College World Series: 8 must-see players in the NCAA baseball tournament
No individual can make or break a baseball team, but a transcendent player can significantly enhance his team’s chances to win.
C Zack Collins, Miami
A competent bat behind the plate is a plus in college baseball these days. So relatively speaking, Collins’ offensive abilities from the catcher spot are other-worldly.
The 6-3, 220-pound junior sports a slash line of .357/.538/.649 this season and is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Canes’ lineup. Some expected Collins to build on the 15 homers he smacked last year, but consider this: Collins matched his home run total from last season in 57 fewer at-bats. That’s what happens when you walk 75 times. Opponents fret at the sight of Collins in the batter’s box, and it will be up to his protection to make pitchers pay if they employ such a strategy in Omaha.
P Logan Shore, Florida
They say pitching wins in the postseason. Whether or not run prevention is more important than run scoring in a playoff scenario is up for debate, but the bottom line is this: Shore is one of the premier aces in college baseball.
On the season, the junior is 12-0 with a 2.24 ERA. In fact, the Gators haven’t lost a game in which Shore has started this season – including no-decisions.
Shore is coming into the College World Series on a high note, tossing eight innings of two-hit ball against Florida State to force a Game 3 in Super Regional play. Coastal Carolina may have to get creative in order to manufacture runs in the opening round.
P Nathan Bannister, Arizona
Arizona is in the College World Series because of its depth, but Bannister has been a workhorse for the Wildcats’ rotation all season long.
The senior right-hander isn’t going to blow anyone away with velocity, but regardless, he’s one of the most effective pitchers in college baseball. Bannister jumped onto the scene in his senior year and has gone 11-2 with a 2.71 ERA in 2016. He rarely issues a free pass – his 98:29 strikeout-to-walk ratio is outstanding, and his WHIP is below one.
We’ll see if he can maintain that kind of dominance in Omaha.
1B Austin Bush, UC Santa Barbara
One of the best pure power hitters in the College World Series field, Bush is an imposing presence that is heating up at the right time.
The 6-6, 265-pound sophomore has an effortless stroke from the left side of the dish, and he was brilliant in regional and super regional play.
Between June 3 and June 11, Bush homered in four consecutive games. Most of them were no-doubters. The slugger has tallied 11 homers on the year; the rest of the Gauchos have 21 combined. If UC Santa Barbara is going to make any noise in Omaha, they’ll need Bush to absolutely rake.
SP Thomas Hatch, Oklahoma State
Between Hatch and Elliott Jensen, the Cowboys have one of the best one-two starting pitching punches in Omaha. But Hatch is the star of the show, as he owns an 8-2 record in 2016 with a 2.04 ERA.
After redshirting in 2015, Hatch has come out of nowhere this year. Opponents hit just .231 off of the right-hander, and he’s saved his best outings for last. In his last two starts against Nebraska and South Carolina, Hatch tossed 14 scoreless innings and struck out 13 batters. Needless to say, Oklahoma State won both contests.
1B/P Luken Baker, TCU
Baker has been the best hitter on one of the best offenses in college baseball this season. The juicy part of that equation? He’s just a freshman.
Baker’s rookie campaign slash line: /379/.488/.560. The first baseman has it all – power, patience and the ability to hit for contact. Placed in a lineup with studs such as Elliott Barzilli, Dane Steinhagen and Josh Watson, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.
Not in Baker’s world. His bat could play a crucial role in this year’s College World Series.
But wait, there’s more. Baker’s impact doesn’t stop at the plate. He’s a high-velocity stud on the mound too, starting 10 games this season while posting a 1.70 ERA. Talk about a guy that does it all.
OF Tanner Gardner, Texas Tech
Texas Tech has an embarrassment of offensive riches. Gardner leads the Red Raiders in hitting with a .382 batting average, and he hits third in the lineup. But he’s far from Tech’s best power hitter.
Eric Gutierrez, Stephen Smith and Tyler Neslony have combined to belt 32 home runs this season; Gardner only has three. But the sophomore centerfielder is as pure of a hitter as there is in Omaha. He leads the potent Red Raider offense in batting average, hits (86), triples (6), and on-base percentage (.485). He also has huge value in patrolling the Texas Tech outfield, tallying five assists on the year.
OF Connor Owings, Coastal Carolina
Owings is one of the most feared hitters in college baseball, and really has no weaknesses at the dish. He’s slugging almost .700 this season and gets on base in almost half of his plate appearances, all while smacking 16 homers.
As a team, Coastal has shellacked 94 homers this season. It has surrendered 32. In fact, Owings only ranks third on the Chanticleers in big flies, but his gap-to-gap power and speed (he’s swiped 14 bags in 15 attempts this season) is too much to ignore. If Coastal Carolina finds itself in the final series, Owings will be a major reason why.