College | Story | 2/12/2020

2020 College Ball: Staff Picks

Patrick Ebert         Mike Rooney         Jheremy Brown         Vincent Cervino         Greg Gerard         Nate Schweers         Connor Spencer        
Photo: Spencer Torkelson (Arizona State Athletics)

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

With the 2020 college baseball season set to begin on Friday, Patrick Ebert, Mike Rooney, Vinnie Cervino, Jheremy Brown, Brian Sakowski, Greg Gerard, Nate Schweers and Connor Spencer take their turns making predictions on several different categories. Those categories as listed below are split between individual player honors and achievements, both in relationship to the college baseball season and the MLB Draft, as well as team prognostications on how things may shake out over the next several months.

Impact Freshman
Kumar Rocker was the Most Outstanding Player in Omaha a year ago for Vanderbilt while JT Ginn, Alex Binelas, Willie Weiss, Robby Martin and Connor Noland all played big roles for their respective teams making it to the College World Series. Add in huge statistical seasons from Aaron Sabato, Ethan Wilson, Adrian Del Castillo and many others and it's clear that more and more first-year players are making a big, big impact in college baseball.

Player Pos. School Staff
Hunter Barco LHP Florida GG
Michael Curialle 3B UCLA CS
Steven Hajjar LHP Michigan BS
Brennan Milone SS South Carolina VC
Robert Moore 2B Arkansas JB
Bryce Osmond RHP Oklahoma State PE
Josh Rivera SS Florida MR
Landon Sims RHP Mississippi State NS

Many to most expect Florida to get back their deep postseason-winning ways, and to do so they'll need a few of their newcomers – with Hunter Barco and Josh Rivera being the most obvious candidates to do so – to step forward from day one. Michael Curialle could get a lot of early looks for a UCLA team that is going to have a new-look offense. Steven Hajjar is of the redshirt variety of freshmen, Robert Moore is a near-perfect fit for Arkansas and Brennan Milone's hit tool should allow him to do just that. Bryce Osmond and Landon Sims both own big, power arms that should allow them to miss plenty of bats at the college level.

Impact Transfer
Most of the players on the transfer list are of the JUCO variety, an ever-growing talent pool for four-year schools to dip into to find near plug-and-play options for their rosters. Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer is the most obvious example of this from a year ago, a dynamic outfielder who helped propel Michigan to Omaha. Alerick Soularie had a similar impact for Tennessee, as did UC Irvine's Brandon Lewis.

Player Pos. School Staff
Justin Fall LHP Arizona State VC
Brannon Jordan RHP South Carolina JB
Noah Myers OF South Carolina BS
Kaden Polcovich 2B Oklahoma State MR
Johnny Ray RHP TCU GG
Murphy Stehly SS Texas CS
Tyler Thornton RHP Arizona State PE
Levi Usher OF Louisville NS

Arizona State was already loaded and yet they added a pair of key arms in Justin Fall and Tyler Thornton – Thornton was a Freshman All-American at Saint Mary's. South Carolina has hit the JUCO ranks hard the past two years and will look to both Brannon Jordan and Noah Myers to help drive their ultimate 2020 success. Johnny Ray stands out among TCU's talent-laden JUCO class while Big 12 rivals Oklahoma State and Texas hope to have hit gold with Kaden Polcovich, a Cape all-star last summer, and Murphy Stehly. No. 1 Louisville will have toolsed-up Levi Usher patrolling their outfield this season.

Impact Senior
Longevity obviously plays a big role for productive seniors – look no further than a pair of outfielders from the SEC a year ago, Mississippi State's Jake Mangum and LSU's Antoine Duplantis. Leadership often comes with that longevity, roles that can't be taught for teams eyeing the postseason.

