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June 14, 2013

Perfect Game Presents

College World Series Preview

by Kendall Rogers

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Top Five Hitters
1. 3B Colin Moran, North Carolina: Moran was one of the top picks in the MLB draft for a good reason. Moran has improved his defensive skills, but his offensive abilities are what sets him apart from a lot of guys. Moran has the ability to go opposite field with power, and is an extremely pure overall hitter. He enters the CWS hitting .345 with 13 homers and 87 RBIs. He also has 11 doubles, two triples, and has walked 61 times as opposed to striking out on 22 occasions.

2. OF Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State: As much as his bat, it's what he can do once on base that terrifies opposing teams the most. Renfroe has a great frame and bat, along with elite speed. Renfroe enters the CWS hitting .362 with 15 doubles, three triples, 15 homers and 61 RBIs. He also has struck out 39 times as opposed to 34 walks. Renfroe has nine stolen bases and a .448 OBP.

3. C Kyle Schwarber, Indiana: The Hoosiers have had a magical campaign that ends with a trip to Omaha, and the hard-hitting catcher is a big reason for that. Schwarber has elite power, and enters the tournament with a .376 batting average, 10 doubles, a triple, 18 homers and 54 RBIs. He also has a .674 slugging percentage and .468 OBP.

4. SS Alex Bregman, LSU: It's not everyday you see a freshman in this category in the College World Series so high up the list, but Bregman is such a pure hitter. Bregman has far exceeded expectations placed on him before the season, entering Omaha hitting .380 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers and 52 RBIs. He also has walked and struck out 23 times each, while he carries a .423 OBP into the opening weekend of action.

5. 1B Mason Katz, LSU: It was a tough choice between Katz or N.C. State's Trea Turner for this final spot, but we're giving the edge to Katz because of power potential. Katz has been a mainstay in the LSU lineup for a couple of season, and has been most consistent this spring. Katz is hitting .366 with 14 doubles, two triples, 15 homers and 68 RBIs. He also has a .454 OBP and .630 slugging.

Top Starting Pitchers
1. RHP Aaron Nola, LSU: Nola is a treat to watch even when he works into some trouble. Nola is a Cool Hand Luke type of guy on the mound for the Tigers, never getting rattled. Nola can get up to 93 with his fastball, but typically pitches lower than that with near impeccable command. Nola has a 1.68 ERA in 118 innings, along with 117 strikeouts and 17 walks, and a .187 opponent batting average.

2. LHP Carlos Rodon, N.C. State: Though Rodon had his fair share of ups and downs earlier this season, perhaps no starting pitcher has been as dominant as him the last month of the season. Rodon has a big-time fastball to go with a devastating slider. He has a 3.19 ERA in 118 1/3 innings of work, along with 170 strikeouts and 42 walks, and a .201 opponent batting average.

3. LHP Kent Emanuel, North Carolina: What a workhorse Emanuel has been for the Tar Heels the past few seasons. Emanuel put together yet another fantastic campaign as a junior this spring, entering the College World Series with a 2.94 ERA in 122 1/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 89 and walked 28, while teams are hitting him at a .244 clip.

4. LHP Matt Boyd, Oregon State: In addition to serving as the staff ace, the senior is the heart and soul of this Beavers club. Boyd is having another phenomenal campaign, sitting with a 2.15 ERA in 121 1/3 innings of work, along with 109 strikeouts and 30 walks. Teams are hitting .196 against him.

5. RHP Jeff Thompson, Louisville: Thompson has had a great season, and put on an absolute clinic last weekend against Vanderbilt in NCAA Super Regional action with a 92-93 fastball and great location. Thompson has a 2.00 ERA in 103 1/3 innings of work, along with 109 strikeouts and 33 walks, while teams are hitting him at just a .169 clip.

Top Five Relievers
1. RHP Nick Burdi, Louisville: Burdi showed plenty of potential as a freshman last season, but has improved leaps and bounds in terms of command this season, and it shows. Burdi has a fastball that can get up to 100 on the radar gun, and he has a 0.78 ERA in 34 2/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 61 and walked 13, while teams are hitting him at a .197 clip.

2. RHP David Berg, UCLA: Berg might not have a fastball hovering in the mid-90s, actually low-to-mid 80s, but he has downright filthy stuff from an unorthodox angle. Berg has appeared in an astonishing 46 games this season with an 0.88 ERA in 71 1/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 73 and walked eight, while teams are hitting him at a .194 clip.

3. LHP Chris Cotton, LSU: When Cotton enters the game, he does so with his trademark fast trot to the mound. He shows ultimate authority out there, and the Tigers just seem to feed off that. Cotton has been phenomenal this spring, appeared in 36 games with a 1.23 ERA in 44 innings of work. He also has struck out 45 and walked 3, while teams are hitting him at a .158 clip.

4. RHP Jonathan Holder, Mississippi State: Speaking of imposing forces, how about Holder? Holder has a husky frame and nasty attitude, and it shows with his impressive numbers. Holder has a fastball up to 93-94 with a plus curveball at times. Holder has appeared in 29 games this season and has a 1.17 ERA in 46 innings. He also has struck out 81 and walked 14, while teams are hitting him at a .149 clip.

