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College | Story | 2/27/2020

Weekend Preview: Week 3

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney        
Photo: Alfredo Ruiz (Long Beach State Athletics/John Fajardo)

College Top 25 | Player, Pitcher of the Week | College Player Database

The 2020 college baseball season significantly ramps up this weekend with three big tournaments. The Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic played in Houston is annually the biggest tournament of the year, and this year four of the six participating teams are currently ranked. It's a SEC vs. Big 12 showdown with each of the three SEC teams (Arkansas, LSU, Mizzou) playing each of the three Big 12 teams (Baylor, Oklahoma, Texas) in a Round Robin format for the ultimate bragging rights.

Also in the state of Texas is the Frisco Classic and three of the four participating teams are currently ranked. Four of the five Power 5 Conferences are represented with the Pac-12 (UCLA), Big 12 (Oklahoma State), Big Ten (Illinois) and the SEC (Texas A&M).

Thanks to the presence of the domed US Bank Stadium, Minneapolis also plays host to a six-team tournament pitting the ACC against the Big Ten. Similar to the Shriners Classic the three ACC teams (Duke, NC State, North Carolina), all of which are ranked, will face off against the three Big Ten teams (Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue).

No. 16 Ole Miss and No. 21 East Carolina, along with Indiana and High Point, will participate in the annual Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville hosted by ECU.

You don't have to look too hard to find other big series across the nation. The Clemson/South Carolina and Georgia/Georgia Tech series will each be played at three separate locations as the two teams battle for in-state supremacy. Mississippi State and their powerful offense heads to Long Beach State to face the Dirtbags' dominant pitching staff. Texas Tech and Florida Atlantic both head to Tallahassee to play host Florida State while Oregon State continues their grueling early season schedule by playing four games at San Diego State.

Stay tuned for updates from across the country as Perfect Game will have scouts at four of these locations. Brian Sakowski will attend the Shriners Classic in Houston, Vinnie Cervino will be in Tallahassee, Patrick Ebert will provide reports from Minneapolis and both Connor Spencer and Steve Fiorindo will be in attendance at Long Beach. Access all of the scouting reports in the Perfect Game College Player Database.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. Troy Gainesville, FL
2 Louisville home vs. Western Michigan Louisville, KY
3 Vanderbilt home vs. Hawaii Nashville, TN
4 Texas Tech vs. Florida Atlantic, at No. 14 Florida State Tallahassee, FL
5 Arkansas vs. No. 15 Oklahoma, No. 23 Texas, Baylor Houston, TX
6 Mississippi State at Long Beach State Long Beach, CA
7 UCLA vs. No. 24 Oklahoma State, No. 18 Texas A&M, Illinois Frisco, TX
8 Arizona State home vs. Nebraska Phoenix, AZ
9 Georgia home/at Georgia Tech Athens, Atlanta, Lawrenceville, GA
10 Duke vs. Purdue, at Minnesota, Iowa Minneapolis, MN
11 Miami home vs. Towson Coral Gables, FL
12 Michigan at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA
13 Auburn home vs. Wright State Auburn, AL
14 Florida State home vs. Florida Atlantic, No. 4 Texas Tech Tallahassee, FL
15 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Arkansas, Missouri, No. 22 LSU Houston, TX
16 Mississippi vs. High Point, at No. 21 East Carolina, Indiana Greenville, NC
17 NC State vs. Iowa, Purdue, at Minnesota Minneapolis, MN
18 Texas A&M vs. Illinois, No. 7 UCLA, No. 24 Oklahoma State Frisco, TX
19 Tennessee home vs. George Washington Knoxville, TN
20 North Carolina at Minnesota, vs. Iowa, Purdue Minneapolis, MN
21 East Carolina home vs. Indiana, No. 16 Ole Miss, High Point Greenville, NC
22 Louisiana State vs. No. 23 Texas, Baylor, No. 15 Oklahoma Houston, TX
23 Texas vs. No. 22 LSU, No. 5 Arkansas, Missouri Houston, TX
24 Oklahoma State vs. No. 7 UCLA, Illinois, No. 18 Texas A&M Frisco, TX
25 Virginia home vs. Dartmouth Charlottesville, VA

Frisco College Baseball Classic

This field looks like a NCAA Tournament Regional. But a Regional that features nothing but Nos. 1 and 2 seeds. UCLA, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State enter the tournament as ranked teams who can pitch with anyone nationally. The Bruins play elite defense, per usual, and this lineup is newer but extremely talented nonetheless. John Savage gets to deploy the nation’s most accomplished bullpen and this club feels like a sneaky national title contender.

