College : : Story
Thursday, April 20, 2017

Weekend Preview: Week 10

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Auburn Athletics

Perfect Game Top 25 | PG/Rawlings Player/Pitcher of the Week
Field of 64College SpotlightPG College Player Database

Last weekend several teams at the top had tough road matchups to overcome, and while Oregon State and Louisville passed those tests TCU and Clemson did not. The 10th weekend of the 2017 college baseball season will be defined by three series in the SEC, as six teams ranked within 12 spots of one another will square off: No. 9 Florida hosts No. 20 South Carolina, No. 10 LSU will be at No. 13 Kentucky and No. 11 Arkansas will be at No. 15 Auburn.

While the ACC has one series that pits Top 25-ranked opponents against one another (Wake Forest at Clemson), the biggest series this weekend are between those that have been clamoring for Top 25 inclusion in recent weeks, not to mention conference superiority. In the Pac-12 Stanford travels to Oregon. In the Big Ten Maryland hosts Michigan State while Minnesota hosts Nebraska. In the West Coast Conference BYU will play at San Diego. Southern Miss will look to hold onto their top spot in Conference USA as they host Old Dominion. And in the Sun Belt Coastal Carolina hosts Georgia Southern.

Stay tuned to Perfect Game over the weekend as Jheremy Brown will provide updates from the NC State/Boston College series in Massachusetts while Vincent Cervino will catch parts of the Jacksonville/Kennesaw State and Vanderbilt/Georgia series.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Oregon State at UCLA Los Angeles, CA
2 Louisville home vs. Duke Louisville, KY
3 North Carolina at Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA
4 Clemson home vs. No. 18 Wake Forest Clemson, SC
5 Texas Christian home vs. Baylor Fort Worth, TX
6 Texas Tech home vs. Oklahoma State Lubbock, TX
7 Arizona home vs. Utah Tucson, AZ
8 Cal State Fullerton at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, CA
9 Florida home vs. No. 20 South Carolina Gainesville, FL
10 Louisiana State at No. 13 Kentucky Lexington, KY
11 Arkansas at No. 15 Auburn Auburn, AL
12 Houston home vs. Tulane Houston, TX
13 Kentucky home vs. No. 10 Louisiana State Lexington, KY
14 Virginia home vs. Notre Dame Charlottesville, VA
15 Auburn home vs. No. 11 Arkansas Auburn, AL
16 Mississippi State home vs. Alabama Starkville, MS
17 Long Beach State at UC Irvine Irvine, CA
18 Wake Forest at No. 4 Clemson Clemson, SC
19 Michigan home vs. Indiana Ann Arbor, MI
20 South Carolina at No. 9 Florida Gainesville, FL
21 Southern Miss home vs. Old Dominion Hattiesburg, MS
22 Mercer at The Citadel Charleston, SC
23 Stanford at Oregon Eugene, OR
24 Oklahoma home vs. Kansas Norman, OK
25 South Florida at Memphis Memphis, TN

Parity Rules

After both Florida State and Vanderbilt dropped out of the Top 25 this past week only 12 teams remained in the rankings that were also present in the very first one to open the season. FSU (ranked third in the preseason) and Vandy (9) were both among the top 10 of that initial projection, but weren’t the only preseason top 10-ranked teams to no longer find themselves in the Top 25 as both Ole Miss (8) and East Carolina (10) have also been removed since the beginning of the season.

This can either be taken as a bad example of our powers of prognostication or a sign or parity that is alive and well in the sport of college baseball. For the sake of retaining our own pride, we’re going to focus on the parity for the purpose of this preview, and once again point to the SEC, with seven teams currently ranked within 12 spots of one another, as a prime example of this.

It also harkens back to our preseason conversations in which we developed the initial Top 25. On a spreadsheet that was created to try and help manage our thoughts, we had difficulty limiting ourselves to just 60 teams to try and whittle that list down to 40. Getting to 25 was even a more difficult task, and throughout the process over 100 teams were easily discussed.

