Welcome to the fifth and final installment of our list of the 25 most interesting programs for the 2019 season.
Whether it’s because the team is on the brink of what could be a special season, because they boast big-time prospects, or because they just have a lot of questions to answer heading into the season, this is the list of the 25 teams that have us most excited for first pitch.
Now let’s get started.
The 2019 season will be the last for longtime Florida State head coach Mike Martin, and that alone will make the Seminoles a team to watch this coming season.
Beyond that, Martin’s final FSU team is also a team capable of competing for a national title once again, and the combination of those things will make the Seminoles appointment viewing throughout the season.
Certainly, they’ll be one of the most complete teams in college baseball.
In the starting rotation, they’ll be led by a couple of veterans in Drew Parrish and C.J. Van Eyk. The former struck out 128 and held opponents to a .186 batting average over 107 innings last season as the team’s ace. The latter had 71 strikeouts with a .208 opponent batting average in 56.2 innings in a swingman role, proving that he’s likely to have success in an expanded role in 2019.
The bullpen will be teeming with experience as well, what with Jonah Scolaro and Clayton Kwiatkowski back in the fold. That pair combined for exactly 100 innings of work across 53 appearances a season ago, both with ERAs of 3.43 or lower. Their durability and versatility is a huge asset, as it allows the Seminoles to shorten the game considerably.
Florida State can always hit and the 2019 team won’t be any different, even after the departures of top hitters Cal Raleigh, Rhett Aplin, Steven Wells, and Jackson Lueck. Third baseman Drew Mendoza is one of the most talented offensive players in all of college baseball. Reese Albert, who clubbed seven homers last season, will bring some pop to the outfield. J.C. Flowers, a supremely talented center fielder, will look to put it all together as a junior in 2019. And Mike Salvatore will bring experience to the middle infield after a solid debut season at FSU that saw him walk (28) more times than he struck out (20).
FSU also brought in yet another highly-ranked recruiting class, and you have to imagine that at least a handful of those newcomers will carve out immediate roles. Chief among them could be shortstop Nander de Sedas, the highest-drafted position player to bypass signing to attend college.
Over the last several years, college baseball has said goodbye to so many of its legendary coaches. Augie Garrido, Mark Marquess, Jim Morris, Wayne Graham, and Mike Gillespie have all stepped aside recently. After the 2019 season, Martin will join them, so the coming campaign will provide one last chance to appreciate him while we still have him in uniform. The fact that he’ll have a fun team to watch on top of that is simply icing on the cake.
The Louisville Cardinals have displayed metronomic consistency for more than a decade under head coach Dan McDonnell. Since the program’s first College World Series appearance in 2007, which was also McDonnell’s first season on the job and just the second postseason appearance in the history of the program, the Cardinals have failed to make the postseason just once, when they went 32-29 in 2011. Impressively, that season is also the only season during that same timespan in which the team has won fewer than 40 games.
In fact, it says a lot about just how good Louisville has been that the 2018 season felt like something of a down season for the program despite going 45-19 and earning a two seed in a regional, all with a relatively young team. But that’s just the high standard they have set. It was the first season since 2012 that they hadn’t advanced to at least a super regional and it was the first time since that 2011 season that they hadn’t at least won a share of a conference or division title. That’s just an incredible level of success.
On paper, the 2019 season looks like it could be a return to conference titles, trips to Omaha, or both.
Josh Stowers is a big loss as a unique power/speed threat and Devin Mann was a solid contributor as well, but the offense returns quite a bit of production from last season’s 45-win team.
Logan Wyatt, the team’s leading hitter for average at .339 and leading doubles hitter with 22, is back to man first base. Not only does he provide solid power production, but with nearly twice as many walks (63) as strikeouts (37), which pushed his on-base percentage up near .500 at .490, he’s also among the elite in the ACC at finding his way on base. He’s the building block around which the offense is built.
Having shortstop Tyler Fitzgerald back will help immensely as well, not just given his steady hand at a premium defensive position, but also for his status as a potential breakout star at the plate. He was a quality hitter a year ago, collecting 17 doubles to go along with a .264 average, but he showed on the Cape there might be more in the tank. This past summer with Bourne, he hit .298 with a .370 on-base percentage and 14 doubles against elite competition day after day.
Fitzgerald will also help give Louisville the ability to cause problems for the opposition on the bases. Last season, he stole 23 bases on 24 attempts, a total good for third on the team behind Stowers (who had 36) and Jake Snider, who swiped 24. Snider, who also hit an even .300 with 12 doubles, is back to help patrol the outfield. Then there’s Danny Oriente, who hit .331 with a .403 on-base percentage and Drew Campbell, who hit .313. Snider, Oriente, Campbell, Lucas Dunn (.303), Ethan Stringer (.276), and Zach Britton (.239, .400 OBP) give McDonnell a ton of options in the outfield. At third base, incumbent Justin Lavey is back after clubbing 13 doubles a year ago.
