College : : Story
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

College Top 25: Team Capsules

Patrick Ebert        
Photo: Scobel Wiggins

Preseason College Top 25 | Preseason All-American Team | 2018 College Baseball Preview Index

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Prospect number in parenthesis is player's rank in Perfect Game's most recent ranking of the top 250 prospects
 eligible for the 2018 draft.

1. Florida

Jackson Kowar (Courtney Culbreath)
Head Coach: Kevin O'Sullivan
Conference: SEC
2017 record: 52-19 (21-9 SEC)
2017 finish: College World Series Champions

Top returning hitters: OF Nelson Maldonado (.299-6-32), 1B Keenan Bell (.283-2-12), 3B Jonathan India (.274-6-34), C/1B J.J. Schwarz (.259-12-56), OF Austin Langworthy (.238-4-26), 2B Deacon Liput (.227-3-37)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Michael Byrne (4-5, 1.67 ERA, 75.2 IP, 93:15, 19 SV), RHP Brady Singer (9-5, 3.21 ERA, 126 IP, 129:32), RHP Tyler Dyson (4-0, 3.23 ERA, 39 IP, 47:10), RHP Jackson Kowar (12-1, 4.08 ERA, 108 IP, 84:44), RHP Kirby McMullen (3-0, 5.32 ERA, 22 IP, 22:13)

Top newcomers: SS Brady McConnell, LHP/1B Jordan Butler, RHP Jack Leftwich, RHP Tommy Mace, OF Wil Dalton, C Brady Smith

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Jackson Kowar (6), RHP Brady Singer (11), 3B Jonathan India (117), OF Nelson Maldonado (185), C/1B J.J. Schwarz (225), Deacon Liput, Michael Byrne

Why they're here: Another Big Three. You can downplay it's significance as much as you want, but once again the Gators have the nation's hardest throwing weekend starting rotation. And this trio can throw strikes as well, as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Tyler Dyson will continue what has been a long-standing recent tradition for the Gators that includes other notable starting stalwarts including Logan Shore, A.J. Puk and Alex Faedo. Singer, Kowar and Dyson collectively went 25-6 during their 2017 championship run, with a combined 3.56 ERA and a 260-to-86 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 273 innings. As the defending champs Florida now has a big target on their backs, but it's hard to imagine this team losing a weekend series going into the season.

Difference maker: J.J. Schwarz and Michael Byrne. For as good as Florida's pitching depth has been in recent years, the emergence of Michael Byrne as the team's closer mid-way through the 2017 season played a huge role in their torrid second half that culminated with a National Championship. And he's not just a one-inning closer, either, as his three-pitch repertoire and strike-throwing ability allows him to go multiple innings, and would also make him a starter on just about any other staff in the nation. The Gators are thrilled to get Schwarz back for his senior year, and while he hasn't come close to matching his sensational freshman performance (.332-18-73) he gives the team a legitimate power threat in the middle of their order.

Fun fact: For as much is made about the team's pitching, Florida didn't commit a single error over their last five games of the College World Series.

2. Oregon State

Nick Madrigal (Scobel Wiggins)
Head Coach: Pat Casey
Conference: Pac-12 
2017 record: 56-6 (27-3 Pac-12)
2017 finish: College World Series

Top returning hitters: 2B Nick Madrigal (.380-4-40), OF Steven Kwan (.331-1-18), OF Trevor Larnach (.303-3-48), 3B Michael Gretler (.301-5-33), OF Jack Anderson (.281-1-30), SS Cadyn Grenier (.275-5-37), C Adley Rutschman (.234-2-33)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Luke Heimlich (11-1, 0.76 ERA, 118.1 IP, 128:22), LHP Jake Mulholland (7-1, 1.20 ERA, 52.1 IP, 44:12, 6 SV), LHP Brandon Eisert (5-0, 2.31 ERA, 46.2 IP, 50:19, 4 SV), LHP Jordan Britton (2-0, 2.45 ERA, 22 IP, 16:7), RHP Sam Tweedt (3-0, 2.50 ERA, 36 IP, 31:6), RHP Bryce Fehmel (6-3, 3.87 ERA, 81.1 IP, 49:22)

Top newcomers: RHP Kevin Abel, LHP Christian Chamberlain, RHP Nathan Burns, 1B Zach Clayton, RHP Michael Attalah, SS Kyler McMahan

Top 2018 prospects: 2B Nick Madrigal (16), SS Cadyn Grenier (69), OF Trevor Larnach (72), LHP Luke Heimlich, OF Steven Kwan

Why they’re here: Familiar faces. Seven of the nine players in Oregon State's everyday lineup from a year ago return, including the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year, second baseman Nick Madrigal. Few teams can match the Beavers strength up the middle on defense, with Madrigal and Cadyn Grenier forming arguably the best middle infield duo in the country, to go along with Adley Rutschman behind the plate and Steven Kwan roaming center field. In addition, Trevor Larnach could replace some of the power lost from K.J. Harrison with a bigger junior year and staff ace Luke Heimlich is expected to return to the mound after posting the most dominant statistical season of any starting pitcher during the 2017 season.

Difference maker: Deep, deep staff. With an ERA of 3.87, Bryce Fehmel had the only ERA above 3.00 on the team a year ago (outside of Tommy Paul, who threw only two innings). Fehmel and Heimlich return to front the starting staff, with Sam Tweedt and Jordan Britton expected to receive more starts, but keep an eye on the sophomore quartet of Jake Mulholland, Brandon Eisert, Mitchell Verburg and Grant Gambrell. Mulholland, who split closing duties with Max Engelbrekt a year ago, recorded six saves and led the staff with 28 appearances, and combined the four went 14-1 with a 1.81 ERA in 124 innings, all of which came in relief.

Fun fact: Oregon State led all of NCAA Division I baseball with a 1.93 team ERA. The next closest was UIC with a 2.65 ERA, and in fact, there were only two other programs with a cumulative team ERA under 3.00, Louisville (2.92) and North Carolina (2.96).

3. Texas Christian

Jared Janczak (TCU Athletics)
Head Coach: Jim Schlossnagle
 Big 12
2017 record:
41-22 (16-8 Big 12)
2017 finish:
 College World Series

Top returning hitters: 1B Luken Baker (.317-8-41), OF Connor Wanhanen (.281-0-16), C Zach Humphreys (.267-2-19), OF Josh Watson (.239-1-38)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Cal Coughlin (1-0, 1.59 ERA, 22.2 IP, 22:11), RHP Sean Wymer (6-4, 2.10 ERA, 55.2 IP, 66:10), RHP Jared Janczak (9-2, 2.31 ERA, 93.1 IP, 102:24), LHP Haylen Green (2-1, 3.10 ERA, 20.1 IP, 24:9), RHP Durbin Feltman (2-2, 3.64 ERA, 29.2 IP, 37:15, 17 SV), LHP Nick Lodolo (5-1, 4.35 ERA, 78.2 IP, 72:28), RHP Jake Eissler (4-0, 5.02 ERA, 37.2 IP, 38:12), RHP Charles King (1-3, 5.44 ERA, 46.1 IP, 37:17)

Top newcomers: OF Johnny Rizer, SS Adam Oviedo, LHP Russell Smith, 3B Conner Shepherd, RHP Caleb Sloan, 2B Danny Crews, DH A.J. Balta

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Sean Wymer (56), 1B Luken Baker (81), RHP Durbin Feltman (179), RHP Jared Janczak, OF Johnny Rizer, OF Josh Watson

Why they’re here: Star power. As far as college baseball stars go, TCU has three of the biggest in first baseman Luken Baker and righthanded pitchers Jared Janczak and Durbin Feltman. At 6-foot-4, 265-pounds, Baker is literally one of college baseball's biggest players, who looks like he got lost heading to football practice when he takes the baseball field, and his power at the plate matches his stature with 19 home runs in two seasons. With another big season Janczak is going to put himself among some of the best all-time Horned Frogs pitchers with a 16-6 record and a 2.45 ERA. Feltman, with 26 career saves, needs just seven more to pass Riley Ferrell, whose single-season record he surpassed during the 2017 season.

Difference maker: Sean Wymer. With Janczak on the front end of the pitching staff and Feltman at the back end, Sean Wymer played a key role last season, making 30 appearances, all out of the bullpen, and finished fourth on the staff in innings pitched with 55 2/3. He has arguably the best overall repertoire on the staff and is also considered the team's top prospect for the 2018 MLB Draft. Head coach Jim Schlossnagle could choose to insert him as their Sunday starter, behind Janczak and talented sophomore lefthander Nick Lodolo, but however he's used his success will go a long way in dictating just how successful TCU is.

Fun fact: Not only has TCU reached the College World Series each of the last four years (2014-17), they have also been either the Big 12 Conference regular season or conference tournament champions during that time.

