With just under a month remaining until opening weekend of the 2022 college baseball season, D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt sat down with us to break down their preseason top 25 rankings, which features the Texas Longhorns as the No. 1 team in the nation and multiple teams that finished the 2021 season not ranked. Rogers and Fitt also broke down their top five teams, made picks for player of the year candidates and predicted an under the radar team that could make it to the Men's College World Series.
Here are some fun previews and predictions for this year:
Why the Texas Longhorns are the preseason No. 1 team
The Longhorns come in at No. 1 in D1Baseball's top 25 preseason poll after finishing as the No. 3 team in the nation last season. Texas fell just short of the 2021 national championship series after losing to Mississippi State, the eventual champions. The Longhorns lost their ace Ty Madden to the MLB draft and first baseman, Zach Zubia. Aside from that, they return their entire club and some serious talent. Tristan Stevens returns to lead the pitching staff with Tanner Witt and left-hander Pete Hansen rounding out the weekend rotation.
"I really like the vibe of this team. Really a business approach but also a group that has a lot of fun," Rogers said. "I think Texas is the complete product. There is not a part of this team that I look at and go 'you know what, this really concerns me.' Texas just doesn't have one of those things right now."
Some other key pieces returning are Ivan Melendez, the power hitter who had some big-time moments at the MCWS last season. Melendez decided to return to Austin after leading the team last season with a .319 average, 13 homers and 51 RBIs. Trey Faltine, Mitchell Daly and Silas Ardoin also return to this star-studded lineup, and Skyler Messinger is an added asset from Kansas this season.
The rest of the top five
Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss make up the rest of the top five in D1Baseball's preseason rankings. The Razorbacks are what Rogers described to be a very interesting team this year. They felt that they were going to be very offensive, but also felt good about their rotation up until last week when they announced Peyton Pallette would be out for the season due to injury. Now with his absence, Rogers said Connor Noland just might be the guy who needs to step up in the weekend rotation. Jaxon Wiggins, the right hander, will be a big piece for the Hogs as well.
Vandy comes in at No. 3, and as Rogers noted, Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter are pretty considerable losses, obviously. But Vanderbilt will still have some big pieces on the mound with Christian Little and Carter Holton. Dominic Keegan, Carter Young and Enrique Bradfield Jr. return to lead the Dores' offense.
As for Mississippi State at No. 4, the reigning champs lost some key players in Tanner Allen, Rowdy Jordan and 2021 MCWS Most Outstanding Player Will Bednar. But, a lot of talent returns to Starkville.
"Mississippi State absolutely can repeat next year," Rogers said.
One of those stars returning is catcher Logan Tanner, who burst on the scene in 2021, hitting .287 with 15 homers and 53 RBI, and is masterful behind the plate. Landon Sims returns as well, perhaps the biggest star of all. He had a fantastic 2021 and was a huge weapon for the Bulldogs out of the bullpen. He finished 2021 5-0, 1.44 with 13 saves and a 100-15 K-BB mark in 56.1 innings.
Ole Miss jumped into the No. 5 spot after finishing at No. 13 last season. Fitt said this is a team that lost a lot pieces on the mound this year, so it might be a big question mark for some as to why they made the jump to No. 5. But, as Fitt said, it is because they have an elite offense and return their entire lineup. This is an offense that ranked second in the SEC in scoring and first in batting last year and brings a ton of experience and balance. On top of that, they did a great job in the offseason to fortify that pitching staff led by returning power righty Derek Diamond.
See below for the rest of D1Baseball's preseason top 25:
|24||Long Beach State||28-15||NR|
Teams that finished 2021 not ranked, but entered the top 25 preseason
If you take a look at the list above, there are nine teams in the top 25 that previously were not ranked. That's .... a lot. Oklahoma State, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Oregon State, Georgia Tech, Duke, Long Beach State and Miami (Fla.) all entered the D1Baseball top 25 preseason poll. Rogers and Fitt highlighted a few of these in our sit down and let us in on why they got a boost in the offseason.
"So many of these teams were able to overhaul their rosters with the transfer market," Fitt said.
