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| Rankings | 3/16/2020
College Top 25: Moving Forward
Photo: Jacob Young (Tim Casey)
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It’s especially hard to say goodbye to the 2020 college baseball season considering we had barely just started. The ACC began league play a week ago and the SEC, among other conferences, were set to kick off this past weekend before the NCAA decided to end all remaining winter and spring athletic competitions due to COVID-19. There’s a lot of mixed emotions involved and we just hope everyone is doing their best to stay safe.
Since it’s unlikely that there is going to be a magical, happy ending to the 2020 college baseball season we would like to wrap things up by taking one last look at the PG College Top 25 and where things stood when the season was halted. Keep in mind, this is not an update and we don’t believe the rankings matter at this point. However, below we are listing those teams, their records and positive developments in the weeks they took the field in regards to the future of each program.
It’s important to note that at this point in time we don’t know how the overall landscape of college baseball is going to look in 2021. Is there going to be an MLB Draft this summer, and if so, when will it be held and how many players will opt to take the professional route? Since players are earning an extra year of eligibility, how will this effect roster and scholarship limitations? If an increased number of seniors return how will this effect incoming freshmen? Will there be an increased number of transfers potentially tied to the number of returning players combined with those that have yet to make it to campus?
Pre = Preseason Ranking
North Carolina State
UC Santa Barbara
Long Beach State
Due to their incredible recruiting efforts year after year, it was impossible not to recognize Florida’s talent base entering the year. However, many of the returning talent they had did not have stellar 2019 seasons, and as a result, Florida didn’t have their usual, stellar performance a year ago. After opening the year 8-0 and sweeping Miami on the the road they quickly answered whatever questions remained and were vaulted to the top spot. Tommy Mace was pitching consistently like a staff ace, prized freshman Hunter Barco didn’t take long to force his way into the weekend rotation, the overall depth of pitching was reminiscent of their championship squad from 2017 and Jud Fabian emerged as the star we thought he would become. With productive underclassmen such as Fabian, Barco, Jacob Young, Nathan Hickey and Josh Rivera on the roster, success will continue in Gainesville regardless of what comes back.
After a bit of a rocky start for the preseason No. 1 team, Louisville definitely righted the ship, going 12-1 up until the stoppage, which included a nine-game winning streak. And that success came largely without two of their best run producers, Alex Binelas and Lucas Dunn. Binelas and the team’s top two hitters through 16 games – Levi Usher and Henry Davis – are all sophomores, meaning the talent-rich Cardinals will continue to churn out wins. Ace lefthander Reid Detmers was on his way to another big season, already 3-0 with a 1.23 ERA and a 48-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 22 innings of work. Players, and performances, like Detmers’ are among the hardest to swallow with the abbreviated season, and he was responsible for handing Ole Miss (16-1) their only loss of the season on the very first day of the year. Coach McDonnell will keep Louisville competitive for years to come.
3. Texas Tech
Despite being swept in a pair of midweek games by No. 10 Mississippi State just before the 2020 season was banged, it looked as though Tim Tadlock may have had his best Red Raiders team yet after becoming a regular participant in the College World Series in recent years. We knew the pitching staff was going to be good, with no shortage of hard-throwing options, but how quickly their young offense came together – a unit slashing .319/.434/.527 – was indicative of the machine this program has become. Shortstop Cal Conley, third baseman Jace Jung and slugger Nate Rombach are all freshmen, although Conley is draft eligible and was off to an especially hot start. Weekend starter Austin Becker, midweek starter Mason Montgomery and bullpen long man Micah Dallas are all sophomores, meaning this team could just as easily pick up where they left off.
UCLA spent the second half of the 2019 season as the No.1-ranked team in the nation, and although they did lose a lot of productive pieces from that team, they hadn’t missed a beat through their first 15 games of 2020. And that includes wins over Pepperdine, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Illinois and Vanderbilt. Although Matt McLain had a quiet freshman season, he was enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign, batting .397-3-19 with game-changing speed while playing a premium position (shortstop). In fact, the Bruins were hitting .308 as a team and their infield alignment of McLain, Jake Moberg, Michael Curialle and JT Schwartz – as well as cacher Noah Cardenas – is made up entirely of underclassmen, a unit that looks awfully similar to the one that propelled the Bruins the previous 2-3 years. The same is true for weekend starters Jesse Bergin and Nick Nastrini, along with midweek starter Jared Karros.
