College : : Story
Thursday, March 01, 2018

Weekend Preview: Week 3

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney         Jheremy Brown        
Photo: UK Athletics

College Top 25  Player/Pitcher of the Week | College Player Database
Quick Take: Florida 
| Quick Take: Miami | Quick Take: Oregon State

The third weekend of the 2018 season will be a big one across the country in college baseball, highlighted by the annual Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston. Three SEC teams – No. 6 Kentucky, No. 17 Vanderbilt and Mississippi State – will be present, as will No. 19 Houston, No. 20 Sam Houston State and Louisiana. Perfect Game's Brian Sakowski will be on hand to cover this talent-laden event so be sure to stay tuned for updates.

Two other big tournaments will occur, the Frisco College Baseball Classic in Frisco, Texas and the Dairy Queen Classic, which is a continuation of the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.

With PG's own Britt Smith on hand to provide first-hand observations, No. 12 Texas A&M will be the team to beat in Frisco, although there are several intriguing prospects to keep an eye on, especially on the offensive side of the ball, with Baylor, California and Louisiana Tech making this a strong round robin event. On paper No. 13 UCLA will be the team to beat in Minneapolis with Arizona, Washington, Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota all competing in a very strong six-team field.

The state of Texas in particular is going to be the place to be this weekend as No. 4 Texas Tech welcomes South Alabama to Lubbock for a four-game set and No. 3 TCU hosts their second straight Big West opponent in Fort Worth with UC Irvine coming to town. No. 7 Stanford continues their challenging early season schedule as they host Michigan, No. 8 Ole Miss travels to Long Beach State and Indiana will be at San Diego. And we didn't forget about the most impressive rivalry matchup of the weekend as in-state rivals Clemson and South Carolina will play for bragging rights in a three-game set in three different stadiums.

Top 25 in Action

Rk. Team Opponent Location
1 Florida home vs. Stony Brook Gainesville, FL
2 Oregon State home vs. Hartford Corvallis, OR
3 Texas Christian home vs. UC Irvine Fort Worth, TX
4 Texas Tech home vs. South Alabama Lubbock, TX
5 Florida State home vs. UNC Asheville Tallahassee, FL
6 Kentucky at Houston Classic (No. 19 Houston, No. 20 Sam Houston State, Louisiana) Houston, TX
7 Stanford home vs. Michigan Stanford, CA
8 Ole Miss at Long Beach State Long Beach, CA
9 Arkansas home vs. Southern California Fayetteville, AR
10 NC State home vs. Bowling Green, Campbell, Canisius Raleigh, NC
11 Louisville home vs. Western Carolina Louisville, KY
12 Texas A&M at Frisco Classic (Louisiana Tech, Baylor, Cal) Frisco, TX
13 UCLA at DQ Classic (Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota) Minneapolis, MN
14 Louisiana State home vs. Toledo, Sacred Heart, Southeastern Louisiana Baton Rouge, LA
15 Indiana at San Diego San Diego, CA
16 Clemson at/home vs. South Carolina Columbia, Greenville, Clemson, SC
17 Vanderbilt at Houston Classic (No. 20 Sam Houston State, Louisiana, No. 19 Houston) Houston, TX
18 Southern Miss at Cox Diamond Invitational (Eastern Michigan, Ohio State, Nicholls State) Pensacola, FL
19 Houston at Houston Classic (No. 6 Kentucky, Mississippi State, No. 17 Vanderbilt) Houston, TX
20 Sam Houston State at Houston Classic (No. 17 Vanderbilt, No. 6 Kentucky, Mississippi State) Houston, TX
21 North Carolina home vs. Liberty Chapel Hill, NC
22 Miami home vs. Maine Coral Gables, FL
23 Texas home vs. Northwestern Austin, TX
24 Oklahoma home vs. Alabama Norman, OK
25 Duke home vs. Cornell Durham, NC

Sweet home Alabama

With the latest update to the College Top 25 there was one team in particular that was hard to leave out as rankings mechanics made it difficult since no team played themselves out of the Top 25. That team was South Alabama, a squad that has quickly proven their mettle early in the season thanks to a 7-2 record with wins over a pair of ranked teams, Southern Miss and Oklahoma.

