College baseball tournament: One position player to watch from each Super Regional team
Great teams have great players, so it's only natural that this weekend's Super Regionals feature some of college baseball's best.
Here's a look at one position player from each Super Regional team that all eyes should be on as their teams look to advance to the 2017 College World Series.
Davidson: OF Will Robertson
A former walk-on out of Greenville, South Carolina, Robertson's ability to hit for both power and base hits has made him a huge asset in the middle of Davidson's lineup. The senior is batting .336 with 18 home runs and 46 RBIs, and he went 4-for-11 with a home run in the Wildcats' three regional games.
Making the power surge that Robertson is enjoying this season more impressive is the fact that he didn't register one until his 14th game, and then only had one more in the next 11 games. That means in the Wildcats' last 34 games, he has hit 16 dingers, an average of almost one every other contest. That stretch includes five multi-homer games, one of which saw three of them.
The jump Robertson has made as a senior has been nothing short of extraordinary. In his first three seasons combined, he hit only three home runs — all of which came in 2016. For Davidson to continue its magical run and top Texas A&M, Robertson will need to have some big hits. And he's shown he's more than capable of doing just that.
Florida: Nelson Maldonado
The college game just seems to come easy for the smooth right fielder. On the year, the sophomore has an incredible ratio of 45 walks to just 19 strikeouts.
Even without being a major home run threat in the cleanup spot, it's still easy to see why the Gators roll with him there: They can count on a poised, productive at-bat more often than not. Maldonado has a hit in all but 15 of his starts this year, but he still drew at least a walk in seven of those hitless games. He came up huge in the winner-take-all regional final against Bethune-Cookman, reaching base four times and driving in a run. He also showed off his arm with an assist at the plate to keep the game before that tied, though the Wildcats eventually won it to force the final.
Florida State: Dylan Busby
Busby put together a junior year that was a nearly identical copy of his sophomore campaign. And that's a very good thing, because the third baseman had a great 2016 season capped off with the Tallahassee Regional Most Outstanding Player recognition.
As a sophomore, the Sarasota, Florida native hit .323 with 14 homers, 55 RBIs and 11 steals. As a junior, he's batting .317 with 14 homers, 60 RBIs and nine steals. That's a model of consistency right there.
For the second straight year, Busby played hero with a monster regional performance. He went 6-for-19 in the five games, including some of the biggest hits of his life against Auburn to set up the final game. In that one, he came up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 7-6 with a runner on first. The count went to 3-2, and then he lifted a pitch off the wall in dead center, tying the game with a triple. He also went deep earlier in that game, which the Seminoles ended up winning in 10 innings, and then had a pair of doubles the next day.
Cal State Fullerton: Scott Hurst
When Hurst is locked in at the plate, pitchers should feel good about themselves just for getting him out once. The junior has 10 games with three or more hits, including a quartet of four-hit nights and even a 5-for-5 game. Oh, and that aforementioned five-hit performance featured four home runs and six runs scored.
The outfielder was instrumental in the Titans' sweep of the Stanford Regional, going 2-for-4 with a double and triple in the opening blowout of BYU and then hitting a huge two-run homer in the second inning of the final against the Cardinal. He's made a gigantic rise as a junior, raising his .231 batting average in 268 at-bats as a freshman and sophomore by over 100 points to .333. He has also broken his two-year totals in runs, hits, RBIs and a handful of other categories.
Kentucky: Evan White
It's hard to find many flaws in White's game, as the junior has put up a .370 average with 10 homers, 24 doubles and 41 RBIs. He was the star of the Lexington Regional, going 7-for-18 with a home run, six walks and eight runs scored in five games.
In addition to being a threat at the plate, White has one of the premier first-base gloves around. He has a perennial spot on the All-SEC Defensive Team, also taking home a Rawlings Gold Glove in 2016. The Wildcats might've dropped Game 1 to the Cardinals, but White just keeps rolling along in postseason playing, going 2-for-4 with another home run to raise his 2017 tournament on-base percentage to a whopping .536.