The Bulldogs represent the first team among those ranked at the top of the current PG College Top 25 whose talent base is largely draft eligible. Tucker Bradley is one of the players you feel most for as an observer, a redshirt junior who was having a huge season (.397-6-23 as a hitter, 0.00 ERA in three bullpen appearances as a pitcher) after missing almost all of 2019 due to injury. Georgia was about to take on Florida to open SEC play with a marquee matchup between Emerson Hancock and Tommy Mace ready to be absorbed by hundreds of fans, and scouts in a battle between a pair of teams ranked in the Top 5. Although Georgia doesn’t have as many productive underclassmen to point to, this is obviously a program that has seen a significant shift in recent years under the guidance of Scott Stricklin.
6. Arizona State
After laying an egg to open the 2020 season, with losses to Villanova, Michigan and Oklahoma State at home, Arizona State had been playing much better the last three weekends, going 11-1 in their last 12 games. Spencer Torkelson of course was the headliner of their veteran lineup, who seemed to be drawing walks (already 31 through the first 17 games) when he wasn’t hitting a home run (6), leading to a .340/.598/.780 slash line, which remarkably didn’t even seem all that surprising given what he had done to this point of his collegiate career. For as good as the offense was, the development of the pitching staff had been the most encouraging, with freshman lefthander Cooper Benson securing the role of staff ace and sophomores Tyler Thornton and Erik Tolman also providing key starting performances.
It was hard to know what to think of Vanderbilt’s season, a team that opened the year 1-2 with losses to Michigan and Cal Poly, seemed to regain their footing but then suffered losses to Hawaii, UCLA and USC and almost were clipped by TCU. The pitching had been electric, as expected, with numerous high-profile arms regularly stealing the show, even with Mason Hickman missing his most recent start. That pitching will continue to be in good shape with Kumar Rocker, Jack Leiter, Thomas Schlultz and Michael Doolin all expected back as underclassmen. The offense had been more of a question mark, but numerous young players had already stepped forward to assume big roles with the team, and at key positions. Catcher CJ Rodriguez, shortstop Carter Young and third baseman Parker Noland are all freshmen and received some valuable, albeit brief, on-the-job training.
Duke carried their success from 2019 to the initial part of 2020, most recently taking down Florida State to open ACC play. Staff ace Bryce Jarvis had opened the most eyes, posting a 0.67 ERA through his first four starts with a ridiculous 40-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in just 27 innings of work (and only 11 hits allowed). Not knowing where Jarvis and their star catcher Michael Rothenberg will be heading into 2021, the Blue Devils do have a bright future. Sophomore Cooper Stinson was almost as dominant behind Jarvis in the weekend rotation, promising freshman Henry Williams opened the year as a weekend starter, and when he was shelved, live-armed sophomore Jack Carey performed well in his absence. Fellow sophomore Ethan Murray, a shortstop, got off to a slower start (.222 average) but is one of the top prospects in the ACC for the 2021 MLB Draft.
Although they missed the postseason entirely in 2019, Oklahoma opened 2020 with wins over Virginia, Arkansas, LSU, DBU and San Diego State. The weekend rotation was among the nation’s best with Cade Cavalli, Levi Prater and JUCO transfer Dane Acker leading the way. However, one of the things that made OU so appealing in the preseason was the amount and depth of upperclassmen, experience and leadership, all unknowns at this point in time looking forward to 2021. Two of the more interesting developments were sophomore righthander Wyatt Olds – who moved to 4-0 on the year with five strong innings over Dallas Baptist in a midweek start – and freshman infielder Peyton Graham. Olds and fellow sophomore righthander Ben Abram are two big pieces to build a pitching staff around moving forward while Graham was batting .358-3-10 with eight doubles, eight stolen bases and an even 12-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 18 collegiate games.
