With less than six weeks remaining until Opening Day, the 2020 MLB season is just around the corner. But if you can’t wait until then for baseball — and don’t want to slog your way through a bunch of meaningless spring training games — don’t worry, dear reader. The college baseball season officially begins on Friday with roughly a zillion games on the schedule.
We don’t cover a ton of college ball here at Bless You Boys, outside of our annual draft profiles and other prospect-y goodness. However, with the Detroit Tigers set to draft first overall again for the second time in three years, and some interesting local teams on the college circuit, we thought we’d put together a quick guide on the year to come. We can’t promise much beyond this — we do have our own season to cover, after all — but we’ll try to keep you abreast of anything relevant happening around the college game if we can.
If you are looking for comprehensive previews of your favorite college team(s), make sure to check out SB Nation’s college sites, many of whom produce some excellent baseball coverage. National sites like Baseball America and D1 Baseball also do a wonderful job, if you want to pony up for a subscription.
But if you just want the quick and dirty on what to expect for the upcoming college season, you’re in the right place.
So, who’s the best team?
Vanderbilt is on top right now after winning the College World Series in June, and currently sit first overall in Baseball America’s preseason top 25 rankings. They have one of the best position players in the country, in potential No. 1 overall pick Austin Martin, and beastly righthander Kumar Rocker is an early favorite to be the top pick in the 2021 draft. The Commodores have a stable of arms behind Rocker, too, including top 100 draft prospects Jake Eder and Tyler Brown. Underclassmen Mason Hickman and Jack Leiter are also worth a mention, and all five of these pitchers could be a Friday night starter for most teams.
This isn’t a one-team race, though. Louisville is right behind Vanderbilt in Baseball America’s rankings, and took the No. 1 spot in D1 Baseball’s preseason top 25. The Cardinals made it to Omaha last year, and return plenty of talent. Lefthander Reid Detmers and righty Bobby Miller are both top 50 prospects on MLB Pipeline’s 2020 draft board, and they return several hitters who played a major role last year, including Alex Binelas, Justin Lavey, and Zach Britton (no, not that Zack Britton). Florida and Miami are both top-five teams in both rankings linked above, and Arizona State has a loaded offense led by superstar first baseman Spencer Torkelson.
Who are the best players?
We already mentioned Martin and Torkelson above, two of the consensus top three draft prospects in the country right now. Georgia righthander Emerson Hancock is the third player in that mix, and those three appear to be the favorites to go first overall in June’s MLB draft. Hancock’s Georgia Bulldogs are ranked fifth in the nation by D1 Baseball, and should be favored to host another regional in 2020 — giving prospect hounds and pro baseball fans more chances to watch him as draft day approaches. Then there’s Rocker, who might be the best pitcher in the country, but won’t be draft eligible until 2021.
Beyond those four, we have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales hit .432/.532/.773 last season (yes, really), and currently ranks fourth on MLB Pipeline’s draft board. Detmers and Texas A&M lefthander Asa Lacy are the top southpaws in the country, while outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Garrett Mitchell are also gunning for top-10 consideration this June. Minnesota’s Max Meyer is the best pitcher in the Big Ten, if you want some local flair, while Michigan’s Jeff Criswell isn’t far behind.
Other names to watch, picked somewhat at random:
- Arkansas shortstop Casey Martin, a slick fielder and absolute burner on the basepaths who could go in the top 10
- Tennessee lefthander Garret Crochet, a large human (6’6, 218 pounds) that possesses a fastball that sits in the high 90s
- Louisville third baseman Alex Binelas, a Freshman All-American last year that will hit in the middle of the order on one of the nation’s top teams
- Florida International’s Logan Allen, who has played both ways at times in his college career; his future is on the mound, where he struck out 120 batters in 84 innings last year
- Georgia righthander Cole Wilcox, another potential first round talent in the Bulldogs’ rotation
- Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler, one of the top players in the Big Ten
Wait, wasn’t Michigan really good last year?
The Wolverines made a surprise run to the College World Series last year, and even had Vanderbilt on the ropes in the Final before the Commodores stormed back to win the best-of-three series.
Though Michigan is projected to win the Big Ten in 2020, they have to replace a lot of talent from last year’s squad to do so. Lefthander Tommy Henry, righthander Karl Kauffman, and outfielder Jordan Brewer all went in the top three rounds of the MLB draft, while important role players like Ako Thomas, Blake Nelson, and Tigers draft pick Jimmy Kerr are also gone. Criswell is a capable ace and one of the best starters in the conference, and they still have most of their up-the-middle talent, including center fielder Jesse Franklin. Outfilder Jordan Nwogu was named to the Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List, Baseball America named Jimmy Obertop the Big Ten’s Preseason Freshman of the Year, and righthander Isaiah Paige showed poise when starting opposite Kumar Rocker in last year’s College World Series.
Who are some other teams to watch?
Generally speaking, the further south or west you go, the better the baseball will be. The SEC, ACC, and Pac 12 are the three best conferences in the country on an annual basis — 18 of the 25 teams on Baseball America’s rankings come from one of those three — while the Big 12 is getting better. Michigan and Ohio State are the top two teams in the Big Ten, while East Carolina and Dallas Baptist are two traditionally strong programs from smaller conferences.
If you want to go even deeper, Baseball America has you covered with the Central Michigan preview you didn’t know you needed.
Few saw coming what Central Michigan did in year one under coach Jordan Bischel. The Chippewas won the Mid-American Conference regular season title, won 47 games overall and then beat Miami in its first regional trip since 1995. Now, most of that team is back and looking to at least repeat what they did last season, and ideally, take things a step further. Shortstop Zavier Warren, a top 2020 draft prospect, will lead a deep lineup and returning starter Cameron Brown headlines a pitching staff more than capable of mitigating the loss of staff ace Pat Leatherman.
Iowa is also listed as a team to watch in the above article, and Western Michigan’s Blake Dunn Jr. is on the Golden Spikes Watch List, if you want to stick with the midwestern theme.
What should I watch this weekend?
That depends on your preference, but college baseball teams aren’t shy with early season tests. Louisville and Ole Miss will square off at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, while Vanderbilt and Michigan will play an early rematch starting at 7:00 p.m. If you want an earlier start, Mississippi State will be on some sort of ESPN channel at 2:00 p.m. Former BYB draft target J.T. Ginn should get the start for the Bulldogs on Friday. On Saturday, Lousiville and Ole Miss will continue their series, while Michigan will face Arizona State in the other ranked-vs-ranked matchup.
How do I watch?
There will certainly be some games on TV throughout the year, especially if you have access to the whole host of ESPN’s networks, but streaming might be your best bet. WatchESPN and ESPN+ will give you the most bang for your buck, while services like YoutubeTV or FuboTV could give you access to a particular team. Baseball America has a conference-by-conference breakdown if you are looking for something specific.