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College : : Story
State of College Baseball
Kendall Rogers        
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Winners

North Carolina: The Tar Heels continue to play an excellent brand of baseball, hitting the road and doing a clean sweep of Virginia Tech this past weekend. UNC lost young outfielder Skye Bolt for a couple of weeks because of a foot fracture, but third baseman Colin Moran had a fantastic week at the plate with 16 RBIs. Though LSU is hot on their heels, the Tar Heels just continue to impress.

LSU: Will the Tigers lose an SEC series this spring? It's very plausible it won't happen when you look at the remaining schedule. LSU freshman shortstop Alex Bregman continues to have a big-time campaign with a .432 average, four homers and 38 RBIs, while he also was excellent in the field in a road series win over Arkansas.

Oregon: The Ducks are right there with in-state rival Oregon State atop the Pac 12 standings right now. UO actually beat Oregon State in midweek action last week before sweeping California over the weekend. UO got a solid start from left-handed pitcher Tommy Thorpe, while the bullpen rose to the occasion throughout the weekend. UO continues to eye a possible top-eight national seed.

Jonathon Crawford put together a solid outing against South Carolina last week. (Tim Casey photo)

Florida: Just when you thought the Gators were down and out, they're beginning to put all the important pieces together this spring. UF had a terrific week that included a midweek win over Florida State and weekend series sweep over South Carolina. With those results, UF now is over .500 overall and eligible for the NCAA postseason. UF right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford allowed two runs on seven hits in 6 2/3 innings of work against the Gamecocks last Friday.

Mississippi: The Rebels spent a few weeks in a huge lull, but finally got back on track over the weekend with a home series sweep over Alabama. Ole Miss junior right-handed pitchers Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers threw well against the Crimson Tide. Wahl has a 1.40 ERA in 57 2/3 innings with 48 strikeouts and 30 walks, while Mayers now has a 2.98 ERA in 51 1/3 innings. He has struck out 38 and walked 21.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets certainly took a step back last weekend with a tough series loss to Duke, but rebounded this past weekend at home with a huge series win over Virginia. Georgia Tech welcomed back outstanding outfielder Brandon Thomas from Mononucleosis, while right-handed pitcher Buck Farmer was terrific once again. Farmer has a 1.41 ERA in 64 innings. He also has struck out 74 and walked 14, while teams are hitting him at a .211 clip.

Mercer: The Bears have been very solid the entire season, but made their biggest statement by far over the weekend with a series sweep over a very good Florida Gulf Coast club. Mercer continues to get big-time offensive campaigns from Derrick Workman and Chesny Young. Workman is hitting a team-best .400 with eight homers and 43 RBIs, while Chesny Young is hitting .365 with two homers and 40 RBIs.

Bryant: The Bulldogs continue to own the nation's longest winning streak and could, yes, could be this year's version of Stony Brook. Bryant has an experienced club with one of the nation's best, but under the radar, arms in right-hander Peter Kelich. Kelich has a 2.09 ERA in 51 2/3 innings of work, along with 46 strikeouts and 13 walks. At the plate, keep an eye on Kevin Brown, who's hitting .402 with four homers and 29 RBIs.

UNC Wilmington: The Seahawks cracked our College Top 25 for a good reason on Monday. The Seahawks have a solid offensive lineup and possess one of the top weekend rotations in the mid-major ranks with left-hander Mat Batts and right-hander Jordan Ramsey leading the way. Batts has a 2.38 ERA in 64 1/3 innings of work, while Ramsey has a 1.66 ERA in 65 innings.

Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles have had all sorts of potential this season, but finally are getting their act together in Conference USA action. Right-handed pitcher Andrew Pierce has been a consistent guy in the weekend rotation, while left-handed pitcher Jake Drehoff is finally getting into a groove. Drehoff struck out eight, walked two and allowed no runs in 7 2/3 innings against Marshall this past weekend.



Losers

South Carolina: The Gamecocks appeared to be in good shape after back-to-back very good weekends against Texas A&M and Tennessee. However, they took a step back last weekend by getting swept at Florida. The Gamecocks have had a tough crop of injuries, and also made several defensive mistakes against the Gators.

Indiana: Though the Hoosiers had been one of the nation's most consistent clubs so far this season, they finally had a tough weekend, getting swept on the road by Michigan State. Joey DeNato once again gave IU a good start to begin the weekend, but there wasn't a lot of offensive production present against the Spartans.

Kentucky: It was quite the surprise when the Wildcats dropped a home series to rival Tennessee. It came down to the fact UK got two iffy starts from left-handed pitchers Jerad Grundy and Corey Littrell. Grundy allowed six runs on nine hits in four innings against the Vols, while Littrell allowed five runs on eight hits in 7 1/3 innings.