10. Mississippi State
The only blemish on Mississippi State’s season had been a road series loss to Long Beach State. The weekend prior to that they took care of visiting Oregon State and most recently handled No. 3 Texas Tech a pair of losses. Although the numbers (.260/.356/.380) may not indicate it, the offense was dangerous and the pitching was impressive, despite losing ace JT Ginn for the year before the stoppage. Few pitchers nationwide opened as many eyes over the first four weekends as redshirt freshman Christian MacLeod, who was already 4-0 with a 0.86 ERA and superb peripherals. Sophomore Eric Cerantola wasn’t too shabby as the Sunday starter, with a 3.18 ERA in four starts, and those two represent a pretty good starting point for the Bulldogs 2021 weekend rotation. In addition, freshmen Landon Sims and Wil Bednar had the most innings of the MSU relievers.
Miami had won eight of nine games since being swept at home by Florida, a series that needed extra innings to decide the first two games and saw the Hurricanes lose game three by a score of 5-3. There was no lack of star power throughout the everyday lineup and on the pitching staff, but a lot of that talent is draft eligible. Sophomore catcher Adrian Del Castillo continued to establish himself as one of the best overall hitters in the nation, batting .358 with more walks (11) than strikeouts (8) and five extra-base hits. Fellow sophomores Anthony Villar, Jordan Lala and JP Gates were all proving their worth, and Slade Cecconi was enjoying a big year as the team’s Sunday starter, although he is age eligible for this year’s draft as a sophomore. Numerous freshmen hurlers – including Carson Palmquist, Jake Garland and Alex McFarlane – made an early impact.
The Knights were certainly one of the biggest stories early in the 2020 season, making a loud entrance into the Top 25 after their road sweep of Auburn and a series win over a much-improved CSUN squad the following weekend. Five of their everyday contributors – catcher Ben McCabe, infielders Tom Josten and Matt Archer and outfielders Gephry Pena and Pablo Ruiz – are all underclassmen, pointing to a promising future for UCF. Pena was setting the tone at the top of the order with a .415 OBP and 13 steals in 14 attempts while both Ruiz and Josten tied for the team lead in homers with three. Although the pitching staff received more meaningful contributions from their upperclassmen, Colton Gordon is a redshirt sophomore and freshman lefthanders Nick Gottilla and Hunter Patteson got extended looks through the team’s first 18 games.
An upcoming weekend series against Texas A&M to open SEC play was going to provide an excellent litmus test for the Auburn Tigers who had beaten up on UIC, Oakland, Alabama A&M, Wright State and Chicago State for 13 combined wins but were bested by UCF, Georgia Tech and Wofford, all at home. Statistically speaking this team was thriving, with a .330 team batting average and a 2.81 cumulative ERA. Sophomore shortstop Ryan Bliss may have been emerging as a star at the college level, hitting .377-2-17 with seven doubles, five stolen bases and a knack for making consistent, hard contact, all while playing errorless defense. Fellow sophomores Kason Howell (.359) and Brody Moore (.339) were also batting well over .300. Several more sophomores (Brooks Fuller, Garrett Wade, Richard Fitts and Carson Skipper), along with a handful of freshmen (Seb Thomas, Trace Bright, Hayden Mullins, Mason Barnett) point to continued overall success from the underclass ranks.
Ole Miss was enjoying a 16-game winning streak, poised to open their SEC slate at home against LSU with signature wins already against Louisville, Southern Miss, East Carolina and Indiana. Their No. 14 ranking doesn’t appropriately show their upward trend after opening the year ranked 18
, although for the most part, the 13 teams ahead of them have also been winning, making it difficult to move up. Despite losing so many key pieces on offense from a year ago, this year’s unit hadn’t missed a beat, with the left side of the infield – Tyler Keenan and Anthony Servideo – in particular having big, productive seasons. Keenan already had seven bombs and 33 RBI, among the national leaders. Doug Nikhazy, Gunnar Hoglund and Derek Diamond had formed a more-than-effective weekend trio with an equally effective ‘pen. Nikhazy, Hoglund and Diamond are all underclassmen with a roster full of promising freshmen.
For the past two seasons Arkansas was in the mix for a national championship and was aiming to make it a third, and as usual the offense was potent. Sophomore Christian Franklin and freshman Robert Moore were among the six regulars batting over .300 with each showing a little pop, some speed and strong defense at key up-the-middle positions. Moore in particular is the player to watch, one hailed for his slick glovework as much as his steady switch-hitting bat. The pitching staff was notably young, as weekend starters Connor Noland and Patrick Wicklander are both sophomores, although Noland is of the draft-eligible variety, and a third sophomore receiving significant innings, Caleb Bolden, is of the redshirt variety. Ten other underclassmen – five sophomores and five freshmen – were receiving looks out of the ‘pen as Coach Van Horn and his staff were trying to find the best working combination of arms.
