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January 31, 2013
Perfect Game's College Top 25
Analyzing the 2013 Top NCAA Teams
On December 5, 2012, Baseball Prospectus and Perfect Game announced a partnership to help promote and cover the game at both the amateur and professional levels. As a result of this partnership, Baseball Prospectus subscribers will now get the opportunity to read some of the great premium content being published by Perfect Game for its members. Today, courtesy of Perfect Game, we bring you this special report by Kendall Rogers.
The Road to Omaha has officially begun with the unveiling of the PG Top 25 rankings.
North Carolina leads the way entering the 2013 campaign, but certainly has some stiff company throughout the top 25. For instance, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Stanford, ranked 2,3 and 4, respectively, also had compelling cases to be the nation's top-ranked team. Plenty of other squads also have a great chance to stake their claim this spring.
Without further ado, we take an in-depth look at teams in our rankings and make a compelling case for each.
1. NORTH CAROLINA
Head coach: Mike Fox
Conference: Atlantic Coast
2012 record: 46-16, 22-8 ACC
2012 accomplishment: Hosted Chapel Hill NCAA Regional
Top returning pitcher: LHP Kent Emanuel -- The talented left-handed pitcher had a fantastic sophomore campaign for the Heels last season, going 8-4 with a 1.96 ERA in 110 innings. He also struck out 100 and walked 23, while teams hit him at a .228 clip.
Top returning hitter: 3B Colin Moran -- The Tar Heels should be improved offensively with Moran back in the saddle. He had a productive sophomore campaign, hitting .365 with 11 doubles, a home run, three homers and 35 RBIs. He also slugged .494, had a .434 OBP and struck out 24 times (21 walks).
Freshman to watch: OF Skye Bolt -- The former Perfect Game All-American had a productive fall and will earn significant playing time this spring. Bolt was ranked No. 76 nationally out of high school, and is a polished hitter with plenty of upside.
Prospects to watch: 3B Colin Moran, LHP Kent Emanuel, LHP Hobbs Johnson, C Matt Roberts, 1B Cody Stubbs
Why to feel good: The Tar Heels might have something to prove at the plate, but the pitching staff is national championship worthy right now. UNC has an excellent weekend rotation with left-handers Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson and right-hander Benton Moss leading the charge. Emanuel went 8-4 with a 1.96 ERA in 110 innings. He also has great command with a fastball into the low 90s. Johnson went 7-1 last season with a 1.56 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season, while Moss went 7-2 with a 1.94 ERA in 79 innings. He also struck out 83 and walked 23. That's only the tip of the iceberg, as relievers Chris McCue (2.10, 25.2), Tate Parrish (2.89, 9.1), Chris O'Brien (3.46, 41.1), Shane Taylor (3.48, 41.1), Mason McCullough (3.86, 9.1) and Luis Paula (5.95, 19.2) return for another season. Also keep an eye on right-hander Chris Munnelly, who will serve as the midweek starter, while sophomore righty Trevor Kelley has really impressed with the coaching staff with his new-look motion.
Why there might be concern: North Carolina has potential to be a solid offensive club, but that potential must be put into practice this spring. The Tar Heels have a fantastic returning leading hitter in third baseman Colin Moran, but otherwise, don't return a single hitter that finished last season with a batting average .300 or better. Outfielders Chaz Frank (.293/0/39), Parks Jordan (.270/0/31) and Brian Holberton (.297/1/15) must rise to the occasion, while the same goes for first baseman Cody Stubbs (.258/5/35), and infielders Mike Zolk (.255/0/26) and Michael Russell (.269/0/24).
Head coach: Dave Van Horn
2012 record: 46-22, 16-14 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the College World Series (Beat Baylor in Waco SR)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Ryne Stanek -- The outstanding right-handed pitcher could be the top pick in the upcoming MLB draft if he has a strong enough spring. Stanek is coming off a very solid sophomore campaign, where he had an 8-4 record and 2.82 ERA in 92 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 83 and walked 36, while teams hit him at a .229 clip.
Top returning hitter: 2B Dominic Ficociello -- It's no secret that Ficociello essentially holds the key to the Arkansas offense. Ficociello has good offensive skills, but had trouble putting all the pieces together on a consistent basis last season. Ficociello is coming off a campaign where he batted .290 with 15 doubles, a triple, six homers and 41 RBIs.
Freshman to watch: RHP Trey Killian -- The Hogs could choose to send Barrett Astin to the weekend rotation, but there's also a good chance Killian starts as a freshman. Killian has a mature frame at 6-foot-4, 180 pounds, and had a good fall with good makeup and a fastball into the 90s.
Prospects to watch: RHP Ryne Stanek, RHP Colby Suggs, RHP Barrett Astin, 2B Dominic Ficociello, C Jake Wise
Why to feel good: Most coaches would agree that pitching wins championships. If that's truly the case this season, the Hogs ought to feel very good about their chances. The Hogs have one of the nation's elite pitching staffs with a solid weekend rotation consisting of Ryne Stanek (2.82, 92.2), Randall Fant (3.27, 52.3) and either Barrett Astin (1.99, 58.2) or impressive freshman Trey Killian. The Hogs also have an excellent bullpen with left-handers Cade Lynch (2.11, 47) and Trent Daniel (5.06, 32) and right-hander Brandon Moore (2.43, 81.1) leading the charge. Arkansas definitely has the pitching staff to go the distance.
Why there might be concern: There's definitely some concern about the Hogs from a stability standpoint both defensively and at the plate. The Hogs had an outstanding left side of the infield last season with Matt Reynolds and Tim Carver leading the way, but now need big campaigns from third baseman Brian Anderson and impressive JUCO transfer shortstop Brett McAfee. Offensively, the Hogs were challenged at times last season with just a .271 team batting average, but that mark must improve this spring. Outside of Ficociello, sophomore outfielder Joe Serrano (.333/0/7) could have a productive campaign after finishing last season on such a high note, while catcher Jake Wise (.244/2/25) could very well be primed for a breakout campaign.
Head coach: Tim Corbin
2012 record: 35-28, 16-14 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached final of Raleigh NCAA Regional (lost to N.C. State)
Top returning pitcher: LHP Kevin Ziomek -- The talented lefty had some consistency issues last season, but is ready to take a big step forward this spring. Ziomek, an impressive 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, has big-time stuff and had a 5.22 ERA in 79 1/3 innings of work last season. He struck out 79 and walked 33, while teams hit him at a .260 clip.
Top returning hitter: 1B Conrad Gregor -- The Commodores must replace their leading hitter in infielder Anthony Gomez, but are more than happy with the return of Gregor. Gregor had a productive 2012 campaign and is a Preseason All-American t his year. He batted .328 with 20 doubles, a triple, three homers and 35 RBIs last season. He also finished the year with an impressive .439 OBP.
