The college baseball universe takes center stage in the coming days, with the start of the College World Series.
Fox Sports Carolina takes a look at five highly drafted players who could end up being heroes at the eight-team, double-elimination tournament in Omaha, Neb.
1. Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt (RHP)
Beede, a junior, is the highest draft pick in the College World Series, going 14th overall to the San Francisco Giants.
He’s just 8-7 this year and possesses the highest ERA of any Vandy starter on the staff (3.58), but Beede has a team-high 108 strikeouts. Sure, he’s been a bit shaky of late … but when he’s on, he’s on!
Beede lasted 4.2 innings and allowed six runs (all earned) against Stanford in the Super Regional opener, and he also struggled some in the SEC tournament against Mississippi, walking five and allowing three earned runs in six-plus innings.
Now, Vanderbilt went 1-1 in those games, getting a lot of offense against Stanford to take Game 1 and ultimately the Super Regional crown, so it worked out.
But the Commodores don’t have much margin for error in an event like this and they need Beede’s best.
2. Brandon Finnegan, TCU (LHP)
Even Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija thinks Brandon Finnegan needed more run support last season. As a sophomore, he went 0-8 in spite of a 3.18 ERA and team-high 86 strikeouts (average run support: 2.75).
But this season, the junior lefty is 9-3 (16 starts) and has a 2.12 ERA to go with a team-high 129 strikeouts.
Finnegan has been pretty good in two NCAA tournament starts, striking out 12 in 7 1/3 in an 11-inning win over Siena in Regionals and then had a two-hit shutout going until the seventh inning against Pepperdine, before allowing a two-run homerun.
Bottom line: Finnegan is as good as any pitcher in the field. The Kansas City Royals seemed to like him, taking Finnegan 17th overall in the first round.
3. Derek Fisher, Virginia (OF)
The junior left fielder missed 25 games with a broken wrist, and he’s still been finding his way back since, and he’s really getting comfortable now.
That injury didn’t deter the Houston Astros from drafting Fisher 37th overall. Regular-season greatness aside, he has a history of struggling in the postseason, hitting just 2-of-36 (.056) in his first eight career NCAA tournament games.
But he’s found his bat in this postseason, clearly, hitting 7-of-24 (.292) in six NCAA tournament games and going 3-for-8 in the final two games of the Super Regional against Maryland (both Virginia wins).
With his experience and a bat that’s getting increasingly hotter, who knows what kind of damage he could do in Omaha?
That kind of fire, combined with Burdi’s obvious talent, is intriguing to say the least. He’s the only closer on this list, and even though he was displeased with his position, he still ended up being the highest MLB Draft pick in Louisville history.
Burdi has 18 saves this season and a 0.51 ERA with a 3-1 record, striking out 62 and walking just 10 in 35.1 innings pitched.
In a big ballpark like TD Ameritrade, the CWS games often come down to having a dominant closer, and Burdi is certainly that.
5. Taylor Sparks, UC-Irvine (3B)
The Anteaters certainly are a feel-good story, and not just because of their awesome mascot.
They’re a team that has gotten hot at the right time, barely making the field of 64. The very definition of a Cinderella, UC-Irvine knocked off No. 1 overall seed Oregon State in the Regionals before beating Oklahoma State in a two-game sweep in the Super Regionals.
Now, they’re in the CWS for just the second time since becoming a Division I program in 2002. And junior third baseman Sparks is a big reason for that, particularly his defense.
The Cincinnati Reds took Sparks 58th overall, and there was no draftitis for Sparks afterwards — he was 4-for-5 and scored two runs in the opening game of the Super Regional against Oklahoma State.