4. Texas Tech

Steven Gingery (Texas Tech Athletics)
Head Coach: Tim Tadlock
Conference: Big 12
2017 record: 45-17 (16-8 Big 12)
2017 finish: Lubbock Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Cody Farhat (.343-3-22), OF Grant Little (.335-2-34), C Michael Berglund (.307-2-27), 3B Josh Jung (.306-6-43), SS Michael Davis (.269-6-29), DH John McMillon (.229-8-14)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Steven Gingery (10-1, 1.58 ERA, 91.1 IP, 107:29), RHP John McMillon (2-0, 1.75 ERA, 25.2 IP, 29:20, 5 SV), RHP Davis Martin (4-2, 3.07 ERa, 44 IP, 37:10), LHP Erickson Lanning (3-1, 3.12 ERA, 40.1 IP, 18:17), RHP Jose Quezada (6-4, 3.55 ERA, 38 IP, 52:16, 4 SV), RHP Caleb Killian (6-0, 3.55 ERa, 38 IP, 35:23), RHP Ryan Shetter (4-1, 3.71 ERA, 70.1 IP, 74:27), RHP Ty Harpenau (0-0, 6.53 ERA, 20.2 IP, 25:12), LHP Dylan Dusek (0-0, 7.47 ERA, 15.2 IP, 9:1)

Top newcomers: 2B Gabe Holt, C Zayne Willems, OF K.C. Simonich, OF Cody Masters, RHP Ryan Sublette

Top 2018 prospects: LHP Steven Gingery (42), RHP Davis Martin (103) 

Why they're here: Returning talent with something to prove. Texas Tech enjoyed a big season in 2017, at least until the postseason hit, going 42-13 leading up to the Big 12 Conference tournament, losing only two weekend series all season long. They finished first in the Big 12 in batting (.305) and second in team ERA (3.73) yet had their season come to a close at home in Regional play against Sam Houston State. A significant portion of the impact players from that squad return to begin where they left off and hope to carry head coach Tim Tadlock and the Red Raiders back to the postseason for the third time in five years.

Difference maker: Dynamic duos. Junior starting pitchers Steven Gingery and Davis Martin will go a long way to set the tone in series matchups. Gingery was 10-1 with a 1.58 ERA a season ago and was an easy All-American choice. Martin was 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA during his Freshman All-American season in 2016 as he was injured for a spell in 2017, but still enjoyed a productive season when on the mound. A pair of sophomores – outfielder Grant Little and third baseman Josh Jung – will look to set a similar tone on offense after hitting .335 and .306 respectively as freshmen.

Fun fact: Senior lefthander Dylan Dusek has been around for a while, as he enjoyed a Freshman All-American campaign in 2014 by going 8-0 with a 1.94 ERA over 74 1/3 innings. He tossed only 33 innings in 2015 and missed all of 2016 due to injury. Last season he threw 15 2/3 innings in his return to action but looked strong in the fall and could be poised for a big, bounceback season.

5. Florida State

Tyler Holton (FSU Athletics)
Head Coach: Mike Martin
2017 record:
 46-23 (14-14 ACC)
2017 finish:
 College World Series

Top returning hitters:
 OF Rhett Aplin (.322-6-24), OF Jackson Lueck (.318-9-54), 3B/1B Drew Mendoza (.270-10-33), OF J.C. Flowers (.235-2-32), C Cal Raleigh (.227-9-39), 2B Nick Derr (.225-1-17)

Top returning pitchers:
 LHP Tyler Holton (10-3, 2.34 ERA, 119.1 IP, 144:31), LHP Clayton Kwiatkowski (1-0, 2.45 ERA, 22 IP, 22:12), RHP Will Zirzow (3-1, 2.58 ERA, 45.1 IP, 52:19), RHP Chase Haney (3-2, 4.26 ERA, 31.2 IP, 26:8), RHP Andrew Karp (2-3, 4.48 ERA, 66.1 IP, 70:18), LHP Drew Parrish (6-3, 4.52 ERA, 91.2 IP, 93:29), RHP Cole Sands (6-4, 5.40 ERA, 83.1 IP, 72:29)

Top newcomers:
 RHP C.J. Van Eyk, LHP Austin Pollock, OF Reese Albert, RHP Tyler Ahearn, RHP Conor Grady, LHP Shane Drohan

Top 2018 prospects:
 C Cal Raleigh (88), OF Jackson Lueck (95), LHP Tyler Holton (121), RHP Cole Sands (147), RHP Chase Haney, RHP Andrew Karp

Why they're here:
 Offensive firepower. It's easy to point to the pitching staffs of the four teams ranked ahead of Florida State, and while the Seminoles return their entire weekend rotation from a season ago (Tyler Holton, Cole Sands and Drew Parrish) it's the lineup that draws the most excitement. Drew Mendoza was the top ranked prospect to head to college a year ago, and while he was injured during the early part of the season, he proved down the stretch why he could become FSU's next college baseball star with his prodigious power from the left side of the plate. Switch-hitting catcher Cal Raleigh wasn't as productive in 2017 as he was as a freshman in 2016 but still hit nine bombs. Jackson Lueck will likely provide the steadiest presence in the batter's box, with a keen eye and a gap-to-gap approach with some over-the-fence pop of his own.

Difference maker:
 Tyler Holton. FSU's ace was named the ACC Pitcher of the Week an amazing five times during the 2017 season, going 10-3 with a 2.34 ERA and 144 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings. His signature pitch is his changeup, and he's able to change speeds and throw strikes effectively, which should allow him to be drafted much earlier than the 35th round, which is where the Marlins selected him last June as a draft eligible sophomore. The talented lefthanded also can swing a potent bat, hitting .244 with a couple of bombs last season as well in limited action at the plate. 

Fun fact:
 With 1,944 career victories head coach Mike Martin is just 32 wins away from surpassing Augie Garrido on the all-time list. Considering Martin has averaged 51 wins a year during his 38 years at the helm of Florida State that should occur at some point in the month of May.

6. Arkansas

Dominic Fletcher (Arkansas Communications)
Head Coach: Dave Van Horn
2017 record:
 45-19 (18-11 SEC)
2017 finish:
 Fayetteville Regional

Top returning hitters: SS Jax Biggers (.338-4-37), OF/DH Luke Bonfield (.294-9-49), OF Dominic Fletcher (.291-12-37), OF Eric Cole (.282-5-25), 2B Carson Shaddy (.279-8-40), C Grant Koch (.264-13-42), 1B Jared Gates (.246-6-14)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Matt Cronin (3-1, 2.00 ERA, 18 IP, 31:12), RHP Jake Reindl (4-1, 2.31 ERA, 50.2 IP, 49:16), RHP Blaine Knight (8-4, 3.28 ERA, 90.2 IP, 96:20), RHP Kevin Kopps (3-1, 3.31 ERA, 49 IP, 40:18), LHP Kacey Murphy (5-1, 3.65 ERA, 49.1 IP, 68:21), RHP Barrett Loseke (3-0, 4.21 ERA, 25.2 IP, 28:17)

Top newcomers: OF Heston Kjerstad, OF Cole Turney, RHP Bryce Bonnin, RHP Jackson Rutledge, LHP Hunter Milligan

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Blaine Knight (47), C Grant Koch (85), RHP Isaiah Campbell (165), OF Luke Bonfield, LHP Kacey Murphy, 2B/3B Carson Shaddy, RHP Barrett Loseke

Why they’re here: High-octane offense. The Razorbacks are going to score plenty of runs during the season, with a powerful and versatile lineup that has big numbers returning at nearly every position. Arkansas is particularly strong up the middle, as catcher Grant Koch, middle infielders Jax Biggers and Carson Shaddy, as well as center fielder Dominic Fletcher – who was a Freshman All-American – will form the heart and soul of the lineup after combining for 37 home runs a year ago. Luke Bonfield took a step forward a year ago, hitting nearly .300 (.294) while finishing second on the team in RBI (49). While 2016 PG All-American Cole Turney arrived with more accolades, it was fellow freshman outfielder Heston Kjerstad who drew more attention in the fall with his play, and he's already being discussed as a potential first-round pick in 2020.

Difference maker: Blaine Knight. Knight was draft eligible as a sophomore a year ago but opted to return for his junior year after he fell to the 29th round. After going 8-4 with a 3.28 ERA he is poised for an even bigger season as a sophomore with a polished three-pitch arsenal that includes a low- to mid-90s fastball and the overall upside to go in the first round of this year's draft. Big-bodied righthander Isaiah Campbell, who missed most of the 2017 season with an elbow injury, is expected to serve as the team's Saturday starter and went 3-1 with a 3.69 ERA as a freshman in 2016. Rubber-armed lefthanded Kacey Murphy will round out the weekend rotation after going 5-1 with a 3.65 last season.

Fun fact: Arkansas hit 83 home runs in 2017, which led the SEC by a wide margin. Twenty of those bombs were hit by Chad Spanberger, who is now playing professionally, but 59 of them came from players returning to the 2018 squad, which is more than all but three other teams in the SEC from last year.