With only 12 teams remaining from the preseason projection that means 13 new teams have been welcomed to the Top 25. Five of those teams – Virginia, Texas Tech, Mississippi State, Wake Forest and Long Beach State – were just on the outside looking in, ranked among the teams we had in the 26-40 range to open the year. One of those teams, Texas A&M, had a brief stay in the rankings, while the Aggies along with West Virginia are currently making a loud case to be included.

Two more teams, Arkansas and South Florida, just missed the 26-40 cut, while another, Michigan, was strongly considered for the same grouping. That brings us to eight of the 13 teams that were not in the preseason Top 25, with five more to go.

Those five are Kentucky, Auburn, Southern Miss, Mercer and Oklahoma. Kentucky, Southern Miss and Oklahoma were all among the teams discussed with a place on the aforementioned spreadsheet. Oklahoma opened the 2016 season the PG/Rawlings College Top 25, Kentucky spent time in the rankings after opening the season in the 26-40 range and Southern Miss ended the 2016 season by getting knocked out of the Top 25 after a lackluster finish to the season.

And then there were two: Auburn and Mercer.

Starting with Mercer they opened the year as the favorites to win the SoCon, with three players making the Preseason All-Conference Team, led by the projected Player of the Year, Trey Truitt. Four of their players were found among the top 15 prospects for this year’s draft, even if they did lose the 2016 Perfect Game/Rawlings College Player of the Year, Kyle Lewis, to the draft.

While Truitt isn’t having a Player of the Year-worthy season, a couple of his teammates are, including J.T. Thomas and Midseason All-American Charlie Madden.

Thomas and Alex Hanson are both junior college transfers for this season and have made a very loud statement for their team’s success. Several returners in the starting lineup have taken significant steps forward, most notably the seasons being enjoyed by seniors Danny Edgeworth and Hunter Bening. Friday ace Ryan Askew continues to led the starting staff while Robert Broom, Zach Graveno and Nick Spear have dominated out of the bullpen.

With Kyle Lewis the team collectively hit .296/.414/.492. They have raised that to .310/.427/.535, and for the most part, trot out the same lineup every single day with impressive results as they average nearly 8.5 runs a game. The pitching staff hasn’t been quite as stout, with a staff ERA of 4.43, but they do have several key players in key spots getting the job done.

So while Mercer’s success isn’t exactly a surprise, the fact that they were 32-6 after this past weekend’s play was significant. Similar to Nevada in 2015 and BYU a year ago, the sheer volume of victories made it impossible not to give the Bears an opportunity to prove that they belonged in the rankings.

However, they will need to sustain that success to remain in the rankings. Playing in a non-traditional baseball powerhouse conference  comes with natural skepticism, and while they have swept each of their last three weekend opponents, and also have a statement series sweep over previously-ranked East Carolina in mid-March, they do still have to face the teams ranked 2-4 in the Southern Conference to close out the season: UNC Greensboro, Wofford and Western Carolina.

Auburn on the other hand did not enter the season with an expectation of success, at least not from a national perspective. They went 23-28 overall a season ago, but just 8-22 in SEC play. In addition, they lost their top three hitters – Anfernee Grier, Joshua Palacios and Niko Buentello – to the draft, and while Keegan Thompson was returning from injury, it wasn’t known just how productive he would be to open the season.

Of course, in unexpected expected fashion, Thompson has been fantastic this season, even if he did miss a week due to a minor injury. He, along with Casey Mize and Davis Daniel, two incredibly promising righthanders both eligible for the 2018 draft, have formed one of the SEC’s best starting trios, if not the best. They have combined to go 13-4, and while Daniel’s ERA is higher (4.00) than Thompson’s and Mize’s (1.29 and 1.23 respectively), he has proven to be the anchor the team has needed to close out weekend series.

That includes a SEC-opening weekend series sweep over Florida and three more series wins over South Carolina, Georgia and most recently, Tennessee. They did lose to Texas A&M in College Station, but no SEC team has gone completely unscathed this season.

And Auburn’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. They will face Arkansas at home this weekend before traveling to Starkville to take on Mississippi State. They also are at LSU and at home against Ole Miss to close out the season, with a home series against Alabama sandwiched in between.

