Previewing the 2017 NCAA College Baseball Tournament

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The College World Series regional field has been announced. Who is in, who is out, and who has the easiest path to Omaha?

One of the nation’s longest streaks came to a close this week as the field of 64 for the NCAA Division 1 College World Series was announced.

The University of Miami has had a strong baseball program for many years producing such big leaguers as Ryan Braun, Yasmani Grandal, and Yonder Alonso, along with players in the past like Greg Vaughn, Charles Johnson, Aubrey Huff, and Pat Burrell.

With the announcement of the regional field on Monday, 2017 will end a 44-year run of Miami making the field of 64 teams. While in-state rival Florida State is now the leader with 40 consecutive tournaments made, the next closest team is Cal State Fullerton with 26, so Miami’s streak ending is quite significant.

We will examine each regional in more depth, but first a few notes about the tournament field in general.

  • Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson are both making their first ever appearance in the field of 64.
  • Oregon State, with a record of 49-4 is the top overall seed in the tournament.
  • The SEC has the most teams in the field with 8, while 20 of the teams are the only representative from their conference.

Games begin Thursday, will continue with the super regionals the next weekend, and conclude with the College World Series beginning play Saturday, June 17 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska.

Let’s take a look at the regionals…

Baton Rouge Regional

1. LSU 43-17
2. Southeastern Louisiana 36-20
3. Rice 31-29
4. Texas Southern 20-32

LSU finished strong to get a top seed in the tournament, coming into tournament play with 11 straight wins. LSU has a long history of success in postseason play and a number of their roster have the experience to make a return trip to Omaha.

While another local squad, Southeastern Louisiana is a pretty distant #2 in this region. After a rough finish in the Southland Tournament, the Lions will be looking for redemption as their opening round opponent will be the team that knocked them out last season in Rice.

After opening terribly, Rice finished 18-4 to come into the tournament hot, really deserving the #2 slot over Southeastern Louisiana. Rice has a number of solid young players that aren’t even draft eligible yet, so this year could be a building block for 2018.

Winning the tournament got Texas Southern into the tournament, but they have the worst RPI of any team in the tournament and should really offer little resistance. That said, they really were not expected to do what they did in their own conference tournament, so they could surprise.

Top Draft Prospect
While LSU righty Alex Lange may have peaked performance-wise as a freshman, he’s going to be a guy that’s leaned on heavily if LSU makes another run to Omaha this year. Lange’s likely to hear his name called on the first day of the draft, ranked #33 on Baseball America’s top 500 list, but with a number of teams at the back end of the first round having heavy interest in getting a collegiate starter in hand. Lange’s elite curve and his mid-90s fastball are a lethal combination, but how well his upper-80s change can move down in the zone will determine the effectiveness he will have as a professional.

Projection: LSU

Chapel Hill Regional

1. North Carolina 47-12
2. Florida Gulf Coast 42-18
3. Michigan 42-15
4. Davidson 32-24

While North Carolina comes in at #2 in the last polls of the regular season, what is most impressive about their team is not any star player but more in their tremendous depth up and down their lineup and pitching staff. That said, they are quite inexperienced as a team in the postseason, and they’re in what I would regard as the best region overall #1 through #4, even though two teams are making their first appearance as a program, so there are no guarantees.

Florida Gulf Coast earned an automatic bid, but they would have been an at-large if not the tourney champ. The Eagles are certainly an up-and-coming program that has done tremendous work to make their first regional, though they drew a very difficult region to come out of if they hope to advance.

The big sleeper here could be Michigan. With an elite ace in Oliver Jaskie, the Wolverines have the type of team that are built well for regional play, able to survive to get two victories out of Jaskie and come out of the region.

The second of the two first-timers in this region, Davidson has a big bat lineup that punishes baseballs. Whether those bats will be able to keep it up against UNC’s pitching staff is a good question, but they already have a game against UNC that was a 1-run loss in extra innings, so they’re certainly not afraid of the competition.