At times we wondered if we were a year early ranking Virginia, but still feel good about that prognostication after they opened ACC play with a series win over NC State and a 14-4 record overall. Many of their key pieces are young, as each of their top four hitters – Chris Newell (.407), Zack Gelof (.349), Max Cotier (.338) and Nic Kent (.328) – are underclassmen. That quartet also represents Virginia’s starting center fielder, third baseman, second baseman and shortstop. Sophomore righthander Mike Vasil had done a really nice job grabbing the Saturday starter and making it his own behind ace Griff McGarry, as the two were especially adept at missing bats. And possibly the most exciting development was that dynamic freshman lefthander Nate Savino, who was supposed to still be a senior in high school, had made three straight starts on Sundays and seemed to be gaining arm strength, and momentum, with each appearance.
17. North Carolina State
Prior to the last week of the season NC State was undefeated, taking a perfect record to Charlottesville, Virginia where they lost their opening ACC series to the Cavaliers. Although several of the team’s stars, including ace Nick Swiney and catcher Patrick Bailey, are juniors, the team had some key underclassmen playing productive roles. Tyler McDonough had a big freshman season a year ago and picked up where he left off, slashing .354/.457/.554 while providing defensive versatility. Fellow sophomore Lucas Tresh led the team in batting (.405) with some pop of his own. Freshman Jose Torres was the most exciting development, a slick-fielding, quick-twitch shortstop who hit .333-3-13 in 17 games. Freshmen Chris Villaman and Sam Highfill proved to be two of the more dependable members on the pitching staff, with Villaman posting a 3.86 ERA as the team’s Sunday starter and Highfill being the Wolfpack’s most frequently turned to ‘pen option.
18. UC Santa Barbara
Although the entire Big West was somewhat of an enigma heading into the 2020 season, UC Santa Barbara quickly proved that their success from a year ago was no fluke, going 13-2 while riding an eight-game win streak with big victories over UCLA and Oregon State to end the abbreviated season. Friday ace lefthander Rodney Boone, who was coming off of a big freshman season in 2019, and Sunday righthander Michael McGreevy, are both sophomores that combined to go 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. Freshmen righthanders Alex Schrier and JD Callahan each received frequent looks and should be big parts of the Gauchos success moving forward. The everyday lineup had six sophomores take the field regularly, with catcher Mason Eng and outfielder Christian Kirtley being among the more productive, more proof as to why this UCSB program isn’t going away quietly anytime soon.
It was hard to know what the 2020 season had in store for Clemson as there were several players who really stepped up and helped propel them to early success. Look no further than ace Sam Weatherly and outfielder Kier Meredith, a pair of highly-touted recruits who hadn’t previously lived up to their lofty billing. Sophomore two-way star Davis Sharpe was really starting to come into his own on both sides of the ball as he was batting .311-4-10, leading the team in homers and slugging, while also posting a 3.93 ERA on the mound as the team’s Saturday starter. Another sophomore, catcher Adam Hackenberg, led the team in RBI (15) while batting .295 and fellow sophomore Keyshawn Askew posted a 3.55 ERA in five appearances. Freshmen Mack Anglin, Nick Clayton, Geoffrey Gilbert and Nick Hoffmann all received significant time on the mound and will keep the Tigers pitching staff formidable, along with Sharpe and Askew, heading into 2021.
20. Long Beach State
When LBSU hired head coach Eric Valenzuela everyone knew it was a perfect fit. However, after suffering an extremely uncharacteristic 14-41 season a year ago no one expected the turnaround to be so dramatic. Not surprisingly the success stemmed from their pitching with particular thanks going to their weekend starters: Adam Seminaris, Alfredo Ruiz and Luis Ramirez. Ruiz is a sophomore and Ramirez is a freshman, with Ramirez in particular showing poise not often found in a first-year player. Each made four starts over the first four weekends, not allowing many hits, or walks, and missing bats at a roughly 1-for-1 pace as compared to their innings pitched. Their top two hitters – Connor Kokx and Leonard Jones – are also underclassmen, of the redshirt variety, Kokx a freshman and Jones a sophomore. Kokx was hitting .400 with five doubles and Jones was hitting .327 while pacing the team in homers (2) RBI (9) and total bases (28).