Oklahoma State, for instance, comes in at No. 7 after finishing 2021 outside of the top 25. They brought in Victor Mederos from Miami to step into the middle of their rotation and a couple of power bats that they will stick in there. At Florida State, Fitts said he thinks they have one of the best pitching staffs in the country right up there with Texas, and then on top of that, they added a couple of transfers to make them even stronger. They picked up Alex Toral from Miami to play first base, they picked up Jordan Carrion from their rival Florida to play shortstop and then Brett Roberts from Tennessee Tech, who's going to play third.
"Those three guys make a huge difference for a team that really kind of struggled on offense last year, uncharacteristically. But now you've got I think the makings of at least a solid lineup, but it's gonna be an elite pitching staff, one of the best of the country."
Rogers also highlighted Oregon State as an interesting team that entered their poll at No. 18 heading into 2022.
"They get some nice pieces specifically on the mound when you look at Jake Pfennigs, Cooper Hjerpe, Will Frisch, and by the way, you've got a veteran Mitch Verberg on the back of the bullpen. It feels like it's like his 11th season, but he's back for another year," Rogers said. "And so when you look at the 1-2-3 punch there then you look at the back of the bullpen... you've got to feel really good about things if you're Oregon State. Of course they have guys like Garret Forester, offensively, as well. I think Oregon State's one of those teams that we might have No.18 in the preseason, but I could very easily see them kind of finishing in that, you know, No. 9, 10, 11 range into the year if things go right."
Player of the Year picks
Brooks Lee — Cal Poly
"I think he might be one of the best overall players in the country, the shortstop for Cal Poly," Fitt said. "(He's) the son of their head coach Larry Lee so, you know, he's a really heady typical coaches son, a lot of instincts, but he also he can really hit. He can play shortstop and he kind of does it all."
But, Fitt was hesitant to pick Lee as his player of the year candidate because it might be difficult for him to put up the same kind of numbers playing in the Big West, which is not typically a power hitting conference, and you seldom see a Player of the Year who's team isn't in a regional. So due to that, it led him to pick Logan Tanner.
Logan Tanner — Mississippi State
"He's the catcher for one of the best teams in the country, the defending national champs. I think it's his time. Now, it's his team," Fitt said. "They've lost Tanner Allen and some other core pieces of that national championship club, but I think this guy can do it all. He's got a bazooka arm. He's got real power in his bat, and I think he's got a better hit tool than maybe people realize, so I think he's a top 10 pick of the draft and that's my pick for National Player of the Year."
Jace Jung — Texas Tech
If you look at teams outside of the top 10, Texas Tech is one of those at 14 that I think if they finished in the top five or top six, I think you have to look at Jace Jung as a frontline Player of the Year candidate," Rogers said. "Because that would mean that he had a really good year. You're talking about a guy who had 17 home runs 70 plus RBIs, last year, Big 12 Player of the Year. He checks all the boxes."
Dylan Cruz and Jacob Berry — LSU
"LSU is one of those teams that'll have one of the best offenses in college baseball this year. That means that one of those two guys and probably both of them are gonna have great offensive campaigns in Baton Rouge," Rogers said. "So they are guys to watch as well."
Bob Moore — Arkansas
"I'd keep an eye on Bob Moore, Arkansas. If Arkansas finishes the season as No. 1, No. 1... plays for the national championship. Big game Bob. There's no doubt he's had a great year at that point."
Under-the-radar team that could make it to the MCWS
"This is one of those programs that has been a consistent winner over the last 10 years. They've really become the class of their conference. And now if you look at their their club, they're loaded on the mound," Fitt said. "I mean really big time arms in Thomas Harrington and Cade Kuehler in particular. Those guys could both be potentially top 50 picks in the draft over the next few years, and then you've got one of the best shortstops in the country, Zach Neto. ... There's good depth around them. It's a team that was in a regional final the last couple years. They know how to get there. Just a matter of getting over that next step, and I think this could be the year they do it."
"Lane Burrows has all three of his weekend starters back in Jonathan Fincher, Ryan Jennings and Jarret Whorff. Those are three really accomplished and really good weekend starters. It's not often in C-USA that you have a team with a rotation that is really solid, 1-2-3. Louisiana Tech has that. I think they're gonna have a good year," Rogers said. "They have a lot of stiff competition with Southern Miss and some others. ... They could be back in that regional discussion again, if things things go as planned"