7. North Carolina

Austin Bergner (UNC Athletic Communications)
Head Coach: Mike Fox
2017 record:
 49-14 (23-7 ACC)
2017 finish:
 Chapel Hill Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Ashton McGee (.327-7-46), OF Brandon Riley (.317-7-52), C Cody Roberts (.268-2-27), 3B Kyle Datres (.265-7-51), 2B Zach Gahagan (.243-7-42), 1B Michael Busch (.215-3-22)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Josh Hiatt (4-2, 1.90 ERA, 52 IP, 64:20, 13 SV), RHP Tyler Baum (7-0, 2.57 ERA, 63 IP, 47:27), RHP Luca Dalatri (7-3, 3.34 ERA, 97 IP, 85:19), RHP Austin Bergner (4-2, 3.00 ERA, 48 IP, 45:25), RHP Rodney Hutchison (7-4, 4.14 ERA, 58.2 IP, 53:17)

Top newcomers: RHP Joey Lancellotti, OF Jackson Hesterlee, OF Dylan Enwiller, OF Aaron Brandenburg, RHP Cooper Criswell, SS/3B Ben Casparius

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Austin Bergner (23), 3B Kyle Datres (132), RHP Josh Hiatt, C Cody Roberts, 2B Zach Gahagan

Why they’re here: Special sophomore class. UNC moves forward without their three biggest stars from the 2017 campaign – J.B. Bukauskas, Logan Warmoth and Brian Miller – but their No. 1 ranked recruiting class from a year ago paid immediate dividends and should put the Tar Heels in the conversation as an Omaha favorite both this year and next. Luca Dalatri and Tyler Baum were almost immediately inserted in as the team's Saturday and Sunday starters, and those two will be joined in the weekend rotation by Austin Bergner, who has the highest pro upside of the trio. Ashton McGee moves to the outfield after spending last year as the team's DH, and while Michael Busch didn't hit as well as initially hoped, he picked up his game last summer and also looked good during fall practices. Josh Hiatt, who isn't a member of the same recruiting class given his redshirt season two years ago, is still listed as a sophomore and recorded 13 saves during his freshman campaign.

Difference maker: Veteran infield. A big part of North Carolina's projected success is the presence of two upperclassmen in the infield, second baseman Zach Gahagan and third baseman Kyle Datres, as well as catcher Cody Roberts. Those three, along with junior outfielder Brandon Riley, return valuable productivity and leadership for a still young team.

Fun fact: After opening the last two years against UCLA and Kentucky, North Carolina once again will face a difficult opponent to begin 2018 as they travel south to Tampa to take on South Florida. While not ranked to open the year, USF was among the teams considered for inclusion and boast a dangerous lineup, not to mention the top-ranked college prospect for this year's draft, lefthanded pitcher Shane McClanahan.

8. Kentucky

Tristan Pompey (UK Athletics)
Head Coach: Nick Mingione
Conference: SEC
2017 record: 43-23 (19-11 SEC)
2017 finish: Louisville Super Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Tristan Pompey (.361-10-45), C Kole Cottam (.319-7-44), 1B Troy Squires (.305-1-26), 2B Luke Becker (.287-7-46), 3B Luke Heyer (.262-2-12)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Zack Thompson (8-3, 3.45 ERA, 75.2 IP, 96:38), RHP Justin Lewis (6-4, 3.56 ERA, 91 IP, 72:27), RHP Sean Hjelle (11-4, 3.89 ERA, 108.2 IP, 102:33), RHP Chris Machamer (2-0, 3.18 ERA, 34 IP, 39:14), LHP Brad Schaenzer (5-0, 3.46 ERA, 52 IP, 42:15)  

Top newcomers: RHP Zach Haake, OF Ryan Johnson, SS Trey Dawson, OF Ben Aklinski, RHP Ben Jordan, RHP Austin Marozas, RHP Brad Dobzanski, 3B Luke Heyer

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Sean Hjelle (31), OF Tristan Pompey (37), RHP Zach Haake (145), RHP Justin Lewis, OF Ryan Johnson, SS Trey Dawson

Why they’re here: Lewis returns, the is band back together. When the Tampa Bay Rays selected Justin Lewis in the 11th round most everyone just assumed he was as good as gone, and no one would have blamed him for going pro. So when he announced he was opting not to sign to return to Kentucky and pick up where the Wildcats left off, it created great optimism in Lexington. And he's re-joining a formidable weekend trio that includes SEC Pitcher of the Year Sean Hjelle and sophomore lefthander Zack Thompson – one of the top prospects available for the 2019 MLB Draft – a trio that combined to go 25-11 last season.

Difference maker: T.J. Collett. Injuries have prevented a lot of people from getting a taste for just how hard Collett can impact a baseball, with a profile that is eerily similar to that of former Indiana slugger Kyle Schwarber. Like Schwarber, Collett swings the bat from the left side of the plate, with a keen eye and a penchant for driving the ball out of the park in a hurry. His health will be key in creating a dynamic tandem with All-American outfielder Tristan Pompey and a strong cast of newcomers, several of whom hail from the JuCo ranks.

Fun fact: One year before the Rays selected Justin Lewis in the 11th round of the 2017 MLB Draft they selected his rotation-mate Zack Thompson in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

9. Miami

Jeb Bargfeldt (Richard Lewis/Miami Athletics)
Head Coach: Jim Morris
Conference: ACC
2017 record: 32-27 (16-13 ACC)
2017 finish: Did not play in postseason

Top returning hitters: 2B Romy Gonzalez (.265-11-38), OF Michael Burns (.247-4-32), OF Hunter Tackett (.212-3-17)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Andrew Cabezas (53, 2.15 ERA, 62.2 IP, 80:23, 3 SV), LHP Jeb Bargfeldt (7-3, 2.28 ERA, 87 IP, 61:29), RHP Greg Veliz (6-4, 3.38 ERA, 61.1 IP, 66:33), RHP Frankie Bartow (1-3, 3.60 ERA, 30 IP, 19:10, 12 SV), RHP Albert Maury, Jr. (3-1, 3.62 ERA, 27.1 IP, 16:15), RHP Evan McKendry (4-2, 4.10 ERA, 63.2 IP, 64:27), LHP Michael Mediavilla (4-5, 4.45 ERA, 60.2 IP, 56:40)

Top newcomers: RHP Christopher McMahon, 1B Alex Toral, OF Danny Reyes, SS Willie Escala, 3B Ray Gil, IF Freddy Zamora

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Greg Veliz, RHP Andrew Cabezas (242), 2B/3B Romy Gonzalez (250), OF Danny Reyes, LHP Jeb Bargfeldt

Why they’re here: Arms to spare. The Hurricanes had a down season in 2017, by their own standards, and still managed to finish the season 31-27 with a 16-13 conference record and yet missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in over 40 years. While the offense was uncharacteristically bad, the pitching staff was surprisingly good with several performances sliding under the radar. Lefthander Jeb Bargfeldt enjoyed one of these seasons, and he wasn't alone, as fireballing righthander Greg Veliz also had success in a starting role as a freshman, and seemed to gain momentum as the season progressed. The bullpen, anchored by Andrew Cabezas and closer Frankie Bartow, was equally stubborn giving up runs, and all of these hurlers are back, among others, for another run at the ACC with a much stronger cast of characters.

Difference maker: Romy Gonzalez. Gonzalez pretty much was the offense a year ago, and he'll be leaned upon this year as the one consistently productive member from last year's offense to merge with the next wave of talent. That talent starts with JuCo transfer and outfielder Danny Reyes, who slashed .335/.451/.557 last year at Broward after spending a year at Florida. A trio of freshmen could round out the starting infield around Gonzalez: first baseman Alex Toral, third baseman Ray Gil and shortstop Willie Escala. And possibly the most important piece is getting catcher Michael Amditis back on the field, healthy, after missing almost all of his true freshman season in 2017 after breaking his ankle.

Fun fact: Jim Morris is entering his 25th and final season as head coach of Miami. He first joined the program in 1994, after 12 seasons at Georgia Tech, and promptly guided he Hurricanes to six straight trips to the College World Series, making 13 total trips to Omaha which included championships in 1999 and 2001.

10. Stanford

Kris Bubic (Stanford Athletics)
Head Coach: David Esquer
Conference: Pac-12
2017 record: 42-16 (21-9 Pac-12)
2017 finish: Stanford Regional

Top returning hitters: 3B Jesse Kuet (.333-0-12), 1B/DH Daniel Bakst (.311-3-38), SS Nico Hoerner (.307-1-33), 2B Duke Kinamon (.284-3-22), OF Brandon Wulff (.231-6-23), IF Mikey Diekroeger (.262-0-14), C Maverick Handley (.257-0-13) 

Top returning pitchers: RHP Will Matthiessen (3-0, 2.33 ERA, 38.2 IP, 32:9, 3 SV), RHP Tristan Beck (6-5, 2.48 ERA, 83.1 IP, 76:26 – from 2016), LHP Kris Bubic (7-6, 2.79 ERA, 90.1 IP, 96:31), LHP Erik Miller (5-2, 3.65 ERA, 61.2 IP, 34:21)

Top newcomers: OF Christian Robinson, 1B Nick Brueser, LHP Austin Weiermiller, LHP Jacob Palisch, OF Tim Tawa, RHP Brendan Beck, SS/2B Zach Sehgal

Top 2018 prospects: LHP Kris Bubic (39), RHP Tristan Beck (58), SS Nico Hoerner (60), 2B Duke Kinamon

Why they’re here: Pitching and defense wins championships. Stanford has always set the standard when it comes to pitching and defense, and 2017 was no exception as the team finished with the 12th best team ERA in the nation and were the 15th best team in regards to fielding percentage. The starting staff should be intact, with a significant arm returning in the form of Preseason All-American Tristan Beck. Beck was expected to be a first-round pick a year ago as a draft-eligible sophomore, but he wasn't able to take the mound due to injury. Reports out of Stanford's camp are positive for the flame-throwing righty's return. Lefthander Kris Bubic is poised to take over as staff ace after earning Cape Cod League Player of the Year honors last summer thanks to his ability to carve up hitters with a three-pitch mix. Throw in another proven lefty, Erik Miller, and you have a formidable weekend staff. When it comes to defense, Nico Hoerner is a take-charge leader on both sides of the ball that excels defensively, while second baseman Duke Kinamon can match Hoerner's efforts. Maverick Handley is solid behind the plate, as is senior Jesse Kuet at third, and freshman outfielder Tim Tawa has been praised for his defensive versatility.

