Midseason Report: Bishop, Detmers Snag Top HonorsAnalysis
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With seven weeks in the books, we’re halfway through the regular season for most teams, so it’s time to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Let’s hand out some midseason awards and identify the top storylines of the first half.
Midseason Top Player
Hunter Bishop, Arizona State
Rarely is any award such a no-brainer. Hunter Bishop has clearly been the best player in college baseball through seven weeks. He leads the nation with an insane 1.010 slugging percentage and 1.562 OPS, with a triple slash line of .417/.552/1.010. He leads the nation with 16 home runs, 45 runs and 104 total bases. He’s also a speedster with 10 stolen bases in 10 tries, and he has blossomed into a good defender in center field. He’s simply the entire package.
“He hits balls as far as anybody I’ve ever coached, he runs as fast as anybody I’ve ever coached . . . There aren’t people I’ve seen out there in college baseball doing what he’s doing, not many of them, quite frankly in the last 10 years,” Arizona State coach Tracy Smith said of Bishop in our March 20 Golden Spikes Spotlight. “His bat speed, it’s ridiculous. He’s in the same breath as (Kyle) Schwarber and (Sam) Travis, but faster. I think he has the ability to play center field in the big leagues with that power. That’s rare, I think.”
If you missed the story of Bishop’s fascinating journey to the top of the college baseball world, you should go back and check it out. He was a toolsy but raw high school athlete who originally committed to play wide receiver for Washington. Along the way, he has had to cope with his mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s, getting support from a close family (including big league brother Braden) and a tight-knit brotherhood at ASU. Bishop spent his first two years at Arizona State constantly tinkering with his approach, and he posted just a .759 OPS as a sophomore last year. After putting his trust in hitting coach Mike Earley and sticking with a consistent approach, he has more than doubled that OPS as a junior. That’s mind-boggling.
Midseason Top Pitcher
Reid Detmers, Louisville
Midseason Top Freshman
Davis Sharpe, Clemson
Sharpe looks like the latest in a long line of two-way standouts in the ACC. Just seven weeks into his collegiate career, he already can make a strong case as the best two-way player in the country, though we gave a slight nod to East Carolina’s Alec Burleson in our Midseason All-America Team.
When projected ace Spencer Strider went down with Tommy John surgery before the season, Clemson’s weekend rotation looked like a major concern. Sharpe stepped forward and seized the Friday starter role, providing stability at the top of the staff. He’s 4-1, 1.59 with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 39.2 innings, while holding opponents to a .187 average. He’s also a key run producer out of the DH spot, hitting .333/.436/.487 with three homers and 15 RBIs in 78 at-bats.
“Sharpe is as good of a freshman as I’ve ever had,” Clemson coach Monte Lee told Kendall Rogers back in Week Two. “I’ve never really had a guy like this in his first year. He’s a jack of all trades type, and he could be Brendan McKay to an extent — a guy who pitches well and hits for some power. He’s a little different because he’s a righthanded hitter and he’ll swing and miss some, but the ability is there.”
Lee said Sharpe’s makeup really sets him apart.
“The No. 1 thing about Davis that stands out is that he doesn’t take himself seriously at all. He knows he’s good and talented, but he goes out there and swings and pitches, and is always smiling. He plays this game like it’s a Little League game,” Lee said. “You look at his velocity, and it’s not overwhelming. He’ll sit 88-90 and bump 91-92, but the fastball really sinks when he’s pitching to his arm side, and when he pitches to his glove side, the fastball naturally cuts.”