Freshman to watch: RHP Carson Fulmer -- Vandy right-handed pitcher Walker Buehler will be an impact freshman, as he's expected to start during the midweek. But it'll interesting to see which role Fulmer has this spring. Fulmer, a former PG All-American, was considered a tough sign, so was drafted in only the 15th round by the Red Sox last summer. The talented righty has a fastball in the mid 90s and should be an immediate contributor.
Prospects to watch: LHP Kevin Ziomek, 1B Conrad Gregor, C Spencer Navin, RHP T.J. Pecoraro, 2B Tony Kemp
Why to feel good: Experience and leadership are two of the most important traits any college baseball team can have, and the Commodores possess both. They return at least six key hitters from last year's club in addition to a talented crop of pitchers. Particularly key was the return of outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, who consistently serves as a spark plug for the Vanderbilt offense.
Why there might be concern: There's really not a true reason to worry about this team, but if we had to pick one, it would be consistency of the starting pitchers. Ziomek finished last season with an unimpressive 5.22 ERA, while sophomore Tyler Beede, who gradually got better as last season progressed, had a 4.52 ERA. Both pitchers must be on their game this spring should the Commodores reach their expected goals.
Head coach: Mark Marquess
2012 record: 41-18, 18-12 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Tallahassee Super Regional (lost to Florida State)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Mark Appel -- The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher surprised many last summer when he turned down overtures from the Astros as a first-round pick. Now he's ready to compete for a national title. Appel was 10-2 with a 2.56 ERA in 123 innings of work last season. He also struck out 130 and walked 30, while opponents hit him at a .213 clip.
Top returning hitter: 1B Brian Ragira -- The talented first baseman could be more consistent at times, but he still has the production history and tools to have a great spring, which is why he's a Preseason All-American. Ragira, as a sophomore last season, batted .329 with 15 doubles, five homers and 50 RBIs.
Freshman to watch: RHP Freddy Avis -- There are still some question marks about the Stanford weekend rotation after Mark Appel, but there are some good options, including the ultra-talented 6-foot-2, 180-pounder, freshman. Avis was ranked No. 65 nationally as a high school senior last season and had a good fall for the Cardinal. He has a big-time arm with a fastball in the 90-94 range.
Prospects to watch: RHP Mark Appel, OF Austin Wilson, RHP A.J. Vanegas, 1B Brian Ragira, SS Lonnie Kauppila
Why to feel good: There's absolutely no doubt the Cardinal should be in the mix for the national title this spring. They have a lot of experience on the offensive end of things with the return of Danny Diekroeger (.354/3/10), Dominic Jose (.375/1/11), Brian Ragira (.329/5/50), Austin Wilson (.285/10/54), Alex Blandino (.294/8/40) and second baseman Lonnie Kauppila, who missed much of last season because of an injury. Stanford also has a terrific ace pitcher in Appel, while hard-throwing AJ Vanegas (2.62, 65.1) has things sealed up on the back-end of the bullpen.
Why there might be concern: There's not much of a reason to be concerned about Stanford this spring, but keep an eye on the weekend rotation. Appel certainly is a great way to start the weekend, but the Cardinal is unsure about the rest of the rotation at this point. For now, it looks like senior right-hander Dean McArdle (3.97, 47.2) and Freddy Avis will round out the rotation, but again, it's still to be determined, and that's a question mark.
5. LOUISIANA STATE
Head coach: Paul Mainieri
2012 record: 47-18, 19-11 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached Baton Rouge Super Regional (lost to Stony Brook)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Aaron Nola -- The Tigers might've lost one Nola in outstanding shortstop Austin Nola, but Aaron is back and he's ready to lead the pitching staff. Nola had an outstanding freshman campaign for the Tigers, going 7-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 89 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 89 and walked just seven, while teams hit him at a .251 clip. Nola has a big-time arm and good frame, sitting into the 90s with his fastball.
Top returning hitter: OF Raph Rhymes -- Rhymes put together one of the most memorable campaigns in recent years last season with an outstanding offensive onslaught. Rhymes surprised some by returning to LSU despite getting drafted in the 30th round by the Yankees. Last season, he batted .431 with 11 doubles, four homers and 53 RBIs. He also slugged .530 and had a .489 OBP.
Freshman to watch: SS Alex Bregman -- With Austin Nola no longer in the equation at shortstop, the Tigers desperately need Bregman to step up in the infield. Well, it looks like has the tools and makeup to take care of that issue. Bregman had a terrific fall for the Tigers and is expected to have a big campaign. The 6-foot, 180-pounder, would've been a very high draft pick last summer if not for an injury.
Prospects to watch: RHP Ryan Eades, 2B JaCoby Jones, C Tyler Ross, RHP Nick Rumbelow, RHP Will LaMarche
Why to feel good: The Tigers certainly lost some key cogs in both key areas on the diamond with the departures of right-handed pitcher Kevin Gausman and shortstop Austin Nola, but this time should be more than fine. Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades give the Tigers two experienced power arms in the weekend rotation, while the offense has a stable foundation with Raph Rhymes, Mason Katz (.320/13/52) and Ty Ross (.292/3/41) leading the charge. There's no reason to think this team can't win the national title.
Why there might be concern: Other than a little shakiness at the bottom of the offensive lineup, it's tough to find anything negative about this LSU team. The Tigers must move Chris Cotton from the bullpen to the starting rotation, but that should be a fine transition with the Tigers having other quality arms such as Joey Bourgeois (2.38, 34), Kevin Berry (3.09, 11.2), Brent Bonvillain (3.49, 28.1), Nick Rumbelow (3.65, 24.2) and Kurt McCune (4.04, 42.1) back for another campaign.
Head coach: John Savage
2012 record: 48-16, 20-10 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Reached the College World Series (beat TCU in L.A. SR)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Adam Plutko -- The talented right-handed pitcher might not be a mid 90s velocity type of guy, but he has fantastic makeup and good command. Plutko had a terrific sophomore campaign for the Bruins, going 12-3 with a 2.48 ERA in 119 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 99 and walked 47, while teams hit him at a .215 clip.
Top returning hitter: 2B Kevin Williams -- Bruins first baseman Cody Regis has the potential to be the club's top hitter, but Williams technically is entering the 2013 campaign. Williams put together a solid 2012 campaign, hitting .302 with six doubles, two homers and 21 RBIs. He also tallied a .413 OBP. Both Williams and Regis must step up this spring.
Freshman to watch: RHP James Kaprielian -- Much of the talk entering fall workouts was about outstanding left-handed pitcher Hunter Virant turning down the Astros as an 11th-round pick, but Kaprielian is the most impact arm going into the spring. Kaprielian will close for the Bruins after having a productive fall. He's a 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, who was ranked No. 160 nationally as a high school senior last spring with a fastball 88-91 (92).
