College baseball season preview: Experienced TCU starts as No. 1; Coastal Carolina eyes repeat
With the conclusion of the Super Bowl each year, anticipation for baseball season soon follows. But while Major League Baseball is just beginning its 1.5-month Spring Training slog into the regular season, college baseball is just around the corner.
In one week, 70 programs will kick off their 2017 seasons on Feb. 17 with their sights set on clinching a trip to Omaha, Nebraska in June for the College World Series.
Here’s a look at the season ahead:
Who won last year?
It was a banner 2016 season for Coastal Carolina, who took the crown in its first-ever College World Series appearance.
The champions out of the Big South – the Chanticleers have since moved to the Sun Belt Conference – lost the opener to Arizona before storming back with back-to-back one-run victories to win the best-of-three series.
That final win, a 4-3 decision, was sparked by two Wildcats errors that led to all four unearned runs in the sixth inning. Andrew Beckwith, the nation’s leader in wins last year, then closed the door on the mound with just two earned runs in 5.2 innings pitched.
RANKINGS: NCBWA's preseason top 35
Beckwith returns for his senior season in 2017 as CCU looks for a second-straight appearance in Omaha. The Chanticleers come in at No. 11 in the NCBWA and DIBaseball.com top 25 rankings and at No. 9 in the USA Today Coaches’ poll.
Who’s on top entering 2017?
TCU’s 2016 title hopes fell short in the semifinals when it bowed out to Coastal Carolina in a two-game sweep. But entering 2017, the experienced Horned Frogs are the consensus favorite to win it all.
TCU returns seven of its eight starting position players, its power-hitting designated hitter, its entire starting rotation and its top closer.
Catcher Evan Skoug (21 doubles in 2016), third baseman Elliot Barzilli (27 extra base hits) and designated hitter Luken Baker (team-high 11 home runs) lead a loaded offense after each batting at least .300 in 2016. That trio should make up a formidable 3-4-5 combo in the Horned Frogs’ 2017 lineup.
Meanwhile, righty Brian Howard spearheads the starting rotation, coming off a 10-win season and Durbin Feltman backends the bullpen after a 12-save year.
TCU has appeared in three straight College World Series but the program’s first title remains elusive. With all the returning firepower, is this the year?
Who can be this year’s Coastal Carolina?
CCU’s 2016 title run ended a seven-year championship drought for programs outside the “Power 5” conferences. So which sleeper can become this year’s Coastal Carolina?
While the Chanticleers shouldn’t be overlooked in their pursuit for a repeat, East Carolina is equally well-equipped to make a run out of the AAC.
The Pirates appeared in each of the last two NCAA tournaments but have never reached the College World Series since their move to Division I in 1947. ECU starts 2017 at No. 9 in the NCBWA preseason poll.
Leading ECU on the field this season will be sophomore outfielder Dwanya Williams-Sutton, who batted .360 with 20 extra base hits and 27 RBIs as a freshman. He joins pitching duo Joe Ingle and Evan Kruczynski as NCBWA preseason All-Americans.
Kruczynski finished with a pair of NCAA tournament wins last season and tied for the team-lead with 17 starts. The lefty Ingle had 12 saves and six wins in 2016.
Strength in the sunshine state
Florida and Florida State are no strangers to College World Series play, appearing in a combined 31 series including five combined runner-up finishes. But neither have reached the pinnacle of the sport – a national title.
The No. 2 Gators and No. 4 Seminoles look to break that spell this season.
Florida will be led by its pitching staff, which finished with the sixth best earned run average in the nation last year (2.91). Florida lost two of its starters to last year’s MLB Draft but returns a trio of talented righties in Alex Faedo, Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar.
Faedo, a junior, finished with 13 wins last season and should be the Gators’ ace. Singer and Kowar are both coming off promising freshmen seasons and look for further development in year two.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles rely more on a potent offense with four preseason NCBWA All-Americans. Shortstop Taylor Walls is a table setter at the top of the lineup (72 runs scored last year) and will give catcher Cal Raleigh (10 homers, 50 RBIs) and company plenty of opportunities to drive in runs.
These two non-conference in-state foes will meet three times this regular season, each at a different site – Gainesville, Jacksonville and Tallahassee – in what may be a postseason series preview.