Midseason All-America Team
|C||Adley Rutschman, Oregon State||Jr.||.417/.592/.774||1.366||84||8||31||39||19||0|
|1B||Andrew Vaughn, California||Jr.||.360/.530/.721||1.251||86||9||28||27||16||2|
|2B||Nick Gonzales, New Mexico State||So.||.483/.564/.862||1.426||116||11||51||19||14||4|
|3B||Kody Hoese, Tulane||Jr.||.400/.486/.825||1.311||120||14||34||20||11||4|
|SS||Will Wilson, NC State||Jr.||.352/.425/.664||1.089||128||9||38||16||28||1|
|OF||Hunter Bishop, Arizona State||Jr.||.417/.552/1.010||1.562||103||16||41||26||22||10|
|OF||JJ Bleday, Vanderbilt||Jr.||.353/.444/.716||1.16||116||12||36||20||25||0|
|OF||Jake Mangum, Mississippi State||Sr.||.417/.461/.583||1.044||139||1||27||9||7||16|
|DH||Kyle McCann, Georgia Tech||Jr.||.346/.507/.779||1.286||104||12||37||32||32||0|
|UT||Alec Burleson, East Carolina||So.||.408/.421/.621||1.042||103||4||21||6||11||0|
|SP||Tanner Burns, Auburn||So.||4-0||1.40||7||0||45||10||59||.151|
|SP||Reid Detmers, Louisville||So.||5-1||0.93||7||0||48.2||8||76||.143|
|SP||Emerson Hancock, Georgia||So.||6-1||0.98||7||0||46||11||49||.136|
|SP||Nick Lodolo, TCU||Jr.||4-2||1.13||7||0||48||10||63||.178|
|SP||Noah Song, Navy||Sr.||5-0||1.54||7||0||46.2||18||90||.158|
|RP||Brandon Eisert, Oregon State||Jr.||6-0||0.30||9||0||30||5||44||.165|
|RP||Jacob Wallace, Connecticut||Jr.||2-0||0.45||12||7||20||3||28||.129|
|UT||Alec Burleson, East Carolina||So.||2-0||2.96||9||2||27.1||9||32||.230|
Midseason Top Coaches
Elliott Avent, NC State/Tracy Smith, Arizona State
We’re going with co-recipients because Avent and Smith have both done masterful work with their clubs, which were the last two unbeaten teams in the country, starting 19-0 and 21-0, respectively. Neither team entered the season ranked in the D1Baseball Top 25, and now NC State is No. 3 while ASU is No. 7.
In his 23rd year at NC State, Avent has pushed all the right buttons, instilling confidence and calm when the going gets tough. No team in college baseball is harder to put away than the 27-3 Wolfpack, which has 13 comeback wins this year (eight when it trailed in the final three innings) and is 11-1 in one-run games.
Avent’s teams almost always hit, and this year is no exception — but nobody expected this. NCSU ranks seventh in the nation in scoring (8.7 runs per game), second in doubles (80), seventh in homers (39), and 31st in batting (.295). The offense tends to overshadow the defense, but it shouldn’t — NC State leads the nation with a .985 fielding percentage.
NC State had obvious star power heading into the season — any team in the country would love to build its lineup around Will Wilson, Patrick Bailey and Evan Edwards — but the rest of the lineup featured unproven commodities. Center fielder Tyler McDonough emerged as one of the top freshmen in the country, and fellow newcomers Jonny Butler and Vojtech Mensik have come along as solid supporting pieces. The coaches, led by first-year pitching coach Clint Chrysler, have done a masterful job with the pitching staff, which has excellent depth but no superstar in the Carlos Rodon mold. The Pack mixes and matches in the bullpen as well as any team in the country.
We pegged Arizona State, meanwhile, as a regional team in the preseason, yet no team has taken a bigger leap forward. The Sun Devils went 23-32 each of the last two years and head into the weekend at 25-2. That’s about as dramatic as a turnaround gets.
Before ASU’s second game of the season in Tempe, Smith told us he thought this team was as good as his 2013 College World Series team at Indiana. The offense has been unstoppable, ranking third in the nation in scoring (9.9 runs per game), batting (.336) and OBP (.429), second in slugging percentage (.551) and fourth in home runs (45). But the big surprise has been the pitching staff, ranking 29th nationally with a 3.35 ERA. Smith felt good about his frontline arms but worried about the depth of the staff. So far, so good.