Player Pos. School Staff
Jonathan Hughes RHP Georgia Tech VC
Grant Judkins RHP Iowa NS
Austin Langworthy OF Florida JB
Lael Lockhart, Jr. 1B/LHP Houston GG
John McMillon RHP Texas Tech BS
Jake Mulholland LHP Oregon State PE
Terence Norman OF Kennesaw State CS
Cam Shepherd SS Georgia MR

It's taken longer than expected due to injuries early in his career, but Jonathan Hughes appears to be poised for a big season as Georgia Tech's projected staff ace. The Georgia Bulldogs have had Cam Shepherd manning shortstop each of the last three years and he'll make it a fourth starting Friday. Staying in the Peach State, Terence Norman has enjoyed a productive career at Kennesaw State with a career .338/.405/.451 slash line. Jake Mulholland can make a similar statement at Oregon State, with a 1.75 career ERA and 30 saves. Lael Lockhart, Jr. gets it done both at the plate and on the mound while Austin Langworthy should be Florida's most proven and reliable run producer. John McMillon throws absolute gas while big-bodied righthander Grant Judkins quietly had a loud junior season for Iowa.

Sleeping Giant
Each and every one of the players listed below is a well-known talent for their respective programs, and all are on draft radars heading into the season. However, there's reason to believe each and every one of them may have another level to attain. No players defined this more a year ago than outfielders JJ Bleday and Hunter Bishop, each of whom entered the 2019 season with clear promise and exited the season as premium first round picks.

Player Pos. School Staff
Jud Fabian OF Florida MR
Patrick Fredrickson RHP Minnesota CS
Hudson Haskin 3B Tulane VC
Joey Polak 3B Missouri State NS
Baron Radcliff OF Georgia Tech GG
Casey Schmitt 3B/RHP San Diego State PE
Riley Tirotta 3B Dayton BS
Gage Workman 3B Arizona State JB

We're cheating a little with Fabian, who is a sophomore and isn't draft-eligible until 2021, but his talent is obvious and we expect a much, much bigger season out of him. Patrick Fredrickson was the Big Ten Freshman and Pitcher of the Year in 2018 before taking a step back a year ago; look for him to get back on track. Hudson Haskin, Baron Radcliff, Riley Tirotta and Gage Workman all carried strong spring seasons into the summer and appear to be poised for more this year. Joey Polak was the JUCO Player of the Year two seasons ago and could be in store for a big season in year two at Missouri State while Casey Schmitt's profile is incredibly similar to that of Aaron Schunk given his ability to dominate as a closer and middle-of-the-order slugger that plays the hot corner.

Golden Spikes Award
Adley Rutschman set the bar high a year ago, earning the Golden Spikes Award on his way to becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, doing so one year removed from being the Most Outstanding Player for the 2018 national champion Oregon State Beavers. The No. 3 overall pick in the draft was Andrew Vaughn, the Golden Spikes recipient in 2018.

Player Pos. School Staff
Patrick Bailey C NC State NS
Daniel Cabrera OF Louisiana State GG
Nick Gonzales 2B New Mexico State JB
Heston Kjerstad OF Arkansas CS
Austin Martin 3B Vanderbilt BS
Spencer Torkelson 1B Arizona State MR
Spencer Torkelson 1B Arizona State PE
Ethan Wilson OF South Alabama VC

Two votes were made for Spencer Torkelson, who has already posted ridiculous back-to-back seasons with no signs of slowing down. Nick Gonzales was PG's Summer Collegiate Player of the Year and led the nation in batting last season. Austin Martin is the No. 1 prospect for the 2020 MLB Draft while Heston Kjerstad already has 29 homers and 104 RBI in two years at Arkansas. Ethan Wilson had a huge freshman season, Patrick Bailey is a well-rounded switch-hitting catcher while Daniel Cabrera is ready to truly break out after two strong seasons at LSU.

College World Series Sleeper
Each of the teams listed below is not ranked in PG's Preseason College Top 25, however, each is ranked among the top 26-40 teams with legitimate Omaha upside. Last year each of the eight teams that advanced to the College World Series was ranked within the Preseason Top 25, but that was more of an exception than the rule.