The Wolverines under Erik Bakich have always scheduled aggressively early in the season, particularly on the West Coast, going 4-4 in eight California games heading into their first (now cancelled) home series of the year. After missing the 2019 season, Steve Hajjar was the brightest of all bright spots for Michigan early in 2020, starting his season with a dominant performance over Arizona State while going 3-0 in four starts with a 2.70 ERA and 24 punchouts in 20 innings of work as a redshirt freshman. True freshmen Cameron Weston and Jacob Denner were called upon frequently out of the bullpen, with Weston posting a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings of work and a pair of saves and Denner posting a 3.75 ERA in 12 innings of relief. There should be even more impact depth on the Michigan staff assuming sophomores Willie Weiss and Ben Dragani return to full health for the 2021 season.
It only takes two years to make a trend and from the 2019 season through the early parts of 2020 it was made clear that things are different in Knoxville under the guidance of Tony Vitello. After the pitching dominated last year (and continued to thrive this year) the offense exploded this year, with seven regulars batting over .300 led by the emergence of athletic outfielder Zach Daniels, who was hitting .357 with 13 extra-base hits (four of which were homers) through 17 games. Of the other .300 hitters second baseman Max Ferguson, shortstop Jake Rucker and catcher Connor Pavolony are all sophomores while center fielder and lefthanded pitcher Drew Gilbert is a freshman. There were plenty of underclassmen on the pitching staff as well, most notably sophomores Chad Dallas and Elijah Pleasants as well as freshmen Christian Delashmit and Mark McLaughlin. The Vols are very much for real in the SEC and national landscape.
23. Texas A&M
Texas A&M had one of the most transcendent individual players in the sport in lefthanded ace Asa Lacy. Lacy has an electric arsenal, and a build that looks ready-made for the rigors of pro ball, with dominant stats; if there’s still a draft Lacy could (should) be in the mix for the No. 1 overall pick. The rest of the staff nearly as stingy, and one of the most promising developments was the return to form (and health) of redshirt freshman lefthander Jonathan Childress. Childress’ initial season was cut short to injury, and subsequent Tommy John surgery, making his 2-0, 1.84 ERA season through four starts all the more impressive. Freshmen righthanders Mason Ornelas and Alex Magers were two of the more frequently used Aggies relievers through four weeks of play while sophomores Austin Bost (.353-3-10) and Zane Schmidt (.394-0-12) were enjoying success at the plate in limited opportunities.
The Longhorns are all about bringing heat, with Bryce Elder and Ty Madden setting the tone on Fridays and Saturdays with premium stuff. Madden, as well as Sunday starter Coy Cobb, are both sophomores. In fact, so are Mason Bryant, Kolby Kubichek, Dawson Merryman, Owen Meaney and Cole Quintanilla, so the Texas staff is going to be in good hands heading into the 2021 season regardless of which upperclassmen may come back. While Madden and company are exciting to think about moving forward, the freshman class is pretty encouraging too. Pete Hansen had a 0.00 ERA through his first 17 collegiate innings. Shortstop Trey Faltine showed off his dazzling all-around tools. Andre Duplantier started to show that he can make a difference on both sides of the ball. Throw in sophomore outfielder Eric Kennedy, the team’s best all-around hitter, and you can a nice collection of still-blossoming young talent.
TCU’s last win, an 8-4 victory over UCLA, was their loudest of the shortened season. The emergence of weekend starters Johnny Ray and Russell Smith was the biggest takeaway early in the season. Both are talented redshirt sophomores – Ray being a JUCO transfer – who had yet to make an impact prior to the 2020 season due to injuries. Each made four starts, posted ERAs in the 2.50s and tossed 21 innings. Throw in sophomore relievers Austin Krob and Marcelo Perez, two more hurlers that haven’t had made an impact relative to their talent, and live-armed freshman midweek starter Riley Cornelio and you have a nice foundation of a staff. On the offensive side of the ball freshman outfielder Sam Thompson hit .304 in a part-time role and redshirt freshman Porter Brown was working to find his stride after missing most of the 2019 season due to injury.
The 6 teams ranked in the preseason that fell out of the Top 25 and 6 teams that were strongly considered over the first four ranking updates of 2020.
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