Prospects to watch: RHP Adam Plutko, RHP Nick Vander Tuig, OF Eric Fila-Snyder, 2B Kevin Williams, RHP Zack Weiss
Why to feel good: The Bruins certainly have some question areas, but the weekend rotation is one of the nation's best and most experienced. UCLA returns all three weekend starters in right-handers Adam Plutko (2.48, 119.2), Nick Vander Tuig (4.43, 109.2) and Zack Weiss (4.28, 69.1), though, it wouldn't surprise me to see Virant make the rotation at some point this spring with the Bruins possibly wanting to go R-L-H on the weekends.
Why there might be concern: Though the Bruins have a true freshman closer in Kaprielian, I get the feeling he'll be fine once Pac-12 play begins. The offense is a much more concerning aspect of this club. The Bruins hit .304 on the way to Omaha last season, but have the incredibly difficult chore of replacing their top five hitters. Keep in mind that UCLA's top three returning hitters had batting averages of .302, .281 and .266, respectively, last season. This team's national title chances hinges on the offense.
Head coach: Kevin O'Sullivan
2012 record: 47-20, 18-12 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the College World Series
Top returning pitcher: RHP Jonathon Crawford -- Crawford was somewhat of an afterthought entering the 2012 campaign, but he got more notoriety as the season progressed and made history by throwing a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman in the Gainesville Regional. Crawford has a big-time plus-90s arm, went 6-2 and had a 3.13 ERA in 77 2/3 innings last season. He also struck out 73 and walked 24, while teams hit him at a .260 clip.
Top returning hitter: 2B Casey Turgeon -- The Gators lost a healthy dose of top-notch hitting from last year's club, but Turgeon and others hope to close the gap with hot starts this spring. Turgeon is known for his outstanding defense, but he's also a good hitter. As a freshman last season, he hit .281 with 11 doubles, three triples, four homers and 30 RBIs.
Freshman to watch: SS Richie Martin -- Like LSU with the loss of veteran Austin Nola, the Gators have the incredibly difficult chore of replacing sure-handed Nolan Fontana. The young freshman has the chore of doing that this season. Martin is a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder, who really flourished during fall workouts. He's ranked No. 131 nationally and has outstanding all-around tools.
Prospects to watch: RHP Jonathon Crawford, RHP Karsten Whitson, LHP Daniel Gibson, RHP Keenan Kish, RHP John Magliozzi
Why to feel good: Sure, the Gators have some tough holes to fill with some key offensive departures, plus the departures of key arms such as Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson, Greg Larson and Steve Rodriguez, but this team still is loaded with premier talent. UF will have another excellent pitching staff with an impressive rotation including Crawford (3.13, 77.2), Whitson (3.51, 33.1) and Kish (1.98, 27.1). The bullpen also should be good with Daniel Gibson and Johnny Magliozzi anchoring things.
Why there might be concern: If there's a concern with this UF team, it's certainly on the offensive side. The Gators finished last season with a .284 batting average, and enter the spring without their top five hitters. The Gators don't have a single offensive contributor from last season returning with a batting average of .300 or better. Some talented bats must step up for UF to accomplish its goals.
8. OREGON STATE
Head coach: Pat Casey
Conference: Pacific 12
2012 record: 40-20, 18-12 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Reached Baton Rouge Regional title game
Top returning pitcher: RHP Dan Child -- Child is one of the nation's rising prospects and looks to guide the Beavers back to Omaha this season. The imposing 6-foot-5, 225-pounder, is coming off a solid 2012 campaign, where he had a 2.95 ERA in 106 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 79 and walked 25, while teams hit him at a .273 clip.
Top returning hitter: OF Michael Conforto -- No freshman slugger accomplished as much as Conforto did for the Beavers last season. He blossomed as one of the nation's elite power hitters in just his first season, batting .349 with 14 doubles, a triple, 13 homers and 76 RBIs. He also slugged .601 and had a .438 on-base percentage.
Freshman to watch: RHP Andrew Moore -- The Beavers don't have a huge freshman class, but keep an eye on the talented righty this spring. Moore, a 6-foot, 175-pounder, from Eugene, Ore., should log some significant innings for OSU this spring.
Prospects to watch: RHP Dan Child, LHP Ben Wetzler, LHP Matt Boyd, 3B/RHP Jerad Casper, SS Tyler Smith
Why to feel good: There are a multitude of reasons for the Beavers to feel good about this club. The Beavers have several key returning offensive cogs, including Jake Rodriguez (.290/2/28), Tyler Smith (.343/1/39) and Conforto, while the pitching staff is in excellent shape with a fantastic trio of starting pitchers in Wetzler (3.10, 101.2), Child (2.95, 106.2) and Matt Boyd (3.41, 37). They also have a shutdown closer in righty Tony Bryant (3.82, 30.2, 9 saves).
Why there might be concern: The Beavers have few question marks entering the spring, but they could be a little more consistent at the plate. Meanwhile, the pitching staff is in good shape in terms of starting pitching and closer, but on the surface, this isn't an incredibly deep pitching staff with Taylor Starr (4.37, 45.1) and Cole Brocker (4.88, 24) the other key returnees. This might be where losing stud sophomore pitcher Jace Fry for the year with Tommy John surgery comes into play come May and June.
9. NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Head coach: Elliott Avent
Conference: Atlantic Coast
2012 record: 43-20, 19-11 ACC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Gainesville Super Regional (lost to Florida)
Top returning pitcher: LHP Carlos Rodon -- Some would say Rodon was the nation's elite pitcher as only a freshman last season. Rodon had a huge campaign for the Wolfpack, going 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA in 114 2/3 innings. He also struck out 135 and walked 41, while teams hit him at a .176 clip. Look for Rodon and his big-time arsenal of pitches to have another strong year.
Top returning hitter: SS Trea Turner -- Few players in college baseball are more electric than the speedy Turner. Though Turner is known for his gritty play and speed, he's also a terrific hitter as evidenced by his productive freshman campaign. He batted .336 with 13 doubles, two triples, five homers and 43 RBIs. He also slugged .459, had a .432 OBP and finished the year 57-for-61 in stolen bases.
Freshman to watch: RHP Karl Keglovits -- The Wolfpack have some talented freshmen to watch this spring, but Keglovits leads the charge because of his potential. The talented righty was ranked No. 171 nationally as a high school senior last season. He's an imposing 6-foot-5, 220-pounder, who can get his fastball into the low 90s.