Top Draft Prospect
When teams are having to find reasons NOT to draft you, perhaps that says all that needs to be said about you as a prospect. J.B. Bukauskas has been performing so well this spring that his height, his delivery, and a number of other factors have been brought out as questions where as when he was a consideration as a late-first pick coming into the season, teams were instead finding the examples of guys who had succeeded in spite of having similar profiles. Bukauskas has arguably the best single pitch in the entire draft class with his incredible slider that has wicked movement and can sit 85-88 and has reportedly touched 90 on the season. He’ll certainly go in the top half of the first round.

Prediction: Michigan

Clemson Regional

1. Clemson 39-19
2. Vanderbilt 33-22-1
3. St. John’s (NY) 42-11
4. North Carolina-Greensboro 35-22

Many feel Clemson has a regional hosting spot that rightfully should be Virginia’s, though Virginia may be fine with letting Clemson take the chances of coming out of this region. Clemson will be hoping their strong lineup can follow ace Charlie Barnes into the super regionals.

With Tim Corbin at the helm, Vanderbilt always has to be considered a threat. Their recruiting classes are consistently among the best in the country, and even when a large portion end up drafted and signing, the guys that do get to campus tend to work out very well. The Commodores are going to be riding the right arm of Kyle Wright this season, but while the pitching staff behind him may be inexperienced in postseason play, it’s certainly not without talent.

St. John’s may not be back to the days of John Franco and Frank Viola in the 1980s, but they did come out of the gates firing this season and could prove to be a tough foe for Vanderbilt before Vandy gets a shot at Clemson. The Red Storm use a number of young players that could be an advantage or show their inexperience in the bright lights.

UNC-Greensboro will rely heavily on their bats to advance against Clemson as they have the one of the highest team ERAs of the tournament. While the team has only one player who has double-digit home runs on the season, they have six regulars who have posted a .300 or better batting average.

Top Draft Prospect
One of the major reasons that many feel that Vanderbilt has a chance to knock off top-seeded Clemson in this region is their ace, right-hander Kyle Wright. Wright is a workout warrior, posting the type of power lifting numbers that many football players could only envy. He began to lean on his increased strength a bit too much early in the spring, attempting to “air it out” and losing some of the movement and location that he is known for. As the spring has worn on, Wright has re-established himself as the top collegiate pitcher available, with elite stuff and tremendous location as well. It is very feasible that Wright is the first selection in the draft on Monday, June 12th.

Prediction: Vanderbilt

Corvallis Regional

1. Oregon State 49-4
2. Nebraska 35-20-1
3. Yale 32-16
4. Holy Cross 23-27

The #1 team in the country and the top overall seed in the tourney, Oregon State seemingly got the easiest road to super regionals. They’ll likely use their deep pitching rotation to ease through this grouping, though their offense has plenty of firepower to step up if needed to back the pitching.

Nebraska won the Big Ten title though they lost the tournament to Iowa. While it’s always fun when the Huskers make the field in Omaha, it would take a remarkable performance from star Jake Myers to propel Nebraska out of this region.

Yale got the Ivy League tournament automatic bid, and their long history in the game is fun to have part of the tournament, but it should be a short stay for Yale, who will likely struggle to get by Nebraska and certainly will be overmatched with Oregon State if they do knock off the Huskers.

The second-worst winning percentage in the tournament, Holy Cross got the automatic bid due to winning the Patriot League tournament. While first baseman Anthony Critelli will leave with many Holy Cross records, he won’t be enough in this region.

Top Draft Prospect
Beaver lefty Luke Heimlich has led an exceptional Oregon State rotation this season and moved himself from a likely 3rd-4th round selection to a possible comp pick in the first round. Heimlich works with a balance of control and movement on his stuff from the left side and will be the key guy in the rotation as Oregon State looks to shake the trend of overall #1 teams missing out on a title.

Prediction: Oregon State

Fayetteville Regional

1. Arkansas 42-17
2. Missouri State 40-17
3. Oklahoma State 30-25
4. Oral Roberts 42-14

After an explosive SEC tournament, Arkansas’ offense comes into the regionals firing on all cylinders, especially big first baseman Chad Spanberger. Arkansas has a solid pitching staff that has worked around injuries to be less front-driven and more depth-driven in their effectiveness.

