One of the coolest sporting events in the United States takes place in mid-June in Omaha, Nebraska. For one week, baseball fans from around the world converge in the city of Omaha, Nebraska to watch future Major League Baseball stars get their shot at a national championship. The College World Series has been a tradition in the baseball world since 1947. The first ever winner of the College World Series were the California Bears, who went undefeated in Nebraska to claim the first college baseball national championship.
The 2020 College World Series
Unfortunately, college baseball was a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. After the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were cancelled, baseball programs could see the writing on the wall. However, because of last year’s cancellation, people have been waiting for two years for the gathering in Omaha. Anticipation is through the roof, and the play on the field so far has been fantastic. So before we do a full deep dive into the College World Series, which will come in the next couple of weeks, let’s get everyone caught up on how the season has played out thus far.
College Baseball Headlines of 2021
- The SEC always was and still is the best conference in college baseball. Of the top fifteen teams in college baseball (D1Baseball), six of them play in the SEC. (2) Vanderbilt is having one of the best seasons in recent memory. Kumar Rocker and Jared Leiter are the top two pitchers in the country, and they combine to make-up the most lethal 1-2 pitching punch in college baseball. While the Commodores boast the best pitching in the SEC, (1) Arkansas has been incredible thus far. They vaulted to the top spot this week after taking two of three games from (6) Ole Miss over the weekend. (4) Mississippi State and (5) Tennessee round out the top five from the SEC. Make sure to keep your eyes on (11) South Carolina as the post-season grows closer. The Gamecocks were the last team to win back to back titles in 2010 and 2011. (6) Ole Miss might be the biggest wild-card in the post-season. Tim Elko, the Rebels power-hitting first baseman, tore his ACL recently, which was a big loss for the Rebs. However, there have been murmurs that if the swelling goes down and he can handle the pain, he could play again sooner rather than later.
- The lone top five team not in the SEC, is none other than (3) Texas. The Longhorns are hitting their stride at the perfect time. Over the weekend they swept lowly Kansas State. The series culminated with a 9-2 Longhorns victory on Sunday. The storied program has won eight straight behind designated hitter Ivan Melendez. In the fourth inning of the game Sunday, Melendez gambled a bit and took a cut at a fastball on the outside corner. I don’t know if that ball has landed yet. The home run was Melendez’s sixth in six games. However, he wasn’t done, he got a hanging breaking-ball and launched it into orbit, his seventh homer in six games. The Longhorns haven’t won a College World Series since 2005, under legendary coach Augie Garrido. Garrido was a pioneer for college baseball. He is the sport’s winningest coach, at least at the division 1 level. Unfortunately, Garrido passed away in 2018, as Texas and college baseball as a whole lost a great one. It would be great to see the Longhorns raise another title this year.
- The Longhorns aren’t the only Big-12 team with championship aspirations. (8) Texas Tech is a real contender this year. The Red Raiders sit at 22-7 on the year. They took two of three from (12) TCU over the weekend. The Red Raiders and Longhorns will meet for a series at the end of April that could have major post-season implications. Even though they had a tough weekend, the Horned Frogs have a lot to play for going forward. Starters Russell Smith and Austin Krob are a great duo for the Frogs. However, the best pitcher for TCU might be relief pitcher Haylen Green. He holds a 1.85 ERA, and in 34 innings pitched he’s racked up 40 strike-outs. He could be a great pick up for a team in the later rounds of the MLB Draft. Not only does Green kind of look like Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader, his style of play has often been compared to Hader”s.
Top Five Prospects In College Baseball
- Kumar Rocker, RHP, Vanderbilt: Boy, did the Commodores really luck out with Rocker. He was by far the best pitcher to make it to college in 2019, and he’s only grown from then. He captured the attention of the world in the 2019 College World Series. During that time he pitched nearly 100 innings, striking out 114 and walking only 21. On top of that, he pitched a no-hitter in that same series. By the end of 2019, he had taken home the 2019 College World Series Most Outstanding Player Award, along with being a nearly unanimous winner of the Freshman of the Year in college baseball. His sophomore campaign was obviously quite short because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, he’s the odds on favorite to be the top selection.