Prospects to watch: RHP Anthony Tzamtzis, OF Brett Williams, RHP Josh Easley, RHP Ryan Wilkins, LHP D.J. Thomas
Why to feel good: The Wolfpack might have some holes to fill at the plate, but this is an outstanding pitching staff with Rodon, Ethan Ogburn (3.38, 90.2), Tzamtzis (4.38, 63.2) and Logan Jernigan (5.71, 52) leading the charge. They also have some talented relievers with Travis Orwig, Dillon Frye, Chris Overman and Danny Healey leading the way.
Why there might be concern: The Wolfpack should be just fine offensively without them, but there's no doubt losing Danny Canela and Chris Diaz hurts. Canela was supposed to be with N.C. State this spring, but transferred to NAIA Lee University at the semester break. Meanwhile, Diaz signed a professional contract last summer. That puts pressure on guys like Turner, and sophomore catcher Brett Austin to consistently produce. It'll be interesting to see how the talented duo handles the pressure.
Head coach: George Horton
Conference: Pacific 12
2012 record: 46-19, 19-11 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Reached Eugene Super Regional (lost to Kent State)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Jimmie Sherfy -- Sherfy flashed big-time stuff as just a sophomore last season and hopes to guide the Ducks to Omaha. Sherfy, who serves as UO's closer, made 36 appearances and had a 2.20 ERA and 19 saves in 61 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 93 and walked 34, while teams hit him at a .172 clip.
Top returning hitter: 1B Ryon Healy -- The Ducks actually have some talented hitters returning, but Healy definitely leads the way. Healy has some power potential in his bat. He finished last season hitting .312 with 13 doubles, a triple, four homers and 42 RBIs. He also slugged .419 and had a .378 OBP.
Freshman to watch: LHP Cole Irvin -- The Ducks have plenty of talented youngsters to watch this season, but Irvin might be the most talented with upside. The lean 6-foot-3, 160-pounder, was ranked No. 83 nationally last season with a low 90s fastball. He has good pitchability with projection.
Prospects to watch: RHP Jimmie Sherfy, LHP Christian Jones, 1B Ryon Healy, RHP Clayton Crum, LHP/1B Porter Clayton
Why to feel good: After falling just short of the College World Series last season with a heartbreaking series loss to Kent State, there's not a team more motivated to get to Omaha this season than the Ducks. UO welcomes back an impressive stable of pitchers besides the obvious headliner in Sherfy. Tommy Thorpe finished last season with a 2.11 ERA in 42 2/3 innings of work, while sophomore Jake Reed is expected to have another big year as a starter after having a 2.92 ERA in 114 innings last season. The Ducks also welcome back Brando Tessar (3.42, 52.2), Jeff Gold (3.66, 76.1) and Christian Jones, a very talented left-handed pitcher who's returning after missing last season with an injury.
Why there might be concern: Sure, the Ducks welcome back several offensive talents from last season. However, this is a program that hasn't hit very well the past few seasons. UO hit just .265 as a club last year, and welcomes back Healy, Brett Thomas (.313/1/25) and Kyle Garlick (.287/6/41), among others.
11. SOUTH CAROLINA
Head coach: Chad Holbrook
2012 record: 49-20, 18-11 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached College World Series title series (lost to Arizona)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Colby Holmes -- The Gamecocks might not have a Price or Roth around campus anymore, but the hard-nosed Holmes is a suitable weekend starter to say the least. Holmes had a solid sophomore campaign last season despite dealing with some injuries. He started 16 games and tallied a 3.05 ERA in 79 2/3 innings. He also struck out 65 and walked 17, while teams hit him at a .226 clip. Holmes can get his fastball into the low 90s.
Top returning hitter: 1B LB Dantzler -- The Gamecocks don't have a lot of big-time bats going into the 2013 campaign, but Dantzler is a guy who can hit with big-time power. Dantzler, who moves from third base to first base this season, batted .262 with 15 doubles, 10 homers and 48 RBIs last season. He also slugged .433.
Freshman to watch: 2B Max Schrock -- South Carolina will rely heavily on left-handed pitcher Jack Wynkoop in the weekend rotation, but we're giving an edge here to the talented second baseman. Schrock, a 5-foot-9, 180-pounder, had a productive fall at the plate and is expected to make an instant impact.
Prospects to watch: LHP Tyler Webb, RHP Colby Holmes, RHP Forrest Koumas, 1B LB Dantzler, OF Graham Saiko
Why to feel good: The Gamecocks certainly have some question marks, but the pitching staff still is in good shape. Colby Holmes and Jordan Montgomery are very solid weekend starters for the Gamecocks, while Webb is expected to be a big-time arm on the back end of the bullpen. South Carolina also has reason to be excited about its offense after Dantzler and shortstop Joey Pankake, showed signs of greatness at times last season.
Why there might be concern: Chances are good the Gamecocks will be just fine at the plate, but the fact they don't return a single hitter that finished last season with a .300 or better average has to be somewhat concerning. In addition, there's always a chance losing the leadership of Price, Roth and outfielder Adam Matthews will be too much to overcome.
12. GEORGIA TECH
Head coach: Danny Hall
Conference: Atlantic Coast
2012 record: 38-26, 12-18 ACC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Gainesville Regional title game
Top returning pitcher: RHP Buck Farmer -- The Yellow Jackets entered the MLB draft last summer almost certain they'd lose Farmer to the Milwaukee Brewers, even despite being a 15th-round pick. However, the talented righty decided to return for his senior season. Farmer had a solid 2012 campaign, going 8-4 with a 3.54 ERA in 106 2/3 innings. He also struck out 115 and walked 37, while teams hit him at a .248 clip.
Top returning hitter: OF Brandon Thomas -- Very much along the same lines, and even more surprising than Farmer, Thomas shocked some when he returned to college for another season. Thomas, a talented outfielder who was drafted by the Pirates in the fourth round last summer, finished last season hitting .360 with 15 doubles, five triples, five homers and 44 RBIs. He also swiped 12 of 17 bases.
Freshman to watch: MIF Matt Gonzalez -- The Yellow Jackets have a good one in the talented middle infielder. Gonzalez was an 11th-round pick to the Athletics, and would've been drafted higher if he was deemed more signable. Gonzalez is a 6-foot, 175-pounder, who was ranked No. 175 nationally last season.
Prospects to watch: OF Daniel Palka, OF Brandon Thomas, RHP Matt Grimes, RHP Buck Farmer, SS Mott Hyde
Why to feel good: There are plenty of reasons why the Yellow Jackets should feel good about the upcoming season. They return six of their top seven hitters from last year's club, including headliners such as Sam Dove (.340/3/30), Daniel Palka (.303/12/47) and Zane Evans (.295/4/51). They also welcome back a talented stable of pitchers with Alex Cruz (1.83, 73.2), Buck Farmer (3.54, 106.2), Cole Pitt (4.50, 78) and Dusty Isaacs (6.55, 66) leading the way.
