College baseball: Five big-time power threats returning in 2017
There’s nothing to cap off a rally, pad a lead or drive the crowd wild quite like a home run. And last season brought plenty of those, with seven players hitting 20 or more dingers — the most since 2010.
While many of the top power bats have since graduated or left following the MLB draft, the coming season still has plenty of bombs to be hit.
Here are five of the top returning power threats in 2017.
Seth Beer | Clemson
To say Beer burst onto the scene as a freshman last year is a bit of an understatement. The Suwanee, Georgia, native was an early enrollee, but he made some ACC pitchers look like the high school hurlers he could have been facing. By the time the dust settled, all he did was win the Dick Howser Trophy given to the national player of the year.
Beer posted the second-highest slugging percentage in school history, putting up a .700 mark (for reference, slugging percentage is the number of total bases a player has divided by his at-bats, so a home run is good for a 4.000 slugging percentage). As you might expect, Beer hit plenty of blasts to reach that mark — 18, to be exact. He seemed to have a particularly affinity for Wake Forest pitching, tormenting the Demon Deacons to tune of a 5-for-14, four-home run, eight-RBI line in four games.
Beer played in the outfield as a freshman but is expected to shift to first base in 2017. The Tigers, who came in at No. 13 in the NCBWA preseason rankings, are surely looking forward to some more of that pop. His presence could be vital with Chris Okey, who was second on the team in homers and led in RBIs last year, having since signed with the Cincinnati Reds.
Jake Burger | Missouri State
Burger comes into 2017 as the returning leader in home runs per game, posting an average of a dinger every 0.38 games last season as a sophomore. That was third overall in the nation behind a pair of seniors.
The 21 homers by the Chesterfield, Missouri, product placed him in a four-way tie for second in the nation. The only player he trailed was teammate Spencer Johnson, who knocked 24 balls out of the park. Burger’s hitting last year came as no surprise, as he followed up a .342 freshman season with a .349 average. But his power really was a nice surprise, with four homers in 2015 jolting up to 21.
Now with Johnson out of the picture, it will be interesting to see how Burger fares without that lineup protection. His hitting prowess obviously can’t be denied — he finished in the top two in the Missouri Valley Conference in batting average, home runs and RBIs — but any player’s power numbers are bound to suffer when pitchers feel more comfortable pitching around him.
Nick Feight | UNC Wilmington
Among returning players, no one posted a higher slugging percentage (.726) than Feight, who matched Burger’s 21 home runs in 2016. The junior was named a first-team preseason All-American by the NCBWA after being named to its second team at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
Feight had one of the most proficient seasons in terms of RBIs in some time last year. The Gainesville, Virginia, native drove in 91, the most since Colin Moran in 2013. But what makes it amazing is that UNCW only played 60 games, giving him an average of 1.52 RBIs. That’s a mark that hasn’t been touched since 2010.
B8: Feight goes back to back https://t.co/TZCROMZwYV— UNCW Baseball (@UNCWBaseball) March 26, 2016
The catcher had one multi-homer game, but it was consistent play and not hot streaks that made up his season. He was only held without an RBI in 19 of his 60 games, though two of those came at the worst possible time as South Carolina knocked the Seahawks out of the Columbia Regional.
UNCW will look for more big things from its middle-of-the-order bat in order to contend for a third straight NCAA tournament spot.
Dylan Busby | Florida State
It was a great sophomore year overall for Busby, who mostly played first base for the Seminoles last year after playing at the other corner in 2015. But what lifted him onto this list and onto many preseason All-American teams is the way he absolutely carried his team in the postseason.
In 10 ACC and NCAA tournament games, the native of Sarasota, Florida, went 19-for-44 (.432) with six homers and 18 RBIs. That figure included two multi-homer games, including one against Clemson in an ACC championship game that saw 31 runs score. He did it again in the third game of the Tallahassee Regional where the Seminoles swept their way to a Super Regional clash with Florida, which they lost in three games.
Busby finished the season leading the team with 14 home runs and a .597 slugging percentage. Again, many of his final numbers were a little inflated by his gigantic postseason, but he earns bonus points for doing it when it counts, and it won’t be surprising to see that high level of performance carry over to 2017.
Luken Baker | TCU
The home runs weren’t quite there yet as a freshman for Baker, not that 11 is anything to sneeze at. But the designated hitter has one of the best-looking power swings around, and it’s extremely difficult to believe he won’t see several more balls clear the fences in his second campaign.
Baker was placed on the preseason first-team All-America in part due to his outstanding 2016 (.379 batting average, 76 RBIs) and in part due to the potential he possesses. As the likely cleanup hitter for the preseason No. 1 team, Baker should have plenty of opportunities to really cement his name as one of the nation’s best.
The home runs started to come toward the end of the season, as he had seven in the Horned Frogs’ final 15 games. He played as big a part as anyone of getting TCU to the College World Series, where it had two chances to beat Coastal Carolina and advance to the championship but was unable to pull it off. Now with a clear goal in 2017 to finish the job, Baker’s ability to get runners home will be key.