Missouri State has an elite offense along with a true ace in Jeremy Knudson that should lead them to giving a fight in the regional. Left side of the infield for the Bears is definitely their strong suit, with likely top-20 draft pick Jake Burger at third base and sophomore shortstop Jeremy Eirman adding in plenty of power of his own.

Oklahoma State made a College World Series run last year, but they slipped in the regular season after losing a number of players to the draft. The Cowboys won when it counted, however, as Oklahoma State won the Big 12 tournament. They do have momentum right now, but Oklahoma State’s regular season record was fitting of their depth and talent level, making a region win an unlikely venture.

Oral Roberts took the Summit League title to get an automatic bid, having won their final 9 games. The Golden Eagles have an ace to lean on in lefty Miguel Ausua along with a balanced lineup, but they’re facing much better competition than they were facing in the Summit League.

Top Draft Prospect
This region will certainly have big bats, and there aren’t many bigger bats in the draft this season than Jake Burger, Missouri State’s third baseman. Burger has big right handed power as well as an excellent arm at the position. Whether he’ll be able to handle third base long term is up in the air, but the bat is legit and brings plenty of boom.

Prediction: Arkansas

Fort Worth Regional

1. Texas Christian 42-16
2. Virginia 41-14
3. Dallas Baptist 40-19
4. Central Connecticut State 36-20

As they stare down the barrel of the best #2 seed in the tourney in their region, TCU is looking at doing their work without their best player, as power hitter Luken Baker is out for the entirety of the postseason. TCU’s overall depth is among the best in the country when everyone is healthy, so they’re going to lean on that depth to propel them back to Omaha for the fourth straight time.

Certainly the best #2 team in the tournament, Virginia also may have the most loaded lineup in the tourney, with three top-100 draft prospects in the lineup. The Cavaliers certainly could have a long run with a good rotation as well as their loaded lineup, especially with TCU missing arguably their best player in Luken Baker.

Dallas Baptist made the tourney on the strength of winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. While they would not have made the tourney without the conference tourney win, Dallas Baptist has experience in the regionals and specifically against TCU, so they won’t be intimidated in the region.

The winners of the Northeast Conference, Central Connecticut State drew a tough region in that even if they somehow pull the upset against TCU, they’re facing likely the best #2 seed in the tournament. The Blue Devils are a balanced lineup that survive mostly on their depth over star power, but that doesn’t work as well in short-series settings like this.

Top Draft Prospect
The choice here is between two teammates in first baseman Pavin Smith and outfielder Adam Haseley of Virginia. While Smith is rated higher in draft prospect rankings nearly universally, it would surprise almost no one if Haseley goes off the board first on June 12th, though both should likely be off the board by the 15th pick of the round. Haseley also offers value off the mound as a lefty arm in the Virginia rotation.

Prediction: Virginia

Gainesville Regional

1. Florida 42-16
2. South Florida 41-17
3. Bethune-Cookman 33-23
4. Marist 32-21

Florida came out of the gate this season rather weak, with their offense struggling with injury and ineffectiveness. However, their pitching was incredible all season and propped up the team as the offense found its way and is now peaking coming into the tournament. This could be the best tournament-ready team that coach Kevin O’Sullivan has had in his 10 seasons at the helm.

While South Florida has been one of the most fun teams to watch this season, keyed by their electric shortstop Kevin Merrell. They have a balanced pitching staff that could allow them to fare well over a weekend of games, but the Bulls have also struggled on the road all season long, and going into the Gators’ home environment will be a tough sell if they get past Bethune-Cookman to face Florida.

While quite young, the Wildcats are seeded the highest they have been in their 16 appearances in the NCAA tournament, as they’ve been a #4 seed every previous appearance. Bethune-Cookman’s top performer is their first baseman, sophomore Danny Rodriguez, who smaced 11 home runs, but they also have a solid pitching staff.