Why there might be concern: There really aren't any huge concerns with the Yellow Jackets, but once again, their success this season will boil down to their ability to handle tough situations. The Jackets were dealt with a tough situation in the fall when righty Matt Grimes went down with an injury. This team has the tools. They must put things together.
Head coach: Gary Henderson
2012 record: 45-18, 18-12 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached Gary Regional title game
Top returning pitcher: LHP Corey Littrell -- It would be easy to go with hard-throwing reliever Trevor Gott in this category, but Littrell deserves the upper hand for being a starting pitcher. Littrell's return is huge for UK. He started 16 games last season and had a 9-2 record with a 2.74 ERA in 98 2/3 innings. He also struck out 87 and walked 25, while teams hit him at a .286 clip.
Top returning hitter: OF Austin Cousino -- Besides Oregon State's Michael Conforto, no other freshman made quite the impact that Cousino did on the Wildcats. He was fantastic last season, leading the squad in hitting with a .319 average, 20 doubles, two triples, nine homers and 41 RBIs. He also slugged .515, had a .408 OBP and stole 15 bases.
Freshman to watch: RHP Kyle Cody -- The Wildcats already have an impressive crop of pitchers, but look for Cody to make an instant impact. Cody is a tallish pitcher, standing at 6-foot-6, 215 pounds. He'll serve in relief after being ranked the No. 321 player on the national stage last season.
Prospects to watch: LHP Corey Littrell, RHP Trevor Gott, 2B/SS J.T. Riddle, LHP Jerad Grundy, SS/2B Matt Reida
Why to feel good: The Wildcats return a lot of experience at arguably the most important area on the diamond -- the pitching staff. UK has an outstanding one-two punch in Littrell and Grundy, while sophomore two-way star A.J. Reed will solidify the weekend rotation. It's also beneficial the Wildcats have one of the nation's elite closers in righty Trevor Gott. UK has all the pieces to have a very special team.
Why there might be concern: The Wildcats will need more consistency at the plate after losing talented hitters Luke Maile and Thomas McCarthy to the draft last summer. Still, this should be a solid unit with Cousino, Zac Zellers (.311/5/19) and Reed (.300/4/43) leading the charge. All systems appear to be a go for UK.
14. TEXAS CHRISTIAN
Head coach: Jim Schlossnagle
Conference: Big 12
2012 record: 40-22, 18-6 MWC
2012 accomplishment: Reached Los Angeles Super Regional (lost to UCLA)
Top returning pitcher: RHP Preston Morrison -- The former walk-on pitcher couldn't have put together a more impressive freshman campaign for the Horned Frogs. He started 11 games (22 appearances) and had a 2.08 ERA in 112 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 72 and walked 12, while teams hit him at a .216 clip.
Top returning hitter: 1B Kevin Cron -- Cron had a solid freshman campaign for the Frogs, but we expect him to take another step forward this spring. Cron finished his first season hitting .338 with seven doubles, six homers and 34 RBIs. He also slugged .503 and had a .383 OBP.
Freshman to watch: LHP Alex Young -- The Horned Frogs hope the talented lefty will provide a serious boost in his first campaign with the program. Young is a talented 6-foot-3, 190-pounder, from Illinois. He was ranked No. 183 nationally as a high school senior last season, where he topped out at 90 with his fastball.
Prospects to watch: RHP Andrew Mitchell, RHP Stefan Crichton, LHP Trevor Seidenberger, SS Derek Odell, RHP Trey Teakell
Why to feel good: The Frogs have a lot of experience back from a club that won an NCAA Regional last season and came up just short of an Omaha appearance. The Frogs will be hungry this season, and have just the weekend rotation to go the distance. Morrison leads the way, while righty Stefan Crichton (3.41, 95) and lefty Brandon Finnegan (3.47, 62.1) are other talented arms in the rotation.
Why there might be concern: There are some legitimate concerns in a pair of areas for the Frogs. Offensively, TCU finished last season with just a .271 batting average, and must replace its top two hitters in Jason Coats and Josh Elander, among others. Also keep an eye on the bullpen, where the Frogs are anxiously hoping hard-throwing righty Andrew Mitchell rises to the occasion.
Head coach: Dan McDonnell
Conference: Big East
2012 record: 41-22, 18-9 Big East
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Tucson Regional title game
Top returning pitcher: RHP Jeff Thompson -- Thompson has a large frame and a big-time arm, and the Cardinals hope he takes yet another step forward this spring. Thompson went 9-4 last season with a 4.00 ERA in 78 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 73 and walked 38, while teams hit him at a .263 clip. Thompson has the tools to be one of the nation's elite pitchers.
Top returning hitter: 3B Ty Young -- The Cardinals welcome back several big-time hitters this spring, but they're especially glad to have Young, who led the team in hitting last season. Young batted .344 with nine doubles, four triples, six homers and 42 RBIs last season. He also slugged .539, had a .467 OBP and swiped 15 bases.
Freshman to watch: RHP Kyle Funkhouser -- The Cards have plenty of big-time arms with this pitching staff, but keep an eye on the No. 4 starter. Funkhouser, former Illinois Player of the Year, is a 6-foot-2, 195-pounder, who was ranked No. 162 as a high school senior. Funkhouser is 92-94 with his fastball and has a nasty slider with command.
Prospects to watch: OF Adam Engel, RHP Jeff Thompson, RHP Chad Green, RHP Dace Kime, OF Cole Sturgeon
Why to feel good: There are several reasons for the Cardinals to feel good about their situation. They welcome back their eight top hitters with Young, Nick Ratajczak (.343/0/25), Cole Sturgeon (.321/145) and Adam Engel (.308/1/18) as the headliners. Engel, of course, also has great speed, swiping 37 of 39 bases last season. They also welcome back an outstanding weekend rotation with Chad Green (2.70, 46.2), Jared Ruxer (3.38, 77.1) and Thompson leading the way. This team certainly has the potential to win the national title.
Why there might be concern: With Green now in the starting rotation and relievers Matt Koch and Derek Self gone, it's up to talented 6-foot-3, 220-pound, sophomore right-handed pitcher Nick Burdi to rise to the occasion. Burdi has a huge arm with a fastball in the upper 90s, but finished last season with a 5.56 ERA in 22 2/3 innings.
16. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Head coach: John Cohen
2012 record: 40-24, 16-14 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Tallahassee Regional
Top returning pitcher: RHP Kendall Graveman -- It would certainly be plausible to go with sophomore closer Jonathan Holder in this department, but we're giving Graveman the edge. His return, especially with the departure of Chris Stratton, is huge for the Bulldogs. Graveman made 16 starts last season and had a 2.81 ERA in 89 2/3 innings. He also struck out 59 and walked 21, while teams hit him at a .244 clip.
