College : : Story
Monday, July 02, 2018

Eight for Omaha 2019

Mike Rooney        
Photo: Zach Watson (LSU Athletics)
 



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It’s time to take our annual guess at next year’s field for Omaha. We went five for eight in last year’s effort and anything over .500 feels like the result of good fortune.

One interesting factoid to consider is that the 2018 CWS Finals involved two teams, Arkansas and Oregon State, who both failed to even make a Regional in 2016. That is a remarkable turnaround and it points to the fact that things can change in a hurry in today’s College Baseball.

Our final caveat is that the MLB Draft deadline can change everything. At the time of this article, elite high school talents like Brice Turang, Mason Denaburg, JT Ginn and Ryan Weathers have yet to make a final decision. These are high impact players who have up until July 6 at 4 p.m. ET to sign a pro contract.


The Eight

Louisiana State
2018 Record: 39-27
2018 Finish: Corvallis Regional

The Tigers had arguably the best draft possible as it appears that Zack Hess, Zach Watson and Antoine Duplantis will all come back to school. Sophomore Daniel Cabrera has star upside and LSU should have the most productive outfield in the country. If Eric Walker makes a full recovery from Tommy John surgery and Ma ‘Khail Hilliard can build on his excellent rookie campaign, the pitching should be in very good shape. The health of shortstop Josh Smith will be a key and he may be the most important player in the SEC in 2019.

UCLA
2018 Record: 38-21
2018 Finish: Minneapolis Regional

UCLA will be led by a junior-laden lineup and this group has been the core of two consecutive Regional teams. Chase Strumpf and Michael Toglia give the Bruins star power but the likes of Jeremy Ydens and Kevin Kendall provide depth to this lineup. If the uber-talented Garrett Mitchell can progress and the pitching staff can come together, UCLA has CWS Finals upside.

Auburn
2018 Record: 43-23
2018 Finish: Gainesville Super Regional

It’s hard to believe that you can make the ‘8 for Omaha’ list just weeks after having your ace taken first overall in the MLB draft but Butch Thompson has a special group of rising sophomores. Tanner Burns and Cody Greenhill turned in outstanding freshman seasons on the mound and they may have been slightly outdone by the astounding production of classmates Edouard Julien and Steven Williams. Junior Will Holland also made a big jump in 2018 and he could be the All-SEC shortstop in 2019.

Louisville
2018 Record: 45-19
2018 Finish: Lubbock Regional

The Cards made a late run with a sophomore-laden team and nearly earned the right to host a Regional. Coach Dan McDonnell has 11 players in the Cape this summer and this club looks loaded for 2019. First baseman Logan Wyatt is a star and table-setters Jake Snider and Tyler Fitzgerald made big jumps in 2018. There is a truckload of arm strength on this pitching staff but the rotation lacks certainty at this point.

Vanderbilt
2018 Record: 35-27
2018 Finish: Nashville Super Regional

Tim Corbin played four freshmen nearly every day in 2018, not including Mason Hickman’s role in the weekend rotation, and this club came within one win of Omaha. Philip Clarke, Austin Martin and Pat DeMarco look like stars and Drake Fellows more than held his own as the Friday night arm. The potential addition of high profile high school righthander Kumar Rocker could take this team over the top.

Georgia
2018 Record: 39-21
2018 Finish: Athens Regional

The Bulldogs put it all together in 2018 and their earning of a host site should provide great momentum headed into 2019. The draft was also kind to Georgia as highly touted righthander Cole Wilcox has already announced that he will forgo the draft and come to school. The rotation will need sophomores Ryan Webb and Emerson Hancock to progress but both showed flashes of brilliance as freshmen. The lineup will be led by rising juniors Cam Shepherd, Tucker Bradley and two-way star Aaron Schunk. Schunk’s emergence as the closer may have saved Georgia’s season.

Oregon State
2018 Record: 55-12-1
2018 Finish: CWS Champions

The Beavers are a difficult team to project as the lineup will lose seven regulars, including three first round draft picks in Nick Madrigal, Trevor Larnach and Cadyn Grenier. That said, catcher Adley Rutschman was arguably the offensive MVP and he is a projected top 10 pick overall for 2019. The key will be the pitching as rising senior Bryce Fehmel, who went undrafted, will lead a very talented staff. Brandon Eisert was outstanding in Omaha and Jake Mulholland has been rock at the back of the bullpen. Christian Chamberlain and Kevin Abel are extreme talents who both pitched well in the postseason.

Texas Tech
2018 Record: 45-20
2018 Finish: College World Series

The Red Raiders went to Omaha for the third time in five years and they return a first round talent in third baseman Josh Jung. Gabe Holt was a First Team Freshman All-American with game-changing speed and this offense should be very good once again. Flame-throwing righthander John McMillon will be a key as he has fluctuated between the rotation and the bullpen. Tim Tadlock’s program had 11 players drafted so the deadline will be an interesting watch for Texas Tech fans.


Others to Consider

Baylor
The Bears will be tough on Friday nights with returning Big 12 Pitcher of the Year Cody Bradford and one of the nation’s best catchers in Shea Langeliers.

East Carolina
The Pirates’ stellar 2018 season was keyed by a very good sophomore class led by Bryant Packard, Spencer Brickhouse, Jake Agnos, Trey Benton, and Tyler Smith.

Ole Miss
The Rebels lose their entire weekend rotation but return much of the rest of the roster, possibly to include Ryan Olenek, who announced that he intends to return for his senior season. Juniors Will Ethridge and Grae Kessinger will play big roles in 2019.

Oklahoma State
The Cowboys earned a Regional berth despite the absence of four of their top six arms this season. The return of pitchers Jensen Elliott and Mitchell Stone should pair nicely with what was a young core of position players.

Michigan
Erik Bakich deployed a very young roster in 2018 and the young Wolverines surprisingly led the Big Ten at the halfway mark. That young group is particularly talented on the mound with Ben Dragani, Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann all getting valuable innings this year.

North Carolina
The Tar Heels return a star in first baseman Michael Busch but their fortunes will rest upon the development of the talented but enigmatic pitching trio of Gianluca Dalatri, Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner.

Florida
The Gators have three first rounders to replace, but Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich look like the next generation of big arms for Kevin O’Sullivan. The return of Michael Byrne would be huge if it happens and Wil Dalton will have a big load to carry offensively in 2019.

Arkansas
Heston Kjerstand and Casey Martin hit in the middle of the order as true freshman and Dominic Fletcher is an elite talent in center field. There will be a lot of pitching to replace but the possible return of Isaiah Campbell (Angels, 24th round) could be huge.

Florida State
It would be fitting to see Mike Martin finish his career in Omaha, and if that is going to happen stars Drew Parrish and Drew Mendoza will have had big seasons. Rising sophomores Reese Albert and CJ Van Eyk also have big upside.

Texas Christian
The Horned Frogs return starters Jared Janczak and Nick Lodolo along with a bevy of talented bullpen arms. Josh Watson will be back to anchor a lineup filled with question marks.


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