July 2, 2007
By Aaron FittBaseball America College Baseball Writer
They might still be sweeping up the ticker tape from the streets of Corvallis, where two-time national champion Oregon State was honored with a parade Monday. But it's never too early to start thinking about the future--that's just what we do at Baseball America. A lot can still change between now and Aug. 15, the deadline for all drafted players to sign professional contracts or head to school for their freshman, junior or senior seasons, but we'll take a stab at predicting the eight teams that will reach the College World Series in 2008.
1. Arizona State
ASU's 2007 Omaha team was a sophomore-laden group, and the Sun Devils return a bevy of touted draft prospects. First-team All-American first baseman Brett Wallace leads the way, but he'll have plenty of help in the lineup from slugging outfielder/lefthander Ike Davis and the hard-hitting catcher/DH platoon of Petey Paramore and Kiel Roling. Replacing slick middle infielders Eric Sogard and Andrew Romine won't be easy, and third baseman Matt Hall might be asked to shift to the middle infield. Freshman All-American Mike Leake will be back to anchor the rotation, and lefty Josh Satow figures to be back as well to give the Sun Devils a strong one-two punch. Power-armed righty Jason Jarvis saved 11 games as a freshman and could either move into the rotation or hold down the bullpen. It's too early to speculate what members of ASU's huge (and hugely talented) recruiting class will show up to Tempe.
The Bears brought in the nation's best recruiting class a year ago, and they reached regionals as their young players matured on the fly. Touted bats Aaron Miller and Dustin Dickerson were the jewels of that 2006 recruiting class, and both could blossom into stars in 2008. Shortstop Beamer Weems provides a good bat, stellar defense and leadership in an infield that also returns talented rising sophomores Shaver Hansen and Raynor Campbell. Righthander Kendal Volz has the stuff to blossom into an elite Friday night guy, and Shawn Tolleson could be even better with a strong return from the Tommy John surgery that wiped out his freshman year. Closer Nick Cassavechia will also be back to anchor the bullpen.
The Hurricanes underachieved in 2007, entering the season ranked No. 2 in the country but failing to win a regional for the first time in 14 years. The stellar cast of characters in the lineup returns almost entirely intact, with Yonder Alonso, Jemile Weeks and Ryan Jackson headlining one of the nation's best infields, and Dennis Raben, Blake Tekotte and Mark Sobolewski providing plenty of firepower in the outfield. Miami could add an elite catcher to the mix if Yasmani Grandal shows up on campus as expected. Pitching will be the question; freshman All-American lefthander Eric Erickson will be back to anchor the rotation, but stalwart southpaw Scott Maine is gone, as is closer Danny Gil and potentially hard-throwing righthander Enrique Garcia (a 34th-round pick of the Cubs). The Canes will be counting on young righties Alex Koronis, David Gutierrez and Jason Santana to take a step forward in 2008.
Many of the key players from Michigan's 2007 super-regional team will be back next year, starting with Big Ten player of the year Zach Putnam, an elite two-way player who earned second-team All-America honors. Rotation mates Mike Wilson and Chris Fetter will return, as will closer Ben Jenzen. Third baseman/righthander Adam Abraham figures to assume an increased pitching load after going 5-1, 2.97 in 15 relief appearances as a sophomore. The lineup is chock full of talented returnees, including athletic shortstop Jason Christian, slugging first baseman Nate Recknagel, sparkplug second baseman Kevin Cislo and gritty catcher Doug Pickens (assuming he doesn't sign as a 50th-round pick). The Wolverines will have to replace speedy outfielders Brad Roblin and Eric Rose, but left fielder Derek VanBuskirk brings his team-leading .384 batting average back to Ann Arbor. And next year, Fischer Stadium will be rebuilt and ready for regional (and super-regional) action.
All three weekend starters from a Missouri team that hosted a regional for the first time ever will be back in 2008, as Aaron Crow, Rick Zagone and Ian Berger will all be juniors. Righthander Kyle Gibson could likely make the transition from closer to Friday starter, making the rotation even stronger. Missouri caught a tough break when its table setters, center fielder Evan Frey and second baseman Brock Bond, both signed as second-day draft picks, but the Tigers return plenty of offensive potential in rising sophomores Trevor Coleman and Aaron Senne, junior Ryan Lollis and senior Jacob Priday.
