Louisiana-Lafayette: It’s easy to see why head coach Tony Robichaux was excited about this team just minutes after his Ragin’ Cajuns were eliminated from the NCAA postseason last year. ULL was very close to being ranked in our top 25, and welcomes back quite a talented team, especially from an offensive standpoint. Veteran outfielder Caleb Adams spearheads an outstanding offensive lineup, while the Cajuns have a bona-fide ace starting pitcher in righthander Austin Robichaux, who has a fastball up to 94 with some run … Keep a very watchful eye on ULL freshman pitcher Reagan Bazar, who shined during fall workouts with a big-time arm and fastball up to 96.
TCU: Though the Horned Frogs have some concerns about the offensive side of things, they’re hopeful imposing first baseman Kevin Cron returns to his freshman ways this season. Meanwhile, the rest of the weekend rotation is in great shape with righthander Preston Morrison and elite freshman lefty Tyler Alexander leading the charge, while hard-throwing righty Riley Ferrell spearheads the pitching staff. TCU will finish the season much, much higher if the offense pans out. For now, though, it’s too significant of a concern.
Cal Poly: The Mustangs were very close to entering the rankings, much like the Horned Frogs, but fell just short. While CP has an outstanding amount of potential on the mound with rising lefthander Matt Imhof and closer Reed Reilly leading the charge, there’s at least some uncertainty when it comes to sophomore Casey Bloomquist and freshman Justin Calomeni. Bloomquist finished last season with a 5.02 earned-run average, and must improve this spring … Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how the Mustangs respond from losing leading hitter Denver Chavez, among others. Much like TCU, the upside for this club is very high, but too many question marks are there for now.
East Carolina: Don’t be surprised when the Pirates are ranked at some point this season. As a matter of fact, coach Billy Godwin’s club could be ranked after the second week of the season if they can hit the road and take two of three from top-ranked Virginia. ECU has an outstanding ace righthanded pitcher in Jeff Hoffman, while No. 2 and No. 3 starting pitchers David Lucroy and Davis Kirkpatrick, respectively, are very talented. Lucroy, for instance, has a big-time arm with a fastball up to 98 … Keep a very close eye on freshman first baseman Bryce Harman. The 6-foot-5, 221-pounder, was an elite prospect out of high school, and should provide an immediate boost.
Kentucky: The Wildcats will finish the 2014 campaign much higher if the offense pans out this spring. UK desperately needs outfielder Austin Cousino and shortstop Matt Reida to step up at the plate this season. UK, though, does possess an excellent weekend rotation with two-way star A.J. Reed, rising sophomore righty Kyle Cody and junior righty Chandler Shepherd leading the way. Cody is particularly interesting to watch with a 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame and fastball sitting 92-94, and up to 96, along with good secondary stuff.
UNLV: The Rebels have a real chance to make a statement this season with the return of several key players, namely ace righthanded pitcher Erick Fedde. Fedde is a 6-foot-4, 165-pounder, who really blossomed over the summer. Fedde has a three-pitch mix with a fastball up to 94, along with a slider and changeup … No. 2 starting pitcher John Richy, who has a low-90s fastball and good curveball, also is expected to have a strong campaign, while reliever Brayden Torres is back after tallying a 3.00 ERA in 27 innings last season … Offensively, the Rebels should have a solid lineup with the return of several hitters from a lineup that hit .307 last year, including senior first baseman Patrick Armstrong, who hit .373 with seven homers and 40 RBIs. Also keep an eye on freshman Connor Clark and sophomore Joey Armstrong – both hitters with much potential.
Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets lost several key aspects of their team last season, so there are some question marks entering 2014. However, this team isn’t in bad shape, there are just questions that must be answered before they can be ranked. For instance, the Jackets desperately need righthanded pitcher Matt Grimes to be healthy and ready to go this season, while veteran pitcher Dusty Isaacs seems to be primed for a rise after topping out in the mid-90s during fall workouts … The biggest change with this team might be offensively, as the Jackets transform from a power-oriented club to one that places a very strong emphasis on speed and moving around the bases. Matt Gonzalez and A.J. Murray are expected to have productive offensive campaigns.
Sam Houston State: David Pierce’s Bearkats made some noise in the Baton Rouge Regional last season and are expected to be good once again this season. SHSU welcomes back a very solid weekend rotation even with the departures of Caleb Smith and Cody Dickson. Junior righthanded pitcher Tyler Eppler is an arm to watch after he tallied a 3.41 ERA last season and blossomed during the fall with a fastball up to 94, while Andrew Godall had a 3.10 ERA in 81 1/3 innings last season. Meanwhile, reliever Jason Simms is back for another season and the bulk of the offense is back with Carter Burgess, Colt Atwood and Anthony Azar leading the way. SHSU also welcomes back hard-hitting Luke Plucheck, who finished last season with nine homers.
Arizona: The Wildcats failed to make the NCAA postseason just a year after winning the national title, but coach Andy Lopez has to be excited about this group. It would be shocking if this team doesn’t finish the year in an NCAA Regional. Arizona welcomes back a nice foundation of experienced arms with righthanders James Farris and Mathew Troupe leading the way, while sophomore righty Tyger Talley had a strong fall and should settled in nicely as closer … Offensively, catcher Riley Moore and second baseman Trent Gilbert are back in the mix, while two-way freshman Bobby Dalbec should provide some fireworks.
Ole Miss: The Rebels reached the NCAA postseason last year, and will need some guys to take steps forward to surpass expectations this season. The Rebels have the tough chore of replacing righthanded starting pitchers Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers. Righty Chris Ellis has a big-time arm and is a highly sought prospect, but has yet to put all the pieces together. That needs to happen this year, while Sam Smith and sophomore lefty Christian Trent occupy the other two spots in the weekend rotation … Ole Miss should be fine offensively with the return of Auston Bousfield, Austin Anderson, Preston Overbey and Sikes Orvis, among others, while freshman outfielder JB Woodman is expected to be one of the nation’s elite first-year players.
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