Behind the plate, the Cardinals return experienced backstops in Pat Rumoro and Zeke Pinkham. All told, that’s seven of the nine spots in the lineup returning regulars from last season, in addition to some guys like Dunn, Stringer, and Britton who could find their way into more playing time this time around.
On the mound, Nick Bennett is back to anchor the rotation. Last season, Bennett jumped into the rotation during the Clemson series in March and was outstanding the rest of the way, putting up a 2.84 ERA over 73 innings. Behind him, Louisville doesn’t return anyone who was a full-time starter in 2018, but there are plenty of quality arms who have experience in that role, including Reid Detmers, Bobby Miller, Brian Hoeing, and Shay Smiddy.
The pitchers who don’t carve out roles in the rotation will join a bullpen that will also feature Michael McAvene, Michael Kirian, and Adam Elliott. Elliott shined last year in a specialist role, appearing in 15 games without having so much as a single earned run go on his ledger.
Like the aforementioned Florida State recruiting class, Louisville’s group of newcomers is highly-regarded and will undoubtedly bear fruit right away.
Experience everywhere, bunches of veterans who waited their turn to take on starring roles, and a ton of precocious first-year players ready to compete for playing time is a formula Louisville has used plenty in the past, and in 2019, they’ll look to use it once again to get back to Omaha.
UCLA games will be worth the price of admission in 2019 just based on the opportunity to get to see one of the best run-producing duos on the West Coast in first baseman Michael Toglia and second baseman Chase Strumpf. They were each outstanding in 2018.
Toglia hit .336/.449/.588 with 24 doubles, 11 homers, and 58 RBI on the season. He finished strong after hitting a lull during the middle portion of the season, but for a period of time over the first few weeks of the campaign, he was perhaps the best hitter in all of college baseball. He had six hits in three games against Portland to begin the season, had four more the next weekend against Baylor, and then went 2-for-5 in a midweek contest against Cal State Fullerton (with both hits home runs) before collecting five combined hits in the first two games of the US Bank Stadium tournament in Minneapolis against Illinois and Michigan State.
Strumpf actually ended up with better numbers almost across the board, however. He hit .363/.475/.633 with 23 doubles, 12 homers, and 53 RBI, good for the team lead in average, OBP, slugging percentage, and homers and second on the team (behind Toglia) in doubles and RBI.
To be fair, as good as they are, they’re going to be far from alone in the lineup. In fact, outfielder Jeremy Ydens deserves mention right alongside them. Last year, he hit .350/.421/.558 with 17 doubles, five triples, six homers, and 38 RBI. He chipped in with 13 stolen bases as well.
They’ll be joined by infielders Ryan Kreidler, Jack Stronach, and Kevin Kendall, outfielders Garrett Mitchell and Jake Pries, and the catching duo of Daniel Rosica and Will McInerny.
So you can expect that scoring runs won’t be much of an issue, but run prevention shouldn’t lag far behind. Ryan Garcia and Zach Pettway are back to head up the rotation. The former stepped into rotation part way through the season and shined, ending up with a 2.23 ERA and a .188 opponent batting average for the season. The latter was in that role all year long as a freshman, putting up a 3.35 ERA across 96.2 innings of work. Having those two back will take some of the pressure off of finding a third option to complement them.
In the bullpen, you can do much worse than building around proven, durable pitchers like Nick Scheidler, Kyle Mora, and Holden Powell. The Bruins have a handful of relievers who push for 30-plus relief appearances seemingly every year, and in those three, they have a trio that has already proven they can handle it well.
UCLA hasn’t always been a program associated with offensive firepower, but they had that on their side last year, and that should only continue into 2019. If their pitching staff is simply a typically productive UCLA pitching staff, a deep postseason run won’t be far behind.
Saint Mary’s will be interesting because they’re probably going to be pretty good in 2019 if recent history is any indication. They’ve won 30 or more games in three consecutive seasons (including 37 in 2017) after having finished over .500 overall just twice (28-27 in 2009 and 26-25 in 2006) in the previous 20 years.
With that in mind, it’s interesting to see how far head coach Eric Valenzuela can take the program, but it’s not the only reason the Gaels appear on this list. They’re also here because they boast two of the more interesting players on the West Coast.
One is starting pitcher Ken Waldichuk, who transitioned masterfully from a bullpen role to the starting rotation. In 2017, he had an even 2.00 ERA and 51 strikeouts over 45.2 innings. In 2018, he was even better as a starter. In 92.1 innings across 14 starts, he had a 2.05 ERA, a 118/21 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .205 opponent batting average. He spent his summer with the Wareham Gatemen on the Cape, preparing to lead the Saint Mary’s rotation again in 2019.
