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2018 CWS: Bracket One Breakdown

College World Series


In our preseason Top 25 capsules, we used the 20-80 scouting scale to grade each team in various facets of the game. Seven of the eight teams that reached the College World Series were ranked in our preseason Top 25, so we thought it would be instructive to revisit and revise our preseason grades for those seven teams (which were ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, and 21 in the preseason). Washington was unranked in the preseason and will be subject to the scrutiny of the 20-80 scale for the first time now. Here’s how we explained our grading system in the preseason (we’ll use the same criteria here):

Scouts grade prospects on how their tools compare with those of an average major leaguer, but for our Top 25, we rate talent relative to an average NCAA tournament team. In addition to grading our Top 25 teams on typical tools like hitting for average, hitting for power, speed and defense, we have divided the fifth tool (arm) into two categories: starting pitching and bullpen. We’re also giving teams a grade for Experience/Intangibles—think of it as a team’s “makeup”, if you like. For each category, a grade of 50 is average, comparable to a typical NCAA tournament contender; 60 is above-average; 70 is well-above-average; 40 is below-average; and 30 is well-below-average. Twenty and 80 are the extreme limits in each direction.

We’ll begin today with a breakdown of Bracket One — the teams on the right half of the bracket, which begin play on Saturday.

Bracket One


OREGON STATE

Record: 49-10-1.
Preseason Ranking: 2.
Ranking at end of regular season: 1.


GRADING THE BEAVERS

Hitting

Preseason: 65.

Revised: 70.

Oregon State has one of college baseball’s most varied and relentless offenses, ranking third nationally in batting (.320), ninth in scoring (7.7 runs per game, which is particularly impressive for a team on the pitcher-friendly West Coast), ninth in doubles (136), sixth in slugging percentage (.490) and 21st in walks (303). The Beavers also rank fourth in sacrifice bunts (58), giving an indication of this team’s proficiency at small ball in addition to its ability to hit for average and power. Fifth-round pick Steven Kwan is an on-base machine with premium speed and plate discipline atop the lineup, and the Beavers have a trio of first-round picks behind him in Cadyn Grenier, Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach, as well as a future first-rounder in sophomore Adley Rutschman, and a 10th-rounder in Michael Gretler. But this lineup has depth as well as star power; the pressure never stops from 1-9 in the order.

Nick Madrigal and Trevor Larnach (Aaron Fitt)

Power

Preseason: 45

Revised: 60

Last year in this same space, we wrote, “Home runs don’t come easy at Goss Stadium, and Oregon State is never going to construct an offense that relies heavily upon the long ball.” And that’s still true… but Oregon State still leads the Pac-12 with 59 homers, and the lineup is anchored by a premier power threat in first-rounder Larnach (18 HR), as well as a switch-hitter with emerging power in Rutschman (7 HR). Gretler has also gotten much stronger over the course of his career, and he hit seven long balls also. But power is also measured by the ability to hit for extra bases, and this team can rack up doubles at an impressive clip, helping account for that sterling .490 slugging percentage. So Oregon State has plenty of strength in the lineup.

Speed

Preseason: 65

Revised: 60

Oregon State ranks fifth in the Pac-12 and 195th nationally in stolen bases per game, but those rankings belie how much speed this team actually has. Kwan, Madrigal and Grenier all have better than plus speed, and they run the basepaths aggressively, even if OSU doesn’t lean heavily on the stolen base (Kwan leads the team with 14 steals). Those are the only real burners in this lineup, but there aren’t any slugs either, and the Beavers have quality athleticism throughout the order.

Defense

Preseason: 75

Revised: 80

As usual, Oregon State is one of the very best defensive teams in the nation. Last year, rival Oregon coach George Horton described the OSU defense as “breathtaking,” and that label is still very appropriate. Very few college baseball teams in history have been as good up the middle as Oregon State — you can make a strong case that Grenier is the nation’s best defensive shortstop, Madrigal is the best second baseman, Rutschman is the best catcher and Kwan is the best center fielder. Oregon State simply suffocates opponents with its defense, which steals hits with sensational plays on a daily basis and also makes all the routine plays, leading to a .980 fielding percentage (seventh in the nation — but it’s worth noting that Madrigal is fielding 1.000, and the Beavers were without his services for half the season due to injury). OSU is also very strong on all four corners, but particularly at third base, where Gretler has become yet another true standout.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 60

