It has been a long time coming, but first pitch for the 2021 DII college baseball season is finally here. Central Missouri, the No. 1 team in the final Power 10 rankings of the 2020 season, heads to Texas to face a stacked field in the Houston Winter Invitational Friday, Jan. 29-31.
Seems like a good time for some preseason rankings, don't you think?
POWER 10: Final rankings of 2020 season
Let's take a look at the DII college baseball Power 10 rankings and how the rest of the top-25 could shake out. First, here's a quick refresher if you're new to my rankings. These are my rankings. I use much of the criteria the DII baseball selection committee will use come tournament time, including — but not limited to — strength of schedule, head-to-head matchups, and record against DII opponents. We know several teams — such as the CCAA and New York Tech — won't be playing this season, so I'm focusing on the teams that, as of today, will.
This year was particularly difficult. I, like many of us, haven't seen live baseball in some time. That said, I had to rely on what I've been told in regards to players strengths and weaknesses. The shortened MLB draft sees a lot of talent return to the DII level and many of the teams that were playing well last season have a lot of key pieces back on the roster. Teams No. 1 through No. 5 are so equally impressive that they are nearly interchangeable, it was that close. I'm not kidding: teams Nos. 1-5 are that good.
The DII college baseball preseason rankings
1. Colorado Mesa — The Mavericks are no strangers to the top 5, nor the DII baseball championship and with the entire rotation and lineup back for another run, this team is dangerously good. I love this offense as it is equipped with two player-of-the-year candidates in Hayden McGeary and Spencer Bramwell. Add in veterans like Jordan Stubbings and Caleb Farmer that return in a lineup that was hitting .340 with 33 home runs through 18 games when 2020 ended and you have a contender. Trevin Reynolds has established himself as a legitimate ace, so the Mavericks season depends on the development of the rest of the pitching. This could be the year Andrew Morris breaks out.
2. Angelo State — Josh Elvir alone is enough to earn the Rams a lofty ranking. The senior outfielder has put up video-game numbers the past two seasons ending 2020 with a .438 average, 1.634 OPS and 21 extra-base hits in 22 games. It was no fluke: the numbers mirrored what Elvir did in the 2019 season, which has to scare the pants off of Lone Star Conference pitching. They also have one of the best aces in DII baseball in Trent Baker. Not only does he sit mid-90s, he has strong secondary offerings and plus command. The bulk of the lineup is back, 75 percent of the rotation and the entire bullpen as well. You’re not going to find many weak spots on the Rams’ roster.
3. Central Missouri — As I said, the Mules ended the season as the last No. 1 team in our Power 10 rankings last year. Much like Angelo State, Central Missouri has one of the best offensive powers and starting pitcher combos in all of DII baseball. Mason Green will lead an experienced rotation. Wrap your head around this: the Mules' ace has made 23 starts in his career and has never lost. Erik Webb leads an exciting outfield, maybe the best in DII baseball. Webb put up a player-of-the-year campaign in his last full season, hitting for a .410 average, 1.269 OPS and 62 extra-base hits in getting the Mules to Cary, N.C. in 2019.
4. North Greenville — What do you get when you add eight bats from a potent lineup, the entire starting rotation and all bullpen pieces back on campus? A true contender, and that’s exactly what the Crusaders are. John Michael Faile is one of the best players in DII baseball and the catcher is settled in for a big year. South Carolina transfer Logan Chapman was just getting comfortable when play stopped and should be filthy in the rotation. And if the Crusaders get to closer Ryan Kirk with a lead, the game is all but over — he allowed no runs in his nine appearances last year. This team has experience and talent by the boatload.
5. Tampa — You can't have a top 5 in DII college baseball without Tampa. The Spartans could have no returners in their lineup and you know Joe Urso would field a contender. And that's why they come in at No. 5: the uncertainty of how the new faces will mesh. That said, per usual, some big-time transfers should impact this Tampa lineup, as well as Macallister Jorgenson and Kian Knutson, two highly-touted freshmen. Nick Derr, Drew Ehrhard and Sam Freitas are holdovers from the 2019 championship team. And speaking of Derr, he leads one of my favorite outfields along with Jose Cadenas, transfer Eric Linder and transfer EJ Cumbo. Cumbo led the upstart New York Tech Bears to the final eight in 2019 with a monster freshman season and couldn't have landed in a better spot.
6. Augustana (SD) — I think the NSIC and teams — and those in the Northeast, for that matter — hardly showed us what they were capable of last year. Head coach Tim Huber always has a team that wins ball games — two years removed from the national championship — and he has plenty of experience returning to continue those winning ways. It's tough for pitchers to get the ball past Jordan Barth, who hits everything. He's joined by sharp-hitting returners Riley Johnson, JT Mix and Sam Baier from the 2018 championship squad. Max Steffens and Tanner Brown are nice veterans to have on the mound, but I'm intrigued by freshmen Kai Taylor and Ethan Sannes who can make an instant impact to the pitching staff.
7. Columbus State — Gone is Bryson Horne, the big slugging transfer who signed with the Atlanta Braves this past summer. But despite losing their top hitter, the Cougars return their next four best from a team that was 18-3 when play stopped in 2020. Dane Bullock is one to watch as the senior outfielder has a nice blend of contact skills and pop. On the bump, Columbus State returns all three big arms that made six starts last year. Jalen Latta may be the best of the bunch.
8. Catawba — Pitching, pitching and more pitching. And Hunter Shepherd who does everything. Shepherd, a fifth-year senior, is dangerous with the bat — hitting .447 with nine home runs through 21 games last year — and on the bump, going 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 27.1 innings. Bryan Ketchie and Sawyer Strickland also return to head up one of the most experienced rotations in the Division.