Marist hasn’t been in the tournament since 2009, but won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament this year to get the automatic bid. Unfortunately, that meant they ran into Florida. Many seasons, that would provide an ample opportunity for an upset as Florida has limped into tourney play, but the Gators are running strong right now.

Top Draft Prospect
After seeing four members of the 2016 Gator pitching staff, one would assume the Gators were in tough shape on the mound, but Alex Faedo was often regarded as the best starter for those Gators last season, and there are few teams with a deeper pitching staff. Faedo’s fastball/curve combination is one of the best two-pitch combinations in college baseball, and he’s certainly a true ace that is peaking at the right time of year.

Prediction: Florida

Hattiesburg Regional

1. Southern Miss 48-14
2. Mississippi State 36-24
3. South Alabama 39-19
4. Illinois-Chicago 39-15

Southern Miss was the absolutely incredible squad in Conference-USA this season, going 25-5 in the conference. They lucked into a freshman that fell into their lap when Minnesota native Matt Wallner transferred to Southern Miss after North Dakota cut its program. He simply went .345/.466/.682 with 19 home runs as a freshman, playing center field and pitching very well in relief. The Golden Eagles have one of the most balanced offenses in the country this season.

Mississippi State was happy to see slugger Brent Rooker return to school after being drafted by the Twins last year, but they had no idea how happy they’d be. After a near-1350 OPS, making a run at 20/20 and the SEC triple crown, Rooker anchors the middle of the Bulldog lineup. Injuries have taken their toll on Mississippi State to close the season, and they’re holding ace Konnor Pilkington for the second game, in hopes of using him to get out of the regional.

While the Sun Belt was not a tremendous conference in depth, South Alabama went 22-8 in the conference this season. The team lost a host of their top players from last season’s team that made a run to the regional final, which leads to the current team being talented but not tremendously experienced.

UIC really turned the college world on its ear early in the season with a series win at Vanderbilt. They used their impressive pitching staff to set the tone for the team, and they do have a good chance to play the spoiler in the regional due to the presence of veteran ace lefty Jake Dahlberg along with the rest of the staff.

Top Draft Prospect
The legend of Brent Rooker this spring has grown to the point of near absurdity. Some Mississippi State fans watching Rooker find it inconceivable that he’s not a top-5 draft talent with the way he’s producing. Scouts watching him don’t understand how numbers are blinding some to his deficiencies as a player. Whether Rooker’s power works at the next level or not remains to be seen, but he has the type of swing and approach that is perfectly suited for the college game.

Prediction: Mississippi State

Houston Regional

1. Houston 40-19
2. Baylor 34-21
3. Texas A&M 36-21
4. Iowa 38-20

Houston pulls the regional seed, but ends up with a region where any of the four teams could end up winning the region. Houston has seen pitching step up in light of rotation ace Seth Romero being kicked off the team after two suspensions this season. Their team is well balanced offensively, but their pitching will be the key to their chances.

Baylor is an experienced program that belies the relative inexperience of coach Steve Rodriguez, who is in his second year leading the program. Baylor has a lineup without a ton of speed or power, but simply a lot of guys that don’t give up at bats and make it tough on opposing pitchers.

The Aggies are certainly not to be forgotten as a threat in this region, and they have by far the best 1-2 punch in the rotation to get the job done with ace Corbin Martin and junior righty Brigham Hill. A&M finished the season poorly, however, and they’ll have to get back on track in a hurry to have a chance to come out of this region.

Iowa followed big Jake Adams’ bat to a Big Ten tournament crown. Adams leads the nation with 27 home runs. Iowa has a few big bats and a solid ace, but their depth is in question, and this is a tough region for that to be an issue, though coming out of the region without great depth is certainly not unheard of.

Top Draft Prospect
One of the two draft prospects mentioned who won’t see any action in the regions is lefty Seth Romero, formerly a member of the Houston team. After discipline issues earlier in his career, Romero was suspended this season before being brought back, committing yet another offense and being removed from the team, so while technically, he is considered an alum of Houston coming into the draft, so that’s where he’ll be considered. In spite of his elite arm, his off-field transgressions will lead to Romero being very difficult to project coming into the draft on June 12th, but he’ll almost certainly be selected by the middle of the second round.