On Tuesday they played another hot team to open the 2018 season, in-state rival Auburn, who enter the weekend with a 9-0 record. The Tigers are coming off of a three-game sweep of Bryant and rallied late, scoring four runs in the top of the eighth inning, which was highlighted by a three-run home run off the bat of Luke Jarvis, to knock off USA.

With a .305 team batting average and a 2.33 team ERA, things are going well on both sides of the ball early in the season for Auburn. Six hitters have an average above .300, with Brendan Venter’s .452 mark leading the way. Freshman Steven Williams is off to a hot start, hitting .324 with a pair of bombs and a team-leading 12 RBI. Another freshman (and former PG All-American), Tanner Burns, has allowed just one earned run with a 14-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his first 12 innings as a starter.

Strikeouts are a common theme for the Auburn hurlers. Casey Mize (16 strikeouts in 11 innings), Andrew Mitchell (16 in 9 1/3) and Calvin Coker (18 in 10 2/3) are all missing bats at an incredible rate to open the year. Those arms will be tested once again as Auburn hosts another high-powered offense this weekend with BYU coming to town, and another series win could help force their way into the Top 25.

Things don’t get any easier for USA Jaguars as they travel to Lubbock to take on Texas Tech in a four-game set. Next week they return home to face Alabama State before hitting the road once again to face the Ragin’ Cajuns in Lafayette, and they will stay in Louisiana to play LSU in a mid-week contest.

One thing we knew coming into the season is that South Alabama can score runs in bunches. Even without shortstop Drew LaBounty they’re slashing .288/.417/.433 as a team, led by Michael Sandle’s .406 average. Sandle (12 RBI) and Wells Davis (13) lead the team in run production, while their top prospect, outfielder Travis Swaggerty, already has six extra-base hits, including three home runs, a .767 slugging percentage and 14 walks.

Pitching was the biggest question mark for the Jaguars and that will be the biggest part of their team that will be answered this weekend, with a Super Regional-esque matchup with the Red Raiders. So far, so good, as they have a cumulative 3.56 ERA as a staff and a remarkable 19 pitchers have already taken the mound as they try to define roles for the rest of the season.

And don’t look past the Crimson Tide, as Alabama is also off to strong start with a 9-0 record. After their 11-1 win over Alabama State on Wednesday, they travel to Norman to take on No. 24 Oklahoma this weekend and then return home to host No. 18 Southern Miss next Wednesday.

– Patrick Ebert

Classic performances

Every college season welcomes the latest crop of Perfect Game All-Americans to campus, usually as a cornerstone piece for their respective schools and recruiting classes. Below is a starting nine of sorts, looking at our former All-Americans who have stood out with their performances thus far in 2018. For a look at the Classic participants who have made it to and remain on campus, click here for a complete list of players from 2013 to 2016.

Below is a look at some of the players who have stood out heading into week three of the season, and while it’s still a relatively new year, a couple of impressive feats have already been accomplished, including Joe DeMers perfect game for Washington and Chris Andritsos’ hitting for the cycle last Friday for Texas A&M.

Both Tyler Baum and Tanner Burns are missing bats at an impressive rate while Drake Fellows has surrendered just three hits all season and is one of several impressive PGAAs at Vanderbilt. And let’s not forget about the dynamic duo of bats over in Lexington with Ryan Johnson and T.J. Collett, who has already launched five homers this spring.

