It’s that time of year and the college baseball season will be here before we know it. College baseball preseason polls are beginning to be released and teams will soon be practicing. The Vanderbilt Commodores are the reigning 2014 Men’s Division I College World Series champions for the first time in program history. Can they repeat? Can Virginia make it back to Omaha? To get you primed for what promises to be another exciting season of college baseball, here is the 2015 College Baseball Central Preseason Top 25.
2015 College Baseball Central Preseason Top 25
1. Vanderbilt Commodores
Vandy takes the top spot here. Despite losing key cogs like Tyler Beede and Vince Conde, the Commodores return plenty of talent to Nashville, most notably College World Series Most Outstanding Player Dansby Swanson and lineup mate Bryan Reynolds. On top of it, head coach Tim Corbin brought in another stellar recruiting class featuring a mix of kids from all over the country, as is typical for his teams.
2. Virginia Cavaliers
It’s incredibly unoriginal to have the national champions and the national runner-up numbers one and two in the preseason, but it’s not for nothing. Led by the returning Nathan Kirby, Brandon Waddell, and Josh Sborz, runs will be hard to come by for opposing teams. If lineup stalwarts Joe McCarthy, Kenny Towns, and John LaPrise even come close to duplicating their ’14 production, the Cavaliers will be in good shape.
3. TCU Horned Frogs
The Horned Frogs did everything they could in 2014 to prove that their sub-par 2013 season was a fluke and they could be even better in 2015. Sure, they’ll have to cope without Brandon Finnegan, but getting Preston Morrison back will certainly help them with that. Offensively, losing Kevin Cron (to pro ball) and Boomer White (to Texas A&M) will hurt, but consider this a vote of confidence that: A. TCU’s pitching will carry them through and B. impact bats will develop along the way.
4. LSU Tigers
LSU’s 2014 postseason was cut short in a home super regional against the University of Houston, but that won’t dampen their expectations for 2015. Replacing Aaron Nola will be tough, but their pitching staff remains almost unfairly deep and it’s not difficult to see their returning hitters taking a big step forward to help Alex Bregman carry the load.
5. Florida Gators
The Gators’ 2014 season was a bit of a strange one. Nothing about their team stood out, but they just continued to win. In 2015, with the likes of Richie Martin and Peter Alonso returning to the lineup, Logan Shore returning to the pitching staff, and a standout recruiting class coming in, the Gators certainly shouldn’t be expected to take a step back.
6. Texas Longhorns
For several years, the standout pitching for UT just needed to find its counterpart on offense. In 2014, they found it, as the offense pulled its fair share of weight. Losing do-everything outfielder Mark Payton hurts the offense, but with Brooks Marlow, Ben Johnson, C.J. Hinojosa, and Tres Barrera returning, there should be plenty more runs to be had. Parker French electing to return to Austin rather than entering pro ball was a huge coup as well.
7. Houston Cougars
The 2014 season was a return to form for the Cougars and 2015 should be another standout year. The pitching staff, led by Collegiate Team USA member Jake Lemoine and veteran Aaron Garza, is absolutely stacked. How far this team goes, however, largely depends on the consistency of their offense, which ultimately hindered them in their super regional against Texas. Big years from the super-talented Kyle Survance and Ashford Fulmer would go a long way toward remedying any offensive woes.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys hopped back into national prominence with a super regional appearance last season, but they could be even better in 2015. Sure, they will be without plenty of big-time contributors from last season (Zach Fish, Tanner Krietemeier, Vince Wheeland, Brenden McCurry), but they return plenty to Stillwater and, thanks to the efforts of head coach Josh Holliday and staff, they should get some help from their incoming recruiting class.
9. Miami Hurricanes
Welcome back to the big time, Miami. They were as hot as any team in the nation for a large stretch of the 2014 season and they’ll be back in a big way in 2015. They return some quality bats in Zack Collins and David Thompson, an ace in Andrew Suarez, and some reliable bullpen arms in Bryan Garcia, Cooper Hammond, and Thomas Woodrey. On top of that, they should get some help from some new faces, as their stellar recruiting class was largely untouched by the MLB draft.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
What a pleasant surprise the Red Raiders were in 2014, as they found themselves in Omaha for the first time in program history. Truth be told, they really might have arrived a little ahead of schedule, as they only lose reliever Jonny Drozd, starter Chris Sadberry, and outfielder Adam Kirsch (who they didn’t really expect to have last season until the last minute). Everyone else returns, including preseason All-American Eric Gutierrez and staff ace Dylan Dusek, and some reinforcements should be coming in the form of a star-studded recruiting class.
11. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks put together another quality season in 2014, but once again, it ended with a disappointing ouster in the postseason. There is a feeling that the Ducks are going to break through and get to the College World Series at some point and they could do it in 2015. They return just about everyone on offense and despite losing ace starter Tommy Thorpe and closer Jake Reed, there is talent left on the mound, including starters Jeff Gold and Brando Tessar.
12. Florida State Seminoles
Consider FSU’s relatively high ranking here as a commentary on how good D.J. Stewart could be for them. At this stage, he’s probably the front-runner for national Player of the Year. This ranking is also a recognition of what FSU seems to do best, and that’s continue to put a great team on the field year after year, despite heavy losses seemingly every year. If past seasons are any indication, they will have at least a couple of players we’ve never heard of step up and have standout years.
13. Louisville Cardinals
Quietly, Dan McDonnell has turned Louisville into one of the more consistent programs in the nation. These guys are no longer the plucky upstarts they were when they first broke through to Omaha in 2007. They’ll have lots of talent to replace, most notably outfielder Jeff Gardner and closer Nick Burdi, but any team that returns the likes of Kyle Funkhouser, Jared Ruxer, and Anthony Kidston in the starting rotation is going to win a ton of games.
14. Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils faithful are hoping for a program turnaround under new head coach Tracy Smith, and they may not have to wait all that long to get one. Every key member of the pitching staff is returning, most notably Brett Lilek, Ryan Kellogg, and Ryan Burr, and while the offense loses Nate Causey and Drew Stankiewicz, several key contributors, including R.J. Ybarra and Dalton DiNatale are back. If one or two more game-changers on offense emerge, this could look like a vintage ASU team as early as this coming season.
15. UCLA Bruins
Ranking the Bruins somewhere in the middle of the top 25 is admittedly a hedged bet. If talent wins out, this team could be ranked much higher by the end of the season. After all, they return All-American closer David Berg, along with starting pitchers James Kaprielian, Grant Watson, Grant Dyer, and Cody Poteet. However, if their offense fails to support the pitching staff the same way they failed to last season, they very well may not be any better than they were last season when they went 25-30-1.
16. Rice Owls
As a rule, Rice is at its best when they are led by a veteran group of pitchers. That will certainly be the case in 2015, as they return big-time arms in Blake Fox and Matt Ditman, along with several other key pieces such as Kevin McCanna, Jon Duplantier, Trevor Tekyl, and Jordan Stephens, who missed most of the 2014 season with an injury, but was a key piece of the Owls’ rotation in 2013. Offensively, they do have some holes to fill, as they lost 2014’s biggest power bats in Michael Aquino and Skyler Ewing, along with key role players in Keenan Cook, Shane Hoelscher, and Chase McDowell.
17. Cal Poly Mustangs
After several years as a solid program, the 2014 season really put Cal Poly on the college baseball map. Plenty of talent returns for a similar season in 2015, but the losses of key bats Nick Torres, Jimmy Allen, and Chris Hoo, along with starting pitcher Matt Imhof and closer Reed Reilly will test head coach Larry Lee’s ability to continually stock the program with top-end talent.
18. UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos
Despite a bit of a disappointing season in 2014, there’s little doubt that Andrew Checketts has this program headed in the right direction. They will be tested in 2015, as they will be without program cornerstone players in Tyler Kuresa, Joey Epperson, and Austin Pettibone, but the return of guys like Justin Jacome, Dillon Tate, and Robby Nesovic should keep them on track as a contender for the Big West title.
19. Stanford Cardinal
After a pretty mediocre regular season, the Cardinal got hot at the right time and made a run to the super regionals in 2014. If they are going to make a similar postseason run in 2015, it will be because the starting rotation of Cal Quantrill, John Hochstatter, and Brett Hanewich took another step forward and led the way. Offensively, only Zach Hoffpauir returns among regular contributors from last season.
20. Cal State Fullerton Titans
Just about everything went wrong for the Titans in 2014 up until they got hot over the last few weeks of the season and snuck into a regional at the last second. Things won’t get a lot easier in 2015, what with offensive stalwarts J.D. Davis and Matt Chapman gone and the transfer of Phil Bickford to junior college. Consider their being ranked as a vote of confidence for a rotation led by veterans Thomas Eshelman and Justin Garza and a recruiting class that should produce some impact players.
21. North Carolina Tar Heels
The 2014 season was a bit of a rebuilding season for the Tar Heels, even if perhaps they weren’t banking on it being one before it started. The payoff for that rebuilding year should come in the form of a strong 2015 season. An offense led by Landon Lassiter, Skye Bolt, and Tyler Ramirez will be in good shape and the pitching staff will be led by solid, if unspectacular, stalwarts such as Tyler Thornton, Benton Moss, and Reilly Hovis.
22. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
The Georgia Tech program seems like one that needs some new life breathed into it. They’ve continued to put a quality team on the field, but they’ve been sliding a bit since the 2010 season. It remains to be seen if 2015 will be a return to form for GT, but they will certainly have the talent on the field to do so. Daniel Spingola, Matt Gonzalez, Thomas Smith, and A.J. Murray will lead what should be a good offense, and Devin Stanton and Ben Parr give the Jackets’ coaching staff a couple of solid arms with which to work.
23. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Certainly no one is going to award Mississippi State any style points for the way they grind out games, but you can’t argue against its effectiveness for the program. In 2015, they will likely continue to follow the blueprint of getting good starting pitching and scratching out runs any way they can. Ross Mitchell, Trevor Fitts, and Preston Brown return to anchor what should be a quality pitching staff once again. A return to form for Wes Rea, the Bulldogs’ most powerful hitter, would go a long way toward supporting the pitching staff.
24. South Carolina Gamecocks
Year after year, the Gamecocks do a fantastic job of plugging holes left by departing players. In 2015, their ability to do so will again be tested. Lineup stalwarts Joey Pankake, Tanner English, and Grayson Greiner are gone, as is starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery and closer Joel Seddon. Kyle Martin, D.C. Arendas, and Max Schrock will help replace the missing production, but they will need other impact bats to emerge. The pitching staff is far more settled, led by Wil Crowe and Jack Wynkoop.
25. St. John’s Red Storm
Following a banner 2011 season that ended in the program’s first super regionals appearance, the Red Storm lost a bunch of talent and had to go into rebuilding mode. Now, as the team heads into 2015, it appears that the fruits of those rebuilding efforts are soon to be enjoyed. Only starting pitcher James Lomangino has departed from a team that went 34-20 last season. An offense that had close to a .300 batting average and .400 on-base percentage last season should be quite good again and the combination of starting pitchers Chris Kalica and Ryan McCormick and closer Joe Kuzia should give the pitching staff a good foundation to work from.