The 2019 College Baseball season wrapped up this previous June with the Vanderbilt Commodores hoisting the championship trophy up in the air in Omaha, Nebraska. This was the second time Vanderbilt has won College World Series championship since 2014.
Do the Commodores have what it takes to win back-to-back titles this upcoming season?
Vanderbilt certainly has the pieces to compete for another title in 2020, which is why they place number one in my rankings. When I look past the Commodores to the rest of the field, there are some great contenders in Louisville, Arizona State, Miami and Florida.
While a lot can change from now until the first pitch on February 14th, here are my pre-season top five rankings in college baseball.
1. Vanderbilt Commodores
Last Season: 59-12; won College World Series
We start with the reigning champions, the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores have lost many key players to the recent 2019 MLB Draft, but that’s something the highly successful head coach – Tim Corbin is used to in Nashville. Vanderbilt continues to be one of the top baseball programs in the nation and comes into the 2020 season with the number one overall recruiting class, according to Perfect Game, with 18 total commits and six top-100 players.
The Commodores potentially have the best pitcher and position player in the country in RHP – Kumar Rocker and 3B – Austin Martin. Rocker, only a freshman last season, proved he truly is the most dominant pitcher in the country after his sensational Freshman year with a 10-1 record alongside a stellar 2.17 ERA. Rocker’s record breaking year helped propel Vanderbilt to win the national title and at the same time he receives both Freshman of the Year and CWS Most Outstanding honors. The core of the infield for the Commodores comes from shortstop Austin Martin. Martin is currently the number three overall draft prospect, according to Perfect Game, and is the most dynamic player in the country. The duo is certainly one to watch through the duration of the season.
Beyond the duo, Vanderbilt is equipped with the best overall pitching staff in the country. RHP – Mason Hickman started and ultimately won the decisive game of the College World Series against Michigan, propelling them to a National Championship. In the bullpen, Vanderbilt holds very elite arms. Closer – Tyler Brown concluded his strong season second in the country in saves last season and ultimately pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Following Brown is LHP – Jake Eder. Eder was fantastic coming out of the Commodore bullpen while holding a 2.97 ERA in 39.1 IP. Eder notched a three-inning save to help Vanderbilt capture the College World Series title. Both players are expected to pickup where they left off in domination last season.
Vanderbilt looks to defend their championship with potentially another trip to Omaha. Head coach Tim Corbin certainly has all the pieces to make another deep run at Omaha but they’ll need the offense to pickup the pace. Inexperienced hitters like Carter Young, Matt Hogan, Dominic Keegan and Spencer Jones need to shine around starters like Austin Martin and seniors Ty Duvall and Harrison Ray. But much like the lineup last year shouldered the lifting while the pitching staff grew and developed, the pitching staff is likely good enough to carry the load through any early growing pains for the offense. Don’t be surprised if we see Vanderbilt hoist the National Championship trophy in Omaha, again in 2020.
2. Louisville Cardinals
Last Season: 51-18; reached College World Series
Following Vanderbilt are the Louisville Cardinals. Last season, Louisville was one of the last four teams remaining in the 2019 College World Series. The Cardinals return to play in 2020 equipped with their ace and many impactful seniors that should have head coach – Dan McDonnell and his team heading back to Omaha.
The Cardinals are locked and loaded to begin the 2020 season with arguably the best starting rotation one-two punches in the entire country with Reid Detmers and Bobby Miller. The left-hander Detmers dominated throughout the entirety of the 2019 season striking out 167 batters in 113.1 IP. Detmers is also the number 11 overall draft prospect, according to Baseball America. Alongside Detmers, is the forceful right-hander Bobby Miller. Miller went 7-1 while holding a 3.83 ERA in 80 IP last season. The right-hander is currently ranked the number 89 overall draft prospect, according to Baseball America. Both are expected to pickup where they left off in pure domination against opposing batters.
In the bullpen for Louisville are left-handers Michael Kirian and Adam Elliot. Both Kirian and Elliot showed signs of trust from head coach Dan McDonnell. Kirian, more of a relief pitcher, proved to be elite with a strong 1.69 ERA last season. To close out wins for the Cardinals, McDonnell often calls out junior closer Adam Elliot. Elliot finished a strong year with 32.2 IP highlighted by 75 Strikeouts and a .217 Opponent Batting Average.
Offensively, Louisville has talent up and down their lineup. Freshman All-American third baseman – Alex Bineals leads the way for the Cardinals followed by shortstop – Justin Lavely, Designated Hitter – Danny Oriente and Left Fielder – Zach Britton. Crafty second baseman for the Cardinals – Lucas Dunn, provides a strong infield foundation for the team. Behind the plate, is defensive catalyst – Henry Davis. Davis has nothing short of a rocket for an arm and isn’t afraid to catch attempted base stealers. In the outfield, Centerfielder – Luke Brown rounds it out for the Cardinals defense. Brown, a junior college transfer has the speed and quickness to run down just about anything hit his way in the outfield. A ton of talent returns for a team that made a deep run in Omaha last season.
The path to Omaha for Louisville is simple; if the team simply plays to its talent level and experience, they will have a smooth path to the College World Series. Dan McDonnell’s team is equipped with a very experienced rotation led by two highly-regarded draft prospects, a trustworthy closer and a veteran led offense that should lead to the team’s success in June.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils
Last Season: 38-19; reached regionals
Next, are the Arizona State Sun Devils. Headlined by the number one overall draft prospect according to Baseball America in Spencer Torkelson, the Sun Devils should have again one of the premier offenses in college baseball. The optimism and potential in the Arizona State pitching staff could be what gives them a strong push at a national championship.