Rice: The Owls certainly have a history of controlling the Conference USA regular season title race, but that's not the case this season, especially after dropping a home series to UCF. Rice right-handed pitcher Austin Kubitza had a surprisingly tough start against the Knights, allowing three runs in four innings of work. With the series loss, the Owls continue to have issues from an RPI standpoint.

Notre Dame: Though the Fighting Irish had one of the nation's better offensive lineups earlier in the season, they've struggled here recently, scoring just five runs in three games this past weekend in a series loss at Pittsburgh. A prime example of their offensive struggles is first baseman Trey Mancini hitting just .299 now with four homers and 29 RBIs.

Houston: Talk about struggling, the Cougars have been extremely sub-par the past two weekends, dropping a road series to Marshall and losing a home series against Seton Hall this past weekend. Right-handed pitcher Austin Pruitt gave the Cougars a great start in the second game of the series, while Daniel Poncedeleon and Jake Lemoine each had poor starts.

Austin Peay: The Governors entered last week on the cusp of the College Top 25, but took a big step back with a poor week that included two midweek losses to Kentucky and Southern Illinois and a tough road series loss to SEMO over the weekend. APSU was very inconsistent the rest of the weekend, with starting pitcher Ryan Quick allowing four runs on five hits in just an inning of work in the series finale.

Creighton: Yet another team that was in the mix for our rankings last week, the Blue Jays took a step back over the weekend with an 0-3 weekend against Sean Manaea and Indiana State. CU's pitching wasn't bad against the Sycamores, but the offense failed to produce at a high level, scoring just eight runs in three games.

San Diego: The Toreros entered the season with a lot of promise, but inconsistent play is really hurting them this season. For instance, USD started last week with a bad midweek loss (11-3) to UC Irvine before losing two of three to Pepperdine over the weekend. Right-handed pitcher Michael Wagner didn't set a good tone for the weekend in the series opener against the Waves, allowing seven runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings of work.

Texas: It's looking more and more like the Longhorns will miss the NCAA postseason for the second-straight season if they don't finish the final month of the season on an incredibly high note. The Longhorns hit the road over the weekend and dropped a tough series to Kansas. UT has been brutally bad with runners in scoring position this spring, and that must change to turn the corner.



Going streaking

Here are some notable streaks on the national stage:


Winning streaks:

Bryant (18)

Vanderbilt (14)

Clemson (10)

North Carolina State (10)

Coastal Carolina (9)

Michigan (9)

North Carolina (9)


Road winning streaks:

North Carolina (17)

Cal State Fullerton (11)

Campbell (8)

Saint Louis (7)

San Francisco (6)


Home winning streaks:

LSU (19)

Bryant (16)

Delaware (11)

Kansas State (11)

UC Riverside (11)

Vanderbilt (11)

Oregon (10)

Did you know?

In addition to being the nation's top team in our latest College Top 25, North Carolina also is the national leader in a variety of national categories. For instance, the Tar Heels lead the nation with 9.1 runs per game, while Georgia State and Pittsburgh are right behind them with 8.1 runs per game.



Postseason picture

The State of Texas, much like other college baseball power states such as Florida, California and even South Carolina, always seems to attract one, two and sometimes even three or four NCAA Regional host sites.

Unless something drastically changes between now and the end of the regular season, though, the Lone Star State not only won't host an NCAA Regional, the state might only get a couple of teams in the NCAA postseason all together.

It has been a bizarre year of college baseball in Texas, and that's probably being a bit generous in description.

Let's analyze the postseason situations for some of the Texas headliners:

Baylor

Postseason chances: 50%

Hosting chances: 5%

Analysis: The Bears weren't even on the bubble going into this past weekend, but picked up a huge home series win over Oklahoma. Still, even sitting just a half-game out of first place in the Big 12, BU still has a lot of work to do with an RPI of 63 with just a 4-7 record vs. RPI Top 50.

Houston

Postseason chances: 65%

Hosting chances: 10%

Analysis: The Cougars had a real chance to move in as a potential Texas host site a few weeks ago, but have really struggled the past two weeks with series losses to Marshall and Seton Hall. Now, UH has work to do to even stay in the field of 64. UH sits just a half-game out of first in Conference USA and has a 4-3 mark vs. RPI Top 50.

Rice

Postseason chances: 75%

Hosting chances: 35%

Analysis: The Owls have a rather bizarre postseason resume at this point. They've accumulated some nice series wins, including a season-opening series win over Stanford. However, the RPI hasn't been their friend this season, and it took yet another hit as the Owls narrowly avoided getting swept at home by UCF. Rice has an RPI of 71 with an 0-4 mark vs. RPI Top 50.