Statistically speaking Auburn isn’t as dominant as Mercer has been, but they clearly are getting the job done. Their .278 batting average is eighth in the league, but they only have 15 home runs as a team, which is last in conference, and a .390 slugging percentage. However, they are second in doubles, which helps make up for some of the lack of over-the-fence pop.

In addition, their 3.78 staff ERA is ninth in the SEC, as is their .974 team fielding percentage, and most of their other team-based stats are ranked in a similar range. However, they are third in both walks and home runs allowed and are first in double plays, so they clearly aren’t beating themselves and are also making the most of their opportunities defensively.

Whatever the fate for both Auburn and Mercer they should be congratulated for the success they have enjoyed up to this point of the season.

Toreros on top of WCC

In this past week’s ranking update a conversation took place on Sunday night that included six teams – Mercer, San Diego, Maryland, West Virginia, Texas A&M and St. John’s – being discussed to take one open spot. That conversation eventually was narrowed to focus to three teams (Mercer, San Diego and West Virginia), and even at one point San Diego was considered the frontrunner.

One key point kept the Toreros out of the rankings for one more week: their weekend series loss to Gonzaga the week before. That isn’t meant to be that big of a mark to hold against USD, but in that conversation it carried weight.

San Diego is off to a very good start this season, currently 25-10 after their midweek loss to Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday night. After losing two of three to Vanderbilt to open the season at home, they swept the field at the Tony Gwynn Classic before taking two of three games against the opposition at the Dodgertown Classic. They went on to sweep Tulane, on the road, in a four-game set before opening WCC play, of which they have won four of five series, sweeping three of their league opponents.

Their top run producer coming into the season, catcher Riley Adams, is on fire of late and was considered for the Week 9 PG/Rawlings National Player of the Week after hitting 6-for-12 with three home runs, a pair of doubles and 10 driven in as part of a 4-0 week. Adams now has 10 bombs on the year, but it is senior outfielder Hunter Mercado-Hood that is leading the team in hitting at .368. He, Adams and Roman Garcia all have more than 30 RBI as the Toreros are doing a good job getting on base and being aggressive on the basepaths while providing a fair amount of pop.

Nick Sprengel (6-1, 3.28 ERA) has been the Friday ace all season long, with Chris Murphy and Paul Richan settling in as the Saturday and Sunday starters as of late. The trio is a combined 13-2 with a 2.32 combined ERA in over 140 innings. Closer Troy Conyers has gotten the job done at the back end of games as well, going 2-0 with nine saves and a 1.63 ERA in 15 relief appearances to go along with four other arms who have tossed at least 20 innings.

Heading into their weekend series against BYU at home USD leads the WCC with a 12-3 conference mark, but the Cougars are currently second with a 9-3 mark in league play. Another strong showing for the Toreros may lead to a chance to prove their worth among those that are ranked come Monday.

Database continues to grow

If you haven’t yet taken the time to check out Perfect Game’s College Player Database now is the time to do so with the MLB Draft less than two months away. In addition, PG scouts were at several key locations this past weekend and submitted reports on likely first round picks including Louisville’s Brendan McKay, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Wright and Jeren Kendall, South Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt and Wil Crowe and Florida’s Alex Faedo, among others.

And as always Perfect Game is looking ahead, with numerous reports on promising underclassmen as well including Florida’s Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington and Auburn’s Casey Mize. The database now has reports on nearly 400 players from the college ranks, with many of those reports including video.

Each week we provide several of the reports submitted over the previous weekend in the 'College Spotlight' feature (this week's linked above) for everyone to get a taste of what they can expect from the reports in the database for free.

In addition tomorrow’s (Friday) MLB Draft Pack will be the sixth (out of the 10) during the spring in which 10 notable draft-eligible prospects are broken down in detail, and we also updated the MLB Draft Top 150 prospect list late last week.

No matter what level of amateur baseball you’re a fan of now is the perfect time to sign up for a PG Crosschecker subscription, especially as the summer event season rapidly approaches. To learn more about those subscription levels please visit this link.

Copyright 1994-2018 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.