College : : Story
Wednesday, November 01, 2017

College Fall Notebook: Nov. 1

Mike Rooney        
Photo: Courtney Culbreath


Programs covered: Florida, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Louisiana, South Florida, Michigan, Indiana, Southern California, South Carolina


Florida

The Gators captured the national title in 2017 but making their sixth CWS appearance in eight years was the truly remarkable accomplishment. The core three of Alex Faedo, Mikey Rivera, and Dalton Guthrie will be very difficult to replace and defense up the middle may be the biggest concern for this club in 2018.

Even without Faedo, Kevin O’Sullivan will once again have the highest velocity rotation in America this year. The trio of Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Tyler Dyson gives Florida three starters who can run their fastball up to 97 mph. That said, closer Michael Byrne is the glue for this pitching staff and he has stretched out this fall, putting a starting role on the table for the righthander.

J.J. Schwarz and Nelson Maldonado are recovering from offseason shoulder surgeries this fall yet this position player group has still been very impressive. Deacon Liput and Austin Langworthy should make jumps offensively and Jonathan India looks capable of playing shortstop or third base.

Finally, the Gators once again have a stellar freshman class on campus. Brady McConnell was Perfect Game’s No. 29-ranked prospect in the high school class of 2017 and he should be a factor on the left side of the infield. Two-way lefthander Jordan Butler brings advanced baseball instincts and classmate Brady Smith could be a future middle-of-the-order bat. Both are options at first base and DH. And the high velocity pipeline at Florida will continue with freshmen Jack Leftwich and Tommy Mace, both of who have run their fastballs into the mid-90s this fall.


North Carolina

It’s not logical to lose three players taken among the first 36 picks in the draft (J.B. Bukauskas, Logan Warmoth and Brian Miller) and have your team get better, yet the Tar Heels may actually pull that off in 2018. While those are three tremendous losses this is a program with outstanding depth and that could win the day in 2018.

Look for the sophomore trio of Gianluca Dalatri, Austin Bergner and Tyler Baum to make big jumps in 2018 and this has the makings of an elite rotation. Brandon Martorano is pushing incumbent Cody Roberts for playing time at catcher, giving North Carolina an embarrassment of riches behind the plate. The athletic Martorano is also an option in the outfield. Kyle Datres and Zach Gahagan look poised for big junior years and they should join Ashton McGee to create a formidable middle of the order.

Ike Freeman is a strong candidate to take over at shortstop and junior college transfer Dylan Enwiller (Yavapai College, Ariz.) is competing for the center field job. The other option in center field is the lefthanded hitting Brandon Riley, who likely will hit at the top of the order.


Oklahoma State

Gone is a senior class that led the Cowboys to four straight Regional appearances, two Super Regionals and a trip to Omaha in 2016. Matt Kroon is a newcomer with tools and pedigree and he has shown an all-around game with the ability to play shortstop or third base. Kroon was the starting third baseman as a freshman at Oregon in 2016.

Freshmen arms Brett Standlee and Mitchell Stone look ready for significant innings in 2018. Standlee is a 6-foot-3 righthander who was also a standout football player (receiver, outside linebacker, punter) on multiple state championship teams at Jenks High School. Stone is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound lefthander who was a Perfect Game All-American in 2016.

Pitching coach Rob Walton continues to work his magic with the Oklahoma State staff and returners Carson Teel and Joe Lienhard have had excellent fall seasons. Another highlight of the fall has been the continued growth of high upside righthander Jon Heasley.


Louisiana

Like most teams who underperform to their preseason billing, injuries played a significant role in the Ragin’ Cajuns’ 2017 season. That said, if 35-21 is your “down year” then we now have additional confirmation that Tony Robichaux has built a mid-major monster in Lafayette.

The 2018 unit will be built upon a stellar pitching staff that is littered with college baseball veterans. Ace Gunner Leger came back to school for his senior year despite being drafted in the 26th round by the Miami Marlins and he brings 23 career wins to the party. Leger had elbow surgery last summer so his status for 2018 is yet to be determined. Hogan Harris and Jack Burk were also shut down for the fall but those three arms accounted for nearly 200 innings in 2017 and none had an ERA higher than 2.70.

Upperclassmen Nick Lee, Colten Schmidt, and Dylan Moore have thrown this fall and all three have made excellent progress from a year ago. Moore is healthy again and he brings invaluable experience with 38 career saves. Lee made a big jump in strength in the offseason and that newfound physicality led to improved velocity and command. Lee has as much projection as anyone in the program as he could end being a high draft pick if things click in for him.

The position player group features a large group of newcomers who are athletic and fast. Freshman shortstop Hayden Cantrelle and junior outfielder Gavin Bourgeois have stood out and both are well above average runners.


South Florida

The USF administration made an excellent decision to promote pitching coach Billy Mohl to head coach upon losing Mark Kingston to South Carolina. Mohl immediately put together a very strong staff by promoting Chris Cates and adding Chuck Jeroloman and the Bulls seem ready to continue the momentum that was built under Kingston.

