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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

College Top 25: Team breakdowns

Kendall Rogers        

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1. Virginia

Head coach: Brian O’Connor

Conference: Atlantic Coast

2013 record: 50-12 (22-8 ACC)

2013 accomplishment: Reached Charlottesville Super Regional (lost to Mississippi State)

Top returning hitters: 1B Mike Papi (.381-7-57), SS Branden Cogswell (.346-0-22), OF Joe McCarthy (.336-4-51), UTI Nick Howard (.323-3-38), OF Brandon Downes (.316-10-59), 3B Kenny Towns (.290-7-44), OF Derek Fisher (.293/7/48)

Top returning pitchers: LHP Brandon Waddell (3.15, 91 1/2 IP, 70K/28BB), RHP Josh Sborz (1.98, 30 appearances, 47K/12BB), RHP Whit Mayberry (2.45, 51.1 IP, 34K/9BB), RHP Nick Howard (3.38, 61.1, 52K/15BB), LHP Nathan Kirby (6.06, 32.2, 37K/13BB). The Cavaliers also welcome back veteran pitcher Artie Lewicki, who missed last season with an injury.

Freshman to watch: The Cavaliers welcome some talented freshmen to the squad this spring, but keep a very close eye on C Matt Thaiss and RHP Connor Jones. Thaiss, ranked No. 105 out of high school, put together a strong fall and could very well start for the Cavaliers, while Jones is one of the nation’s elite young arms, ranked No. 17 out of high school with a fastball up to 93 and advanced overall feel for his pitches. It’s not out of the question Jones joins the UVa. weekend rotation at some point this season.

2014 Prospects to watch: OF Derek Fisher (14), OF Brandon Downes (58), 3B/RHP Nick Howard (84), OF Mike Papi (77), SS Branden Cogswell (212).

Why they’re feeling good: We know, we know, the ACC hasn’t won a national title since Wake Forest accomplished that feat a long time ago. However, the Cavaliers have all the key pieces needed to make that step forward and bring the crown back to the conference and Commonwealth of Virginia. The Cavaliers have a balanced weekend rotation with a deep pitching staff, along with arguably one of the most talented offensive lineups we’ve seen in a long time. On paper, there’s not anything we particularly don’t like about this club.

Notebook: With Artie Lewicki (Tommy John surgery) and Branden Cogswell (broken finger) back healthy from injuries that occurred last season, the Cavaliers enter the campaign very healthy. Lewicki should be a solid senior sign for some professional organization out there with a fastball anywhere from 87-92, and plenty of experience … Derek Fisher is finally expected to make that next step into one of the nation’s elite overall hitters. The PG Preseason All-American is very athletic and ran a 6.35 60-yard-dash on Scout Day during fall workouts. He’s got a fluid lefthanded swing with plenty of pop … Last but not least, keep a very close eye on sophomore pitcher Nathan Kirby. Kirby struggled at times last season, but had a strong fall and is a potential first or second-round type of arm for the 2015 draft. He has good overall stuff, but his best offering is a 90-94 fastball.

2. Cal State Fullerton

Head coach: Rick Vanderhook

Conference: Big West

2013 record: 51-10 (23-4)

2013 accomplishment: Reached the NCAA Super Regional round

Top returning hitters: UTI J.D. Davis (.318-4-50), SS Matt Chapman (.285-5-37), OF Austin Diemer (.311-0-12).

Top returning pitchers: RHP Justin Garza (2.03, 115 IP, 95K/17BB), RHP Thomas Eshelman (1.48, 115.2 IP, 83K/3BB), RHP Grahamm Wiest (3.27, 104.2 IP, 76K/13BB).

Freshman to watch: The Blue Jays were spurned a few years ago by righthanded pitcher Tyler Beede, who’s now a junior pitcher at Vanderbilt. Now, they’ve got another one in Cal State Fullerton freshman righty Phil Bickford. Bickford will begin the season as midweek starter, but things could evolve rather quickly if he makes a smooth transition. Bickford, ranked No. 11 out of high school, has a fastball in the low-90s, with exceptional command.

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