Prediction: Texas A&M

Lexington Regional

1. Kentucky 39-20
2. Indiana 33-22-2
3. North Carolina State 34-23
4. Ohio 31-26

First-year coach Nick Mingione brought life to the bats in Kentucky as they have one of the most potent offenses in the country. Leaning on a number of excellent hitters and a pair of solid starters, Kentucky is set up well for a postseason run this season after making some impressive strides for the program this season.

Discussing a region featuring Kentucky, Indiana, and North Carolina State as top 3 seeds makes me think of 1980s college basketball, but here we are! Indiana built off late season success and finished with five series wins to earn an at-large bid. Indiana is built well for the offense-friendly park at Kentucky, and they could be an interesting match up.

There may not have been a team that finished any stronger than North Carolina State, going 14-3 in their final 17 games of the season. The Wolfpack have a mix of veterans and young players, and the veterans have finally found their stride while freshman Brad Debo has been the key to the lineup all season.

Ohio swept the MAC tournament on the strength of their excellent defense, and they have a very good pitching staff, but it seems almost like the selection committee put a square peg in a round hole with this choice, putting a defensive squad in a park that will likely negate that value.

Top Draft Prospect
As the draft has neared, college hitting has begun to rise up ranking lists, as it does every season. One of the biggest risers this year has been Kentucky first baseman Evan White. Considered a guy who could go in the late first to mid-second round coming into the season, he’s firmly entrenched in the first round, and he could go as high as #10 overall. White has a tremendous ability to make contact and some feel his power is projectable enough to see a 20 home run future, and while he currently plays first base, he’s taken reps in center field this season, showing the athlete he is on the field.

Prediction: Kentucky

Long Beach Regional

1. Long Beach State 37-17-1
2. Texas 37-22
3. UCLA 30-25
4. San Diego State 41-19

The Dirtbags have had many runs through the tournament before, and there is a feeling that the committee flipped them to a #1 seed based on their past history as a program and their hot finish. Long Beach State has leaned heavily on ace Darren McCaughan, but the workhorse has taken the ball every time, and he could be the key to getting through the region.

Texas is in their first season under new head coach David Pierce, and nearly took the Big 12 tournament, which would have nearly locked up a regional hosting seed. The Longhorns have their strength in their pitching, and the game between ace Morgan Cooper and UCLA should be one to watch.

UCLA has been up and down throughout the year, but they have depth of talent that has allowed them to play well enough to be a factor in every series throughout the season. Ace Griffin Canning has been nails all season long and is looking to continue his strong pitching.

Very feasibly the best #4 seed in the tourney, San Diego State had a fairly weak schedule, so they needed the Mountain West tournament win in order to get in. Outfielder Tyler Adkinson has had a monster year in the middle of the Aztec lineup, but the pitching of San Diego State will be facing a very balanced Long Beach State lineup.

Top Draft Prospect
This season, UCLA right hander Griffin Canning has taken himself from a second or third round selection to a certain mid-first round selection with his tremendous performance. Canning doesn’t have ace-level stuff, but his ability to manipulate his pitches and attack hitters throughout a game has allowed him to hurl 4 complete games this season and establish himself as a solid mid-rotation type for major league clubs drafting in the first round.

Prediction: Long Beach State

Louisville Regional

1. Louisville 47-10
2. Oklahoma 34-22
3. Xavier 32-25
4. Radford 27-30

Arguably the most talented team coming into last season’s postseason tourney, Louisville was unable to complete the process and win their way to Omaha as the #1 overall seed. The Cardinals lost a significant number of players to the draft, but this year’s squad has formed quite possibly as a better overall team and could have a longer run toward Omaha.

After barely going .500 in conference on the season, the Sooners seem an odd #2 seed, and many feel like Xavier was a better fit as the #2 with a swap of the #2-#3 seeds. Oklahoma will be led by a senior-laden squad, hoping their experience can overcome a rough finish to the season and some bad streakiness they’ve had this season.

