College Baseball World Series Preview

The road to Omaha, Nebraska has come to a head while eight teams out of 300+ remain. The tournament started two weekends ago with the regional round where we saw 64 teams compete in a round robin format that decided the super regional round of 16 teams. From there, our eight remaining teams were decided in eight different best-of-three series. The finalists:

1 Tennessee Volunteers (55-12)

2 Kentucky Wildcats (45-14)

3 Texas A&M Aggies (49-13)

4 North Carolina Tar Heels (47-14)

8 Florida State Seminoles (47-15)

10 North Carolina State Wolfpack (38-21)

12 Virginia Cavaliers (46-15)

Florida Gators (34-28)

The regional and super-regional rounds saw a lot of highly competitive play, with just about all of these teams coming into the World Series battle-tested. NC State and Tennessee both had to play a deciding game three in their respective super regional, while Florida and North Carolina both pulled out wins via a come-from-behind walk-off win. With the World Series featuring six top-10 ranked programs, we should get a lot of electric baseball.

On top of seeing teams compete at the highest level of amateur baseball, there are also still a lot of players left that will have their names called in this year’s MLB draft. Florida’s Jac Caglianone headlines the field after a monster performance thus far, including two home runs against Clemson in the super-regional.  Some more top names include Christian Moore from Tennessee, Ryan Waldschmidt from Kentucky, Cam Smith from Florida State, and Vance Honeycutt from North Carolina among others. The action kicks off on Friday and the tournament runs a double-elimination format. Here are the initial matchups along with a preview for each team:

Previewing the College Baseball World Series

Friday –

2:00 PM ET: Virginia @ North Carolina

The tournament kicks off on Friday with two of the four ACC teams represented facing off. Neither Virginia nor North Carolina made it to the ACC semifinal, however, both teams have combined for just one loss since. Virginia handled business in the Charlottesville regional, winning all three of their games and winning in back-to-back games against Mississippi State, and then took down Kansas State in two games in the super regional round. The lineup features MLB Pipeline’s #41 draft prospect shortstop Griff O’Ferrall, and #76 catcher/DH Ethan Anderson. The sophomore outfielder Harrison Didawick has arguably been Virginia’s best player, posting a line of .297/.422/.655 with 23 home runs.

As for North Carolina, they took down last year’s national champion LSU during the Chapel Hill regional, then beat West Virginia in two games at the super regional. For North Carolina, it has been all about the Vance Honeycutt show. I gave a quick rundown on Honeycutt in one of my recent articles, but he has since impressed me even more. He launched a walk-off three-run homerun on Friday night to put North Carolina up 1-0 in the series and then showed off all of his tools in the close-out game on Saturday. That would include another homerun, a play in which he showed off his 60-grade arm throwing a runner out, and laying down a bunt single utilizing his 65-grade speed. If anyone in this tournament is a difference-maker – it’s Honeycutt. I originally had him going 24th overall to the Braves, but if his performance is convincing enough this week, a top-10 team may come calling.

7:00 PM ET: Florida State @ Tennessee

Tennessee comes in ranked as the top team in the nation and the SEC champions, while Florida State comes in as the ACC runner-up and undefeated in tournament play thus far. Tennessee outscored their opponents at the Knoxville regional by 21 runs and then took down Evansville in three games at the super regional. Similar to Honeycutt, Tennessee’s Christian Moore is a top-tier talent who is quickly rising up my draft board with an impressive performance thus far in tournament play. We know they have multiple players who will get drafted this summer, and it’s those players who are likely going to be the difference if they want to take the hardware back home to Knoxville.