The Bruins overcame injuries and academic woes to reach a super-regional this year with a young team, and they look poised for a deep run in 2008. Ace Tyson Brummett is gone, but lefthander Gavin Brooks flashed top-of-the-rotation stuff in his freshman year, and fellow lefty Tim Murphy emerged as a strikeout machine on Saturdays. Righthander Charles Brewer joined the Bruins with high expectations, but mononucleosis sabotaged his freshman year. A full season of health for Brewer could give UCLA the nation's best weekend rotation, with righty Garett Claypool anchoring a deep bullpen. The offense returns most of its key pieces, including star infielders Brandon Crawford and Jermaine Curtis, leading home run hitter Cody Decker and Freshman All-American outfielder Gabe Cohen. The Bruins also have one of the nation's strongest and deepest recruiting classes, even if outfielder Jason Heyward signs with the Braves as expected.
Sure, the Commodores will have to replace a pair of first-team All-Americans on the mound in Player of the Year David Price (the No. 1 overall pick in the draft) and closer Casey Weathers (No. 8 overall), but pitching depth is not a problem in Nashville. Freshman All-American Mike Minor will be the new lefthander pitching on Friday nights, and the Commodores have quality arms behind him in Brett Jacobson, Nick Christiani and Ty Davis. If All-American outfielder Dominic de la Osa returns for his senior season--and indications were that the 10th-round pick was looking for a big number to buy him out of another year at Vandy--then the 'Dores will have their entire offense back, led by the big bats of Pedro Alvarez and Ryan Flaherty.
The Cavaliers will miss two-way star Sean Doolittle, a consummate winner whose impact on UVa. over the last three years cannot be overstated. But Virginia returns most of its other important pieces. Injuries ravaged the UVa. infield this year, but if Jeremy Farrell and Greg Miclat can stay healthy on the left side of the infield alongside second baseman David Adams, the Cavs will be in good shape. First-team All-American Jacob Thompson leads a pitching staff that should be strong again. Expect Neal Davis to take a step forward in his sophomore year, joining Thompson and lefty Matt Packer in the rotation. Jake Rule or Michael Schwimer should be up for the task of replacing closer Casey Lambert.
Four More To Follow
Ace righthander Will Kline is gone, but Lance Lynn and Cody Satterwhite provide power arms at the front and back of the staff. The Rebels will have to replace two of their offensive leaders in Zack Cozart and Justin Henry, but its top two home run hitters will return in Cody Overbeck and Logan Power, and freshman All-Americans Jordan Henry and Zach Miller are on-base machines.
The Tar Heels will have some significant losses in ace Robert Woodard, closer Andrew Carignan and three-year lineup mainstays Josh Horton and Reid Fronk. But many important pieces return, including Freshman of the Year Dustin Ackley, catcher/righthander Tim Federowicz, third baseman Chad Flack and outfielders Tim Fedroff and Seth Williams. The rotation will be solid with righthanders Alex White and Adam Warren, but if the Tar Heels can land top prospects Rick Porcello and/or Matt Harvey, their pitching staff will be scary-good.
The outstanding weekend rotation (lefthanders Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski and righty Matt Couch) will remain intact and could be bolstered further if righties Kyle Blair and Matt Thomson price themselves out of pro contracts. Freshman All-American closer A.J. Griffin also returns, but question marks abound in the lineup, where the Toreros will lose three of their best hitters in Jordan Abruzzo, Shane Buschini and Justin Snyder.
The Gamecocks will hit as usual, with mashers Justin Smoak and James Darnell returning, and possibly Andrew Crisp, Phil Disher and Trent Kline as well (the sophomore-eligible Crisp went in the 36th round, Disher in the 45th, Kline in the 49th). But South Carolina could have plenty of holes to fill on the mound--lefthander Arik Hempy has already signed, and righties Harris Honeycutt, Wynn Pelzer and Jeff Jeffords might not be far behind. Mike Cisco and Blake Cooper will need to carry the rotation, with Will Atwood assuming a larger role. If Sam Dyson returns strong from his Tommy John surgery, it will be a huge boost.