No questions asked, this Arizona State offense can produce in any way possible. The high caliber offense featuring Hauver, Williams, Workman and none other than Spencer Torkelson will be one of the most intimidating offenses in the country. Catcher – Sam Ferri and second baseman – Drew Swift, don’t have mind boggling numbers, but are each veterans to give Arizona State a diverse lineup with a ton of experience from top to bottom. Ferri and Williams both defensively are arguably the best defenders in their positions.
On the mound, the Sun Devils had some struggles last season. The minor seems to be resolved with the hire of new pitching coach Jason Kelly. Kelly will be working with many raw freshman and junior college transfers in Cooper Benson, Tyler Thorton and Justin Fall. Returners like Boyd Vander Kooi, Blake Burzell and Will Levine will be asked to go the extra mile and carry the heavy workload in innings this season for the team. In the bullpen, is closer RJ Dabovich. Last season, Dabovich had a shaky 4.75 ERA. Dabovich now working with new pitching coach Jason Kelly, the expectation that he will improve upon that this season.
Arizona State’s preseason ranking is truly based on confidence that their pitching staff will be vastly improved, but if several of these pitchers struggle throughout the season, it could be the offense that ends up doing the heavy lifting once again.
4. Miami Hurricanes
Last Season: 41-20; reached regionals
Following the Sun Devils are the Miami Hurricanes. Miami returns to action in 2020 with a plethora of returning players. The Hurricanes and head coach – Gino DiMare will be returning with three starting pitchers, it’s impactful closer, and eight position player starters. The team is destined to make it back to Omaha after falling short last season. Miami comes into the 2020 season with the number two overall recruiting class, according to Perfect Game, with 19 total commits and six Top-100 players.
Returning players for the Hurricanes are highlighted by a strong and forceful rotation in McMahon, Cecconi and Van Belle. If Van Belle gets going early on in the season, he could potentially be one of the best starting pitchers in the country. In the back end of games, coach Gino DiMare will turn to a very reliable workhorse in Daniel Federman. Federman should pickup where he left off in domination last season.
On the offensive side of the ball, Miami has very little trouble supporting its pitching staff with runs. A star studded lineup highlighted by Adrian Del Castillo, Alex Toral, Ray Gil and Freddy Zamora will be a very scary and intimidating pitchers to face. Freddy Zamora, the starting shortstop of the Hurricanes, is currently ranked the 33rd overall draft prospect, according to Baseball America. Zamora is certainly a name to be familiar with as he carries a .300 career batting average with him into his junior season. This Hurricane lineup, if hot, can be a very scary sight for opposing pitchers.
This forceful Miami team is out to prove themselves. The strong veteran core coupled by highly anticipated freshman look to make their first trip to Omaha since 2017. If the starting rotation can stay healthy through the duration of the season and role players on offense like Jordan Lala, Tony Jenkins and Gabe Rivera, can take steps forward, the Hurricanes will be one of the most well-rounded teams in the country and a clear National Title contender.
5. Florida Gators
Last Season: 34-26; reached regionals
Coming in at number five, are the Florida Gators. A very young, inexperienced Gator team fought through some usual growing pains for much of the 2019 season before getting on a hot run late in the year and ultimately recaching a regional. Now, the more mature and seasoned Florida team has its sights set on a much larger but realistic goal; going to Omaha and coming back with hardware.
Florida’s baseball program is on an elite run of making it to the NCAA Tournament for the 12th straight year ever since head coach – Kevin O’Sullivan took the job. The team looks to continue the coveted streak with a more experienced and confident roster heading into the 2020 season.
Florida has arguably the best 1-2 punches in starting pitching of Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich. Mace, the 49th overall draft prospect followed by Leftwich, the 91st overall draft (Both according to Perfect Game) prospect are both expected to have great seasons. Beyond the two, Florida is equipped with one of the deepest pitching staffs in the country. LHP – Hunter Barco opted to stay with the team for another season and forgo this draft selection. Barco will pitch in a key role for the Gators, either in the rotation or the bullpen.
While Florida lost its top two hitters to the MLB Draft, the team returns in 2020 with six starters. The dynamic outfield trio of Jud Fabian, Austin Langworthy and Jacob Young should propel the Gators to one of the best defensive outfields in the country. Centerfielder – Jud Fabian, had a shaky start to his colligate career last season. With the rough patches aside, Fabian looks to grow as a player overall and will be at the epicenter of the Gator’s success, manning the outfield and hitting in the middle of the order.
Florida’s talent is elite and last year’s experience should flourish the talent of some of the younger players on the roster. The Gator pitching staff is one of the strongest and deepest in the nation. With upside on the mound, the Gators won’t need to rely on its offense as much. Once the Gators get rolling, there’s no turning back.
6. Michigan Wolverines 50-22; reached College World Series finals
7. Georgia Bulldogs 46-17; reached regional final
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders 46-20; reached College World Series
9. Mississippi State Bulldogs 52-15; reached College World Series
10.Arkansas Razorbacks 46-20; reached College World Series
(P/C: Omaha World Herald)