Revised: 60

Whatever you think about Luke Heimlich (16-1, 2.31, 151-25 K-BB in 120.1 IP), there is no denying that he is an exceptional pitcher — quite possibly the very best pitcher in college baseball. And unlike last year, the Beavers will have their ace lefthander for this CWS run, giving them the advantage in every game he pitches. Junior righthander Bryce Fehmel (10-1, 2.87) can’t match Heimlich’s stuff, but he has proven that he can carve up even very good lineups by locating and keeping hitters off balance with an 86-89 fastball, excellent changeup and solid breaking ball. The No. 3 starter spot has been a major question mark for Oregon State for most of the season, but freshman righty Kevin Abel (4-1, 3.59) has first-round-caliber stuff, with the makings of three plus pitches. When his command is sharp, as it was in regionals, he can beat anybody. His command has been inconsistent this season, so he’s not a sure thing — but his recent performances have been very encouraging.

Bullpen

Preseason: 65

Revised: 60

The backbone of OSU’s bullpen is a pair of sophomore lefthanders: Jake Mulholland (2.37 ERA, 15 SV) and Brandon Eisert (2.74 ERA, 5 SV). Neither of them have overpowering velocity, but they have very good command and deception, and their fastballs play up thanks in part to their excellent changeups, which also help them combat righties effectively. A third lefty, freshman Christian Chamberlain, brings big power stuff in a small package, and he shined in the super regional against Minnesota. Thanks to the spread-out CWS format, Abel could see some action out of the pen in Omaha and then bounce back to start later, which gives this unit a valuable power righty option to complement sinker/slider specialist Dylan Pearce and the talented but inconsistent duo of Sam Tweedt and Grant Gambrell.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 70

Revised: 80

This team is brimming with experienced veterans from last year’s run to the national semifinals, so experience is an obvious asset. And so is leadership; upperclassmen Madrigal, Grenier and Heimlich simply refuse to let the Beavers lose. The toughness, resilience, baseball savvy and focus of this group is simply off the charts.


NORTH CAROLINA

Record: 43-18.
Preseason Ranking: 6.
Ranking at end of regular season: 8.


GRADING THE TAR HEELS

Hitting

Preseason: 60

Revised: 60

North Carolina has a solid but not spectacular .286 team batting average (55th in the nation), but that doesn’t tell the whole story — not even close. The Tar Heels rank 17th nationally in scoring (7.1 runs per game) in large part because of their exceptional plate discipline. This lineup grinds out at-bats from top to bottom, helping UNC rank eighth nationally with 337 walks. And UNC’s offense is playing its best in the postseason, averaging nearly 10 runs per game and hitting .335 as a unit in the NCAA tournament. UNC has two bona fide impact players stacked atop the order in Kyle Datres and Michael Busch, the team’s two leading hitters, with OPS marks of .940 and 1.026, respectively. Mainstays Brandon Riley and Ashton McGee have come on strong down the stretch after slow first halves, giving the lineup two more dangerous lefthanded hitters to go with Busch, helping to lengthen out a lineup that stands out more for its overall plate discipline than its star power, notwithstanding the dangerous bats of Datres and Busch.

Power

Preseason: 55

Revised: 50

Busch (13 HR), Datres (6 HR), Brandon Martorano (9 HR) and Zack Gahagan (7 HR) are the primary home run threats for a lineup that ranks 48th nationally with 55 long balls. UNC ranks a more modest 72nd nationally in slugging (.423) — this offense is more about stringing together hits and walks than bludgeoning the opposition with its power. Brandon Riley and Cody Roberts also offer good pop to the gaps.

Speed

Preseason: 50

Revised: 45

The stolen base isn’t a big part of UNC’s attack; the Heels rank 155th nationally with 49 bags. This lineup features a number of fringy to average runners, but no true burners. Datres (12-for-14 in stolen base attempts) is a solid-average runner with good baserunning instincts, and Riley (6-for-11) is maybe a tick faster but not as adept at swiping bags. Dylan Enwiller offers good speed off the bench.

Defense

Preseason: 60

Revised: 55

UNC ranks 68th nationally in fielding percentage (.973). The Tar Heels are generally fundamentally sound but lack standout playmakers on defense, aside from Riley in center and Busch at first base. Datres and shortstop Ike Freeman are capable of dazzling at times on the left side of the infield, though they’ll also make some errors (both are fielding in the .940s). Roberts and Martorano split duties behind the plate, and both have very good arm strength — especially Roberts, who owns one of the best arms of any catcher in the country.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 65

