Let’s be frank: it feels incredible to be thinking about the 2021 College World Series right now! These way too early predictions are precarious at best but anything that gets us visualizing Omaha is a win right now. So let’s take our annual run at predicting next year’s Eight for Omaha.
The lineup screams strength up the middle with centerfielder Christian Franklin, middle infielder Robert Moore, and catcher Casey Opitz. Braydon Webb and Matt Goodheart make for an excellent “tier two” in this position player group. On paper, this pitching staff offers tremendous depth yet the rotation is unsettled. Connor Noland appeared to be making a jump but missed his final start due to a mild oblique strain. Lefthander Patrick Wicklander struggled in 2020 and his rebound will be a key. Newcomer Nate Wolgemuth is a righthander who probably wouldn’t make it to campus in a normal draft year. His upper 90s fastball should make an immediate impact.
The Gators utterly demolished the draft this year and they were already the reigning No. 1 ranked team in the country. A rotation of Tommy Mace, Jack Leftwich, and Hunter Barco grabs the headlines but the depth on this pitching staff is obscene. Returning freshmen Josh Rivera (shortstop) and Nathan Hickey (catcher) established themselves in short order in 2020 and centerfielder Jud Fabian is a five-tool athlete with first round upside. On paper, this roster has no holes.
It seems crazy that the Cardinals could lose two first rounders on the mound (Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller) and still have pitching be a strength of this club. But that is the case because Luke Smith has returned along with bullpen aces Adam Elliott and Michael Kirian. Smith has a Friday night mentality if not quite the usual stuff for that role and the rest of the rotation is a question mark. The position player group looks like an Olympic Decathlon team as it might be the most athletic group in the country. Alex Binelas adds a pure and proven middle of the order bat.
The Rebels made a loud statement in 2020 and that team had Omaha written all over them. Anthony Servideo and Tyler Keenan are huge losses but the entire rest of the roster returns. The rotation matches up with anyone. Lefthanded gunslinger Doug Nikhazy is a proven commodity and vastly improved righthander Gunnar Hogland might be the best Saturday guy in the SEC in 2021. What the lineup lacks in star power, it makes up for with depth and versatility. Returning freshman Peyton Chatagnier and Hayden Dunhurst are middle of the field defenders who could emerge as top of the league offensive pieces.
It is amazing to observe the frequency with which the Red Raiders have made this list under Tim Tadlock. It is easy to forget that Texas Tech’s first ever CWS appearance occurred in 2014. This club returns the makings of an elite pitching staff starting with Micah Dallas, Hunter Dobbins, Mason Montgomery, and Jakob Brustoski. The position player group will be typically athletic and tough-minded led by Jace Jung, Dylan Neuse, and Cal Conley. Returning freshman Nate Rombach is the most unique player in this lineup as he offers 20 plus homerun potential.
Ace Zach Pettway’s stuff made a jump in 2020 and he already offers elite pitchability. The bullpen remains a huge strength despite the loss of Holden Powell to the draft as veterans Kyle Mora and Michael Townsend bring over 130 career appearances to the party. Matt McLain shows signs of becoming the star his pedigree suggests and this is a deep position player group. In fact, this may be the deepest roster in College Baseball.
Never before have two college teammates gone first and second overall in the MLB Draft. Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter could conceivably change that in 2021, thus forming the Commodores’ Omaha case for next season. The pitching staff also shows great depth as Ethan Smith, Thomas Schultz, Michael Doolin, and Sam Hliboki all turned in outstanding performances in 2020. While this should be one of the nation’s best run prevention outfits, the offense is a real concern with no proven middle of the order bats returning.
After a very brief departure, the Cavaliers are back to being a national factor in College Baseball. The returning sophomore duo of Nic Kent and Zack Gelof play with the competitiveness of the old school Virginia teams that frequented Omaha. Getting high leverage reliever Andrew Abbott back was a surprise that changes the equation. And the rest of the roster is littered with high end talents like centerfielder Chris Newell and lefthander Nate Savino. Rotation arms Griff McGarry and Mike Vasil appear to be right on the verge of making a big jump.
8 for the Supers
Arizona: The Wildcats are a trifecta of a draft gone well, a returning pitching staff on the rise, and their signature explosive offense.
Georgia Tech: Luke Waddell started for the 2019 College National Team and Kevin Parada might be the best true freshman hitter in America next year.
Mississippi State: Rowdey Jordan and Tanner Allen are the signature lineup pieces here while Christian MacLeod has solidified himself as a bona fide Friday night arm.
South Carolina: The draft literally could not have gone any better for the Gamecocks and returning freshman third baseman Brennan Milone is a star in the making.
TCU: The Horned Frogs return an outrageously experienced club as both the entire lineup and rotation are back. Lefthander Russell Smith broke out in 2020 and righthander Charles King has excelled in a variety of roles.
Texas: Veteran middle of the order bat Austin Todd will lead a young but very talented position player group while Ty Madden and Pete Hansen front a pitching staff with a depth of premium arms.
Tulane: The Green Wave ran out to a 15-2 record in 2020 and the majority of that squad is back. This is a high-scoring, veteran offense and ace Braden Olthoff posted an astounding 47:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
UCSB: The Gauchos went 13-2 in 2020 and return the entire roster including a weekend rotation (Rodney Boone, Michael McGreevy, and Zach Torra) that pitched to a combined ERA of 1.22.