Long Beach State: Lucas Tancas
Tancas' 2016 season was halted after just nine games thanks to a pitch getting him in the hand, but he has come back a new man. Last season was his first in a Dirtbag uniform after transferring from Irvine Valley College, and his first taste of Division I baseball resulted in just a 3-for-27 line.
But the outfielder's results have been much improved with a full season of work, leading Long Beach State with nine home runs while placing second on the team in batting average, doubles and RBIs, not to mention his four outfield assists.
The redshirt junior alternated two-hit and 0-for-4 performances in regional play, finishing the Long Beach Regional with a 6-for-20 line, along with three walks. His biggest game came in the finale against Texas when he reached base three times, doubled twice and scored a run in the third inning that proved to be the game-winner.
LSU: Zach Watson
One would be hard-pressed to find a more exciting freshman in the country than Watson, whose quick bat and lightning-fast foot speed makes him a nightmare for the opposition to deal with.
The center fielder made an immediate impact once he became a regular starter about a month into the season, going 11-for-23 in that first week. Though not noted as a huge power threat at this stage of his career — just four in the regular season — he went crazy with the longball at the Baton Rouge Regional. Watson equaled his season total in just two games, enjoying his first career multi-homer game against Texas Southern so much that he followed it up with another one the next day against Southeastern Louisiana.
Louisville: Brendan McKay
Lots of players have been able to contribute as both a pitcher and position player in college, but few have been quite as dominant on both sides of the ball as McKay. Named a finalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and winning Baseball America's National Player of the Year, the junior has been a much-watch player whether he's serving as a first baseman or a starting pitcher.
With a bat in his hands, he's a player who hit .356 with 17 home runs and 56 RBIs. Put him on the mound, and he's 9-3 with a 2.31 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 15 starts. The only question is, which was more impressive: his 15-strikeout performance pitching or four-home run game hitting? McKay is scheduled to pitch on Saturday for the Cardinals in Game 2 of the Louisville Super Regional against Kentucky off the heels of a one-run no-decision against Oklahoma in Regionals, with a chance to send the Cardinals to Omaha.
Missouri State: Jake Burger
Burger has followed up one of the better offensive seasons in Missouri State history with one just as good. After batting .349 with 21 homers as a sophomore, the third baseman has turned in a .333, 22-homer campaign.
While his slugging percentage is slightly down from last year, his on-base percentage is up thanks to 42 walks, giving him an almost exactly replicated on-base plus slugging of 1.110 in 2017 versus 1.009 a year ago. His ability to hit was never in question from the moment he put on a Bears uniform, as he batted .342 as a freshman, but with just four home runs. This year has proved without a shred of doubt that his massive power increase in 2016 was no fluke.
The Bears won the Fayetteville Regional even without Burger playing his best ball (4-for-17 with a double and RBI in four games), making them a very interesting team to watch if their best player can bust loose against TCU.
Mississippi State: Brent Rooker
The case to be made for anyone but Rooker being considered as the most dominant hitter around the country in 2017 is flimsy at best. After all, it's hard for one man to do much better than leading the country in doubles and RBIs and ranking in the top five in batting average, hits and home runs. And that's in an SEC that boasted some of the country's best pitchers.
If power isn't your thing, the junior also ranked second in the conference with 18 steals. He delivered big-time against Southern Miss last week, going deep in each of the final two games as the Bulldogs finished off their run of four straight wins after dropping the regional opener. Overall, he went 6-for-20 in regional play with six RBIs, four walks and four runs scored.
Oregon State: Nick Madrigal
The Beavers, with the lowest team ERA the country has seen in years, are undoubtedly a pitching-first squad. But that doesn't mean they don't have their share of offensive studs, and Madrigal certainly fits in that category.
