As part of a four-part series Perfect Game will highlight the top 10 storylines from the 2013 MLB Draft (Patrick Ebert), from Perfect Game's Showcase and Tournament events (Jeff Dahn) as well as those from both College and High School (Todd Gold) baseball.
Both UCLA and Mississippi State were expected to have successful campaigns this past spring, but few, if any, thought the two actually would play for the national title.
Well, they did.
The Bruins might’ve left something to be desired offensively at times, but the pitching staff was the elite of the elites with righthanded starting pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig, and righthanded reliever David Berg leading the charge. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs had destiny on their side throughout the season with players such as Wes Rea and Brett Pirtle, among others, rising to the occasion down the stretch and in Omaha.
While the Bruins and Bulldogs lead the team accolades for this year, the individual accolades couldn’t go to a duo better than Oklahoma righthanded hurler Jonathan Gray and San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant. Gray used his nasty stuff, including his upper-90s fastball, to blow away hitters and tally amazing numbers, while Bryant took yet another step forward and established himself as one of the best power hitters in college baseball history.
A lot transpired in college baseball in 2013, and here’s an inside look at our annual top story lines.
10. Realignment sets in for various programs
There’s a good chance this once again is a story line next winter with several programs making more moves after the 2014 campaign. But it’s interesting to look back at ’13 and see how some notable institutions did in their inaugural years in new conferences.
Without further ado, let’s do just that:
In the Big West, Hawaii was a new member in ’13 and went 11-16 in conference, 16-35 overall.
In the Big 12, TCU went 12-12 in league play, surprisingly just 29-28 overall. Meanwhile, West Virginia was a pleasant surprise, finishing tied for third in the league with Oklahoma State at 13-10, while also going 33-26 overall.
In the Mountain West, Fresno State went 14-16 in the league, 23-33 overall, while Nevada went 11-19 in the league, 25-32 overall.
In the Southeastern Conference, Texas A&M went 13-16 in the league, 34-29 overall, while Missouri struggled mightily in its first SEC season, going 10-20 in league play, just 18-32 overall.
In the West Coast Conference, Brigham Young finished the spring 15-9 overall in the league, 32-21 overall.
Some notable changes for the 2014 season include Notre Dame and Pittsburgh to the ACC, the new American Athletic Conference including Houston and Louisville, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee State, Old Dominion and UTSA to Conference USA, San Jose State to the Mountain West, Georgia State, Texas State, and Texas-Arlington to the Sun Belt, Pacific to the West Coast Conference and Grand Canyon and Utah Valley, among others, to the Western Athletic Conference.
9. Florida State’s Jameis Winston captures the Heisman Trophy
It’s uncommon to associate big football stories with those on the baseball diamond, but that’s definitely the case when it comes to Florida State’s two-sport star.
After putting together a magical season on the gridiron and leading the Seminoles to the BCS National Championship game, Winston won the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first college baseball player since Auburn’s Bo Jackson in 1985 to accomplish the feat.
As a quarterback for the Seminoles, Winston enters the Auburn national title game with 3,820 yards passing and 364 yards rushing.
Winston also was a contributor on FSU’s baseball team in 2013, and still is expected to play baseball during the upcoming campaign. Winston batted .235 in 119 at bats and tallied a 3.00 ERA in 17 innings of work for Mike Martin and the Seminoles this past spring.
Also worth noting, Winston was a Perfect Game All-American out of high school.
8. Several freshmen achieve elite status in inaugural campaigns
Several first-year players tend to make statements in their inaugural campaigns, but the 2013 campaign seemed to be extra special in that regard.
The list of elite freshmen from last season is significant, but here’s a breakdown of some of the headliners:
Alex Bregman, ss, LSU: Bregman would’ve been a very high draft pick out of high school had he not gotten the injury bug. He showed that as a freshman for the Tigers, hitting .369 with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers and 52 RBIs. Bregman also showed good actions in the field at shortstop for the Tigers, who reached the College World Series.
Skye Bolt, of, North Carolina: Bolt suffered an injury near the end of the season that kept him from keeping the pace he was on earlier in the year, but he still had an impressive campaign. The athletic outfielder, who also has a strong arm, hit .321 with 14 doubles, two triples, six homers and 51 RBIs.
Andrew Moore, rhp, Oregon State: Beavers veteran lefthanded pitcher Matt Boyd might’ve earned more accolades last season, but Moore was hot on his heels by the end of the season. The talented righty and Oregon product tallied an outstanding 1.79 ERA in 131 innings, along with 72 strikeouts and 28 walks.
