There are no huge surprises at the very top of the College Baseball Central preseason top 25.
Florida was pegged very early after last season as the favorite to be the number one team heading into 2016 and nothing that happened over the course of the offseason changed that. Louisville, the number two team in the poll, looked similarly stacked for 2016 coming out of last season, and they managed to get even better when Kyle Funkhouser decided to come back to campus rather than begin his professional career.
Those two teams have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to talent and they’re both among the teams in the country best equipped to beat you in a variety of ways.
Behind those two are a pair of SEC teams that both have some holes to fill, but also flash elite talent, particularly on the mound, in Vanderbilt and Texas A&M. The Commodores will ensure that the Gators don’t just waltz through the SEC East and the Aggies will find themselves in a battle with LSU (number seven in the poll) for top billing in the SEC West.
The SEC holds down three of the top four spots in the poll, but it’s not as if the conference completely dominates the poll. In fact, with six apiece, the SEC and ACC are tied for tops among leagues represented in the poll.
The full conference breakdown is below:
Big 12: 2
Big Ten: 2
Sun Belt: 1
American Athletic Conference: 1
Big South: 1
Conference USA: 1
1. Florida Gators
2015 record: 52-18
2015 result: College World Series
Outlook: The Gators come into the 2016 season loaded all over the place. Logan Shore, A.J. Puk, Alex Faedo, and Dane Dunning would all be Friday night starters for just about every other team in the country. On offense, J.J. Schwarz and Buddy Reed will make them go, and Peter Alonso is a big bounce back candidate after an injury-plagued 2015 kept him from reaching his potential. If you want to nitpick a bit, the Gators will be leaning on several freshman, including infielders John India and Deacon Liput and pitchers Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, but then again, those guys are all among the most talented freshmen in the country.
2. Louisville Cardinals
2015 record: 47-18
2015 result: Louisville Super Regional
Outlook: The Cardinals perhaps don’t have quite the starting rotation depth of Florida, but they would likely feel comfortable putting their one-two punch of Kyle Funkhouser and Brendan McKay up against any other combination in the country. Finding that third guy they can count on week-in and week-out will be a key for them. At the back end of the bullpen, Zack Burdi looks every bit as effective and electric as his older brother Nick, and on offense, Corey Ray is a one-man wrecking crew. Quietly, Nick Solak is also one of the best hitters in the ACC. He provides a nice combination of gap power and speed.
3. Vanderbilt Commodores
2015 record: 51-21
2015 result: College World Series Runner-Up
Outlook: Losing the likes of Carson Fulmer and Walker Buehler stings, but as much as any other program in the nation, Vanderbilt deserves the benefit of the doubt that they will find quality arms to slot into the rotation. Kyle Wright and Jordan Sheffield stand out immediately as potential stand-ins. Then, there are worse fates than having to choose between proven commodities like John Kilichowski and talented freshman such as Chandler Day and Donny Everett for the rest of the starts. Offensively, there are a few more questions, and the losses of Dansby Swanson, Rhett Wiseman, and Zander Wiel hurt. Bryan Reynolds and Jeren Kendall are proven, but they’re going to need others to step up into starring roles as well.
4. Texas A&M Aggies
2015 record: 50-14
2015 result: Ft. Worth Super Regional
Outlook: What the Aggies’ 2016 pitching staff lacks in experience thanks to the departures of Grayson Long and Matt Kent, they make up for in raw stuff. Simply put, the Aggies are going to run out a bunch of dudes who throw straight gas, headlined by bullpen stalwarts Ryan Hendrix and Mark Ecker. Those guys, along with the likes of Andrew Vinson and Ty Schlottmann, will help make every game a six or seven-inning game for A&M. The rotation will be anchored by Tyler Stubblefield, who, interestingly, doesn’t feature quite the same level of raw power stuff, but he’s far and away the team’s most accomplished starting pitcher. Offensively, Nick Banks will set the tone, but he’ll have plenty of help thanks to TCU transfer Boomer White and the power duo of Ronnie Gideon and Hunter Melton.
5. Miami Hurricanes
2015 record: 50-17
2015 result: College World Series
Outlook: On paper, the Hurricanes might appear to be a team poised to take a step back with all of the personnel losses they dealt with, but there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings. Offensively, Jacob Heyward and Carl Chester have only begun to scratch the surface of their potential, and although he has been a productive player throughout his entire UM career, the same could be said about Willie Abreu. Let’s also not forget that, even as they got lost in the shuffle with Miami’s juggernaut offense in 2015, Johnny Ruiz and Brandon Lopez were both .300 hitters a year ago. And, of course, it also helps that Zack Collins might be the best power hitter in all of college baseball. On the mound, Thomas Woodrey has proven to be an effective starter, and in the likes of Enrique Sosa and Danny Garcia, there are others with significant starting experience on the roster. Andrew Cabezas, a highly-rated freshman, also seems poised to fight for a spot in the weekend rotation.