Xavier won the Big East tournament, defeating favored St. John’s along the way. Xavier will ride ace Zac Lowther certainly, but the team has come alive offensively to support any of their pitching in their recent winning streak to finish the season.

Radford took the Big South tournament championship to earn the automatic bid after opening the season 3-11. They’ve been to the tournament one other time previously, when they made the regional final, but that seems a tough task in this matchup.

Top Draft Prospect
Considered through much of the spring as a strong candidate to be selected first overall in the draft, Louisville two-way star Brendan McKay will almost certainly find himself among the first ten selections on June 12th. McKay doesn’t light up the radar gun as a lefty starter, but his advanced pitch mix has many teams envisioning a Jon Lester ceiling for him as a pitcher while others see a similar profile to Sean Casey at the plate for McKay. Recent reports have McKay falling some as a pitcher, and there are some in the top 10 who do value McKay as a hitter more than a pitcher, so he could end up coming off the board to punish baseballs rather than hurl them.

Prediction: Louisville

Lubbock Regional

1. Texas Tech 43-15
2. Arizona 37-19
3. Sam Houston State 40-20
4. Delaware 34-21

Texas Tech has held its own as their ace has been out since late March. Now with ace David Martin back and reportedly in full health, the Red Raiders will have one of the best lineups in the entire country along with a deep pitching staff set up behind their ace.

Arizona rode a very strong performance to Omaha as the College World Series runner-up last season. That team saw many players leave to graduation or the draft, leaving a new team in Arizona this year, and that has led to a very turbulent year for the Wildcats, as evidenced by their 10-0 start and 16-14 Pac-12 conference performance. Arizona has turned it on before, and they could do it all again.

Sam Houston State won the Southland tournament to earn their way to the tournament. The Bearkats are keyed by a quick offensive attack and a senior ace in Heath Donica, and their contact skills will allow their offense to have a chance in any game.

Delaware saved their best for last, sweeping through the Colonial Athletic Association tournament to earn their bid. They’ve won 10 of their last 11 games, but they’ll face a very imposing task against Texas Tech.

Top Draft Prospect
Recently profiled by Baseball America, Arizona first baseman J.J. Matijevic is the top-rated draft prospect in the region, though he’s only rated as the #64 prospect on BA’s top 500.

Matijevic is a guy that has confuddled scouts this year as he has a seeming first base profile but more of a hit-first profile with gap power (leading the nation in doubles) without a ton of over-the-fence power. He’s likely a second or third round selection, but he’s the type who has excellent feel for the bat that could end up allowing him to become a much better professional than an amateur.

Prediction: Texas Tech

Stanford Regional

1. Stanford 40-14
2. Cal State-Fullerton 34-21
3. BYU 37-19
4. Sacramento State 32-27

One of the absolute class programs in NCAA baseball, Stanford is making their 32nd tournament appearance this season. In spite of losing ace Tristan Beck all season, Stanford has won 21 of their last 23 games, entering on a high note with a deep pitching staff and a motivated team, looking to send retiring coach Mark Marquess out on a high note.

Fullerton has been a mainstay in the tournament, representing the Big West frequently. Long Beach State unseated them as the top team in the conference, but Fullerton has an experienced, veteran team that is set up well to perform in the tournament.

The Stanford region opened Thursday due to Brigham Young not being willing to play games on Sunday. The Cougars bring a powerful offense to the table in their region, but with this region, that seems to be like bringing a knife to a gun fight as they don’t seem to have the defense or pitching to hang with Fullerton or Stanford.

Sacramento State won the Western Athletic Conference to make the tournament for just the second time in school history. While only .500 on the season, the Hornets finished off strong, winning their last 8 in a row. Sacramento State will go as far as ace Justin Dillon can take them.

Top Draft Prospect
While they are still favored, Stanford would have loved to have Tristan Beck fronting their rotation in the regions. Beck has a stress fracture in his lower back and has not pitched all season. He’s likely going to be a pick by the 3rd round for a team who will enjoy the benefits of his well-developed pitch mix, using four above-average to plus pitches and showing tremendous ability to sequence his pitches.