Difference maker: Beck. A full healthy season of Tristan Beck is going to go a long way in determining the final outcome for the Cardinal, as his pure stuff matches up with any other staff ace in the nation with the results from his freshman year proving he knows how to throw strikes and record outs. Will Matthiessen is another key member of the pitching staff that will be asked to close out games after recording a 2.33 ERA in 20 relief appearances last year.

Fun fact: New head coach David Esquer was the starting shortstop on Stanford's 1987 championship team, the first of back-to-back CWS championships secured by the Cardinal under their legendary skipper Mark Marquess. Esquer guided the Cal Bears to Omaha in 2011 after saving the program from extinction and has 525 career wins as Cal's head coach.

11. Mississippi

Ryan Rolison (Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics)
Head Coach: Mike Bianco
Conference: SEC
2017 record: 32-25 (14-16 SEC)
2017 finish: Did not play in postseason

Top returning hitters: C Nick Fortes (.319-5-32), OF Will Golsan (.312-3-22), OF Ryan Olenek (.272-3-25), DH Tim Rowe (.254-3-20), C Cooper Johnson (.213-0-8), OF Thomas Dillard (.206-4-12), SS Grae Kessinger (.175-2-16)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Houston Roth (3-0, 1.57 ERA, 28.2 IP, 41:8), RHP Dallas Woolfolk (3-2, 2.15 ERA, 37.2 IP, 41:5, 12 SV), RHP Will Ethridge (2-2, 2.41 ERA, 41 IP, 50:11), RHP Will Stokes (2-2, 2.67 ERA, 33.2 IP, 35:10), LHP Ryan Rolison (6-3, 3.06 ERA, 61.2 IP, 64:24), RHP Brady Feigl (2-2, 4.08 ERA, 53 IP, 54:10), RHP James McArthur (3-6, 4.73 ERA, 64.2 IP, 60:24), RHP Greer Holston (2-3, 5.27 ERA, 54.2 IP, 55:22)

Top newcomers: 2B Anthony Servideo, LHP Jordan Fowler, 3B/1B Tim Elko, 3B Tyler Keenan, SS Jacob Adams

Top 2018 prospects: LHP Ryan Rolison (7), RHP Dallas Woolfolk (78), RHP Brady Feigl, RHP James McArthur, C Nick Fortes

Why they’re here: Familiar faces. Ole Miss has so much pitching they're going to have a hard time getting some arms regular playing time in game action. Draft-eligible sophomore Ryan Rolison is the headliner of the group, a lefthander who could be taken among the top 10 overall picks thanks to a low- to mid-90s fastball and hammer curve. He was on fire during the second half of last year and will be the staff ace this season. Brady Feigl and James McArthur will follow, with an incredible cast of depth between the weekend starting trio and flamethrowing closer Dallas Woolfolk. The offense has more to prove, but another leap of improvement from Nick Fortes, Will Golsan and Ryan Olenek should help an otherwise young but talented cast of characters.

Difference maker: The bullpen. As noted closer Dallas Woolfolk throws hard, as in 98 miles per hour hard. And there's a seemingly endless numbers of arms bridging the gap that had to find success over the summer to get their due. Houston Roth shined in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, showing easy low-90s heat and a pro-ready slider. Parker Caracci posted video game-esque numbers in the Cal Ripken League with the stuff to match. Joining Caracci in the Ripken League was sophomore Greer Holston, who has the size (6-foot-4, 230-pounds) and stuff (upper-80s to low-90s fastball) to make an impact, and he could garner some mid-week starts as a result. Will Stokes is one of only three seniors on the roster and his experience (2.82 ERA in 54 relief appearances the last two years with 11 saves) speaks for itself.

Fun fact: Eight of the 10 starts (out of 19 total appearances) that Ryan Rolison made as a freshman came during SEC play. He went 3-3 during that time, with wins over Arkansas, Mizzou and Alabama, losses against Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State and no-decisions against Florida and Texas A&M.

12. Louisiana State

Zach Watson (LSU Athletics)
Head Coach: Paul Mainieri
2017 record:
 52-20 (21-9 SEC)
2017 finish:
 College World Series Runner-up

Top returning hitters: OF Zach Watson (.317-9-37), OF Antoine Duplantis (.316-2-61), IF/C Nick Coomes (.303-2-24), SS Josh Smith (.281-5-48), 1B/C Beau Jordan (.268-4-29), 1B Jake Slaughter (.257-3-26)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Caleb Gilbert (7-1, 2.16 ERA, 58.1 IP, 67:12), RHP Zack Hess (7-1, 3.12 ERA, 60.2 IP, 83:30), RHP Matthew Beck (1-0, 3.65 ERA, 24.2 IP, 21:11), LHP Nick Bush (1-1, 3.75 ERA, 24 IP, 22:19), RHP Todd Peterson (3-1, 4.19 ERA, 34.1 IP, 21:16), RHP Austin Bain (1-0, 4.74 ERA, 24.2 IP, 32:19)

Top newcomers: OF Daniel Cabrera, C Hunter Feduccia, RHP Ma'Khail Hilliard, RHP Cameron Sanders, RHP Devin Fontenot

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Zack Hess (102), OF Zach Watson (106), OF Antoine Duplantis (191), SS/3B Josh Smith, C Hunter Feduccia, RHP Cameron Sanders, RHP Caleb Gilbert

Why they’re here: The starting nine. LSU is going to score runs in bunches in 2018, just like they always have and just like they likely always will. The offense starts with their top two hitters from a year ago, outfielder Zach Watson (.317) and Antoine Duplantis (.316), and they're also excited about their third starting outfielder, freshman Daniel Cabrera, who is a strong Freshman All-American candidate. Josh Smith slides over to shortstop from third base and could have a breakout year as a sophomore. Catcher Hunter Feduccia was one of the top JuCo prospects a year ago and is coming off of a big summer in the Northwoods League, while the Jordan brothers, Beau and Bryce, likely will supply a good dose of the team's power.

Difference maker: Gilbert and Hess. Losing Eric Walker to injury for the 2018 season was a big blow, but the team plows forward with a pair of righthanded pitchers that each went 7-1 a season ago, Caleb Gilbert and Zack Hess. Hess finished his freshman year as the team's closer, recording three saves in Omaha while displaying his fiercely competitive demeanor on the mound. He may be better suited to short relief long term, but he has the requisite three pitches, not to mention his mid- to upper-90s heat, to get the job done in a starting role. Gilbert isn't quite the flamethrower, but he routinely gets the job done and was an unheralded member of LSU's CWS staff.

Fun fact: Cameron Sanders and Feduccia were ranked as the Nos. 10 and 11 JuCo prospects a year ago. Sanders has a big right arm and allowed only 26 base hits in 43 2/3 innings, striking out 59 as a sophomore at Northwest Florida State; however, he also walked 50 batters in that time. Feduccia batted .394-6-47 for LSU-Eunice and .376-7-30 over the summer with a wood bat.

13. North Carolina State

Brett Kinneman (NC State Athletics)
Head Coach: Elliott Avent
Conference: ACC
2017 record: 36-25 (16-14 ACC)
2017 finish: Lexington Regional

Top returning hitters: C Brad Debo (.335-4-43), OF Josh McLain (.311-6-31), SS Will Wilson (.300-8-48), OF Brett Kinneman (.282-10-41), 2B Stephen Pitarra (.265-1-20), OF Brock Deatherage (.218-3-18), 1B Shane Shepard (.184-3-12)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Johnny Piedmonte (7-0, 2.77 ERA, 71.2 IP, 42:21), RHP Austin Staley (2-3, 3.59 ERA, 47.2 IP, 44:21, 5 SV), LHP Brian Brown (4-3, 3.76 ERA, 67 IP, 63:32), RHP Joe O'Donnell (4-0, 3.91 ERA, 48.1 IP, 59:27, 7 SV), RHP Michael Bienlien (3-3, 4.66 ERA, 58 IP, 39:24)

Top newcomers: OF Terrell Tatum, LHP David Harrison, 1B/DH Evan Edwards, C Patrick Bailey, RHP Reid Johnston, SS David Vazquez

Top 2018 prospects: OF Brett Kinneman (150)

Why they’re here: Old hat, new hat. Few teams can match the veteran experience that NC State boasts, with a graduate student and a senior among the starting staff (Johnny Piedmonte and Brian Brown), and another proven senior serving as the team's closer (Joe O'Donnell). There will also be as many as four seniors in the starting lineup, represented by the right side of the infield (Shane Shepard and Stephen Pitarra) and a pair of outfielders (Josh McLain and Brock Deatherage). However, amidst all of this experience the Wolfpack's two most exciting players are shortstop Will Wilson (who played second base in 2017) and catcher Brad Debo, a pair of sophomores who enjoyed very successful freshman campaigns.