C – Steven Williams, Auburn
1B – Chris Andritsos, Texas A&M
2B – Kody Clemens, Texas
3B – Jayson Gonzalez, Vanderbilt
SS – Cadyn Grenier, Oregon State
OF – Garrett Mitchell, UCLA
OF – Ryan Johnson, Kentucky
OF – Danny Reyes, Florida
DH – T.J. Collett, Kentucky
SP – Joe DeMers, Washington
SP – Tyler Baum, North Carolina
SP – Tanner Burns, Auburn
SP – Drake Fellows, Vanderbilt
RP – Zack Hess, Louisiana State

Keep in mind there are plenty of former PG All-Americans missing from this list, including Luken Baker, Nick Lodolo, Drew Mendoza, Nick Quintana, David Hamilton, Philip Clarke and Jonathan India, just to name a few. 
And yes, Zack Hess has been starting Friday nights for LSU this spring, and even though the calendar has flipped, it’s hard not to remember the incredible performance he put forth last season in Omaha serving as his team’s closer.

– Jheremy Brown

A new rivalry

When I think of the Clemson-South Carolina baseball rivalry, I first think of two of the most passionate fan bases in all of college baseball. This may be our sport’s most intense regular season series and it is magnified by the fact that all three games are scattered throughout the state of South Carolina in Columbia, Greenville and Clemson.

But the two most prominent figures in this fierce rivalry, Ray Tanner and Jack Leggett, are no longer in uniform. So we begin anew with Mark Kingston and Monte Lee. Adding to the fire is the fact that Lee was a South Carolina assistant under Tanner, and that isn’t lost on the Gamecock faithful.

In this particular series, there is an intriguing matchup between the Clemson rotation and the South Carolina offense. Clemson came into 2018 having to replace every single start from a year ago, making the weekend rotation a perceived weakness. Well, the trio of Jacob Hennessy, Brooks Crawford and Jake Higginbotham has a combined ERA of 1.67 through six starts. And that includes last weekend’s series versus offensive juggernaut Dallas Baptist.

South Carolina features an extremely experienced position player group led by Carlos Cortes. Cortes, who may be the most naturally talented hitter in the SEC, is off to a disappointing start (hitting .194) but the Gamecocks have 18 home runs through their first eight games, good for third in the country. 

So let’s see what happens when we turn up the fire a little bit … or a lot.

2019 hitters’ combine in Frisco

If you want to get a look at the best hitters that college baseball has to offer for the 2019 MLB Draft, then the Frisco College Classic will be the place to be this weekend. Andrew Vaughn of Cal, Braden Shewmake of Texas A&M and Shea Langeliers of Baylor will be in attendance with Louisiana Tech being the fourth team in the field. Vaughn is off to the best start of the group with five home runs and 14 RBI through just seven games. All three of the hitters were named PG First Team Freshman All-Americans a year ago.

One Louisiana Tech hitter who could benefit from the scouting attention is redshirt-junior outfielder Mason Mallard. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound Mallard is a good runner with bat speed and power, and his arm has a chance to be plus as he fully recovers from last year’s Tommy John surgery.

The Dairy Queen Classic

The 31st version of the Dairy Queen Classic will take place at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis this weekend. This is an awesome event and it is great for college baseball.

I know this because I played in the 1991 Dairy Queen Classic. That field included Minnesota, Stanford, UCLA and our Notre Dame team. The thrill of playing in a Major League stadium (the Metrodome) was tremendous, but the group of future big leaguers who played in that tourney was equally impressive. This includes Brent Gates of Minnesota, David McCarty and Jeffrey Hammonds of Stanford and our own Craig Counsell and Chris Michalak.

This year’s field features three Pac-12 schools (UCLA, Arizona, Washington) and three Big Ten schools (Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois). It’s likely that at least three of these schools will earn a Regional bid this year and it’s certainly possible that all six could.

Sneaky good

Indiana visits San Diego this weekend and these are two proud programs with Regional aspirations. While both clubs are off to good starts, they also have high profile weekend starters looking to get on track. Chris Murphy and Nick Sprengel of the Toreros, and Jonathan Stiever of the Hoosiers all have current ERAs over six and they are too talented for that to continue.

That said, Paul Richan of San Diego and Pauly Milto of Indiana have given up a combined one earned run through four starts. Both are early candidates for their respective league’s Pitcher of the Year award.

– Mike Rooney

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