There's plenty of talent returning to the mound in college baseball for the 2014 season.
With the way they can keep hitters off balance, here are six of the nation's top pitchers to watch. They all could have a big say in whether their teams contend for a conference title, make a good run in the NCAA tournament or even make it to the College World Series in June.
Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt: Beede, a junior righty and former first-round pick, was tied for the national lead for victories last year and is No. 4 on Baseball America's list of the top college draft prospects. Beede went 14-1 with a 2.32 ERA in 17 starts last year to set a school single-season record for wins. Beede said he's been focusing on being a leader and having more consistent mechanics with the smaller parts of his game. "Last year I faltered a little bit on that front," he said, "but it's something that I really prided myself on getting better at this fall."
David Berg, UCLA: With his submarine-style delivery, the junior reliever set an NCAA record with 24 saves for the reigning national champion Bruins. Berg was the first reliever in the history of the Pac-12 to be named the league's pitcher of the year after matching the NCAA single-season appearances record with 51, bringing his two-year total to 101. He was also named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year as the nation's top closer, going 7-0 with a 0.92 ERA.
Nick Burdi, Louisville: The hard-throwing junior closer finished with 16 saves last year, the second-best total in school history and tied for 11th nationally. He also had a 0.76 ERA, touched 100 mph on the radar gun and earned his last save with 1.2 scoreless innings to beat Vanderbilt in the NCAA super regionals series opener. Burdi is ranked as the No. 12 college draft prospect according to Baseball America and a preseason first-team all-America pick by the publication.
Justin Garza, Cal State Fullerton: Garza didn't lose as a freshman, going 12-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 17 appearances. Garza teamed with fellow rookie Thomas Eshelman (12-3, 1.48 ERA) to give Fullerton one of the nation's best 1-2 punches on the mound -- they tied for the school's freshman single-season wins record -- and it's a big reason why Fullerton ranked fourth nationally in team ERA (2.47) last season. Garza was the Big West Conference pitcher of the year and earned several all-America honors as a freshman.
Aaron Nola, LSU: A junior right-hander, Nola was the pitcher of the year in the Southeastern Conference last year in helping the Tigers reach the College World Series. He led the SEC with 122 strikeouts and was third in the league in wins to go with his 12-1 record. Nola, ranked No. 5 on Baseball America's list of college draft prospects, also had a 1.57 ERA. "Believe it or not, he's better," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "I don't know if his numbers are going to be better. I don't know how they can be. ... I don't see any reason why he won't go out there and just give us a chance to win every time he pitches."
Carlos Rodon, N.C. State: The junior left-hander -- Baseball America's No. 1-ranked college draft prospect -- was the first freshman in Atlantic Coast Conference history to be named league pitcher of the year in 2012 after going 9-0 with a 1.57 ERA, then went 10-3 last year with a 2.99 ERA and a national-best 184 strikeouts. He shook off his first college loss to Appalachian State in last season's opener and was strong all year, including starts against rival North Carolina in the ACC tournament and the College World Series in which he allowed a combined six hits and two runs in 19 innings. "It's just part of baseball. It was bound to come," Rodon said of his first college loss. "You learn from failure so I learned a couple of things."