Difference maker: The middle of the lineup. Wilson and Debo, in addition to junior outfielder Brett Kinneman, are expected to do most of the damage on offense for a squad that slashed .275/.354/.446 as a team a year ago. Kinneman, who was second on the team in home runs last season with 10, is expected to have an even bigger junior year as he prepares himself for the MLB Draft. Debo will be the team's everyday catcher after spending a lot of time at designated hitter as a freshman, and Wilson joins Clemson's Logan Davidson as two of the nation's most exciting sophomore shortstops in the ACC.

Fun fact: NC State's last three seasons have ended in heart breaking fashion, as TCU, Coastal Carolina and Kentucky all overcame deficits late in their deciding Regional contests to advance to Super Regional play.

14. Louisville

Josh Stowers (Louisville Sports Information)
Head Coach: Dan McDonnell
 Atlantic Coast
2017 record:
 53-12 (23-6 ACC)
2017 finish:
 College World Series

Top returning hitters: OF Josh Stowers (.313-6-34), OF/DH Jake Snider (.286-1-11), 2B Devin Mann (.268-8-44), SS Tyler Fitzgerald (.208-0-11)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Sam Bordner (2-0, 0.41 ERA, 43.2 IP, 39:10, 3 SV), LHP Adam Elliott (2-0, 2.14 ERA, 33.2 IP, 31:9), LHP Adam Wolf (6-0, 2.18 ERa, 41.1 IP, 35:14), LHP Nick Bennett (5-1, 3.18 ERA, 65 IP, 61:13), RHP Bryan Hoeing (0-0, 5.06 ERA, 21.1 IP, 18:13)

Top newcomers: RHP Austin Conway, LHP Reid Detmers, RHP Bobby Miller, RHP Liam Jenkins, C/OF Zach Britton

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Bryan Hoeing (142), OF Josh Stowers (157), LHP Adam Wolf (202), RHP Riley Thompson, RHP Sam Bordner, 2B Devin Mann, RHP Liam Jenkins

Why they’re here: Talent factory. Few programs in the nation are as good as Louisville when it comes not only to recruiting but also developing talent once it arrives on campus. It may not seem possible for the team to be successful without Brendan McKay and Co., but there are a lot of pieces in place ready to step up and make names for themselves. The infield in particular could be dynamic, with Justin Lavey and Tyler Fitzgerald on the left side and Devin Mann and Logan Wyatt on the right. Center fielder Josh Stowers is a true five-tool talent, while 6-foot-6 righthander Bryan Hoeing is poised to emerge as a dominant staff ace. 

Difference maker: Pitching depth. There are no shortage of options in both the starting staff and the bullpen to take the ball on any given day and in any situation, and when the Cardinals have the lead going into the later innings they feel pretty good about their chances. Towering righties Riley Thompson and Sam Bordner could form a dominant 1-2 punch at the back end of the bullpen while lefthander Adam Wolf and transfer Austin Conway are likely starters on just about any other staff in the nation. Now sophomore lefthander Nick Bennett enjoyed a very successful freshman season, something the Louisville staff is confident newcomer Reid Detmers can replicate.

Fun fact: Head coach Dan McDonnell has guided Louisville to conference championships, and College World Series appearances, while playing in three different conferences: the Big East, the American Athletic and now the ACC. The Cardinals have been the regular season conference champions six years in a row, including their first three in the ACC, and have only lost four ACC series in three years.

15. Texas A&M

Braden Shewmake (Thomas Campbell/Texas A&M Athletics)
Head Coach: Rob Childress
2017 record:
 41-23 (16-14 SEC)
2017 finish:
 College World Series

Top returning hitters: SS Braden Shewmake (.328-11-69), C Cole Bedford (..301-3-26), 1B Hunter Coleman (.283-5-22), OF Logan Foster (.280-6-24), 3B George Janca (.261-6-30), OF Jorge Gutierrez (.214-4-16)
Top returning pitchers: LHP Kaylor Chafin (7-2, 2.33 ERA, 77.1 IP, 72:16), RHP Cason Sherrod (4-1, 2.89 ERA, 43.2 IP, 38:26, 4 SV), RHP Mitchell Kilkenny (3-3, 3.67 ERA, 56.1 IP, 56:18), RHP Stephen Kolek (4-5, 3.79 ERA, 90.1 IP, 82:24), LHP John Doxakis (4-3, 5.44 ERA, 49.2 IP, 51:23)

Top newcomers: OF Michael Helman, LHP Dustin Saenz, OF Zach DeLoach, DH Will Frizzell, RHP Jack Conlon, 1B Chris Andritsos, LHP Chandler Jozwiak, LHP Asa Lacy

Top 2018 prospects: SS/3B George Janca (73), RHP Mitchell Kilkenny (204), RHP Stephen Kolek, LHP Kaylor Chafin, RHP Cason Sherrod

Why they’re here: The right pieces are in place. It's hard to pick out a strength for this team considering the overall depth and balance. Outside of Braden Shewmake, last year's Freshman Player of the Year, the team doesn't have a lot of star power, but they do have a lot of proven contributors. Shewmake will play at shortstop this year after manning second as a freshman, forming a solid left side of the infield with third baseman George Janca. The team expects both Cole Bedford and Hunter Coleman to take steps forward, and JuCo transfer Michael Helman had a huge sophomore season at Hutchinson. Projected starters Kaylor Chafin, Stephen Kolek and Mitchell Kilkenny all have good stuff with the ability to throw strikes and the same is true for senior closer Cason Sherrod, who has worked hard to earn a greater workload after tossing just 21 innings over his first two years.

Difference maker: Braden Shewmake. You can't understate Shewmake's presence as a legitimate college baseball star, hitting .328-11-69 a year ago while leading the Aggies in nearly every significant offensive category. He has an advanced sense for the game with a knack for delivering the big hit, and also proved to be a steady presence on defense.

Fun fact: Helman was named the NJCAA Player of the Year last season, following in the footsteps of another Hutchinson and Texas A&M ballplayer that hails from Nebraska, Kyle Simonds, who was named National Pitcher of the Year in 2014. Helman slashed an incredible .487/.567/.829 with 39 extra-base hits (17 of which were home runs), 73 RBI and 30 stolen bases and is projected to bat leadoff and play center field for the Aggies.

16. UCLA

Kyle Molnar (Steve Fiorindo)
Head Coach: John Savage
2017 record:
 30-27 (19-11 Pac-12)
2017 finish:
 Long Beach Regional

Top returning hitters: C/IF Kyle Cuellar (.319-1-20), OF Daniel Amaral (.282-1-21), C Daniel Rosica (.271-1-14), 1B Michael Toglia (.261-8-33), OF Jeremy Ydens (.258-2-10), SS Ryan Kreidler (.241-4-25), 2B Chase Strumpf (.239-7-30), 3B Jack Stronach (.231-1-18)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Jake Bird (5-5, 2.75 ERA, 55.2 IP, 42:22), RHP Jon Olsen (7-1, 2.86 ERA, 85 IP, 80:31), RHP Brian Gadsby (3-4, 5.09 ERA, 35.1 IP, 17:14), LHP Nick Scheidler (2-4, 5.28 ERA, 30.2 IP, 25:10)

Top newcomers: OF Garrett Mitchell, RHP Zach Pettway, RHP Holden Powell, RHP Chase Farrell, RHP Michael Townsend, LHP Sam Glick

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Jon Olsen (98), RHP Kyle Molnar (209), RHP Jake Bird

Why they’re here: Impact infield. Don't look now, but UCLA could have its most well-rounded team since they won the College World Series in 2013. While pitching has always defined the Bruins under John Savage's watch, it is the lineup, and in particular the infield, made up entirely of sophomores, that could really help this group stand out. First baseman Michael Toglia is the headliner of the all-sophomore infield after hitting .261-8-33 as a freshman, while second baseman Chase Strumpf could enjoy a much more productive season after hitting .335-6-32 in the Northwoods League last summer. The left side of the infield is more defensive-minded, led by shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who committed only seven errors in his first year. And, it wouldn't be a UCLA team without a member of the Amaral family (Daniel) patrolling the outfield.

Difference maker: Kyle Molnar. While Jon Olsen should slide in as an effective Friday ace, and Jake Bird makes for a nice option on Saturdays, it is the return of 2014 PG All-American righthander Kyle Molnar that could make the biggest difference for the Bruins in 2018 as a redshirt sophomore. He went 5-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 13 appearances, all of which were starts, spanning 76 innings during his freshman year before having his season cut short due to Tommy John surgery and he possesses an effective three-pitch mix highlighted by a low-90s fastball one of the best changeups in college baseball.