School Conference Staff
Boston College ACC BS
Cal State Fullerton Big West CS
Clemson ACC GG
Dallas Baptist Missouri Valley MR
Georgia Tech ACC VC
Minnesota Big Ten NS
Ohio State Big Ten PE
Wake Forest ACC JB

Minnesota and Ohio State each have an impressive weekend starting staff and are deep overall with pitching, a recipe that worked well for their Big Ten rivals, Michigan, a year ago. Georgia Tech was the No. 3 overall seed heading into the postseason before they were upset by Auburn on their home turf. Young, sophomore-laden squads at Boston College and Clemson gives each exciting upside while Wake Forest has some big, big bats and some high-powered arms in an especially deep ACC. Cal State Fullerton appears to be ready to bounceback after a disappointing season by their own lofty standards and Dallas Baptist welcomes numerous reinforcements to an already talented squad.

Sleeping Giant, Among Giants
The team-based category of "Sleeping Giants," each of these schools opens the year in the Top 25, but outside of the Top 10, and each has legitimate national championship aspirations. Of last year's College World Series teams, Arkansas (13), Florida State (14), Auburn (15), Mississippi State (17) and runner-up Michigan (19) all opened the year ranked in the 11-25 range.

School Conference Staff
Florida SEC JB
Louisiana State SEC VC
Michigan Big Ten GG
Oklahoma State Big 12 NS
Oklahoma Big 12 MR
Stanford Pac-12 CS
Texas A&M SEC PE

Florida made the postseason a year ago, barely, but the Gators are far too talented to "barely" make the NCAA Tournament two years in a row. LSU opened last season ranked No. 1 by PG and have a young and hungry yet somewhat unproven squad ready to make their own mark. Michigan will be out to do it again, but this time with a big target on their back, while Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will each give Texas Tech a run for their money in the Big 12. NC State has a sneaky deep pitching staff and their usual high-powered offense, while both Stanford and Texas A&M return a wealth of pitching to staffs that already were among the nation's best.

Super Regional Cinderella
Last year's Super Regionals were filled with ranked teams with few surprises sprinkled in, at least from the perspective of preseason aspirations. However, Stetson and Tennessee Tech both made a lot of noise to advance the year before while Davison, Sam Houston State and Missouri State were among the upstart teams to advance to the Super Regional round in 2017.

School Conference Staff
BYU West Coast PE
Campbell Big South NS
Cincinnati American Athletic GG
Florida Atlantic Conference USA JB
Illinois Big Ten BS
McNeese State Southland CS
Sam Houston State Southland VC
San Diego State Mountain West MR

BYU has gone 133-83 the past four years, winning the WCC Tournament and advancing to a Regional in 2017. Campbell should once finish on top of the Big South while Cincinnati showed legitimate upset potential in the NCAA Tournament a year ago with a big come-from-behind game one Regional win over defending national champion Oregon State in Corvallis. FAU has been on the cusp of Top 25 inclusion while Illinois joins Michigan, Ohio State and Minnesota in what should be a very competitive Big Ten. Sam Houston State advanced to a Super Regional as recently as 2017 and they'll duke it out in the Southland with McNeese. San Diego State could dominate the MWC with a squad that could go toe-to-toe with national heavyweights.

2020 CWS Champion
This category is pretty straight-forward: who will win it all in 2020? Plenty of bragging rights are on the line, not just for the teams, but for the PG staff members, each of whom chose a different squad, all of which are ranked in the top 10 of PG's initial College Top 25.

School Conference Staff
Arkansas SEC NS
Arizona State Pac-12 CS
Georgia SEC GG
Louisville ACC JB
Miami ACC VC
Texas Tech Big 12 BS
UCLA Pac-12 MR
Vanderbilt SEC PE

Take your pick from the loaded SEC, a conference that has seen six of its members claim the CWS championship in the last 11 years. Vanderbilt, the defending national champion, has claimed two of those, and returns arguably the most talented pitching staff in college baseball. Georgia's staff might be the hardest throwing and Arkansas once again will have a lethal lineup. 2020 could be the year in which Arizona State breaks out and UCLA was oh-so-close a year ago, spending the second half of the season as the nation's top-ranked team. Texas Tech represents the Big 12 annually in Omaha while we could see big, big years out of Louisville and Miami from the ACC.

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