Justin Garza, rhp, Cal State Fullerton: No freshman pitcher we saw last season was more impressive than Garza. Though not a physically imposing pitcher, Garza flashed mid-90s heat, a good changeup and slider, and had outstanding numbers while helping the Titans advance to the NCAA Super Regional round. Garza went 12-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 115 innings, while also striking out 95 and walking 17.
Thomas Eshelman, rhp, Cal State Fullerton: Garza won our Freshman Pitcher of the Year award, but his righthanded teammate also had a strong case. Eshelman was fantastic as a first-year player this past season, tallying a 1.48 ERA in 115 2/3 innings of work, while also tallying 83 strikeouts and only walking an astonishing three batters.
Other freshmen made statements this season, but these performances were truly elite no matter the classification.
7. Kris Bryant’s amazing junior campaign for San Diego
Meeting high expectations out of high school certainly isn’t easy, but Bryant made things work in his three seasons with the University of San Diego Toreros.
What’s most interesting about Bryant is that he transformed himself as a hitter during all three campaigns. Though he entered college with good raw power, Bryant hit .365 with 17 doubles, nine homers and 36 RBIs, just a small snapshot of what he did as a junior this past season. Then, as a sophomore, Bryant hit .366 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs. He also walked 39 times and struck out on 38 occasions.
Entering the ’13 season as one of the nation’s elite prospects, it could’ve been easy for Bryant not to live up to expectations in a draft year, as that happens all that time. Impressively, Bryant put together yet another great season, only in different fashion.
Bryant ended 2013 with a much lower batting average (.329) than the previous two campaigns. However, he took another massive step forward in the power department, recording 13 doubles, three triples, an astonishing 31 homers and 62 RBIs.
By accomplishing what he did for the Toreros last season, Bryant established himself as one of the top power hitters in college baseball history.
Now, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder, who’s now in the Chicago Cubs organization, hopes to show off his skills at the big league level, sooner rather than later.
6. Towson saves baseball program, Temple drops baseball
With the budget crunches we all seem to face in today’s economic environment, college baseball hasn’t been immune to the problem.
Just a couple of seasons ago, the University of California attempted to cut baseball, with the program getting saved by some very generous donors. Then, this past spring, Towson announced it was cutting baseball, only to have it saved and funded through the 2014 season.
Though chances are very good Towson continues to get funding beyond ’14 with $100K already privately raised for the ’15 season, it’s still not a given at this point, making this yet another potentially tumultuous situation.
Temple, at least thus far, hasn’t been so lucky.
The Temple University administration announced two weeks ago it was cutting baseball and six other sports, effective following the 2014 baseball season. Temple’s administration cited the need to boost funding for other sports as the Owls continue to move in today’s always-changing realignment environment.
Temple head baseball coach Ryan Wheeler has reached out to many in the industry for help funding the Owls, but it remains to be seen if they can A) raise the money needed to fund the program or B) even if the money is raised, will Temple still be Title IX compliant if it keeps baseball.
For now, the Owls are on the chopping block. But as Cal and Towson showed not too long ago, anything out there is possible. Even with its situation this past season, Towson managed to reach the NCAA postseason by winning the Colonial Athletic Association tournament.
Let’s hope the near future holds better news for Temple. It only hurts college baseball if another program is gone. We absolutely stand with Temple in this situation.
5. Mississippi State’s magical run to Omaha
The Bulldogs were expected to have a fruitful 2013 campaign, but that was assuming they were fully healthy. By the time MSU got to Omaha this past June, they were anything but healthy.
Entering the season, the Bulldogs had hoped to rely heavily on righthanded pitcher Brandon Woodruff, a fast-rising prospect, and lefthanded hurler Jacob Lindgren, who had a lot of upside. Woodruff missed the season because of an arm injury, while Lindgren never seemed to be the same after getting hit in the knee by a line drive early in the season. Lindgren, of course, has regained his confidence and stuff and is primed for a strong ’14 campaign, but his struggles at times last season are well documented.
Even without a pair of premium arms, the Bulldogs had little trouble getting to Omaha and almost winning the program’s first national title.
During the regular season, the Bulldogs tallied a 16-14 record in the Southeastern Conference, really turning up the heat once the NCAA postseason began. There, MSU began things by beating Central Arkansas (twice) and South Alabama in the Starkville Regional before playing near flawless baseball in a road series sweep over Virginia in the Charlottesville Super Regional.