5. RHP Trent Thornton, North Carolina: It's not often a freshman shows up and becomes one of the nation's premier relievers, but Thornton is that guy. What's great about Thornton is he has shown the past couple of weeks he can go one inning, or he can go four or five innings. Thornton is versatile and he has a nice rising fastball up to 93. Thornton has appeared in 27 games and has a 1.24 ERA in 80 innings of work. He also has struck out 74, walked 13 and teams are hitting him at a .195 clip.

Best Offense: LSU
Indiana and North Carolina, among others, enter the College World Series with good offensive lineups, while Mississippi State has been on a tear as of late. However, in terms of sheer balance and consistency, the Tigers get the starting nod over everyone else. The Tigers enter the CWS hitting .308 as a club, but it's their ability to get on base 1-9 that makes them so dangerous. For instance, catcher Ty Ross, who's only .215 with three homers and 32 RBIs, has gotten some key hits in the postseason, while Tyler Moore and Andrew Stevenson also have been clutch despite not having great batting averages, with Stevenson showing off elite speed. Then, of course, the Tigers have plenty of big-time bats with Alex Bregman leading the way with a .380 average, six homers and 52 RBIs, while Mason Katz is hitting .366 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs, Raph Rhymes is hitting .343 with four homers and 46 RBIs, Sean McMullen is hitting .317 with two homers and 30 RBIs, Christian Ibarra is hitting .315 with six homers and 39 RBIs, Mark Laird is hitting .297 with 18 RBIs, and last but certainly not least, second baseman JaCoby Jones has been fantastic lately, and is hitting .299 with six homers. At this point in the season, there's not a true weak spot in this LSU lineup.

Best Starting Pitching: Oregon State
It's hard not to go with Louisville's trio of Chad Green, Dace Kime and Jeff Thompson, or LSU's trio of Cody Glenn, Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades, but we've giving the edge in this category to the great Oregon State trio of Matt Boyd, Andrew Moore and Ben Wetzler. Boyd, a senior, has been terrific this spring, and has some spin on his pitches with near impeccable command. Boyd has a 2.13 ERA in 122 2/3 innings of work, while also striking out 110 and walking 30, while Moore has been one of the nation's elite pitchers despite only being a freshman. Moore has a 1.36 ERA in 119 innings, along with 70 strikeouts and 26 walks. Then there's the bulldog, Wetzler, who was up to 93 two weekends ago and who has a 2.11 ERA in 89 2/3 innings of work. He also has struck out 77 and walked 30. The Beavers don't quite have the bullpen of a couple of other teams in this CWS field, but that starting rotation is as good as it gets.

Best Bullpen: Mississippi State
There are plenty of impressive bullpens in this College World Series field, but no one presents the pure depth of the Bulldogs. MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson has done a magnificent job of putting this pitching staff together this season, and the Bulldogs have enough high quality arms to be able to trot relievers out there in the fourth and fifth innings if need be: and get the job done in the process. The bullpen is led by hard-throwing right-handed pitcher Jonathan Holder, who has 18 saves and a 1.31 ERA in 48 innings of work, while there are many others to watch. For instance, Ross Mitchell has appeared in 31 games and has a 1.35 ERA, Chad Girodo has been terrific in the postseason and has a 1.38 ERA in 45 2/3 innings, Ben Bracewell has appeared in 20 games and has a 1.48 ERA in 30 1/3 innings, Trevor Fitts has a 2.42 ERA (and has started some) and Myles Gentry has shined in some big situations with a 3.69 ERA in 31 2/3 innings of work. Absolutely no one mixes and matches like the Bulldogs, and that's something that takes much pressure off starting pitchers.

The Favorite: LSU
Being the favorite going into Omaha isn't always a great thing. As a matter of fact, more often than not the favorite doesn't win the national title. With that said, perhaps the LSU Tigers are the exception to that rule. The Tigers have the most balanced offensive lineup in this field, and can put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses with speedsters such as JaCoby Jones, Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson leading the charge. Meanwhile, the Tigers have plenty of power with Katz and Bregman in charge, while the starting rotation is in good shape with Aaron Nola, Ryan Eades and Cody Glenn leading the way. Meanwhile, left-handed closer Chris Cotton is one of the best in the business. The Tigers played very well against Oklahoma and enter the CWS with a full head of steam.

The Sleeper: Indiana
There's a tendency to look at first-timers in Omaha and assume they'll either go 0-2 in the field, or just sputter in general. But don't expect the Hoosiers follow that trend. This is a very good club and experienced in some key areas. The Hoosiers are potent offensively with a .305 batting average, and much power in the middle of the lineup with Kyle Schwarber, Scott Donley, Dustin DeMuth and Sam Travis leading the charge. Meanwhile, Aaron Slegers and Joey DeNato spearhead a solid one-two punch on the weekend, while Will Coursen-Carr is a reliable arm who can serve as both a starting pitcher and reliever, and Ryan Halstead has appeared in 27 games and has a 2.40 ERA in 41 1/3 innings of work. Indiana greatly impressed me with its ability to strike back each time Florida State made a run last weekend. Perhaps IU can keep that up in Omaha, and somehow find its way to the CWS Championship Series.

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