The A&M pitching staff also offers great depth and ace Asa Lacy might be the nation’s most intimidating arm. The position player group, on the other hand, has a lot to prove. This lineup brings a lot of pieces back from an offense that really struggled for most of 2019. A healthy Will Frizzell could be a difference maker and Bryce Blaum looks like a man on a mission. And Zach DeLoach has clearly built upon his breakout summer on Cape Cod.

Illinois and Oklahoma State are the afterthoughts here and that tells you everything you need to know about the strength of this tournament. Both clubs are resetting early in 2020 but their recent program pedigree tells us they’ll both be there in the end.

Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic

This field is so strong that it looks like a misprint: LSU, Arkansas, Baylor, Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Two things in particular stand out: there may be multiple Omaha teams in this field and at least half a dozen eventual first round picks.

Arkansas and Oklahoma look the part already. The Hogs have what feels like infinite program momentum and this roster has multiple star players. Oklahoma is an old team that plays elite defense and Skip Johnson has pitching depth. By the way, Texas and LSU both have Omaha caliber pitching staffs that could carry young position player cores until they’re ready.

On the player side, Arkansas’ Casey Martin and Heston Kjerstad lead the charge. Kjerstad is off to a great start and he may sneak into the Golden Spikes conversation if others above him aren’t careful. Cade Cavalli (Oklahoma) and Ian Bedell (Missouri) are two high-octane righthanded arms who check a lot of scouting boxes. LSU righthanders Cole Henry and Jaden Hill have dealt with injury issues but both offer as much upside as anyone. And don’t forget that Baylor and Texas are deploying true freshmen in premium roles.

Statement Makers

Cal State Northridge heads to UCF this weekend and it would be easy to characterize this as a nondescript series between two solid programs. Except that UCF just swept Auburn on the road last weekend. And Cal State Northridge, under new skipper Dave Serrano, has started the 2020 season at 7-0.

The Knights’ pitching staff looks fully recovered from an injury-riddled 2019 and this power-armed group owns a staggering 12.6 K/9 through nine games. The Matadors are also off to an excellent start on the mound, but with a very different style. The Northridge staff has less than one strikeout per inning but this group offers exceptional command. In fact, Serrano’s staff has walked just 16 hitters in seven games, good for a 2.28 BB/9.

One more thing worth mentioning: both of these teams play in what look to be wide open leagues. This series certainly looks like a resume builder for the postseason. But more importantly, a series win here could provide the confidence needed to make a run at a conference title.

– Mike Rooney

Ranking the Unranked

The Top 25 is currently a crowded field as there are easily 30-35 teams that are worthy of inclusion. As noted in this past week’s update, there were five teams (with a few others included) that received serious consideration to the ranked, but only one spot to be claimed with Stanford dropping out. Thanks to their 7-0 start to the season and by sweeping the field at the Round Rock Classic, Tennessee got the nod and debuted in the PG College Top 25 at No. 19.

And while TCU, San Diego State, Southern Miss and UCF were all on our radar, the four teams that ultimately didn’t make the cut were Clemson, Dallas Baptist, Georgia Tech and Long Beach State. While Dallas Baptist plays Arkansas State this weekend coming off of a huge road series win over North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Long Beach State each face big, big challenges ahead of them this weekend. Below we take a look at those three series and how each team stacks up against their opponent.

Clemson vs. South Carolina
Clemson just suffered their first loss of the season, dropping a midweek contest to East Tennessee State, but prior to that the team, particularly the pitching staff, has been dominant. While most of their games have been decided by 1-2 runs, three of their seven wins have come via shutout thanks to a staff that has a cumulative 1.23 ERA after the first two weeks of the season.

Once highly-touted recruit Sam Weatherly is finally maximizing on his lofty potential. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior lefthander has been throwing the ball routinely in the low- to mid-90s and has thrown the ball well in each of his two starts serving as Clemson’s ace. He’s only given up on earned run in 10 innings, the only earned run the three weekend starters – which includes sophomore Davis Sharpe and redshirt sophomore Spencer Strider – have allowed over 26 2/3 combined innings. Sharpe pulls double duty as one of the team’s more productive hitters while Strider is being brought back slowly after missing all of the 2019 season due to injury.

Mat Clark effectively serves as Strider’s piggy-back starter and closer Carson Spiers already has three saves in five relief appearances. Fellow relievers Nick Clayton and Geoffrey Gilbert, both of whom are freshmen, each have yet to allow an earned run in four relief appearances spanning at least five innings.