Fun fact: Freshman outfielder Garrett Mitchell was the fifth highest ranked player from the high school class of 2017 that opted to go to college. He has game-changing speed and a very strong arm in the outfield, as he recorded a pair of outfield assists at the 2016 PG All-American Classic at Petco Park.

17. Indiana

Matt Lloyd (Indiana University Athletics)
Head Coach: Chris Lemonis
Conference: Big Ten
2017 record: 34-24-2 (14-9-1 Big Ten)
2017 finish: Lexington Regional

Top returning hitters: 2B Matt Lloyd (.301-11-46), OF Logan Sowers (.291-13-43), OF Matt Gorski (.288-4-22), 3B Luke Miller (.272-10-42), C Ryan Fineman (.239-2-17), SS Jeremy Houston (.232-2-21)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Matt Lloyd (3-2, 2.23 ERA, 32.1 IP, 20:6, 9 SV), RHP Cal Krueger (5-2, 2.82 ERA, 60.2 IP, 37:21), LHP Tim Herrin (3-3, 3.91 ERA, 53 IP, 38:21, 3 SV), RHP Kade Kryzsko (1-1, 3.91 ERA, 25.1 IP, 24:5), RHP Pauly Milto (6-3, 3.92 ERA, 78 IP, 65:20), RHP Jonathan Stiever (4-4, 4.31 ERA, 77.1 IP, 57:9), LHP Cameron Beauchamp (1-2, 4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP, 13:20), LHP B.J. Sabol (5-1, 4.69 ERA, 40.1 IP, 38:9), LHP Andrew Saalfrank (2-1, 5.58 ERA, 40.1 IP, 43:17), RHP Brian Hobbie (2-5, 6.61 ERA, 65.1 IP, 37:14)

Top newcomers: OF Logan Kaletha, OF/DH Elijah Dunham, SS Cole Barr, SS Justin Walker, LHP Nick Eaton, LHP Tommy Sommer, RHP Connor Manous, 2B Cade Bunnell, C Wyatt Cross

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Jonathan Stiever (173), 3B Luke Miller, OF Logan Sowers, 2B/RHP Matt Lloyd

Why they’re here: Carryover effect. Take a look at the number of returning players to both the starting lineup and the pitching staff and you'll see that almost the entire team returns for another go-round in the Big Ten. The infield should be solid with Matt Lloyd, Jeremy Houston and Luke Miller at second base, shortstop and third base, respectively, while Logan Sowers and Matt Gorski are expected to provide some thump from the outfield. The team is excited about JuCo transfer Logan Kaletha, who hit .354-6-59 at John A. Logan last season and is expected to serve as the team's leadoff hitter and center fielder. Lloyd doubles as the team's closer, while the team expects hard-throwing staff ace Jonathan Stiever to take a big step forward as a junior after a strong summer on the Cape.

Difference maker: Matt Lloyd. Lloyd was an All-American candidate as a two-way player, after leading the team in ERA (2.23 ERA) as a sophomore while also being the leading returning hitter (.301). He hit 11 home runs and drove in 46 while recording nine saves in 20 relief appearances.

Fun fact: The most innings the Hoosiers lost from any one player that is no longer with the team is 18, from Austin Foote. The team's 10 most-used hurlers return for the 2018 season, which accounts for 494 of the team's 541 total innings.

18. Oklahoma

Steele Walker (Ty Russell/OU Athletics)
Head Coach: Skip Johnson
Conference: Big 12
2017 record: 35-24 (12-11 Big 12)
2017 finish: Louisville Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Steele Walker (.333-8-51), 3B Brylie Ware (.298-5-31), OF Cade Harris (.267-2-13), SS Brandon Zaragoza (.251-0-20), OF Blake Brewster (.243-4-16), 2B Kyle Mendenhall (.232-5-27), C Domenic DeRenzo (.183-3-11)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Connor Berry (3-0, 1.93 ERA, 28 IP, 39:17), RHP Devon Perez (6-2, 3.50 ERA, 64.1 IP, 81:11), RHP Jake Irvin (6-3, 3.53 ERA, 71.1 IP, 75:29), RHP Austin Hansen (3-1, 3.86 ERA, 32.2 IP, 27:20), RHP Dylan Grove (1-3, 4.71 ERA, 36.1 IP, 48:40), RHP Ryan Madden (4-2, 4.83 ERA, 54 IP, 45:21), RHP Kyle Tyler (0-3, 5.15 ERA, 43.2 IP, 33:32), RHP Nathan Wiles (4-4, 5.26 ERA, 49.2 IP, 39:16)

Top newcomers: 1B/RHP Cade Cavalli, 3B/DH Tyler Hardman, LHP Levi Prater, C Justin Mitchell, OF Jacob Walker

Top 2018 prospects: OF Steele Walker (32), RHP Jake Irvin (170)

Why they’re here: Two big horses. Getting Devon Perez back for his senior year was huge for the Sooners, as the 6-foot-5, 200-pound righthander will once again pair with 6-foot-6, 225-pound junior Jake Irvin to give Oklahoma a starting duo to compete with the Big 12's best. They posted remarkably similar statistics as well, with Perez going 6-2 and a 3.50 ERA and Irvin having a 6-3 record with a 3.53 ERA. In fact, the Sooners will have all seven of the pitchers that made a start (59 in total) during the 2017 back on their 2018 roster, a team that finished sixth in the Big 12 in ERA (4.43).

Difference maker: Steele Walker. Walker has a flair for the dramatic, and also has proven that he's one of the nation's best overall hitters. After hitting .290 as a freshman he followed that up by leading the Northwoods League during the summer of 2016 in hitting with a .406 average, to go along with seven home runs and 31 RBI, while swinging a wood bat. He followed that up by hitting .333-8-51 as a sophomore, finishing among the Big 12 leaders in nearly every notable individual category on offense. During the summer that followed he hit .333 once again, this time for Team USA, with a pair of home runs and 11 RBI, leading the Collegiate National Team in hits, doubles and total bases. Walker is a model of consistency, and he's poised for a huge junior campaign as one of the preseason Golden Spikes Award favorites.

Fun fact: Skip Johnson takes over as OU's head coach after serving as the team's pitching coach last year. Prior to coming to Oklahoma, Johnson spent 10 years as Augie Garrido's pitching coach at the University of Texas and regularly works with three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in the offseason.

19. Cal State Fullerton

Colton Eastman (Matt Brown)
Head Coach: Rick Vanderhook
 Big West
2017 record:
 39-24 (15-9 Big West)
2017 finish:
 College World Series

Top returning hitters: SS Sahid Valenzuela (.314-1-24), DH Hank LoForte (.247-0-19), OF Chris Prescott (.228-0-7), OF Ruben Cardenas (.293-3-18)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Brett Conine (0-1, 1.39 ERA, 45.1 IP, 43:6, 15 SV), RHP Colton Eastman (2-0, 2.14 ERA, 33.2 IP, 37:16), RHP Blake Workman (6-3, 2.89 ERA, 62.1 IP, 54:18), RHP Dillon Brown (1-1, 3.18 ERA, 22.2 IP, 11:9), RHP Gavin Velasquez (4-3, 4.45 ERA, 62.2 IP, 34:19), LHP Erik Cha (1-1, 4.85 ERA, 26 IP, 11:6), RHP Jack Pabich (1-3, 6.10 ERA, 31 IP, 26:8), RHP Joe Wills (4-2, 9.19 ERA, 32.1 IP, 30:14)

Top newcomers: RHP Andrew Quezada, C Tyler Lasch, RHP Tommy Wilson, SS/2B Brett Borgogno, OF Mitchell Berryhill, RHP Tanner Bibee, 3B Jacob Dominguez, RHP Brandon Moore

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Colton Eastman (116), RHP Gavin Velasquez

Why they’re here: Because they always are. Cal State Fullerton, possibly more so than any other college baseball program in the nation, gets the job done year after year, many times doing so in a seemingly impossible manner. They have advanced to the College World Series twice in the last three years, a big reason why the Big West has been represented so well in Omaha. When the Titans are at their best their pitching staff shines, and the 2018 season should be no exception. Two big arms (Connor Seabold and John Gavin) moved onto the professional ranks, but Colton Eastman is back for his junior year, and if he stays healthy he could be poised for a big season after going 8-3 with a 2.24 ERA as a freshman. Brett Conine and Blake Workman were huge late in games, as Conine should resume his role as the team's closer while Workman could see time in the weekend rotation. Gavin Velasquez, who tossed 62 2/3 innings in a swing role last season, could also see more time as a starter.

Difference maker: JuCo transfers. For this team to be successful they're going to need significant contributions from a handful of junior college transfers. While there is a greater perceived need to receive these contributions on offense, the two most accomplished incoming players are righthanders Andrew Quezada and Tommy Wilson. Known for their ability to change speeds and hit their spots, both enjoyed successful seasons at Cypress and LA Pierce Colleges, respectively, as Quezada went 9-2 with a 1.17 ERA in 108 innings and Wilson went 6-4 with a 2.11 ERA in 85 1/3 frames. Those two, combined with their returning depth of arms, will help carry Fullerton to plenty of low scoring victories.