Smith deserves particular credit for steering the ship through rough waters. He has a big personality and became a lightning rod in the desert over the last two years because of the team’s struggles and roster upheaval. He kept his head down and is winning over the ASU faithful, who showed up in record numbers at Phoenix Municipal Stadium last weekend against Arizona. ASU also has a tight-knit clubhouse atmosphere, a welcome change from the past two years.
“What I give the most credit to my coaches for, especially Tracy, he’s gotten a lot of heat in the last year especially,” Bishop told D1Baseball a couple of weeks ago. “The biggest thing I’m really proud to be a part of ASU and a part of his team is how focused he’s been on our group. At a place like ASU where there’s a lot of different types of fans and they expect a lot out of us, I really give him a lot of credit for how he’s stayed so grounded and so focused on our team, as opposed to letting the outside world get to him. That’s something I think has really translated to our team.
“Our motto this year is ‘for us.’ How can we stay everything for us, just our team, that’s it. No one else, no outsiders, just us. How can we make this year special for this group? I think it’s showing, right? Nineteen wins in a row is tough to do in any conference, any games. So I give a lot of success to him and his mindset.”
Certainly NC State and Arizona State are strong contenders for this label as well, and Indiana State and UC Santa Barbara are other strong candidates, but we’re not shocked by any of those teams’ success.
Tennessee, on the other hand, wasn’t close to anybody’s preseason field of 64 projections. The Volunteers haven’t made a regional since 2005, and we figured they were still at least a year away under second-year coach Tony Vitello, even with obvious signs of progress in the fall. But in our midseason field of 64 projection, Tennessee is comfortably in the field as a No. 2 seed. At 22-8 overall and No. 9 in the RPI, Tennessee is in good position, though it can’t afford to stumble much in conference play because it is just 3-6 in the league.
Tennessee made a major splash in the first month, racing out to a 15-0 start and breaking into the D1Baseball Top 25 after winning quality series against Indiana (a sweep) and Fresno State. UT also won a home series against South Carolina, though it dropped both of its tough SEC road series against ranked opponents Auburn and Vanderbilt.
Tennessee’s calling card is its pitching, which ranks 11th in the nation in ERA (2.91), second in WHIP (1.07) and fifth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.58) under pitching coach Frank Anderson. Zach Linginfelter, Garrett Stallings, Garrett Crochet and Andrew Schultz have all made big leaps, giving the Vols a quartet of premium arms. Offensively, juniors Luc Lipcius, Ricky Martinez and Justin Ammons are among the SEC’s most improved players, and juco transfer Alerick Soularie leads the team with a .383 average and a 1.191 OPS.
Cal State Fullerton
Fullerton’s problems are are easy enough to diagnose. The offense ranks 60th in the nation with a .287 batting average, though it is just 156th in scoring at 5.7 runs per game. The defense has been characteristically strong, ranking 16th in the nation with a .980 fielding percentage.
But the pitching has been jarringly poor, ranking 175th with a 5.09 ERA. Year-in and year-out, no pitching staff does a better job hammering the strike zone than the Titans, but this year they rank just 81st in the nation in fewest walks per nine innings. They ranked in the nation’s top six in that category for the previous 10 seasons, and No. 1 from 2012-16. Elite strike-throwing is the bedrock of this program, and this year’s staff has gotten away from it.
• Florida State coach Mike Martin became the first coach in any NCAA sport to reach 2,000 wins on March 9, the latest milestone for one of college baseball’s all-time greats. But as the second half of the season begins, could the Seminoles actually miss the NCAA tournament in Martin’s swan song? Martin has led FSU to 40-plus wins and regionals in each of his 39 seasons as head coach, and won 16 regionals in the 20-year history of the super regional era. But this year’s team heads into the second half with a lot of work to do, ranking No. 101 in the RPI with a 3-6 record against the top 50 and a 6-10 mark against the top 100. A startling series loss at home to Boston College last weekend dropped them to 6-6 in the ACC, with series coming up at Miami, vs. Clemson and at Virginia. FSU cannot afford to fall into a deeper hole.