Top returning hitter: SS Adam Frazier -- Bulldogs outfielder Hunter Renfroe has the potential to be in this category, but Frazier is the clear-cut leader in this regard. Frazier, a slick-fielding shortstop, also led the club in hitting last season. He batted .371 with 16 doubles, one triple and 26 RBIs. He had a fantastic .482 OBP and swiped nine bases.
Freshman to watch: OF Jacob Robson -- Look for the talented Canadian freshman to earn some significant playing time this spring. Robson really impressed the coaching staff with a strong fall. And though he's only 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he's electric.
Prospects to watch: OF Hunter Renfroe, RHP Evan Mitchell, SS Adam Frazier, OF DeMarcus Henderson, LHP Chad Girodo
Why to feel good: The Bulldogs welcome back almost every key hitter from last year's club, including Frazier and thick first baseman Wes Rea, who had injury issues last season but has potential to be a big-time power hitter. Electric outfielder Hunter Renfroe (.252/4/25) is also expected to have a huge year. On the mound, the Bulldogs will have a good weekend rotation with Graveman, Brandon Woodruff (2.38, 34) and Jacob Lindgren (3.18, 28.1) leading the charge. Meanwhile, State has an outstanding closer in Holder, who made 24 appearances last season with a 0.32 ERA in 28 1/3 innings.
Why there might be concern: With several of their leading hitters back this spring, you'd assume the Bulldogs would be much improved at the plate. However, that's not a given, and that must improve after they finished last season with a dismal .251 batting average.
17. FLORIDA STATE
Head coach: Mike Martin
Conference: Atlantic Coast
2012 record: 50-17, 24-6 ACC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the College World Series
Top returning pitcher: LHP Brandon Leibrandt -- The Seminoles had a pair of outstanding freshmen pitchers last season in Leibrandt and Mike Compton. Leibrandt leads the way this spring. Last year, he started 19 games and had an 8-3 record with a 2.82 ERA in 99 innings of work. He also struck out 83 and walked 29, while teams hit him at a .243 clip.
Top returning hitter: SS Justin Gonzalez -- FSU lost a lot of offensive firepower to the draft last summer, and needs guys such as Gonzalez to rise to the occasion. The veteran infielder hit just .256 last season, but had 11 doubles, nine homers and 42 RBIs. FSU needs him to be much more consistent.
Freshman to watch: OF DJ Stewart -- No Seminoles freshman had quite the fall of Stewart, who displayed some big-time power throughout fall workouts. Stewart is a thick 5-foot-11, 193-pounder, who was ranked No. 208 nationally as a high school senior.
Prospects to watch: SS Justin Gonzalez, RHP Peter Miller, OF Marcus Davis, OF Seth Miller, RHP Robby Coles
Why to feel good: Pitching used to always be a big question mark for the Seminoles, but times certainly have changed. FSU will have a stout weekend rotation with Leibrandt, Compton and veteran Scott Sitz leading the way. Meanwhile, look for Luke Weaver to move right in and replace Robert Benincasa as closer. Weaver flashed a big-time fastball in the low 90s as a freshman last season, and should take another step forward.
Why there might be concern: Surprisingly, this FSU offense actually concerns me a bit. The 'Noles expect significant contributions from newcomers DJ Stewart and Marcus Davis, but replacing the club's top four hitters from last season won't be easy. Florida State hit .281 last season and must improve that mark, without some key cogs, to have a chance at a national title.
18. SAN DIEGO
Head coach: Rich Hill
Conference: West Coast
2012 record: 40-17, 15-9 WCC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Los Angeles Regional
Top returning pitcher: RHP Michael Wagner -- After serving primarily as a reliever last season with 31 appearances, just two starts, Wagner shifts to the No. 1 spot in the weekend rotation with a big-time arm. Wagner had a 2.58 ERA and 19 saves in 59 1/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 53 and walked 20, while teams hit .246. Wagner sits 91-93 (95) with his fastball and has a good slider to go with it.
Top returning hitter: 3B Kris Bryant -- There's absolutely zero doubt in this category. Bryant, a physical specimen, is one of the nation's elite players and prospects as the spring nears. Bryant had an impressive sophomore campaign last season, hitting .366 with 17 doubles, three triples, 14 homers and 57 RBIs. He also slugged .671 and had an impressive .483 OBP.
Freshman to watch: LHP Troy Conyers -- The Toreros won't need to rely on too many freshman arms this spring, but keep an eye on Conyers, who should log significant innings. Conyers has a huge 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame, with a fastball in the upper 80s, and should be in the 90s sooner rather than later. Conyers also throws a good changeup and a slider with some depth.
Prospects to watch: RHP Michael Wagner, 3B Kris Bryant, RHP Dylan Covey, OF Louie Lechich, C/OF Austin Green
Why to feel good: The Toreros had a productive offense last season and hope to take another step forward this spring after hitting .307. USD returns six of its top eight hitters from last year's club, including Andrew Daniel (.339/4/45), Lucas Hagberg (.333/0/11) and Louie Lechich (.311/1/33), among others. The weekend rotation also is in good shape with Dylan Covey (3.32, 81.1) and converted reliever to starter Max MacNabb, who had a 2.67 ERA in 22 appearances and 27 innings of work last season, rounding out the trio.
Why there might be concern: Wagner was an outstanding closer last season, so the Toreros must find a way to adequately replace him at the end of games. Keep an eye on relievers Drew Jacobs (2.95, 39.2) and Trevor Bayless, who was up to 93 during fall workouts. The bullpen is an area to watch as the spring unfolds.
Head coach: Mike Bianco
2012 record: 37-26, 14-16 SEC
2012 accomplishment: Reached the College Station Regional
Top returning pitcher: RHP Bobby Wahl -- The Rebels have one of the nation's premier pitchers and prospects in the talented right-hander. Wahl blossomed as a sophomore last season with a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a nasty changeup. Wahl was 7-4 with a 2.55 ERA in 99 innings of work last season. He also struck out 104 and walked 32, while teams hit him at a .211 clip.
Top returning hitter: OF Tanner Mathis -- It was huge when the Rebels got the final call that Mathis was returning for his senior season despite getting drafted in the 27th-round by the Houston Astros. Mathis is an electric outfielder who hit .359 with 12 doubles, one triple and 23 RBIs last season. He also had a .460 OBP and swiped eight bases.
Freshman to watch: RHP Jacob Waguespack -- Ole Miss might have some talented arms throughout its pitching staff, but it'll find a way to help Waguespack log some significant innings. Waguespack put together an impressive fall. The 6-foot-5, 200-pounder, was up to 94 for the Rebels.