Fun fact: Sahid Valenzuela committed only three errors during his Big West Freshman Player of the Year campaign, good for a .988 fielding percentage while playing second base, and was second to only Scott Hurst in batting with a .314 average. Valenzuela will be the team's starting shortstop in 2018.

20. Duke

Griffin Conine (Duke Athletics)
Head Coach: Chris Pollard
Conference: ACC
2017 record: 30-28 (12-18 ACC)
2017 finish: Did not play in postseason

Top returning hitters: OF Jimmy Herron (326-5-39), OF Kennie Taylor (.314-3-22), OF/DH Michael Smiciklas (.302-3-29), OF Griffin Conine (.298-13-56), SS Zack Kone (.291-2-28), 3B Jack Labosky (.275-6-43), C Chris Proctor (.255-0-21), 2B Max Miller (.237-1-23)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Ryan Day (4-3, 3.30 ERA, 73.2 IP, 43:17), LHP Chris McGrath (1-2, 4.12 ERA, 24 IP, 19:14), LHP Mitch Stallings (4-3, 4.50 ERA, 76 IP, 74:26), RHP Jack Labosky (2-4, 4.50 ERA, 34 IP, 24:6, 7 SV), LHP Graeme Stinson (3-1, 6.67 ERA, 28.1 IP, 45:12), LHP Adam Laskey (4-5, 6.83 ERA, 55.1 IP, 48:24), RHP Matt Mervis (2-2, 7.83 ERA, 23 IP, 21:18)

Top newcomers: C Michael Rothenberg, RHP Josh Nifong, RHP Ethan Decaster, RHP Bryce Jarvis, LHP Sam Granoff, OF Steve Mann

Top 2018 prospects: OF Griffin Conine (10), OF Jimmy Herron (107), 3B Jack Labosky, OF Kennie Taylor

Why they’re here: Well-rounded lineup. Duke is going to continue to score runs, with a well-rounded group of athletes in their everyday lineup, highlighted by Griffin Conine, who could be selected among the top 10 picks of this year's draft thanks to his exciting offensive potential. Jimmy Herron and Kennie Taylor join Conine in the outfield, with a veteran infield. Matt Mervis, a hulking 6-foot-4, 225-pound slugger that doubles as a power-armed righthanded pitcher, could really take a step forward as the team's full-time first baseman in his second year, and the team is excited about what freshman catcher Michael Rothenberg can do both at the plate and behind it.

Difference maker: Lefthanded staff. The pitching hasn't been as proven as the lineups, as the team posted a 4.84 ERA as a unit a year ago, but the talent is there for significant improvement. The team is southpaw heavy as projected starters Mitchell Stalling, Adam Laskey and Graeme Stinson all throw from the left side of the rubber, as does key bullpen arm Chris McGrath. Stinson has the best pure stuff on the staff from an imposing 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame, and the team is hopeful yet another lefty, Bill Chillari, can take another step forward during his sophomore year.

Fun fact: Conine has more home runs (25) and RBI (75) in two summers playing in the Northwoods League and on the Cape using a wood bat than he does in two seasons with Duke (13 home runs, 62 RBI).

21. Houston

Trey Cumbie (@UHCougarBB)
Head Coach: Todd Whitting
Conference: American Athletic
2017 record: 42-21(15-9 AAC)
2017 finish: Houston Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Grayson Padgett (.309-2-40), 1B Joe Davis (.299-8-46), OF Lael Lockhart (.276-1-27), 3B Jared Triolo (.271-2-17), 2B Connor Hollis (.266-2-30)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Trey Cumbie (10-2, 2.04 ERA, 101.1 IP, 82:15), LHP Aaron Fletcher (2-1, 2.40 ERA, 41.1 IP, 41:10, 8 SV), LHP Brayson Hurdsman (5-2, 3.41 ERA, 34.1 IP, 30:10), RHP Mitch Ullom (6-3, 3.57 ERA, 95.2 IP, 51:28), RHP Nolan Bond (2-1, 3.60 ERA, 25 IP, 15:3), RHP Joey Pulido (2-3, 3.98 ERA, 40.2 IP, 42:15, 2 SV), RHP Fred Villarreal (1-2, 4.25 ERA, 42.1 IP, 14:8, 2 SV), RHP Carter Henry (2-1, 5.58 ERA, 40.1 IP, 40:18)

Top newcomers: C Tucker Redden, 1B/DH Ron Brown, RHP Ryan Randel, LHP Clay Aguilar, OF Drew Minter

Top 2018 prospects: 1B Joe Davis, LHP Aaron Fletcher, LHP Trey Cumbie, OF Grayson Padgett

Why they’re here: Cumbie and Davis. Two players aren't going to carry Houston to the postseason, but it's a great place to start, especially when the two may be considered the favorites for the American Athletic Player (Davis) and Pitcher (Cumbie) of the Year. Davis' .299-8-46 is a little deceiving since he dealt with injuries during his sophomore year, and his .331-14-58 Freshman All-American season may be more indicative of what he's capable of over a full season when healthy as one of the nation's most dangerous power threats. The lefthanded Cumbie is 15-4 with a 1.77 ERA and a 124-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 157 1/3 combined innings during his first two years in college, and his changeup is generally regarded as the best pitch of his well-rounded three-pitch mix. Both players could be poised for Golden Spikes seasons.

Difference maker: More pitching, and defense. Another productive lefthander, Aaron Fletcher, had a very successful season in 2017 serving as the team's closer and is expected to make a seamless transition to the Cougars' Saturday starter. Towering (6-foot-7) JuCo transfer Ryan Randel is expected to take the ball on Sundays after going 7-4 at Orange Coast College last season and freshman lefthander Clay Aguilar is poised to receive a lot of innings after a successful high school career. Seniors Cooper Coldiron and Connor Hollis will form a steady middle infield combo with Jared Triolo manning third.

Fun fact: Houston's early season, non-conference schedule will be no walk in the park, with weekend series against No. 19 Cal State Fullerton and San Diego sandwiching their appearance in the Houston College Classic. There they will play No. 8 Kentucky, No. 25 Mississippi State and Vanderbilt.

22. Sam Houston State

Andrew Fregia (Brian Blalock/SHSU)
Head Coach: Matt Deggs
Conference: Southland
2017 record: 44-23 (19-11 Southland)
2017 finish: Tallahassee Super Regional

Top returning hitters: 1B/DH Blake Chisolm (.343-4-35), OF Hunter Hearn (.326-2-42), SS Andrew Fregia (.302-7-48), OF Clayton Harp (.289-5-50), 1B/DH Jaxxon Grisham (.255-1-15), 1B/OF Riley McKnight (.238-1-22)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Jordan Cannon (2-0, 3.04 ERA, 23.2 IP, 12:6), LHP Riley Cooper (4-3, 3.38 ERA, 50.2 IP, 45:12), Nick Mikolajchak (0-4, 3.38 ERA, 29.1 IP, 32:10, 13 SV), RHP Hayden Wesneski (10-2, 3.93 ERA, 84.2 IP, 47:25), LHP Seth Ballew (6-3, 4.03 ERA, 73.2 IP, 60:34), LHP Kyle Backhus (4-4, 4.19 ERA, 58 IP, 64:28), LHP Dominic Robinson (1-0, 4.21 ERA, 36.1 IP, 36:15), RHP Dakota Mills (7-3, 4.54 ERA, 71.1 IP, 56:8),   

Top newcomers: 2B Trey Ochoa, RHP James Kuykendall, LHP/OF Jack Rogers, OF Darien Simms, 2B Ben Haefner, RHP Landon Ausley, C Vince Ippoliti

Top 2018 prospects: SS/3B Andrew Fregia

Why they’re here: Returning depth. Sam Houston State lost three significant contributors from their 2017 ballclub that upset Texas Tech in the Lubbock Regional before falling to Florida State in Tallahassee in Super Regional play: outfielder Bryce Johnson, catcher Robie Rojas and staff ace Heath Donica. However, almost every other piece is back for a team that cruised to a Southland Conference Tournament championship. The team has a legitimate pro prospect in Andrew Fregia, a power hitting shortstop-turned-catcher, and they received significant contributions from four freshman arms a year ago that are all poised to take their games to the next level: Hayden Wesneski, Nick Mikolajchak, Kyle Backhus and Dominic Robinson. A fifth sophomore of the redshirt variety, Riley Gossett, returns to the mound after missing the 2017 season, which followed a 7-0, 2.64 ERA freshman campaign.

Difference maker: Transfers embrace 'Pack Mentality.' Head coach Matt Deggs always gets the most from his players, and he and his staff have identified a handful of transfers that could be good fits to the system. Trey Ochoa, a junior college transfer from Howard that began his collegiate career at Texas Tech, was the 124th-ranked JuCo prospect entering the 2017 season and he slashed .362/.464/.556 in 2017 while stealing 18 bases and driving in 52. Outfielder Darien Simms took a similar path, beginning his career at Arkansas before shining at the JuCo level (Northeast Texas CC) by hitting .306/.442/.395 with 20 stolen bases. Middle infielder Dan Haefner hit .326 last season before Buffalo shut down its baseball program. Righthander James Kuykendall went 12-4 as a sophomore at Tyler JC, posting a 2.91 ERA with 115 strikeouts spanning 96 innings.