Texas

Postseason chances: 40%

Hosting chances: 5%

Analysis: The Longhorns have an extremely poor resume and are last place in the Big 12 with a 4-8 record, tied with Texas Tech. For now, though, the Longhorns' saving grace is their RPI of 45 despite having just a 1-3 record vs. RPI Top 50 clubs. UT must finish the season on an incredible streak to make the NCAA postseason, but the RPI will be its friend down the stretch if that happens.

Texas A&M

Postseason chances: 60%

Hosting chances: 20%

Analysis: The Aggies have played a bad brand of baseball the past couple of weeks, losing series to Auburn and Mississippi State at home. However, though, the Aggies have a conference record of 6-9 in the SEC, they also have an impressive RPI for a team with that kind of conference mark, sitting at 34 this morning. Still, A&M will need to take care of business down the stretch, just 4-10 vs. RPI Top 50.

Texas Christian

Postseason chances: 15%

Hosting chances: 1%

Analysis: The Horned Frogs entered the spring as the Big 12 favorite, but have taken a huge step back, sitting at just 16-20 overall, 5-7 in the Big 12. Besides sitting below .500 overall, the Frogs also have an RPI of 127 with an 0-9 record vs. RPI Top 50. For now, things are looking pretty bleak for Jim Schlossnagle's club.

Texas Tech

Postseason chances: 5%

Hosting chances: 0%

Analysis: To absolutely no surprise, this has been quite the rebuilding campaign for the Red Raiders, and it hasn't helped that right-handed pitcher Trey Masek spent three weeks on the shelf. The Red Raiders are tied with Texas for last place in the league and have an RPI of 100, 3-2 mark vs. RPI Top 50 squads.



Prospect watch: Georgia Tech OF Daniel Palka

Ever in the mood to see an incredible power display?

If so, it's highly recommended you make time to go see Georgia Tech junior outfielder Daniel Palka in a game, or if you want even more, during batting practice.

To say that Palka is physically imposing might be an understatement. Palka was a very physical player out of high school in Lyman, S.C. (Greer), standing at around 6-foot-2, 200 pounds as a college freshman. He only has matured even more from a physical standpoint, evolving into one of college baseball's elite hitters and a very good prospect for the upcoming MLB draft.

There was a time, however, when some questioned Palka's elite ability. As a freshman for the Yellow Jackets, the hard-hitting outfielder hit for massive power with 12 homers and 52 RBIs. However, he had just a .297 batting average and an unimpressive .380 on-base percentage. He also struck out 71 times and walked on just 21 occasions.

Palka showed slight improvements as a sophomore in 2012, but again, strikeouts and a rather low OBP was an issue. Palka hit .303 with 12 homers and 47 RBIs, which is impressive. But again, he struck out 50 times, walked just 17 times and had a .380 OBP.

After yet another summer and fall to tweak his game and become a more consistent hitter, the veteran outfielder is having a campaign to remember for the Yellow Jackets. In addition to hitting .366 with nine homers and 38 RBIs so far this spring, he's also tallied an impressive .478 OBP to go with just 32 strikeouts versus 21 walks.

"I just think he's a much more complete hitter. He's got a better understanding of what he needs to do at the plate," Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall said. "There were times in the past when he had a hard time making adjustments during at-bats. Now, though, he has the ability to see what's coming in one pitch, and then hit that pitch hard the next time he sees it. He's really matured as a hitter."

As intriguing as he is for the Yellow Jackets this spring, it's equally intriguing to breakdown Palka as a prospect in the upcoming draft. He entered the 2013 campaign as the No. 102 overall draft prospect, mainly because of his high strikeout totals and uncertainty about his position at the next level.

Palka's consistency at the plate no longer is a concern for good reason, while some still question his ability to be a corner outfielder -- not a first baseman -- at the next level. Two weekends ago against Duke, we got a nice glimpse of Palka from a defensive standpoint. Even at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, he was surprisingly quick and made some nice plays toward the foul line in right field.

"He is deceptive. People look at his body and think he's not real athletic, and assume they're going to have to stick him at first base at the next level," Hall said. "But he has a plus arm out there and he runs better than you think. He takes a lot of pride in being an outfielder, and he really loves to play out there."

Look for Palka, who's stock is rising, to rise significantly in the latest Perfect Game Top 100 prospects, released later this week.



National notebook

* Georgia Tech spent some time without hard-hitting outfielder Brandon Thomas because of Mononucleosis, but he's ready for the stretch run. Thomas returned to the Yellow Jackets lineup last Tuesday against Georgia, where he promptly made an impact with two hits and two RBIs. For the season, Thomas is hitting .413 with 11 doubles, a home run and 19 RBIs.