Prospects to watch: RHP Bobby Wahl, OF Tanner Mathis, RHP Mike Mayers, C Stuart Turner, OF Will Jamison, RHP Brett Huber
Why to feel good: As with so many teams in our rankings, the Rebels have a rock of a foundation when it comes to the key areas on the mound. They have an outstanding one-two punch in the weekend rotation with Wahl and Mayers (3.50, 92.2) leading the charge. But equally huge is the return of experienced and talented closer Brett Huber, who made 20 appearances and had a 2.84 ERA with 10 saves last season. The pitching is present to compete for a trip to the CWS.
Why there might be concern: Very much like last season, the Rebels have a question mark when it comes to the No. 3 spot in the weekend rotation. It's something that must be rectified if they want to take another step forward. For now, it looks like the Rebels are confident in 6-foot-5, sophomore, Chris Ellis, who was consistently 92-94 during the fall with a good curveball and changeup. Meanwhile, the Rebels can improve offensively, even with the key departures of second baseman Alex Yarbrough and first baseman Matt Snyder.
Head coach: Sunny Golloway
Conference: Big 12
2012 record: 42-25, 13-10 Big 12
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Columbia Super Regional (lost to South Carolina)
Top returning pitcher: LHP Dillon Overton -- The Sooners might just have the Big 12's elite starting pitcher in the talented lefty. Overton is a rising prospect with a quality arm in his 6-foot-2, 160-pound frame. Overton is coming off a good 2012 campaign, where he started 16 games and had a 3.15 ERA in 122 2/3 innings. He also struck out 126 and walked 24, while teams hit him at a .265 clip.
Top returning hitter: OF Max White -- OU couldn't be happier to have the hard-hitting outfielder back for another season. White led the Sooners at the plate last season with a .337 average, 17 doubles, two triples, two homers and 55 RBIs. He also had a .444 slugging percentage and .406 OBP. White also is a threat around the bases.
Freshman to watch: LHP Adam Choplick -- The left-hander decided to attend college despite getting drafted in the 17th-round by the Arizona Diamondbacks last summer. Choplick is a 6-foot-8, 261-pounder, who sits in the upper 80s with his fastball.
Prospects to watch: LHP Dillon Overton, RHP Jonathan Gray, LHP Billy Waltrip, OF Max White, OF Colton Bickerstaff
Why to feel good: The Sooners look like a pretty good club on paper entering the spring. They have an outstanding one-two punch on the weekend with Overton and Gray (3.16, 102.2), while the closer role is still up in the air. OU also welcomes back its top three hitters in White, Matt Oberste (.312/6/22) and Jack Mayfield (.280/3/34). The foundation is set for this club to do something special.
Why there might be concern: In addition to replacing some key relievers with the departures of Damien Magnifico and Steven Okert, among others, the Sooners must improve as a whole offensively to take a significant step forward.
Head coach: Wayne Graham
Conference: Conference USA
2012 record: 41-19, 17-7 C-USA
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Houston Regional
Top returning pitcher: RHP Austin Kubitza -- The talented righty has had two solid campaigns for the Owls and hopes to lead the program back to Omaha in what likely will be his final season with coach Wayne Graham. Kubitza, who typically sits in the upper 80s, with potential to touch the low 90s, started 15 games last season and had a 2.69 ERA in 80 1/3 innings. He also struck out 73 and walked 38, while teams hit .211 against him.
Top returning hitter: 2B Christian Stringer -- The Owls need several players to step up offensively this spring, but Stringer is someone who can afford to stay status quo. Stringer led the Owls offensively last season with a .343 average, 12 doubles, three triples, three homers and 36 RBIs. He also had a .448 OBP and swiped six bases.
Freshman to watch: OF Leon Byrd -- The Owls look forward to seeing very talented freshman pitcher Kevin McCanna in the weekend rotation, but pinpoint Byrd as the primary freshman to watch this spring. Byrd is an electric 5-foot-7, 170-pounder, who exercised good offensive and defensive skills during fall workouts. That plus his ability to switch hit makes him an attractive player to watch this season.
Prospects to watch: RHP Austin Kubitza, 2B Christian Stringer, OF/2B Michael Ratterree, RHP Chase McDowell, 1B Michael Aquino
Why to feel good: As with many teams in this range, the Owls have an excellent foundation on the mound. They have a fantastic staff ace in Kubitza, while Jordan Stephens (4.38, 39) has the potential to be very good if he can improve his command. Meanwhile, McCanna rounds out the rotation and gritty John Simms will close this spring. Simms made 25 appearances (four starts) and had a 2.56 ERA in 63 1/3 innings last season. He also struck out 59 and walked 22, while teams hit .210.
Why there might be concern: The Owls should be just fine on the mound, but there's at least some concern when it comes to their offense. Rice welcomes back a very good hitter in Stringer, but otherwise doesn't welcome back any full-time players from last year who finished the campaign with a batting average of .300 or better. Rice could make some serious noise in Omaha if its offense steps up.
Head coach: Andy Lopez
2012 record: 48-17, 20-10 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Won the national title
Top returning pitcher: RHP Konner Wade -- Wade was such an instrumental part of the Wildcats' run to the national title last spring, and he's back for more this season. Wade was outstanding down the stretch last season and finished the year with a 3.96 ERA in 136 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 105 and walked 37, while teams hit .237.
Top returning hitter: OF Johnny Field -- The Wildcats certainly lost some firepower at the plate, but still return the always electric Field. Field led the Wildcats offensively last season with a team-best .370 batting average. He also had 18 doubles, seven triples, three homers and 44 RBIs. Additionally, he slugged .529 and had a .476 OBP to go with 11 stolen bases.
Freshman to watch: RHP Kevin Elder -- Based on potential alone, the Wildcats probably could utilize Elder this spring. Elder is a 6-foot, 210-pounder, from Illinois, who topped out at 91 as recently as last May. He was ranked No. 294 nationally as a high school senior.
Prospects to watch: RHP Konner Wade, OF Johnny Field, 1B Brandon Dixon, RHP James Farris, RHP Nick Cunningham
Why to feel good: There's no substitute for experience, and the Wildcats have plenty of that having been through the rigors of the CWS last season. Arizona has an excellent one-two punch on the weekend with Wade and Farris (3.97, 106.2) leading the charge, while the bullpen is in good hands with left-hander Tyler Crawford (2.05, 38.1) and righty Mathew Troupe (3.47, 36.1) leading the way. Arizona should be fine offensively as the season progresses with the return of Field, Joseph Maggi (.326/0/19), Riley Moore (.301/1/38), Trent Gilbert (.272/0/42) and Brandon Dixon (.245/1/14).
Why there might be concern: We emphasized the word should in regards to the offense for a good reason. Arizona had one of the nation's elite offenses last season with a .329 average, but has the tough chore of replacing Robert Refsnyder, Alex Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean and Bobby Brown, who all finished last season with batting averages better than .345.