• College baseball’s new hit-by-pitch rule is a disaster, and coaches around the country are united in their outcry against it. Under the new rule, hitters get a called strike and are not awarded first base if, “in the judgment of the umpire, the batter makes an intentional movement to be hit by a pitch, regardless of where the pitch is located.”
That means a pitcher can throw a pitch into the batter’s box and still get a strike called if the umpire deems a hitter leaned into it. It’s a difficult judgment call because sometimes hitters get fooled and freeze on a pitch coming at them, and it’s difficult for umpires to judge their intention. The previous rule allowed umpires to keep a hitter in the box if he judged that the hitter leaned into a pitch, but still call a ball. Now you have situations like Kendall Rogers wrote about in Fayetteville last weekend, when a 1-2 pitch hit an Arkansas batter and resulted in a strikeout. It’s one thing to deny the hitter first base. It’s another thing entirely to reward the pitcher for throwing a pitch into the batter’s box, regardless of what the hitter did.
“It’s a bad rule,” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “It’s happened four or five times this year. It’s just a bad rule. I don’t know why they’ve ever put a rule in like that on strike three. Because if you haven’t been in the batter’s box with a bat in your hand, instinct just tells you to move forward on a ball that’s coming from behind you. Or you think it’s coming at your head. You’re going to duck, turn. He didn’t stick his arm out, he didn’t stick his elbow out. He just kind of tried to get out of the way. I’ll go watch it again and see what I see, but I know that the umpires don’t like it, either.”
This is an example of legislating to correct a problem that doesn’t exist. The previous rule largely remedied the hit-by-pitch epidemic, and the HBP rate has been mostly steady in recent years.
“As college baseball, we made that rule happen because of the way we’ve played over the last 15 years,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Is he supposed to get out of the way? I think sometimes you could ask coaches . . . is he allowed to stand his ground or does he have to make an attempt to get out of the way? Every year it seems like it’s a different thing. Eventually, the rule will change. I’m not sure it happens at the end of this season like a lot of people would like to see, but it’ll happen. It’s a harsh punishment.”
• The Pac is back, and the ACC is down. This looks like the best year in a long time for the Pac-12, which has four teams ranked in the top seven of the D1Baseball Top 25: No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Stanford, No. 6 Oregon State and No. 7 Arizona State. In our midseason field of 64 projection, all four of those teams landed top-eight national seeds, while Washington and Oregon should earn at-large bids. The Pac-12 hasn’t received six bids since 2015, with just four bids in each of the last three years.
The SEC and Big 12 look strong again. The SEC earned 11 regional bids in our midseason projection. No conference has ever done that, but the SEC has a chance because it’s deeper than ever, although the teams at the top are starting to beat each other up. The Big 12 earned seven regional spots in our projection — 77 percent of the nine-team conference. We’ll see if that’s sustainable, but all seven look like legitimate contenders.
The ACC, on the other hand, has been a disappointment. NC State, Louisville, Clemson, North Carolina and Georgia Tech all look like viable host contenders, but everybody else will fight just to make a regional. We had high hopes for Duke (buried at 3-9 in the ACC and hampered by high-profile injuries) and Wake Forest (5-7 in the ACC, No. 102 in the RPI), but neither is looking like a regional team. Virginia is trending in the right direction but still ranks just 100th in the RPI. Miami is improved and has a solid RPI (No. 38) but is 5-7 in the league. And we mentioned FSU above. Right now, the ACC might be lucky to match the six bids it got last year — forget about the 10 we projected in the preseason.
• Finally, a note on this year’s draft class. Scouts bemoan this year’s college pitching, which ranks as the worst in many years, and some say we may not see a pitcher taken in the top 10 picks this year. Injuries to high-profile arms like Cody Bradford, Graeme Stinson, Kenyon Yovan, Davis Daniel and Casey Legumina have played into it, though only Bradford has been ruled out for the season. Many of the other top arms have simply underwhelmed. Fortunately, it’s a strong year for college bats, and there’s no shortage of impact hitters and up-the-middle talents, as our Midseason Top 150 Prospects list reflects.