Florida State has been just as dominant as Tennessee, if not more after they marched their way through the Tallahassee regional and then swept UConn in two games at the super regional. In their five playoff games, they’ve outscored their opponents by 38 runs, which included a 24-4 beat down of UConn on Friday. Cam Smith and James Tibbs have led the way as they’ve done all season,  but have also gotten some big performances out of sophomores Marco Dinges and Max Williams. The offense is obviously loaded, but FSU features who may be the best pitcher at the CWS, and who also may be the top pitcher in next year’s draft. That would be the left-handed sophomore Jamie Arnold who has posted a 2.77 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 155 strikeouts over 100 innings this year. Look for him to get the starting nod twice this week if the Noles advance that far.

Saturday –

2:00 PM ET: North Carolina State @ Kentucky

Kentucky comes into the tournament with a lot to prove with this being the program’s first-ever trip to Omaha. On top of that, they came in with high expectations and ranked as the #2 team in the country. They are undefeated in tournament play thus far, sweeping their way through both the Lexington regional and super regional, taking down Oregon State in two games. The Wildcats only have one MLB Pipeline top-100 prospect, the junior outfielder Ryan Waldschmidt who I have going 23rd overall to the Dodgers at the moment. He’s posted a line of .346/.473/.634 with 14 home runs and 24 stolen bases while playing plus defense. He’s another player who has quickly made his way up draft boards and may find himself taken in the 10-20 range. Despite Kentucky having just one potential first-round pick, this team is a well-oiled machine and should make a lot of noise in Omaha.

As for North Carolina State, they’re coming off of a road series win in the super regional round over Georgia after a sweep of the Raleigh regional. Like Kentucky, NC State features just one top-100 draft prospect, that being the catcher Jacob Cozart. I mentioned in my previous article that I’d expect Cozart’s bat to wake up in the super regional and that it did. He went 6-14 on the weekend and clubbed three home runs, which included a two-home run game on Saturday in the Wolfpack’s 18-2 route over Georgia. Pitching hasn’t quite come at a premium for most of these teams thus far, so the Wolfpack will look to the Freshman lefty Ryan Marohn to anchor their staff and silence these opposing high-powered offenses.

7:00 PM ET: Florida @ Texas A&M

The Florida Gators have surprised a lot of folks as nobody would have predicted they would make it this far. After a quick exit from the SEC tournament, the Gators squeaked into the tournament on the merit of playing the toughest schedule in the nation and managing a 29-26 record. However, they would go on to win the Stillwater regional, taking down Oklahoma State in three games, and then went on to sweep Clemson in the super regional in dramatic fashion, outlasting the Tigers in 13 innings on the road. These Gators feature the top player in the CWS, that being Jac Caglianone who I’ve mentioned in both of my previous articles. He will have to continue to produce at a high level if last year’s CWS runner-up wants redemption. Although the numbers don’t quite show for it, the junior right-hander Brandon Neely has been huge in providing high-leverage innings for the Gators and will once again be relied upon heavily on Omaha. He will likely join Cagliagnone as the next Gator to enter an MLB farm system this summer.

The final team is the #3 ranked Texas A&M Aggies. They come in undefeated in tournament play and outscoring their opponents by 25 runs. Unfortunately, the Aggies will be without their best player, MLB Pipeline’s #8 ranked prospect, Braden Montgomery. Montgomery went down with a broken ankle on Saturday night in A&M’s 10-6 victory over Oregon. Obviously this ends Montgomey’s season and you would hope this doesn’t hurt his draft stock. As one of the more gifted athletes in this year’s class, I have him going 6th overall to the Royals. Despite missing their best player, the Aggies won’t be without any talent in Omaha. The lineup still features the power-hitting sophomore Jace LaViolette, who led the team in both home runs with 28 and OPS with a mark of 1.210. They also have one of the better pitching staffs with MLB Pipeline’s #59 ranked prospect Ryan Prager who has posted a 3.10 ERA over 87 innings, and #100 ranked prospect Chris Cortez who has a 2.83 ERA over 57 innings. The pitching will likely be the difference-maker if the Aggies are to take home their first-ever national title.

Main Image:  Cyndi Chambers Sports / USA TODAY NETWORK

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