9. Minnesota State — The Mavericks will have to contend with a very tough Augustana (SD) in their own conference, but right now I have both as true top-10 contenders. That’s because I like the pitching. It starts with two-way superstar Cam Kline, but Jimmy Larson, Jack Zigan and Jon Ludwig give this team a bevy of weekend rotation options. We hardly got to see what this offense looked like last year, but returners like Ben Livorsi and Joey Werner leave plenty about which to be excited.
10. Mount Olive — I love this outfield. Joe Mason looks to be MLB draft bound after the season as his bat can handle most stuff thrown his way. But Dusty Baker and Gunner Tolston make this a fun outfield to watch in the field and hopefully at the plate. The Trojans always have solid pitching, and that’s the case this year as well. Will Abbott has a big fastball and plus secondary offering which make him tough to hit on the weekends and many of the arms that led Mount Olive to a 15-4 record when play halted are back.
The next 5:
11. Azusa Pacific — I’m really high on the Cougars this year. I value returning experience coming off a shortened 2020 and odd offseason, and Azusa Pacific has two of the best in Osvaldo Tovalin and Nick Estrella. Estrella is a true two-way star, finishing last season with a 2-0 record, 1.46 ERA and nearly a strikeout per inning, while leading the team in batting average, home runs and RBI. Tovalin got off to a slow start last year, but his 2019 season was a monstrous one. With no key losses — and no CCAA teams to contend with — the Cougars are poised to make a run out West.
12. Georgia College — You have to love what Jason Eller built in his four years as head coach of the Bobcats. Nolan Belcher takes over and has a lot of fun players at his disposal. Watching Cal Gentry hit is one of the prettiest things in DII baseball and Cassius “Cash” Young has player-of-the-year potential in the infield. Big things are expected from freshman outfielder Matthew Cassandra. Kyle King leads a rotation that should have plenty of intrigue.
13. West Texas A&M — The Buffs have been armed with exciting pitching prospects for the past few seasons and this year's rendition returns two of them: Zach Dixon and Mathieu Gauthier. Dixon had one bad start last year — and it was against Angelo State, so join the club — and Gauthier seems poised to break out, but also keep an eye of Florida State transfer Jake Suddreth. Keone Givens is a spark plug on offense that should pace the lineup.
14. North Georgia — Head coach Tom Cantrell is a DII baseball staple and he has plenty of pieces back with nine returners from the lineup and three starting pitchers. Catcher Andres Perez is poised for a big season and there is plenty returning from a solid bullpen.
15. Texas-Tyler — I'm probably too low on the Patriots. The 2018 Division III national champions reeled off a 20-3 record in its first full season in the Lone Star Conference and return nine bats and four arms from a staff that led the LSC in pitching last season.
The Best of the rest
16. Ashland — The Eagles seemingly always fly under the radar. There are eight position players back from the 2019 run to Cary for the DII baseball championship. Chance Hitchcock — who sits in the low 90s with plus command — anchors the pitching staff.
17. Nova Southeastern — It's a new era in Sharks' baseball as Laz Gutierrez, who took over for long-time skipper Greg Brown last year, will get his first full season with the Sharks. He has plenty of returning talent, including a boatload of very good pitching, which you need to survive in the Sunshine State Conference. Keep your eye on JP Williams on the mound and veterans Duncan Pastore and Adan Fernandez at the plate.
18. Southern Arkansas — The Great American Conference is going to be a fun race between the Muleriders and Oklahoma Baptist. Right now, I give Southern Arkansas the slight edge because catcher Brett McGee is a menace at the plate, leading in most power categories last year.
19. UNC Pembroke — The Braves had four players hitting above .370 when play came to a stop and three are back, including River Ryan who was hitting .422 while also performing as one of the more dominant closers in the Division. The bullpen is filthy and most are back.
20. Wingate — Every player in the lineup and every pitcher who started a game last season is back. There is some serious talent on this team and two-way Hunter Dula is intriguing.
21. Delta State — The Statesmen may not be the best team in a stacked Gulf South Conference right now, but I think they have the pieces in place to make a run. Chad Ragland was hitting .449 when play stopped and Hayden White is a special talent. Hunter Riggins is one of many returning pitchers to anchor a stable rotation.
22. Millersville — Starting pitchers Jeff Taylor and Alex Mykut are enough to get you excited for the Marauders potential but they also return four of their top five hitters, including Jimmy Losh and Luke Trainer who were both hitting over .400 when play stopped.
23. Southern New Hampshire — I feel like a top 25 without the Penmen is just weird. SNHU returns everyone except Tom Blandini, and that is a big loss not just in talent, but leadership. Still, head coach Scott Loiseau told me he felt last year's squad had the potential to be the best he had. That's says a lot. With so much returning, I like their chances.
24. Davenport — When play halted last year the Panthers had four players hitting over .400. Four! Three of them are back, including Nolan Anspaugh who could be a player-of-the-year candidate if Davenport goes far.
25. East Stroudsburg — I love PSAC baseball, and the Warriors are always competitive. They return all five starting pitchers, six key bullpen arms and nine on offense including Brainy Rojas, Carson Freeman, Brock Kauffman and Anthony Torreallus.
Sleepers (in alphabetical order): These teams just missed, but were highly considered. I wouldn't be surprised if I were wrong on any of these teams and they all play top-25 baseball this season.
- Central Oklahoma
- Colorado School of Mines
- Oklahoma Baptist
- Wayne State (MI)