Fun fact: In 2017 Sam Houston State won 40 or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history since becoming a member of Division I in 1987.

23. Texas

Nolan Kingham (Texas Athletics)
Head Coach: David Pierce
Conference: Big 12
2017 record: 39-24 (11-12 Big 12)
2017 finish: Long Beach Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Austin Todd (.276-1-19), C Michael McCann (.268-0-16), 3B Kody Clemens (.241-5-23), OF Tate Shaw (.239-2-14), SS David Hamilton (.218-0-20), 1B Ryan Reynolds (.212-5-25) 

Top returning pitchers: RHP Beau Ridgeway (2-2, 1.89 ERA, 52.1 IP, 40:14, 12 SV), RHP Nolan Kingham (2.84 ERA, 10-4, 92 IP, 67:24), RHP Chase Shugart (3-2, 3.43 ERA, 42 IP, 30:22), RHP Blair Henley (4-5, 4.23 ERA, 61.2 IP, 47:25)

Top newcomers: 2B Mason Hibbeler, OF Duke Ellis, C/DH D.J. Petrinsky, RHP Kamron Fields, RHP Nico O'Donnell, RHP Matteo Bocchi

Top 2018 prospects: RHP Nolan Kingham (113), RHP Chase Shugart, 2B/3B Kody Clemens

Why they’re here: Power-armed staff. Pitching carried Texas last year and could very well do the same in 2018, once again led by their live-armed ace, Nolan Kingham. He and Saturday starter Chase Shugart have both flirted with the upper-90s in the past, and work comfortably in the low- to mid-90s with their fastballs. Blair Henley returns after a successful freshman season, and while he doesn't throw as hard as his weekend starting counterparts, his curveball and changeup are true weapons giving him the best three-pitch repertoire on the team. Beau Ridgeway returns to the closer role after saving 12 games a year ago and is particularly stingy when it comes to allowing baserunners.

Difference maker: JuCo injection. For as good as the pitching staff has been in recent years, the Longhorns have been lacking in offense, and in particular could use one big bat to step forward. Corner infielders Kody Clemens and Ryan Reynolds are poised to take a step forward this season, now that Clemens is healthy and Reynolds has a full season under his belt, and hulking slugger Zach Zubia blasted 22 home runs over the summer, but there's a lot of swing-and-miss to his game. Enter Masen Hibbeler, Duke Ellis and D.J. Petrinsky who enjoyed big offensive seasons at Odessa, Panola and Hill Colleges, respectively. Hibbeler arrived on campus as a more complete player than expected, Ellis has some pop to go along with a speed component to his game, while Petrinsky is an offensive-minded catcher. Any improvement in offense is welcome, and needed, for the Longhorns to advance.

Fun fact: Texas may have finished last in the Big 12 in average (.252) but they finished 13th in the nation in walks with 303.

24. Clemson

Seth Beer (Brian Hennessy)
Head Coach: Monte Lee
Conference: ACC
2017 record: 42-21 (17-13 ACC)
2017 finish: Clemson Regional

Top returning hitters: 1B Seth Beer (.298-16-53), SS Logan Davidson (.286-12-41), 2B Grayson Byrd (.284-1-20), C Chris Williams (.261-14-51)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Brooks Crawford (4-0, 1.23 ERA, 22 IP, 22:7), RHP Owen Griffith (1-2, 1.23 ERA, 14.2 IP, 14:3), RHP Ryley Gilliam (3-1, 2.57 ERA, 35 IP, 50:14, 4 SV), RHP Ryan Miller (1-0, 3.09 ERA, 11.2 IP, 11:2), LHP Jacob Hennessy (2-1, 3.82 ERA, 30.2 IP, 37:11, 3 SV)

Top newcomers: OF Sam Weatherly, OF Kier Meredith, 3B Justin Hawkins, RHP Spencer Strider

Top 2018 prospects: 1B/OF Seth Beer (75), RHP Ryley Gilliam, 3B Justin Hawkins, C Chris Williams

Why they’re here: 2-3-4 hitters. Clemson's offense is going to give opposing team's headaches, and that's even without Reed Rohlman and Chase Pinder, who are now playing professionally. Everyone by now knows about Seth Beer, but shortstop Logan Davidson and catcher Chris Williams bring potent bats to the party as well, as the three combined for 42 bombs a season ago. Davidson, like Beer, also knows how to reach base via the free pass, drawing 42 walks as a freshman as compared to Beer's 64. Their presence will go a long way to helping a pair of freshmen expected to play in the everyday lineup, outfielders Sam Weatherly and Kier Meredith, while giving plenty of RBI opportunities for slugging JuCo transfer Justin Hawkins, who is expected to bat fifth.

Difference maker: Ryley Gilliam. Clemson's live-armed closer had a dominant season that was overshadowed by the team's four impact starters. His natural arm strength is among the best of any pitcher in the ACC as he sits comfortably in the 93-94 mph range with a hammer curveball that gives him two swing-and-miss offerings. While there has been speculation that he could start this season, his high energy approach on the mound is better suited in short relief, but he does have the ability to toss multiple innings. Given how the projected starting staff has plenty of talent yet is short on experience, Gilliam is going to be asked to bridge the gap, and as his 50 strikeouts in 35 innings from a year ago may suggest, he is more than up for that task.

Fun fact: Two of the team's projected starting pitchers, Owen Griffith and Ryan Miller, were both primary catchers while in high school. Griffith converted to pitching full-time during his senior year and was touching the mid-90s prior to graduation. Miller on the other hand was a versatile defender who also saw time in the outfield since he played on the same travel team with former Florida Gators backstop Mike Rivera for the Florida Burn.

25. Mississippi State

Konnor Pilkington (Kelly Price)
Head Coach: Andy Cannizaro
Conference: SEC
2017 record: 40-27 (17-13 SEC)
2017 finish: Baton Rouge Super Regional

Top returning hitters: OF Jake Mangum (.324-0-26), OF/1B Hunter Vansau (.297-0-14), IF/C Hunter Stovall (.288-2-18), OF/1B Elijah MacNamee (.267-2-22), OF Tanner Poole (.224-3-14), IF Luke Alexander (.222-5-21), C Dustin Skelton (.206-0-10)

Top returning pitchers: RHP Spencer Price (4-1, 2.91 ERA, 34 IP, 40:19, 14 SV), LHP Konnor Pilkington (8-5, 3.08 ERA, 108 IP, 111:47), RHP Riley Self (5-2, 3.72 ERA, 48.1 IP, 60:20, 8 SV), RHP Jacob Billingsley (2-3, 4.78 ERA, 52.2 IP, 52:38), RHP Denver McQuary (3-4, 5.20 ERA, 55.1 IP, 40:50), LHP Trysten Barlow (0-2, 5.23 ERA, 20.2 IP, 28:25), RHP Graham Ashcraft (2-0, 5.62 ERA, 24 IP, 25:16), RHP Cole Gordon (2-3, 5.69 ERA, 55.1 IP, 59:30)

Top newcomers: OF Jordan Anderson, RHP Cole Marsh, C Marshall Gilbert, RHP J.P. France, OF Owen Lovell, LHP Zach Neff, OF Josh Hatcher, 1B Alex Pener, RHP Jared Liebelt

Top 2018 prospects: LHP Konnor Pilkington (65), OF Jake Mangum (149), RHP Spencer Price, OF Hunter Vansau

Why they’re here: Strong front end, back end. Mississippi State returns an impressive number of arms from their 2017 staff – to go along with some interesting transfers – the only problem is that staff had a cumulative 4.94 ERA, which was second to last in the SEC. However, they are in an enviable position as they boast a legitimate staff ace that can match up with any pitcher in the SEC in lefthander Konnor Pilkington, who comfortably works in the low-90s and touches higher with a chance that he will be selected in the first round of this year's draft. In addition, the team's 1-2 bullpen punch of Spencer Price and Riley Self also returns, a duo that combined to go 9-3 with 22 saves a year ago, as each made 31 appearances out of the bullpen. That gives them a very good chance to convert low-run leads into wins.

Difference maker: Jake Mangum. SEC triple crown winner Brent Rooker is no longer in Starkville to provide dramatic fireworks on a nightly basis, but center fielder Jake Mangum is. Mangum doesn't possess Rooker's power, and in fact has hit only one home run in his two-year collegiate career, but he does have an uncanny ability to get the bat on the ball and has enough speed to cause problems on the basepaths once he reaches. While he hit a respectable .324 as a sophomore, he enjoyed a very strong fall leading many to believe he may hit closer to the .408 he hit as a freshman, which led to a SEC batting crown.

Fun fact: The Bulldogs committed the fewest errors in the SEC in 2017 with 49, and their .980 fielding percentage was ninth-best in the nation (UIC led the way at .984).

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