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College | Story | 12/1/2020

College Notebook: December 1

Vincent Cervino        
Photo: Adrian Del Castillo (Miami Athletics/JC Ridley)
Programs covered this week: Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Louisiana State, Miami

Auburn


The Tigers return a good bulk of their veteran presence from the 2018 team that went to Omaha as their core of Steven Williams, Cody Greenhill, and Jack Owen all return to lead an exciting SEC squad. Expect to see Greenhill and Owen operating on weekends and the likely candidate to join him at this juncture is Richard Fitts as the junior right-hander has been into the upper-90s and looks to be one of the premier fall risers as we had noted here. Underclassmen arms look to provide big innings too as Mason Barnett has the makings of a frontline SEC starter as his power stuff can play both on Friday nights and in ninth innings while true freshmen Cam Hill and Joseph Gonzalez have also been impressive.

The lineup will likely work around the steadying presence of Ryan Bliss, who will also be an attractive draft candidate, given the consistency of his offensive skill and ability to command the defense out at shortstop. Williams and his big left-handed power will likely anchor a run-producing spot while returnees like Kason Howell, Rankin Woley, and Judd Ward will be sure to impact the offense. Sophomore Nate LaRue has been a standout defender behind the plate and could be one of many from that recruiting class to break out next spring.

The emergence of a couple impressive recruits has Auburn optimistic for 2021 as true freshman Cole Foster and junior college transfer Bryson Ware both look to force themselves into at-bats throughout the spring. Foster was a highly-ranked recruit out of Texas who’s a true up-the-middle player who should see a good amount of time on the dirt along with Brody Moore. Ware is a toolsed-up prospect with game-changing speed, athleticism, and the versatility to play all over the diamond.

Florida

The Gators were the No. 1 team in the country preceding the cancellation of the season, and there’s no reason to expect that they won’t compete for a national title again given how much they return. Florida returns the entirety of their weekend rotation in Friday night ace Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich, and Hunter Barco. Both Mace and Leftwich returning was a bit of a surprise, and both have looked sharp as Mace has been up to 98 mph with his bulldog competitiveness while Leftwich has also been into the upper-90s with a good slider. There might not be a bigger competitor than Hunter Barco who was a star as a true freshman and looks to keep the Gators’ reputation for churning out first round caliber arms alive heading into 2022.

The star for the Gators will be third-year outfielder Jud Fabian who’s a legitimate threat to be the No. 1 overall pick come next July. Fabian makes the game look easy and capped off a strong fall showing with a massive bomb in their final inter-squad scrimmage. Jacob Young returns with some of the best bat-to-ball skills on the team as does Kirby McMullen who should offer some significant power in the middle of the lineup. Kendrick Calilao and Cory Acton will find their share of at-bats while second year hitters Josh Rivera and Nathan Hickey offer significant upside with Rivera shining on both sides of the ball and Hickey showing massive left-handed power; Kris Armstrong is another name who turned heads this fall given his power from both sides the versatility to play both the infield and outfield.

The rest of the pitching staff is incredibly deep with returning arms like Christian Scott, Ben Specht, and Nick Pogue who, in particular, is coming off a very strong fall. Newcomers Timmy Manning and Franco Aleman were both very strong in the fall with Aleman working up to 97 mph while Ryan Cabarcas has seen an uptick in velocity and Brandon Sproat possesses some of the best stuff on the staff.

Florida State

The Seminoles bring in one of their better recruiting classes in recent memory and their talented freshmen coupled with the experienced veteran bats make for a high ceiling offense. They’re certainly going to get to their share of power as though Elijah Cabell was banged up at times, he’s got some of the best power in college baseball. He’ll be joined by returnees Reese Albert and Robby Martin in the middle of the lineup as Albert looks to have found his rhythm after getting healthy and Martin enters as one of the more polished hitters in the sport and could be beginning to tap into some additional power given some swing tweaks. Nander De Sedas has simplified his offensive approach and looks more controlled as a result while catcher Matheu Nelson could be a big riser this spring given his defensive profile and contingent on offensive performance; don’t forget about second year hitter Tyler Martin either as he’s got one of the best approaches on the team and can smack balls to all parts of the yard.

They’ll have to replace CJ Van Eyk and Shane Drohan near the top of the rotation but the Seminoles certainly have the firepower to do so. Parker Messick has had an excellent calendar year and looks to be in that mix as will veteran strike thrower Conor Grady who’s been starting for two years now. Jack Anderson offers a lot of strikes and swing-and-miss breaking ball as does left-handed sophomore Bryce Hubbart who saw an uptick in stuff. Hunter Perdue redshirted due to injury after coming over from State College of Florida and he’s been loud working up to 96 mph to go along with two power breaking balls. Prized recruit Carson Montgomery is one of the top freshmen in the country as he’s got a true starter’s arsenal with a 93-97 mph fastball and both a quality slider and changeup.

