Five Most Intriguing Players For 2018Analysis
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These five players aren’t necessarily locked in to be first-team All-Americans – though they all have the talent to pull that off – they are just the most interesting players from around the country to keep an eye on for the coming season.
– Seth Beer, OF, Clemson
There is no more intimidating bat in college baseball than that of Mr. Beer. After hitting .369 with 18 home runs as a precocious freshman, he followed that up by dipping down to a .298 average last season, though he still hit 16 fence-busters and led the nation with 64 walks. This year will be different without having Reed Rohlman and Chase Pinder, putting the onus on Chris Williams, Logan Davidson and Justin Hawkins to provide Beer with lineup protection. Expect the number of walks to remain high for this guy.
– Jake Mangum, OF/RHP, Mississippi State
How bad was the injury bug in Starkville last season? Mangum, who hadn’t pitched in his Bulldog career, actually ended up starting five games on the mound. And he didn’t do too bad either, finishing with a 2-1 record and a save. In his normal outfielder role, Mangum hit .324 and also added 17 HBPs and 15 stolen bases, despite playing through a broken hand in the second half. He’ll take on a bigger leadership role this season with the exit of All-American Brent Rooker, who led the SEC with 23 home runs while hitting .387. The Bulldogs return a ton of pitching, so he might not be needed on the bump again. But keep that arm loose, Jake, just in case.
– Luke Heimlich, RHP, Oregon State.
I won’t go into the off-field troubles that befell him at the end of last season, it’s pretty well documented. But before all those problems, all Heimlich did was go 11-1 with a national-best 0.79 ERA. His precision was so impressive, he struck out 128 batters and relented just 22 walks in 118 innings pitched. Obviously, this season becomes more mental than physical as he tries to adjust to getting back out on the field after this rather public issue he had that kept him out of the College World Series. He teams with Bryce Fehmel to give the Beavers one of the best one-two punches on the mound.
– Luken Baker, TCU
The giant mountain man of the Horned Frogs was clipping along just fine last season, hitting .317-8-41 with 40 walks through the first 47 games, before he was felled by an injury. He ended up missing the Frogs postseason run altogether, had the teeth-gnashingly painful experience of watching from the bench while his mates were eliminated in Omaha for the fourth straight season. Well, big Luken is back now and ready to swing the steel again. The Frogs are going to be ridiculously deep in the pitching staff this season, and Baker won’t return to the mound where he went 3-1, 1.70 as a freshman. But wouldn’t it be fun to see the big lug on the hill again, intimidating the bejesus out of everyone?
– Matt Wallner, OF/RHP, Southern Mississippi
Looking for a favorite for the John Olerud Award? Meet Mr. Wallner, the two-way threat that helped lead the Eagles to their second-ever regional hosting assignment. He was the national freshman of the year by a LARGE margin after hitting .336/.463/.655 with 19 home runs and 63 RBI and going 2-0, 1.84 with three saves on the mound. The good news is that Wallner enters the 2018 season fully healthy and ready to wreak havoc on any hapless souls that dare to face off with him. The bad news is that the Eagles have an all-new weekend rotation that will need to grow as the season goes on. Wallner will take his mid-90s heater and team with 10-game winner/8-game saver Nick Sandlin to make a formidable bullpen.
Five More Off-The-Radar Players To Watch.
These guys might not get as much exposure as the stars of the ACC and SEC, but they are possibly the most valuable players in the country with respect to their teams. They are also the kind of grinders that any coach in the country would want on his team to lead by example.
– Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson
Went 10-0 with a 2.02 ERA last spring and then became a Cape Cod League All-Star last summer. One of three Hatters pitchers returning to the roster with 100-plus strikeouts a year ago. Also a candidate to be selected near the top of the draft.
– Niko Hulsizer, OF, Morehead State
This dude is a launching pad. The Ohio Valley player of the year finished second in D-I with 27 home runs and first in RBIs per game with 1.39. Is one of five returning MSU hitters that hit .318 or better.
– Andrew Crane, RHP, Troy
Big body, but not a mid-90s fireballer. Relies on crafty, confusing repertoire with master command and confidence. Comes into the season with a 40-inning scoreless streak having not allowed a run since March 31.
– Luke Petterson, 2B, Minnesota
Led the nation in hitting through first month of 2017 season, eventually hitting .354 with a .415 on-base. As steady of a player as there is in college baseball, Petterson committed just three errors all last season.
– Jeremy Pena, SS, Maine
The Dominican Republic native isn’t phased by the cold Maine winters. A steady fielder who committed just nine errors last season and also was named a Cape Cod League All-Star last summer.