-15, 9-12) at Clemson (28-17, 11-10)

Louisville comes into this weekend having lost its last three ACC series and yet another series loss this weekend could result in the Cardinals missing the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 2011. Clemson is headed in the opposite direction and having won its last four ACC series with an RPI of 12, it could very well host a regional at Doug Kingsmore Stadium in June. Freshman Cam Cannarella has been fantastic this spring to the tune of a .388 average with 11 doubles, four home runs and 32 RBIs. Cannarella is also a great runner, and his speed has led to 19 stolen bases. Caden Grice has been superb on both sides of the baseball, as he is hitting .312 and leads the team in doubles (12), home runs (11) and RBIs (43), while also anchoring the rotation with a 3.43 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 39.1 innings pitched. Clemson’s bullpen has been one of its biggest strengths this season and if it can get the same performance as it has all spring, it will be well on its way to its fifth straight series win and in an excellent position to host. 

Louisville’s pitching has been its biggest strength, but the lack of production on offense is glaring and is a big reason for its recent struggles. Outside of Jack Payton (.382/.489/.667), slash-and-dash specialist Christian Knapczyk (.341/.456/.435) and Brandon Anderson (.357/.432/.449) timely hitting has been hard to come by. However, the trio of Gavin Kilen (.296/.389/.736), Eddie King (.277 with four home runs) and Ryan McCoy (.279 with a team-leading 11 home runs) have all shown positive flashes. This will be a difficult road series for the Cardinals, but having their backs against the wall and facing a “must-win” series might be what they need to turn their season around. 

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