College baseball: 5 things that wouldn't be surprising in 2018
College baseball season is creeping its way up the calendar.
Heading into any new season, it always seems appropriate to make some projections for the upcoming schedule. Last season, several teams -- like West Virginia, for example -- made their return to the postseason. Others, like Miami, were uncharacteristically missing. Instead of ranking the best teams or grading the conferences, let’s take a look at a few things that wouldn’t be surprising if they were to unfold.
We wouldn't be surprised if...
… Tennessee Tech’s offense is the best in the land.
The Golden Eagles offense was a blitzkrieg last season, and with plenty of returners to the offense-friendly confines of Ohio Valley Conference baseball, it could be even better.
Tennessee Tech will have no shortage of firepower. The team finished second in the country with 99 home runs and a .520 slugging percentage, third in the country in doubles (144) and runs scored (504), and eleventh in the country in batting average (.317).
Ryan Flick, who was the unquestioned leader of the offensive barrage, is gone, but nearly everyone else returns. First baseman Chase Chambers (.299/.399/.582, 11 doubles, 18 home runs) and OF Kevin Strohschein (.292/.351/.511, 12 doubles and 14 home runs) bring the muscle while guys like third baseman Trevor Putzig (.394/.441/.568 and 23 doubles) set them up. Add in outfielders Collin Harris (.325/.397/.555) and Alex Junior (.323/.405/.429) and there is a ton of offense in Cookeville,Tennessee.
The Golden Eagles made their first postseason appearance since 2009, riding that offense to an opening game victory against Florida State. Expect them to make another run at the OVC this year. The battle between Tennessee Tech and Morehead State will be one worth watching.
… Niko Hulsizer led the nation in dingers.
Speaking of the OVC being a launching pad, Hulsizer has a great chance to be the 2018 home run king.
After a strong freshman debut and a full summer ball regimen, Hulsizer went from 9 doubles to 21 and five home runs to 27 last year. He finished two home runs shy of Iowa’s Jake Adams for the most in all of college baseball.
What a night! pic.twitter.com/11pgCAsmPE— Home Run Derby (@CollegeHRDerby) July 2, 2017
Hulsizer is entering his junior season as the reigning OVC co-Player of the Year -- he split the honor with Eastern Kentucky’s Ben Fisher. With a ton of returning offense to protect him, and Eli Boggess (who finished second in baseball with a .425 batting average) ahead of him, Hulsizer’s bat could very well lead the Eagles to the postseason and a home run crown.
At the very least, he'll make every at bat fun to watch.
Hulsizer 446ft. pic.twitter.com/2AFqPjSwcN— Craig Hyatt (@HyattCraig) July 2, 2017
… Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm lead Wichita State to the tourney.
Wichita State hasn’t been to the tournament since 2009 and haven’t had a winning record since 2014. And yes, they were projected to finish sixth in a pretty tricky American Athletic Conference.
It’s true that two offensive stars does not a championship make. But Jenista and Bohm are special players who have the ability to make something special happen in Kansas this year. They both enter 2018 as preseason All-Americans, watching their MLB Draft stock rise on a daily basis.
The two juniors, Jenista an outfielder and Bohm a third baseman, are coming off monster sophomore campaigns. Their summers on the Cape were arguably larger than that. Jenista won Cape Cod League Most Valuable Player and Bohm finished second in hitting (.351) and third in both RBI (28) and doubles (10). The Cape has long been a launching pad for future stardom.
Wichita State opens AAC play March 29 against East Carolina. Of the eleven teams that they play on their non-conference slate to open the year, only three made the NCAA tournament. If the Shockers can get something going early, they could have the momentum heading into ACC play. If they are going to get something going, it will be from the play of Jenista and Bohm.
The Shockers will need a few things to go their way, but it’s not out of the question they have a little magic this season and surprise a few people… other than us.
… Jim Morris’s final season at Miami is a huge success.
The Hurricanes didn’t make the tournament last season. That right there is a surprise of all surprises.
From 1973 until 2017, Miami found its way into the NCAA postseason, an astounding 44 years in a row. If they were to miss a second year in a row, well, that would be downright surprising.
Morris took over an already successful Miami program in 1994. He took the 'Canes to the College World Series in each of his first six seasons, capping that run with a national championship in 1999. He would win another in 2001 and reel off 23 straight years in the NCAA postseason.
Until last year.
It wasn't like last year's Hurricanes were terrible. They finished 32-27 and ran into a very good North Carolina team in the ACC Tournament. The ACC should be pretty stacked again this season, but Miami should be able to bounce back and send their legendary skipper out in high fashion.
Of the five starters Miami used regularly last season, four return. That includes senior southpaw Jeb Bargfeldt, who went 7-3 with a 2.28 ERA in 15 starts last year. Junior righty Andrew Cabezas made 35 appearances out of the 'pen last season, posting a team-best 2.15 ERA and striking out 80 baters in 62.2 innings pitched. Another year of experience should do this Canes staff just fine.
Where Miami needs to improve is on offense, but luckily, the teams top slugger Romy Gonzalez returns with his team-best 11 home runs. But this is a team that hit .231 last year, without a single everyday player coming close to .300. If the Hurricanes turn that around, they should be right back in contention in the ACC.
… Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar lead the Gators back to Omaha.
Let’s be serious. This is what Florida does, right?
The Gators pump out major league pitching talent like no one else. Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan made it to the College World Series five times on that pitching before finally grabbing that national championship last season.
Now the Gators come into 2018 looking to be the first repeat champions since the 2010-11 South Carolina Gamecocks. While they have some nice bats returning, like Jonathan India and Nelson Maldonado, the Gators' success will come from their weekend rotation.
Alex Faedo is a big loss, but Brady Singer should lessen the blow. Singer, the junior righty, led the Gators in innings pitched last season, but really showed his stuff in the College World Series. He made two starts, getting two wins and striking out 21 in 14 innings pitched, boosting him to the No. 1 collegiate arm that major league teams will be calling for come June.
The #Gators are the ONLY team in the nation to have a pair of players on the @PGCollegeBall Preseason All-America First Team!— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) January 9, 2018
1st team: Brady Singer, Michael #FeelTheByrne
3rd team: Jackson Kowar
: https://t.co/FEWroQ0gWD pic.twitter.com/HnduXtvxI4
His partner in crime, Kowar, is also a huge right-hander. All he did in his sophomore campaign was tie the best single-season record in program history, going 12-1, while picking up the first save of his career. That save? It just happened to come against LSU. In Omaha. In the CWS winner.
When you have All-American Michael Byrne to close the door, who led DI with 19 saves, it makes the rotation even stronger. The SEC is stacked as always, and Arkansas is going to be a real threat to the Gators, but Florida’s experience may just be what gets them that second straight title.