There is a little more than a month and a half to go until eight teams head to Omaha to chase a national title at the College World Series. A LOT has happened since opening weekend — and a lot has changed. The top 25 looks almost entirely different from the preseason rankings, the field is pretty much wide open and we have teams dominating that perhaps no one would have guessed.
D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt sat down with NCAA.com to give us a big update on the state of college baseball. Here's a breakdown the top teams, who fell out and why, top players and the biggest surprises. Here is everything you need to know as we near the 2022 College World Series.
Tennessee is dominating as the No. 1 team
Tennessee baseball is off to a great start in 2022 and has been a clear No. 1 with just three losses so far. The Vols technically didn't burst onto the scene, considering they were in the College World Series just last season, but not many could have predicted just how good they would be this year. For one, they were without Blade Tidwell for most of the season, and lost their ace from 2021. So the biggest question mark was their pitching staff.
"You've got two true freshmen in Drew Beam and Chase Burns stepping into the weekend rotation along with a transfer sophomore from the Sun Belt, Chase Dollander. And you know, there's a lot of uncertainty. We knew those guys all had talent, but you just don't see freshman thrive this way in the SEC very often," Fitt said. "The weekend rotation is really special and of course they lost three quarters of their infield and their catcher and they just plugged in other pieces and they haven't skipped a beat. It's really been an incredible season they put together so far."
The top five looks very different from the beginning of the season
Who would have thought? Tennessee owns the No.1 spot in the rankings currently, followed by Oregon State, Oklahoma State, Arkansas and Miami. Not to mention that Southern Miss is all the way up at No. 6. This looks entirely different than the top five expected at the beginning of the season that included the likes of Texas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. So what gave these teams the boost?
For Oregon State, Rogers gave credit to the incredible job they have done on the mound. Cooper Hjerpe has had a great campaign so far with just under 90 strikeouts in just over 50 innings of work, which has been a big key for them. Offensively, they have been impressive as well with Jacob Melton (.363, nine home runs) leading the way.
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As far Arkansas, Rogers thinks this is a team that is still a long way away from playing its best baseball. On the mound, Jaxon Wiggins has taken a big step forward, Hagen Smith has met expectations and Connor Noland has stepped up in the front of the rotation. But the offense, Rogers thinks, has a huge upside that hasn't really produced at the level they have expected yet.
Oklahoma State is in the top five as well, and Rogers said the club is coming into its own as of late.
"Keep an eye on Justin Campbell. He continues to pitch at a very high level, and also keep an eye on Bryce Osmond," Rogers said. "He's a guy that we've been waiting on to take that step forward and be that front-line type of pitcher. He's starting to establish consistency."
Texas dropped to bottom half of top 10, while Vandy and Florida fell out of the top 25 entirely. Why?
Starting with Vandy and Florida, Fitt said the biggest reason was youth on the mound.
"That's the big thing and we kind of figured especially in Florida's case after Hunter Barco. It was gonna take some time for those young guys to kind of mature as the season went along," Fitt said. "We thought they would be an up and down team in the first half and be more dangerous later. I thought it was encouraging, you know, to see Brandon Neely pitch very well this past weekend against Vanderbilt as one of those true freshman they've been waiting on. He'll be a key and they've got some other guys like that that they just need more out of going forward"
In Vanderbilt's case, they had even less certainty on the mound coming into this season than the Gators.
"They had a lot of unproven guys. Chris McElvain has shown flashes of excellence and they've got some freshmen, you know, Carter Holton I think is a supreme talent. Again, it's showing you big-time flashes but need more consistency," Fitt said. "Bryce Cunningham has come on for them a little bit. So I feel like you know both these teams are going to make runs and they've they've already had OK years."
When Rogers was asked on his take on Texas falling off a bit, he wanted to bring even more attention to teams like Mississippi State and Ole Miss, two teams we thought would be national championship contenders. Now, they will face each other in a weekend series and it's possible the loser of that will not even make the postseason. Which is crazy to think about coming from two powerhouse programs and the reigning national champions.
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The biggest thing for UT, in Rogers' opinion, was losing Tanner Witt in the rotation, and Aaron Nixon not performing as well with him struggling with his command as of late. He feels good about the offense, but Texaas will need Nixon to step up and be the closer that he was for them last season.
The biggest surprises so far this season
- The state of college baseball in the state of Mississippi
- The defending national champions and Ole Miss, a preseason top-10 team, falling off this season
- Texas State and Georgia Southern out of the Sun Belt
- "I think Georgia Southern has got a good enough RPI that they could make a run at hosting a regional, and Texas State won a series at Arizona and has been hanging around the top 25 most of the season. That's been a positive surprise" Fitt said.
- "Gonzaga, a team that we liked and has been really consistent all year long with a huge weekend sweep over Oklahoma State... in fact on the road. That was an eye opener," Fitt said.
Why are there so many teams in the top 25 we are not used to seeing this year?
Fitt said there is a ton of parity in college baseball this season.
"I guess we say that a lot, but right now it feels like there's not a lot of certainty beyond the top couple of teams in the ACC and SEC. Those leagues feel like they're wide open, free for all," Fitt said. "I do think that transfer market has helped level the playing field a little bit more."
And that works both ways. They have seen players coming from smaller programs to big programs and also vice versa. With some talented players that maybe didn't get a ton of playing time in strong conferences that transferred to a different league and found a home.
Main storylines to watch from now until the College World Series, according to Rogers
- The ACC this year, perhaps being deeper than the SEC.
- The Sun Belt. Outside of Georgia Southern and Texas State, you have South Alabama, Troy and many teams that could go on a run.
- The WCC, another conference to watch, sitting at fifth in conference RPI.
- The top of the Pac-12. Stanford is starting to figure some things out as of late. UCLA is overcoming injuries on the mound, plus Oregon and Oregon State playing in the next few weeks.
Top players to watch that have impressed the D1baseball folks this season
There was one thing Kendall and Aaron absolutely agreed on, and that is Auburn's Sonny DiChiara as a Player of the Year contender.
"Aaron mentioned the transfer market... We see guys go down like Josh Hatcher who was at Mississippi State. I think he's hit .416 at Kennesaw State, so it works both ways. But look at Sunny D. He goes from Samford where he had a lot of power... hit around .275," Rogers said. "Not only has he gone to Auburn and had success on a SEC team... You're talking about a guy that is hitting .460 in the Southeastern Conference with premium power. He might be six-foot-2, 270, but he's a pure hitter, he's a powerful hitter, and he as much as anybody has a case for National Player of the Year."
Other than DiChiara, Fitt brought attention to Jake Gelof at Virginia who had a monster first half of the season, then cooled off a bit, and Jack Hurley of Virginia Tech, an exciting athletic power speed guy. Another sleeper name on the mound that Fitt wanted to bring up was Thomas Harrington at Campbell. He has 86 strikeouts, just 11 walks in 59 innings with a 1.37 ERA.
"And it's real stuff. It's four pitches for strikes. I think he's pushed himself into the middle of the first round of the draft and he leads a Campbell rotation that I think is really dangerous," Fitt said.