23. CAL STATE FULLERTON
Head coach: Rick Vanderhook
Conference: Big West
2012 record: 36-21, 17-7 Big West
2012 accomplishment: Reached the Eugene Regional
Top returning pitcher: RHP Grahamm Wiest -- The Titans received a solid first campaign from Wiest last season, and hope he'll be even better as a redshirt sophomore this spring. Wiest, a 6-foot-3, 195-pounder, started 11 games last season and had a 3.12 ERA in 86 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 57 and walked 18, while also throwing three complete games.
Top returning hitter: 1B Carlos Lopez -- There's no doubt athletic two-way player Michael Lorenzen could've been the choice in this category, but we deferred to the veteran first baseman in Lopez. Lopez had a good 2012 campaign for the Titans, hitting .317 with 18 doubles, a home run and 35 RBIs. It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see the toolsy Lorenzen put together an outstanding campaign.
Freshman to watch: RHP Justin Garza -- His smallish, 5-foot-11, 180-pound, frame, kept him from being a draft risk last summer. That was a perfect scenario for the Titans, who get the services of an outstanding, young, No. 2 starting pitcher. Garza had a terrific fall for Vanderhook's club, topping out at 96 with his fastball.
Prospects to watch: UT Michael Lorenzen, C Chad Wallach, RHP Grahamm Wiest, 1B Carlos Lopez
Why to feel good: The Titans have an experienced club this spring, especially in the field with the return of rising third baseman Matt Chapman, shortstop Richie Pedroza, Lorenzen in the outfield and Carlos Lopez at first base. Fullerton should have a productive offensive lineup, while the pitching staff is somewhat of a question mark.
Why there might be concern: Fullerton's pitching staff is loaded with talent, but there's some young talent in key situations. For instance, the Titans have a seasoned ace in Grahamm Wiest, but will rely on true freshmen such as Garza and right-hander Thomas Eshelman to round out the rotation. The Titans are in terrific shape moving forward if the two youngsters step up.
Head coach: Augie Garrido
Conference: Big 12
2012 record: 30-22, 14-10 Big 12
2012 accomplishment: No postseason bid
Top returning pitcher: RHP Corey Knebel -- There was talk during fall workouts that the talented right-handed pitcher could be moved to the weekend rotation. However, he'll stay put as the Longhorns look to return to Omaha this spring. Knebel has an unorthodox pitching motion, but is extremely effective with a low-to-mid 90s fastball. He made 27 appearances last season and had a 2.08 ERA in 73 2/3 innings. He also struck out 68 and walked 20, while teams hit him at a .189 clip.
Top returning hitter: 3B Erich Weiss -- Longhorns outfielder Mark Payton is a scrappy hitter to watch, but Weiss is the ringleader of the offense. Weiss has been quite the success story in his first two seasons with the 'Horns. Weiss had a productive '12 campaign, hitting a team-high .350 (best by 28 points) with 17 doubles, four triples, five homers and 38 RBIs. He also slugged .547 and had a .428 OBP.
Freshman to watch: SS C.J. Hinojosa -- Yeah, there's no question who the top freshman is to watch for the Longhorns. With Christian Summers transferring to Angelo State at semester break, the ultra-talented Hinojosa is all alone at shortstop. Hinojosa, a former Perfect Game All-American, is 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, and packs a powerful punch at the plate with good raw power. He's a toolsy player with a ton of upside.
Prospects to watch: RHP Corey Knebel, 3B Erich Weiss, OF Weston Hall, C Jacob Felts, OF Mark Payton
Why to feel good: Even with the offseason injury that will sideline talented pitcher John Curtiss for the 2013 campaign, the Longhorns still are in good shape on the mound. Parker French returns from an injury and had a 2.84 ERA in 66 2/3 innings last season. Also keep an eye on Nathan Thornhill (3.87, 83.2) and Dillon Peters (3.18, 39.2). The 'Horns also have a pair of talented freshmen to watch in Chad Hollingsworth and Holden Helmink.
Why there might be concern: It shouldn't come as a surprise the offense continues to be a concern for the Longhorns moving forward. UT parted ways with long-time assistant Tommy Harmon during the offseason and hired Tommy Nicholson, a former player, away from Sacramento State. Nicholson's aggressive nature made an impressive on the 'Horns during fall workouts, but the proof simply is at the plate. UT could be vastly improved at the plate should everyone stay healthy, especially athletic outfielder Taylor Stell.
25. ARIZONA STATE
Head coach: Tim Esmay
Conference: Pacific 12
2012 record: 36-20, 18-12 Pac-12
2012 accomplishment: Not eligible for postseason
Top returning pitcher: RHP Trevor Williams -- Williams is a big-time prospect and gives the Sun Devils a quality arm to start the weekend. Williams, a 6-foot-3, 228-pounder, is coming off an impressive '12 campaign. He went 12-2 with a 2.05 ERA in 109 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 59 and walked 13, while teams hit him at a .227 clip. Some scouts would like to see Williams increase his strikeout total over the next few months.
Top returning hitter: C Max Rossiter -- The talented senior catcher kind of fell below the radar at times last season because ASU was ineligible for the postseason, but he's one to certainly watch this spring. Rossiter is coming off a solid offensive campaign, where he batted .326 with nine doubles, a triple, two homers and 18 RBIs. He tends to make contact, striking out just 14 times (nine walks) in 138 at bats.
Freshman to watch: LHP Brett Lilek -- The Sun Devils need someone to step up after Williams when it comes to the pitching staff, and the talented young lefty could be that guy. Lilek was a highly touted prospect out of high school with his long, rangy 6-foot-4, 190-pound frame. Lilek had an excellent fall for the Devils and will close this spring. He touches 95 with his fastball and has command of three pitches.
Prospects to watch: RHP Trevor Williams, OF/RHP Trever Allen, OF Kasey Coffman, C Max Rossiter, 3B Mike Benjamin
Why to feel good: It's always important to have a bonafide staff ace starting on Fridays, and the Sun Devils enter the season with one of the nation's best in Williams. There are some concerns about the offense with the departures of Joey DeMichele, Andrew Aplin, Abe Ruiz and Deven Marrero, but things should be fine in this department with Rossiter, Benjamin and James McDonald (.284/1/28) in control of things.
Why there might be concern: Though the Sun Devils have a good one in Williams, the other two rotation spots, occupied by right-handers Alex Blackford and Darin Gillies are indeed question marks. Blackford has potential to be special, but had just a 5.71 ERA in 52 innings last season. Meanwhile, Gillies had a 5.03 ERA in 39 1/3 innings last season. Both pitchers, plus a young bullpen, must rise to the occasion for this team to meet or possibly even exceed expectations.
The views expressed by Mr. Rogers are his own and not necessarily those of the entire staff at Perfect Game.