In Omaha, the Bulldogs defeated Oregon State in thrilling fashion to open the tournament before edging Indiana and advancing to the CWS Championship Series with an impressive 4-1 win, again, over the Beavers.
Mississippi State’s 2013 run truly was one to remember.
4. Wichita State fires Gene Stephenson
Legends usually have an opportunity to walk out on their own, but not Stephenson. Though he poured 36 years of his life into Wichita State Baseball, Stephenson was given his walking papers at the conclusion of the 2013 campaign, a spring that ended with an NCAA postseason appearance for the Shockers.
Most disgusting about the situation is the fact Wichita State fired Stephenson with just one more season left on his contract, an obvious parting shot, it seems, from WSU athletic director Eric Sexton.
Regardless of the situation, there’s no doubt about Stephenson’s impact on college baseball. Before we had the term “mid-major” placed on smaller programs all around the country, Stephenson built a strong foundation at WSU and turned the program into one -- despite some larger schools with bigger budgets around them – that achieved elite status on the national stage.
Stephenson’s resume while with the Shockers is amazing. In his 36 seasons, he compiled an impressive 1,837-675-3 overall record. He also led the Shockers to their only national title in 1989, while also setting the NCAA single-season wins record that year with 73 victories.
Overall, Wichita State won 20 conference championships and appeared in 28 NCAA postseasons under Stephenson’s watch.
For that, he deserves a strong tip of the cap.
3. Indiana gets Big Ten back to Omaha
The Big Ten Conference hadn’t reached the College World Series since Michigan in the mid 1980’s, but that all changed this past season when the Indiana Hoosiers put together an impressive campaign on the road to Omaha, snapping the Big Ten’s hiatus from Middle America.
The Hoosiers had quite an impressive 2013 campaign. In addition to tallying an impressive 17-7 mark during the Big Ten regular season, the Hoosiers had one of the nation’s elite offensive lineups, hitting .301 with Dustin DeMuth, Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, among others leading the charge.
IU also had a solid pitching staff. Righthanded pitcher Aaron Slegers had a solid campaign and wound up being a fifth-round pick to the Minnesota Twins, while talented Joey DeNato made 18 starts and tallied a 2.52 ERA in 103 2/3 innings of work. The Hoosiers had plenty of other key contributors this past season.
After capturing the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in the spring, the Hoosiers assembled an impressive NCAA postseason run. Though IU fell just short of capturing a top-eight postseason national seed, they weren’t deterred. The Hoosiers defeated Valparaiso in an epic contest and Austin Peay (twice) to advance out of the Bloomington Regional.
The Hoosiers then went on the road to Tallahassee, Fla., and managed to do a clean sweep of the Seminoles, using big-time offensive production to outscore the opposition 21-15 in a pair of contests.
Once in Omaha, the Hoosiers didn’t meet their goal of playing for a national title. But they had a good showing, beating Louisville 2-0 before dropping a pair of one-run bouts to Mississippi State and Oregon State to get eliminated.
Though the 2013 campaign was special for Indiana, it has a golden opportunity to take yet another step forward during the upcoming season with several key cogs, such as Schwarber and Travis back in the mix.
2. NCAA approves new baseball for 2015
College baseball has seen some rapid change over the past decade with a new home for the College World Series and new BBCOR bat standard, which certainly has had its fair share of controversy during the past couple of seasons.
The BBCOR bat and raised, higher-seamed baseballs, combined, significantly decreased the power numbers in the sport, thus the NCAA Division I Baseball Committee decided to do something about it.
The new flat and lower seamed baseball, which was approved this past November, won’t go into affect until 2015, but the changes will be noticeable. For instance, in most cases during the NCAA’s testing of the new ball, the “drag effect” associated with the ball caused it to travel 20 feet further than normal.
Impressively, the NCAA says the new ball won’t add more safety risks. Though the ball travels more at a greater distance, the actual exit speed off the bat won’t increase.
All this is good for college baseball moving forward.
You can read more about this issue, here: http://www.perfectgame.org/Articles/View.aspx?article=9170
1. UCLA takes step forward, wins first national title
As the nation’s leader in overall athletic championships, much is always expected out of UCLA’s athletic programs. However, for a long time, and as much as the baseball program should be elite, the Bruins struggled to make their ultimate footprint on the college baseball landscape.