Revised: 50

We expected Luca Dalatri and Tyler Baum to front a star-studded UNC rotation, but Baum has become a non-factor and Dalatri missed most of the season due to injury. Dalatri is back now, but his stuff has been down the last two weeks, and he is not the workhorse ace he was as a freshman; UNC will hope to get five strong innings out of him and then hand off to the bullpen. At his best, though, he’ll sit at 90-91 and touch 93 with a quality four-pitch mix — and he did show that kind of stuff three weeks ago in the ACC tournament. Juco transfer Cooper Criswell is a consistent strike-thrower who won’t overpower hitters with his 87-90 fastball, but he locates well and eats up righthanded hitters with his sharp slider. Fellow righty Austin Bergner has the best pure stuff of the bunch, with a 91-94 fastball and a changeup and power curve that have both flashed plus at times, but his command has been up and down. When he’s on, he’s very good — but it’s hard to know what to expect out of him from week to week.

North Carolina closer Josh Hiatt (Aaron Fitt)

Bullpen

Preseason: 65

Revised: 65

The bullpen has been the strength of the pitching staff, and maybe of the entire team. Righthanders Brett Daniels (2.74 ERA, 62.1 IP) and Josh Hiatt (2.94 ERA, 49 IP) are true workhorse relievers who can go multiple innings and eat hitters up with their plus changeups, and each also features a solid breaking ball as well as a fastball that sits around 90 mph, though Hiatt can touch 92 or 93 at times. Both of them are effective against both righties and lefties because of their excellent changeups, which is good because UNC’s staff only uses one southpaw: freshman Caden O’Brien, a funky, deceptive three-pitch guy who also owns a changeup that makes him effective against righties. Righty Joey Lancellotti is also very effective against southpaws and has a power fastball-slider combination that helps him rack up strikeouts. Rodney Hutchison has power stuff from a tough low slot, with a 90-94 fastball and a wipeout power slider when he’s on — but he’s been up and down this spring. Bergner also fortified the bullpen in the super regional against Stetson, and UNC may choose to use him in that role again early in the CWS, then bring him back as a starter later in the tournament thanks to the spread-out format.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 50

Revised: 60

This is UNC’s first Omaha trip since 2013, so none of the players on this roster have CWS experience. But head coach Mike Fox and associate head coach Scott Forbes are making their seventh CWS appearance since 2006, so they know how to prepare their team for the big stage. And this UNC team has outstanding veteran leadership and a loose, fun-loving, very close-knit clubhouse that is well suited for postseason success.


MISSISSIPPI STATE

Record: 37-27.
Preseason Ranking: 12.
Ranking at end of regular season: NR.


GRADING THE BULLDOGS

Hitting

Preseason: 65

Revised: 55

Mississippi State doesn’t have gaudy numbers on offense, ranking 73rd nationally in batting (.281) and 90th in scoring (6.1 runs per game). But the Bulldogs excel at driving the gaps, as evidenced by their 137 doubles, seventh-most in Division I. And they are hot in the postseason, reaching double-digits in scoring four times in eight games, and scoring eight-plus runs six times in eight games. Junior center fielder Jake Mangum makes this offense go — he is one of the nation’s premier catalysts atop the lineup, ranking second in the SEC with a .353 batting average and walking nearly as often as he strikes out. Rowdey Jordan (.333) has a similar skill set in the 2-hole, and five Bulldog regulars are hitting .298 or better. This is an aggressive offense that ranks just 98th nationally in walks (232), but the tenacious lineup has been more difficult to navigate during MSU’s hot finishing kick.

Power

Preseason: 55

Revised: 45

Mississippi State ranks 143rd nationally in home runs per game and 91st in slugging (.411), ranking seventh out of the eight CWS teams in both categories (ahead of Washington in both). But as mentioned above, the Bulldogs do rack up their share of doubles. And Elijah MacNamee has morphed into the second coming of Brent Rooker during the postseason, harnessing his exciting raw power and blasting a pair of memorable walk-off home runs (to beat Florida State in an elimination game in the regional, and to beat Vanderbilt in Game One of the super regional). MacNamee now leads MSU with eight long balls on the year, and Jordan (7 HR) is the only other Bulldog with more than five homers, so the long ball still isn’t a huge part of this club’s repertoire.

Speed

Preseason: 55

Revised: 45

Mississippi State doesn’t rely heavily on the stolen base, ranking just 268th out of 300 Division I teams in steals per game. But Mangum (14-for-17 in steals) is a premium runner who takes extra bases aggressively, and gritty second baseman Hunter Stovall (10-for-12) is another good runner who isn’t afraid to steal bases when the moment is right. Only one other Bulldog stole more than two bases (Josh Hatcher with four).

Jake Mangum, sliding into first at Dodger Stadium.