After a phenomenal debut season that won the slick-fielding shortstop Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors, Madrigal has still managed to make large improvements in every offensive category. His average went from .333 to .380, he added seven steals to his 2016 total of eight, and he jumped from 11 doubles to 18. That's all while sporting a .982 fielding percentage, an incredible mark for a shortstop (four errors in 213 chances). Yale had no answer for the sophomore in the regional final, giving up a 4-for-4 day, plus a walk in Oregon State's 8-1 clinching victory.
Sam Houston State: Bryce Johnson
Arizona and Texas Tech might be having nightmares about the Bearkats' speedy outfielder all offseason after Johnson helped lead his team to two victories apiece over the No. 5 national seed and the defending national runner-up.
In the five regional contests, Johnson went 6-for-17 with four RBIs and three steals. The stolen bases should come as no surprise when he gets on, as his 33 swipes rank fourth in the country. Johnson's speed, contact ability and plate discipline make him a perfect fit at the top of the Bearkat order. Despite not hitting a single home run this season, he still regularly hits third because he's so good at getting the ball down. He's batting .350 on the season with a .456 on-base percentage, and his 62 runs scored rank 20th in the nation.
Texas A&M: Braden Shewmake
It's hard to believe that Shewmake is only a freshman with how well-rounded his game is. But if that means he's only going to get better at the plate over the next couple of years, the SEC better hold its breath.
The second baseman earned SEC Freshman of the Year honors for a season that currently features a .333 batting average with 11 each of home runs and steals. His 67 RBIs lead all freshmen nationally and is tied for second among SEC players behind Rooker.
Shewmake went 2-for-5 in the Houston Regional opener but then 0-for-8 in the next two Aggie victories. Don't expect too many more consecutive hitless games like that — he only did it twice in the regular season. With multi-hit performances in 29 of his 60 games, including a remarkable stretch of 14 of his first 20 games, Shewmake possesses one of the most reliable bats in all of college baseball at 19 years old.
TCU: Austen Wade
The Horned Frogs are undoubtedly missing Luken Baker, one of the top run producers in the country who went down with a season-ending arm injury on May 12. But with guys like Evan Skoug, Cam Warner and Wade still in the mix, the No. 6 seed hasn't missed a beat.
Wade led the way for TCU with a .355 batting average, 45 walks and 16 doubles, coming up huge as a table-setter for the rest of the lineup in the leadoff spot. Just seven starts haven't included a hit this year for the junior, who has been one of the country's most improved players. He has 15 steals and has also chipped in five homers. He had a hit in each of TCU's three regional games, also picking up three walks, three runs and a steal, though he did strike out six times.
Vanderbilt: Will Toffey
The junior has been absolutely scorching at the plate since mid-May. In his last 11 games, the junior is 24-for-48, good for an even .500 batting average. He has also left the yard six times in that span.
A third of those home runs came on Monday in the regional final against Clemson. The Commodores' leadoff hitter put his team on the board in the third inning with a two-run blast, then made the game a blowout with a three-run homer in the fifth to push the score to 6-0.
There's no hotter hitter in the country right now than Toffey, who was solid for most of the season but not spectacular. But thanks in large part to his last month, he now has some excellent season stats of a .350 batting average, 11 home runs, 62 RBIs and an SEC-leading 48 walks.
Wake Forest: Stuart Fairchild
The junior outfielder from Seattle made All-SEC teams in each of his first two seasons, but he has still managed to improve his game immensely across the board. The toolsy player has set new career-highs in batting average (.359), and steals (20), while shattering his two-year total in home runs (17 this year, five in each of his first two seasons).
Fairchild is another one of the hottest players heading into Super Regionals, riding a 10-game hitting streak. Over that span, he has four outings with three hits, as well as a pair of multi-homer games. One of those came in the Demon Deacons' 12-8 win over West Virginia to finish off the sweep of the regional they were hosting. Fairchild drove in six runs in that game, a career best. He also has some of the best center-field range in the country and is coming off a season in which he had nine outfield assists, though that number has dropped down to a still-solid four.