Shortstop Kevin Merrell is an All-American caliber loss and that is the major question mark right now. Veterans David Villar, Duke Stunkel, Shane McClanahan and Chris Chatfield have eased those concerns with excellent fall seasons. Villar had a huge summer in the Northwoods league and his approach at the plate continues to progress. Stunkel is coming off of an outstanding junior year and has added power to his game.

McClanahan and Chatfield have tremendous pro potential and McClanahan is a projected first rounder at this point in time. McClanahan’s arm strength is undeniable but his fall has shown considerable refinement of his command and secondary offerings. Chatfield is a physical specimen with plus raw power (15 home runs in two seasons) and he looks to be turning the corner in the area of swing-and-miss.


Michigan

The Wolverines were an older team in 2017 so this fall has been a time for establishing the next group of core players. There are big holes to fill in the infield and on the pitching staff, not to mention the leadership of departed catcher Harrison Wenson.

Returners Ako Thomas and Miles Lewis have turned in productive fall seasons and some coaches felt Thomas was the most valuable player in the Big Ten last year. Jimmy Kerr and Jonathan Engelmann are two other key veterans and they could be penciled in at third base and right field respectively.

Sophomore arms Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann both offer huge upside as potential weekend starters. Henry brings outstanding feel for pitching from the left side while Kauffmann runs his fastball into the 92-93 mph range with two distinct breaking balls. Junior William Tribucher is a lefty with swing-and-miss stuff and he was the winning pitcher in the Cape Cod League Championship Game for the Brewster Whitecaps.

Freshman shortstop Jack Blomgren has shown great hands and looks ready to contribute right away. Fellow freshmen Jeff Criswell and Ben Dragani should log significant innings in year one. Criswell features a fastball up to 94 mph with advanced feel for a split and curveball while the lefthanded Dragani shows above average pitchability.


Indiana

This is year four for Chris Lemonis and his staff and this may be their most complete team. The 2017 Hoosiers finished as the No. 2 seed at the Lexington Regional and all 10 of their top arms return. Indiana also had six players participate in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer so expectations will be high for this club.

Jonathan Stiever and Pauly Milto (2nd Team All Big Ten in 2017) are two key rotation arms who are back and Stiever was up to 95 mph this fall. Sophomore Cam Beauchamp made a big jump this fall after a tough freshman season and was 90-93 mph with a hard slider. Fellow sophomore lefthander Andrew Saalfrank is coming off of a big summer in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League where he was the No. 16 ranked prospect. Lefthander Tim Herrin is arguably the most talented pitcher on this staff and he has been up to 92 mph with a hard slider from a deceptive three-quarters arm slot.

One other interesting arm is sophomore righthander Cal Krueger who made six Sunday starts as a freshman. Krueger moved to a bullpen role this fall and his fastball ticked up to 94 mph.

Returning position players Luke Miller and Ryan Fineman had excellent fall seasons with Fineman leading the team in hitting and home runs. Miller is an exceptional talent who could be a high pick if he puts it all together. Keep an eye on junior college transfer outfielder Logan Kaletha (John A. Logan College, Ill.) who looks (6-foot, 190-pounds) and runs (6.5 60-yard dash at scout day) like a free safety.


Southern California

The Trojans will be an interesting club in 2018 as their freshman class is arguably the most talented group they have on campus. Big righthander Kyle Hurt looks like a rotation candidate right away and he features an elite changeup. Hurt was Perfect Game’s No. 27 ranked prospect in the class of 2017 and participated in the 2016 PG All-American Classic.

Fellow freshmen Alex Cornwell is less refined than Hurt at this point but he has flashed premium stuff with a fastball up 91 mph and a plus curveball from the left side. Another freshman lefthander who looks ready to contribute is Indiana native Brian Gursky.

Two exciting freshmen position players are Jamal O’Guinn and Ben Ramirez. O’Guinn combines great physicality (6-foot-3, 215-pounds) and athleticism and he could be a boost to this offense from day one. Ramirez was also a 2016 Perfect Game All-American and he shows advanced defensive chops.

USC could be one of the better lefthanded hitting lineups on the West Coast if it all plays out as Lars Nootbaar is back after a very productive 2017. Brady Shockey and Matt Acosta are two additional lefthanded hitters who have put together outstanding fall seasons thus far.


South Carolina

Mark Kingston takes over in Columbia and the biggest concern for the Gamecocks is the pitching staff. Adam Hill is the one proven commodity back on the mound and finding others to step forward will be the key to 2018.

That said, this could end up being a special offense led by Carlos Cortes and T.J. Hopkins, both of whom who have had outstanding fall seasons. The signature of this lineup could end up being its power and the outfield defense also has a chance to be elite.

Two freshmen hitters who have jumped out in the fall are Noah Campbell and Kyle Jacobsen. Campbell could end up being an offensive catalyst in year one and Jacobsen shows flashes of being a special hitter. On the mound, freshmen righthanders Logan Chapman and Carmen Mlodzinski have been impressive. Chapman could be a future Friday night arm in the making and Mlodzinski should play a significant role right away.


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