Beginning a few seasons ago and culminating in 2013, all that has now changed. The Bruins no longer are viewed as underperforming. Now, after winning the program’s first national title in the spring, the Bruins are in the unfamiliar position of being the program everyone wants to be and are aiming for.
The Bruins put together an NCAA postseason run that won’t be forgotten. UCLA had one of the nation’s elite pitching staffs. And though the offense wasn’t great throughout the year, several key players, such as Eric Filia and others, rose to the occasion in the postseason and had several important hits.
UCLA had a dominant postseason run that began by sweeping through the Los Angeles Regional with wins over San Diego State, Cal Poly and San Diego. Then, as underdogs against Cal State Fullerton – on the road – the Bruins swept the Titans 2-0 to advance to the College World Series, using elite pitching and defense, and timely hitting to get the job done.
Once in Omaha, the Bruins continued their flawless nature with an undefeated run in the tournament, sweeping Mississippi State in the CWS Championship Series by scores of 3-1 and 8-0. Other wins were recorded in the tournament against North Carolina (twice) and North Carolina State.
Overall, the Bruins will be remembered for several special performances, but the campaigns put together by righthanded starting pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig and lefthander Grant Watson will always be remembered. The same goes for All-American reliever David Berg, who recorded 24 saves in 51 appearances and tallied a 0.92 ERA along the way.
UCLA clearly was a team of destiny in ’13.
Player of the year (pitcher): Jonathan Gray, rhp, Oklahoma
The Oklahoma gunslinger had quite the rise up the charts in college baseball. As a sophomore two seasons ago, Gray showed the potential to be a top-five Major League Baseball Draft type of pick, but failed to establish consistency. Well, that all changed as a junior this past season, as Gray refined his game and clearly was the elite pitcher in college baseball. With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and other special offerings, the Oklahoma native tallied a 1.64 ERA in 126 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 147, walked 24 and limited teams to a .189 clip. Gray parlayed his amazing 2013 campaign into the third overall pick in the draft and a $4.8 million signing bonus.
Player of the year (position): Kris Bryant, 3b, San Diego
The BBCOR bat has taken a lot of power out of college baseball the past few seasons, but don’t tell that to Bryant. The hard-hitting Toreros third baseman has always been a productive hitter, but he amazingly exceeded all expectations this past season. He batted .329, belted an astonishing 31 homers and knocked in 62 runs. He also induced 66 walks (may of those intentional) and struck out on 44 occasions. Bryant, one of the great power hitters of our time, parlayed his amazing season into the No. 2 overall pick to the Chicago Cubs.
Game of the year: North Carolina 12, Florida Atlantic 11, 13 innings (Chapel Hill Regional)
North Carolina was one of the favorites to advance to the College World Series and perhaps even win the program’s first national title. But boy, were the Tar Heels pushed to the brink in the Chapel Hill Regional.
The Tar Heels had an impressive start to the Chapel Hill Regional, and were up 6-2 in the NCAA Regional title game against pesky Florida Atlantic. However, the Owls fought back in the ninth inning with six runs to take an 8-6 lead over the Heels, the decisive blow coming via a Tyler Rocklein grand slam.
Pushed against the wall, down 8-6 in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Tar Heels showed their resolve once again when Mike Zolk smacked a two-RBI single to right field to make it 8-8, forcing extra innings.
Extra innings provided an epic seesaw battle, too. Both the Tar Heels and Owls went scoreless in the 10th and 11th innings, while the two teams traded three-run frames in the 12th inning. FAU got a three-run homer from catcher Levi Meyer in the inning, while the Tar Heels answered back with a pair of walks, with Zolk again providing a big hit, this time an RBI single to tie the game at 11-11.
In the 13th inning, Chris McCue, Hobbs Johnson and Reilly Hovis held the Owls scoreless in the top frame, while the decisive blow in the ballgame came by the Tar Heels in the bottom of the frame on a Cody Stubbs RBI single down the left field line.
rt. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels parlayed a gritty performance in the Chapel Hill Regional into a Chapel Hill Super Regional title over South Carolina, advancing to the CWS as a result.
Interestingly, the Tar Heels also are the object of the No. 2 game of the year, an amazing 2-1 18-inning triumph over archrival North Carolina State in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. In that game, UNC righthanded pitcher Trent Thornton tossed 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, while in a herculean effort, N.C. State lefthander Carlos Rodon struck out 14 in a one-run 10 inning start.