- Adrien Del Castillo, C, Miami (FL): Del Castillo is another case of a top player making it to college and building on his game. The catcher was one of the best hitters to make it to college from the 2018 draft class. Once he got up-and-running in Miami, his stock only rose. During his 2019 freshman campaign he hit .331. On top of that, he drove in 72 runs and slugged 12 homers. Fast-forward to today, and Del Castillo is still one of the best hitters in the country. There are doubts about his defense, but it has gotten better over his career at Miami. I would be shocked if he stays behind the plate in the MLB.
- Jack Leiter, RHP, Vanderbilt: Pitching is the life-blood of baseball. Great pitchers only come around every couple of years, so the fact that Vanderbilt boasts Rocker and Leiter in their rotation is truly special. Leiter followed in Rocker’s footsteps, and was the most polished pitcher to get to Vanderbilt from the 2020 draft class. Honestly, most of the hype regarding Leiter is just that, hype. He pitched well in 2020, but that season was abbreviated. Leiter pitched very well in mid-week starts in 2020, and the ceiling for him could be higher than Rocker’s. If you’re a football fan, Leiter is kind of like Trey Lance. He has all the tools to be a great pitcher, we just need to see him play some more.
- Jud Fabian, OF, Florida: Fabian is one of the youngest players in this draft class. However, he, like Leiter, has all the tools to become a great player. He can hit for power and average. He was dynamite in the Cape Cod League in 2019, and is one of the best hitters in the 2021 draft class. Don’t be surprised if you see Fabian in Major League outfields sooner rather than later. He might have the highest ceiling of any position-player in the draft.
- Colton Cowser, OF, Sam Houston State: Cowser has had and up and down road on his way to the 2021 draft. He had a monster freshman season in 2019. The outfielder batted .361, with 17 doubles, seven triples, and seven home runs. However, Cowser really made his name during the 2019 summer, playing for the Collegiate National Team. He may be better off switching to a corner-outfield position in the majors, but for now he’s doing just fine in center for the Bearkats.
Best Games & Series to Watch This Week (April 11-18)
- North Carolina at (19) Pittsburgh: The Tar Heels will travel to (19) Pitt this weekend. The series kicks off on Friday at 6 PM ET. The Tar Heels won six straight to begin the season, but have sputtered lately. Pittsburgh would love to take the Tar Heels out of the post-season picture. The Tar Heels will hope starters Max Alba and Austin Love can pick up their play, or the Heels might be on the outside looking in next week.
- (6) Ole Miss at (4) Mississippi State: Honestly, there are great series’ and games in the SEC every weekend, and this weekend is no exception. In one of the fiercest rivalries in college, the Bulldogs from Mississippi State will host the fourth ranked Rebels this weekend. The Bulldogs have won eight straight games, and look to carry that momentum into the post-season. Bulldog outfielders Rowdey Jordan and Tanner Allen have been slumping lately. They need to have big weekends.
- (2) Vanderbilt at (5) Tennessee: Ladies and gentlemen, if you want an introduction into college baseball, look no further than ESPNU on Friday at 7 PM ET. Kumar Rocker and Jared Leiter, the two best pitchers in the country, that have a combined ERA of 2.43, will be hitting the mound this weekend in Knoxville. All in all, aside from Rocker and Leiter, keep an eye on Volunteer second baseman Max Ferguson. He could end up flying up draft boards by the end of the year. Overall, there will be no shortage of future MLB players on display this weekend in Knoxville.
Back Sports Page College Baseball Rankings
Going forward, Back Sports Page will release our weekly top ten on Mondays. We will have a couple of writers getting their votes in. On top of that, we will also be releasing a weekend round-up on Mondays. We will go over the weekend’s big headlines and some of the best players of the weekend. Even if you aren’t a big baseball fan, college baseball is great to watch and follow. College Baseball is one of the more fascinating college sports. Where else do you find top tier college athletes jousting during a rain delay?
I invite everyone to watch the rest of the college baseball season and enjoy it. You can find everything you want in college baseball. Dancing, jousting, home runs, and even some incredible late game heroics!
*The defensive display put on by South Carolina second baseman Scott Wingo in the bottom of the ninth was incredible.
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