The offense has yet to find their rhythm, but two more redshirt sophomores, Kier Meredith and Elijah Henderson, are off to good starts. Neither has played much to this point of their college careers, but similar to Weatherly, both arrived on campus as promising recruits during the fall of 2017.

They’re playing their annual series against their in-state rivals, the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Friday matchup between Weatherly and Carmen Mlodzinski will come with a lot of scouting heat, and the Gamecocks also has two other formidable weekend starters in Brett Kerry and Brannon Jordan, a trio that has a 42-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 combined innings. Wes Clarke is quietly enjoying a big season so far, hitting .320 with four homers and 14 RBI already on the young season for a team that is hitting .288 as a unit.

With a win it will become even more difficult to keep Clemson unraked. And while South Carolina isn’t currently in the Top 25 discussion, they could very well be with a series win of their own.

Mississippi State at Long Beach State
You’re not going to miss Mississippi State’s lineup, a murderer’s row of hitters that can make even the unlikeliest of comebacks possible, which is exactly what they did last Friday against Oregon State when they exploded for six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to secure a 6-2 series-opening victory. The overall stats aren’t especially gaudy now, but Justin Foscue is off to a big start as he and Jordan Westburg form the most dangerous middle infield tandem in the nation and the starting duo of Christian MacLeod and Eric Cerantola has been dominant on Saturdays and Sundays with ace JT Ginn injured.

However, if you haven’t noticed what Long Beach State has done over the first two weeks under first-year head coach Eric Valenzuela than you’re likely not staying up late enough to follow their games.

The Dirtbags are now 6-2, beating Cal to open the year two games to one, sweeping visiting Wake Forest and most recently taking down San Diego in a midweek matchup. Not surprisingly it’s the pitching that is making the biggest difference, with a 1.66 team ERA led by their newly-appointed staff ace, sophomore lefthander Alfredo Ruiz. Ruiz has yet to allow a run in 14 innings of work, striking out 14 with a paltry .089 batting average against. Freshman righthander Luis Ramirez is coming off of a 12-strikeout performance against a loaded Wake Forest lineup, and another freshman, Devereaux Harrison, has also pitched effectively over meaningful innings early in the year.

Offensively LBSU isn’t going to regularly clobber opponents, but so far, so good. First baseman Leonard Jones is slashing .333/.367/.556 while outfielders Connor Kokx and Calvin Estrada also provide some extra-base thump.

Long Beach State certainly has their work cut out for them this weekend as they host a Mississippi State squad that has advanced to Omaha each of the last two years and it will be up to their pitching staff to quiet that dangerous starting lineup. With a series win they will continue to make it difficult to leave them out of the Top 25.

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia
Similar to the Clemson/South Carolina series, Georgia Tech and Georgia play a three-game set against each other at three different venues for Peach State bragging rights. The Yellow Jackets opened 2020 outside of PG’s Top 25 after losing a lot of the talent that helped propel them to the No. 3 national seed in last year’s postseason, a season that ended to an upstart Auburn squad in Atlanta.

And the way Georgia Tech is playing so far it looks as though they haven’t missed a beat. Getting a healthy Jonathan Hughes back to front their rotation has been key as the way he, Cort Roedig and Zach Maxwell have pitched so far GT will match up just fine against Georgia’s much more highly regarding starting trio of Emerson Hancock, Cole Wilcox and CJ Smith. Similarly, long men Andy Archer (Georgia Tech) and Ryan Webb (Georgia) have each played big roles in their teams’ early season success.

Look no further than GT’s .299/.388/.476 slash line to get an idea of how well they’re hitting the ball and they easily handled a stout Ohio State pitching staff, outscoring the Buckeyes 29-10 in three games. Corner outfielders Michael Guldberg and Baron Radcliff have been providing many of the big hits so far early in the year from the middle of the order with Luke Waddell doing his job getting on base at the top of the lineup.

Georgia’s offensive numbers are similar on a balanced offensive attack led by senior shortstop Cam Shepherd and redshirt junior Tucker Bradley, both long-time members of the program. Both have 13 RBI through the team’s first nine games, with Bradley doing his best Aaron Schunk impersonation by pulling double-duty as one of the team’s relievers.

For Georgia Tech it’s their last weekend series before conference play begins, a slate that offers no easy series wins. In the month of March alone the Jackets will play at Florida State, Duke and then at Clemson before kicking off April with series against North Carolina and NC State. If they’re ranked after Easter you know it will be very well-deserved.

– Patrick Ebert

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