Junior college transfers Colton Vincent and Casey Asman should see significant time as Vincent is a quality catcher and Asman has impressive pull side juice. Other impressive newcomers include the ever-dependable Vince Smith who’s improved on both sides of the ball while they have some serious talent in freshmen southpaws Ross Dunn, Wyatt Crowell, and Andrew Armstrong. Add in other arms like the experienced Chase Haney along with power righties Tyler Ahearn and Doug Kirkland and you have a very deep club.

Louisiana State

Like many teams this fall, the Tigers are allowing a mix of young and experienced to thrive this fall and allow for some healthy and positive competition. They’ll return one of the most experienced pitching staffs in the country as it’ll potentially look like a combination of Jaden Hill, Landon Marceaux, and AJ Labas on the weekend. Hill is in the mix for the first pick in the draft given his power arsenal with three potential plus pitches highlighted by a heater that was up to 99 mph this fall and a double-plus changeup. Marceaux is one of the best pitchers in the SEC given his command as he’ll sit right in the low-90s and hit spots while putting guys away with a slider. Labas compares favorably to Marceaux with a similar biting slider while the rest of the staff features a ton of SEC performers in Matthew Beck, Ma’Khail Hilliard, and Brandon Kaminer.

The lineup has a good amount of youth but there’s exciting upside here given their performance in a short season and the pedigree that some of these players come in with. The left side of the diamond will feature sophomores Collier Cranford and Zach Arnold as Cranford is a quality defender and Arnold offers quality offense from the infield given his ability to hit the ball hard on a consistent basis. Star recruit Dylan Crews had a monster fall and it looks like his bat will force his way into the lineup while bruiser Cade Beloso returns as he’ll transition to left field. Cade Doughty is a monster line drive to line drive type of producer while Tre’ Morgan really impressed this fall with a very polished hit tool, the body to project power, and some of the best hands on the team even if that is over at first base.

Giovanni DiGiacomo is a true double-plus runner who’s one of the best defenders in the sport out in centerfield while they have another standout defender in second year backstop Alex Milazzo. The catcher’s best tool is his howitzer of a right arm while the strength-glove combo plays very well while Hayden Travinski is working his way back from injury and should provide some juice whether that’s behind the plate or in the designated hitter’s role. Freshmen Jordan Thompson and Brody Drost will likely be in the mix for roles throughout the season as both have a chance to contribute right away and they have a bevy of freshmen arms ready to be the next wave of LSU power arms in hard-throwing righty Ty Floyd, high school basketball star Garrett Edwards, polished projection left-hander Javen Coleman, and two-way prospect Will Hellmers.

Miami

The Canes lost two of their weekend rotation starters but what they return is almost the entirety of the starting lineup, minus Freddy Zamora who missed the 2019 campaign and was drafted, and features a ton of depth when factoring in the new recruits as well. Alejandro Toral has some of the best power in college baseball and is a true 20-homer threat given the length of the campaign. He’ll be joined by established producers like third baseman Raymond Gil, Anthony Villar, and the entirety of the starting outfield in Jordan Lala, Tony Jenkins, and Gabriel Rivera. The star of the offense, however, is catcher Adrian Del Castillo. He looks like a strong bet to be a top fifteen pick next July at this juncture and there’s certainly an argument for best college hitter given his hittability and feel while this fall has been good for Del Castillo as he’s improved his athleticism and defensive acumen behind the dish.

The weekend rotation is a bit of an unknown as of right now but that’s not because of lack of talent, in fact, it’s because of the opposite. There’s been a lot of very strong auditions this fall when you look at some of the big contenders in Daniel Federman who looks to be transitioning to the starting role along with talented second year arms in Carson Palmquist and Jamar Fairweather. Alex McFarlane, Jake Garland, and JP Gates are likely also in that mix as all three have shown flashes of brilliance in the past with Gates being an accomplished two-way player throughout his career. The new blood on campus certainly brings the heat as State College of Florida transfer Jake Smith, along with prized recruits in Victor Mederos and Alejandro Rosario, have been very impressive this fall and might force their way into starting games.

Incoming transfer Adam Frank is another intriguing option given his versatility to play all over the field; Frank is a fascinating talent as he’ll throw left-handed from the outfield and right-handed from the infield. A pair of freshmen outfielders have stood out as both Chad Born and Jacoby Long have impressed thus far. Born looks very physical with gap-to-gap strength and the route running ability to stick in center while Long has loud tools including his power, arm from the outfield, and true plus running skill. Dominic Pitelli is another freshman who has impressed over the fall as he does a little bit of everything well on the field and always seems to be in on the action.
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