The College World Series kicks off this afternoon at 2:00 EST. Continuing our NCAA tournament coverage, Prospects Live will offer a quick rundown on each team in Omaha and some predictions on each side of the bracket.
- #5 Arkansas
- #8 Texas Tech
- Michigan (3-seed)
- Florida State (3-seed)
Arkansas reaches the field on the back of their lineup and bullpen. Casey Martin, Heston Kjerstad and Dominic Fletcher are among the best players in the country, while transfers Matt Goodheart and Trevor Ezell have handled the SEC with aplomb. Ace Isaiah Campbell is among the best arms in the tournament and has thrived under a new pitching coach, but freshmen starters Patrick Wicklander and Connor Noland have scuffled down the stretch.
Texas Tech bludgeoned their opponents in the first two rounds, including a wacky, dinger-filled superregional win over Oklahoma State. Leaving Lubbock for Omaha, the longball total will drop, but the Red Raiders should hit regardless. They had five of the top 12 in the Big 12 this season in OBP, but leadoff man Gabe Holt broke his thumb last weekend, so his status is up-in-the-air.
Michigan pitched its way to an upset over #1 UCLA and boasts the best rotation in this side of the bracket. Karl Kauffmann, Tommy Henry and Jeff Criswell each have at least 99 strikeouts with an ERA below 3.55, helping the Wolverines to a top ten pitching staff nationally. The lineup doesn’t have the depth of the Razorbacks’ or Red Raiders’, but Jordan Nwogu and Jordan Brewer offer some star power at the top.
Mike Martin’s final club underachieved all season, but they’ve fulfilled their potential in the postseason. C.J. Van Eyk might be a top 15 pick in 2020, while third baseman Drew Mendoza has raked all season and ended up a third-round pick of the Nationals. The Noles have four freshmen in their starting lineup, but first-year right fielder Reese Albert has been one of the top hitters in the NCAA tournament so far.
This is the softer side of the bracket. Michigan and Florida State are supremely talented, and everyone’s rolling at this time of year, but they were among the last five teams in the NCAA tournament field. Since 1999, when the NCAA adopted the current tournament structure, only twice has a 3-seed come out of its side of the CWS bracket, and each of those teams (2007 Oregon State and 2015 Virginia) played for the national title the year before. Given the history, I can’t tale the Cinderellas. I’ll go with Texas Tech over Arkansas based on the end-of-season emergence of Red Raiders’ starters Micah Dallas and Caleb Killian. I’ve got a little more faith in Tech’s starters than Arkansas’ ability to piece things together beyond Campbell, especially after the Hogs had to work the bullpen hard to survive their superregional against Ole Miss.
- #2 Vanderbilt
- #6 Mississippi State
- #7 Louisville
- Auburn (2-seed)
Vanderbilt boasts the nation’s deepest roster. Austin Martin and J.J. Bleday might be the two best position players in the field, and they hit 1-2 in the Commodores’ order. Freshmen arms Mason Hickman and Kumar Rocker have taken on huge roles in the postseason, with Rocker coming off one of the most dominant pitching performances in college baseball history last week against Duke. The bullpen’s loaded, too, with power arms aplenty.
Mississippi State has a first-round ace in Ethan Small and a former first-rounder to follow in J.T. Ginn. Ginn left his start two weeks ago with injury, though, and while he was available in the superregional, the Bulldogs turned to Small and Peyton Plumlee to get by Miami. Until Ginn takes the mound and shows that first-round stuff, the Bulldogs will face a bit of uncertainty. Even still, they can rake, with everyone in their lineup hitting reaching base at greater than a .375 clip.
Louisville ace Reid Detmers is one of the few arms in the country with a chance to navigate the Vanderbilt lineup. Bobby Miller and Nick Bennett round out a quality rotation, and the Cardinals’ bullpen is among the best in the country. They’ve got a strong middle-of-the-order pairing in Logan Wyatt and Alex Binelas, but they don’t have the offensive depth of some of the other teams in the field.
Auburn’s regular-season record doesn’t look impressive at first glance, but they played the toughest schedule in the country. That proved good preparation for the postseason, where the Tigers have pulled off consecutive upsets of #3 Georgia Tech and #12 North Carolina. They’ll be underdogs again, with a banged-up pitching staff forcing Butch Thompson to mix and match. They’ve got a strong lineup, though, and Will Holland, Stephen Williams and Edouard Julien have all turned it on over the past few weeks after disappointing starts.
Boasting three national seeds, this side of the field offers some powerhouse matchups. Vanderbilt and Mississippi State are probably the two most talented teams remaining in the field, which could set up a must-watch intra-conference final. I took Vandy to win the championship before the tournament started, though, and they’ve given no reason to hop off the bandwagon.
Projected Champion- Vanderbilt over Texas Tech
Projected MOP- Vanderbilt 3B Austin Martin