* Texas right-handed pitcher Corey Knebel was sent home from Kansas over the weekend, but the Longhorns announced that his suspension was temporary and he would rejoin the team in midweek action. Knebel's return is very much needed for the Longhorns, as he has a 2.00 ERA with seven saves in 27 innings of work.

* Texas A&M likely will be without its top two hitters this weekend when it heads to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks in a crucial SEC series. First baseman Cole Lankford, who has made some nice strides at the plate, is out for an undetermined amount of time because of illness, while shortstop Mikey Reynolds suffered an MCL strain when he slid into home against Mississippi State this past weekend. Reynolds is from day-to-day to potentially out for two weeks.

* Texas Tech junior right-handed pitcher Trey Masek, an elite MLB draft prospect, missed three weeks of action because of arm soreness. He returned to the mound Sunday in a single game against Lubbock Christian, where he was rather rusty, allowing three runs on six hits in three innings of work. The velocity on his fastball was into the 90s, but his command was iffy.

* North Carolina certainly didn't skip a beat against Virginia Tech this past weekend, but will be without freshman outfielder Skye Bolt for a few weeks because of a bone fracture in his foot. Bolt is in the midst of a fantastic campaign for the Tar Heels, hitting .392 with 10 doubles, two triples, six homers and 41 RBIs. He also has a .509 OBP to go with a .648 slugging percentage and eight stolen bases.

* Cal State Fullerton freshman right-handed pitcher Thomas Eshelman has been terrific this season, recording his first walk of the season last Friday in a win over UC Santa Barbara. Eshelman struck out seven and allowed just one walk, a run and five hits in eight innings of work. Get this: For the season, the talented freshman righty has a 1.09 ERA in 66 innings of work. He also has struck out 46 … and walked one. Combined with fellow freshman righty Justin Garza, the Titans continue to have one of the nation's elite one-two punches.

* South Carolina hit the road last weekend and got swept by a rising Florida club. Hoping to get back on track this week, the Gamecocks likely will need to do it without left-handed closer Tyler Webb. Webb is still in some pain and continues to be a huge loss for the Gamecocks. The lefty has appeared in 17 games this season, tallying an 0.75 ERA in 24 innings of work. He also has struck out 36 and walked seven, while teams are hitting him at just a .169 clip.

* Tennessee senior right-handed pitcher Zack Godley could be an interesting veteran sign to watch in the MLB draft this summer. Godley has a very physical 6-foot-3, 245-pound frame, and is having a good season for Dave Serrano's Volunteers. He put together a fantastic performance in a series-clinching 5-0 win over Kentucky. Godley struck out eight, walked two and allowed just six hits in a complete game shutout. He threw 130 pitches in the contest, 82 for strikes, and now has a 3.26 ERA in 66 1/3 innings of work.

* Arkansas has suspended relief pitcher Thomas Altimont, effectively immediately, following his arrest on kidnapping and assault allegations. Altimont's suspension is indefinite. Altimont was arrested after policed arrived and found him allegedly holding a woman against her will. The junior right-handed hurler isn't a big loss for the Hogs, as he had appeared in just five games and had a 1.59 ERA in 5 2/3 innings of work.

* The NCAA released the latest list of statistics, and here are some quick notes:

* Here's an update on the nation's batting average leaders: Georgia State shortstop Chad Prain continues to lead the nation with a .444 batting average, along with Delaware first baseman Jimmy Yezzo. Meanwhile, Illinois' Justin Parr is hitting .438 and LSU freshman shortstop Alex Bregman has a .432 average. Also keep an eye on William & Mary's Michael Katz (.429), LSU's Mason Katz (.422) and Mississippi State's Hunter Renfroe (.429).

* In the wake of the Carlos Quentin/Zack Greinke incident last week, here's a look at some guys leading the bruiser award for hit-by-pitches: North Carolina Central's Troy Marrow (21), Maryland's Kyle Convissar (18), Delaware State's Ryan Haas (18), Connecticut's Tom Verdi (18) and Southeaster Missouri State's Jason Blum (17).

* College head coaches put a premium on high on-base percentages, so who leads the way on the national stage? Binghamton's Jake Thomas (.542), Virginia's Mike Papi (.541), New Mexico's DJ Peterson (.525), Penn's Ryan Deitrich (.524), Bryant's Kevin Brown (.524) and North Carolina's Colin Moran (.519).

* The NCAA has a lot of intriguing statistics in each release, but this might be one of the most intriguing figures to me -- the toughest players to strike out? The top five includes Charleston Southern's Bobby Ison, Virginia's Reed Gragnani, Charlotte's Brad Elwood, Louisville's Nick Ratajczak and Gonzaga's Caleb Wood.



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