The other is two-way star Kevin Milam. For two years, he’s been among the most consistent bats in the Gaels’ order. Two years ago, he hit .313/.397/.547 with 14 doubles, 12 homers, and 55 RBI. Last year, it was a .302/.430/.455 slash line with 12 doubles, five homers, and 29 RBI. On the mound, he has followed a similar trajectory to that of Waldichuk. As a freshman, he had a 2.27 ERA, nine saves, and a .191 opponent batting average in 39.2 innings as the team’s closer. Then, after transitioning to the rotation in 2018, he had a 3.68 ERA, an 81/25 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .245 opponent batting average in 85.2 innings across 14 appearances, 13 of which were starts.
There are others back in the fold for Saint Mary’s in 2019, and as a group they’ll help continue to push the program forward, but if the Gaels take another big step under Valenzuela in 2019, it’s likely thanks in large part to more stellar performances from Waldichuk and Milam.
In the most recent MLB Draft, Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart was taken second overall by the San Francisco Giants, and while there isn’t currently anyone on the Yellow Jackets’ roster that is expected to attract that type of pro attention, the 2019 draft could be one where Georgia Tech players hear their names called early and often. There is simply a ton of raw talent on the roster.
Impact two-way player Tristin English is perhaps the top name on the list after enjoying a breakout 2018 season. He had a nice season with the bat as a freshman in 2016, but after missing all of 2017 due to injury, last season was his first as a two-way contributor. At the plate, he hit .279/.324/.442 with 17 doubles, six homers, and 60 RBI. On the mound, he held down a swingman role, throwing 57 innings across 16 appearances (nine starts) with a 4.11 ERA and a 51/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’ll go into the 2019 season not only as a prospect for the first few rounds of the draft, but also as one of the premier two-way players in college baseball.
Then there’s Xzavion Curry, who has been a workhorse since arriving on campus. As a freshman two years ago, he took some of the lumps that you would expect any freshman to take in their first trip through the ACC, but he also showed flashes of fantastic potential. In the end, he had a 5.23 ERA over 82.2 innings in 15 starts. In 2018, back in the rotation, he improved across the board, lowering his ERA to 4.18, lowering his walk total from 32 to 23, and raising his strikeout total from 74 to 101, all while increasing his innings load to 92.2. It’s easy to assume that he’ll be as steady as always, with improved numbers again, in the Georgia Tech weekend rotation.
Outfielder Chase Murray broke out in a big way in 2018, suggesting that he could take another similar jump for the 2019 season. Last year, he hit .343/.410/.510 with 11 doubles, six homers, 39 RBI, and more impressively, he became a much more disciplined hitter. As a freshman, he walked just seven times in the 47 games in which he appeared. Last season, that total was up to 27 in 54 games. At the same time, his strikeout total stayed basically the same, going from 38 in 2017 to 39 in 2018.
Speaking of players who showed improvement from one year to the next, starting pitcher Connor Thomas is the most extreme example in this group. As a freshman, he threw just ten innings, with an 11.32 ERA to show for it. Last season, by contrast, he was the most effective pitcher on the Georgia Tech staff. Across 97 innings, he had a 3.34 ERA, a 106/10 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .241 opponent batting average. Perhaps the most jarring comparison between the two seasons is in the walk totals. In his ten innings in 2017, he walked nine batters. In nearly ten times more innings in 2018, he walked just one more batter. His improvements in 2018 made his team’s pitching staff far better and made him a prospect to watch in 2019.
Kyle McCann is the guy tasked with replacing Joey Bart in a number of ways. He’ll become the bat in the lineup that opposing pitchers will look to work around, just as Bart was last season, and he’ll also move back behind the plate to take over catching duties from the newly-minted Giants prospect. From an offensive perspective, at least, McCann has already proven more than capable of handling that type of role. Last season, he hit .300/.423/.600 with ten doubles, 15 home runs, and 45 RBI. Even if its not in the neighborhood of being selected second overall, if McCann enjoys another year like his last, he will make it back-to-back years where Georgia Tech will be replacing a catcher after their starter heard his name called early in the draft.
That’s to say nothing of some of the other exciting and productive players Tech has on the roster, including infielder Oscar Serratos (a legitimate 2020 draft prospect in his own right), outfielder Colin Hall, infielder Luke Waddell, the veteran Wilhite brothers, Austin and Nick, top reliever Andy Archer, and starting pitcher Brant Hurter, who took some of his own lumps as a freshman last season, but who also showed the stuff to dominate at times.
The year 2019 promises to be an eventful one for Georgia Tech baseball. There are enough draftable players present that they’re likely to have players coming off the board early at the draft in June, and all of that talent suggests that there is a good chance the Yellow Jackets will once again being playing baseball in the month of June as well.