Prediction: Stanford

Tallahassee Regional

1. Florida State 39-20
2. Central Florida 40-20
3. Auburn 35-24
4. Tennessee Tech 40-19

While going just .500 in the ACC normally wouldn’t inspire a lot of confidence in a squad, it’s the way that Florida State reached that number that has them a regional host after streaking to win the ACC tournament. The last few weeks has seen the Seminole team that many felt would be there all season, and that could be scary for anyone else in their region, especially if everyone is finally healthy, as they are rumored to be.

With a new coach and a veteran lineup, UCF ended up with a better overall record that in-state teams like Florida State and Miami this season. Greg Lovelady has the experience of bringing teams to regional finals and could do just that with the Central Florida.

While Florida State streaked to the end of their season, Auburn limped to theirs. Auburn was hurt by a 16-14 season in the SEC along with injuries to the depth of their pitching staff. The Tigers do have a pair of aces at the top of the rotation, and two aces in this tourney can carry a team, but it would require a big turnaround for the team.

When the #4 seed has the best winning percentage in the region, it’s a fairly solid region. Tennessee Tech bullied its way through the Ohio Valley Conference, going 23-7 in conference play before winning the tournament. Their offense is stout, but their pitching is where they struggle, and that could be an issue with the depth of the other three teams in the region.

Top Draft Prospect
After Tommy John surgery last spring, Keegan Thompson returned to Auburn as the ace he’s been since he was a freshman. He’s not returned to the explosive stuff he had early in his college career, but he has shown tremendous feel for pitching in his return, working with multiple manipulations on his pitches in grip and velocity to allow him to get multiple looks on hitters, even if he doesn’t have the top end velocity he once did. While his feel for pitching would project him to move quickly as a pro, he may be limited in ceiling and likely profiles as a 3rd round selection at best

Prediction: Florida State

Winston-Salem Regional

1. Wake Forest 39-18
2. West Virginia 34-24
3. Maryland 37-21
4. Maryland-Baltimore 23-23

In the deep ACC, Wake Forest tended to get lost in the shuffle, especially after losing big performer Will Craig last season, but their lineup has returned even deeper, led by outfielder Suart Fairchild and first baseman Gavin Sheets. Overall, Wake Forest is coming near triple digits in home runs as a team. One of the deepest teams in the tournament, the Demon Deacons could be a team that is outside of the top 10 rated teams in the national rankings that finds themselves in a deep run at Omaha.

Opening the season strong after a slow build on the system, West Virginia really announced themselves as a Big 12 power for years to come, making the tourney for the first time since 1996. West Virginia’s team is built with college-focused players that are really not littering draft lists, but are great players to build up a program’s profile, like ace B.J. Myers, an ace that works from a variety of arm slots and velocities to make it work in the college ranks and could be a big piece of the regional mix.

Maryland is a curious program this season. With talent that would portend a top-25 team, the Terrapins have drifted in and out of the rankings all spring. The Terrapins have seen their offense tick up lately, and though their pitching hasn’t matched, they’re playing at a regional host that could play well to their offense pumping the ball out of the park and getting them to Omaha.

Only the second appearance in the tournament for Maryland-Baltimore County in their program’s history was due to a hot streak that won them the America East tournament. UMBC has a rough pitching staff but a team that clobbers the ball, which is needed in Winston-Salem, but their team is likely going to have a rough go of it with Wake Forest.

Top Draft Prospect
Replacing Will Craig in the lineup was not going to be easy, but when center fielder Stuart Fairchild began launching balls this spring for Wake Forest, his absence was much less noted than many felt it would be. Fairchild has a balanced set of tools, with all five tools rating as above-average, though his defense and arm are his only plus tools. Fairchild projects as a guy who will factor into the end of the first round or early second round of the draft.

Prediction: Wake Forest

The games may be under way, but they’ll continue on for a couple weeks, so catch the action on ESPN affiliates as they’ll be carrying the tournament as they have for the last few years.

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