Defense

Preseason: 65

Revised: 50

The Bulldogs rank last of the eight CWS teams and 122nd in the nation in fielding percentage. Still, this is a decent defensive team without any glaring weaknesses, though catching has been an issue at times. Shortstop Luke Alexander and Stovall have 11 errors apiece in the middle infield — they’re a steady but not exceptional duo. Mangum is the team’s best defender, a true difference maker in center field with elite range and a rifle arm — which was a major factor in the super regional, when he made multiple big throws in pressure situations.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 60

Revised: 50

Lefthander Konnor Pilkington was the big name in the MSU rotation heading into the year, but fellow southpaw Ethan Small (5-3, 3.11) emerged as the staff ace this year, racking up strikeouts with a 90-92 fastball and a putaway breaking ball. Pilkington (2-6, 4.56) joined Small with triple-digit strikeouts, and when he commands his breaking ball he’s very tough, but his command has been inconsistent as a junior. Likewise, No. 3 starter Jacob Billingsley (5-3, 4.92) can miss bats with his raw stuff, but his command is hit-or-miss. This group certainly gives Mississippi State a chance to compete when it performs up to its potential, but it’s hard to know what to expect from them heading into Omaha.

Bullpen

Preseason: 65

Revised: 50

No pitcher on the Mississippi State staff has an ERA lower than 3.00. The bullpen has been up and down this year, like the rotation, but it has a very good anchor in cutter specialist Riley Self (5-0, 3.51). Power righties Keegan James (4.50 ERA), Cole Gordon (4.86) and Denver McQuary (4.97) are all better than their numbers suggest — especially in the postseason — but their stats are reflective of their inconsistency over the long haul. Fifth-year senior Zach Neff (3.57) is the go-to option from the left side, and fellow fifth-year senior JP France (3.84) is a valuable swingman.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 65

Revised: 60

This is Mississippi State’s first CWS appearance since 2013, so none of these players have experience on this stage. But there are plenty of holdovers from last year’s super regional team, and the Bulldogs have proven their toughness and resilience over and over again this season, bouncing back from a tumultuous coaching change one week into the season, digging out of an early hole in SEC play, running through the losers’ bracket in the Tallahassee Regional after being down to their final strike in Saturday’s elimination game, and finally outlasting Vanderbilt in an epic super regional battle. The sum is truly greater than the parts with this bunch, which is playing with house money, free and easy. And Mangum is the heart and soul of a special leadership group in the tightknight clubhouse.


WASHINGTON

Record: 35-24.
Preseason Ranking: NR.
Ranking at end of regular season: NR.


GRADING THE HUSKIES

Hitting

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 50

Washington is the lowest-scoring team in the CWS field, averaging 5.1 runs per game (204th in the nation). UW ranks inside the top 100 in just two categories listed by the NCAA: doubles (80th) and sacrifice bunts (20th). But Washington is averaging 7.2 runs per game in the NCAA tournament, despite facing three solid pitching staffs (Cal State Fullerton, Connecticut and Coastal Carolina). Six UW regulars are hitting .293 or better on the season, led by Mason Cerrillo (.335), who teams with Braiden Ward (.309) to make this offense go out of the first two spots in the lineup. Getting AJ Graffanino (.373) and Willie MacIver back from injury has helped lengthen the lineup in the second half; the top six spots in the order are particularly difficult to navigate. But there is plenty of swing-and-miss here; Washington has fanned 438 times this year, and drawn just 200 walks.

Power

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 45

Washington ranks last in the CWS field in both home runs (40, 125th in the nation) and slugging (.395, 130th in the nation). But UW has an intimidating power plant in the heart of the order in hulking 6-foot-6 lefthanded slugger Joe Wainhouse, who has 19 homers on the year and is on fire in the postseason. On the other end of the physical spectrum, 5-foot-8 shortstop Levi Jordan has surprising pop in his compact stroke, ranking second on the team with eight long balls. And catcher Nick Kahle (6 HR) also brings some pop to the middle of the lineup. All three of those players also have double-digit doubles, and Cerrillo has 14 doubles — but otherwise this is mostly a singles-hitting club.

Speed

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 40

The Huskies rank 245th in the nation in stolen bases per game, but they do have one high-end burner in Ward, who has 18 steals in 23 attempts. No other Husky has swiped more than five bags, but Graffanino and Jordan move around well enough.

Defense

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 65

Here’s where Washington really stands out. Jordan was an elite defender at second base last year, but when Graffanino went down to injury this year Jordan slid to short, and proved to be a standout at that position as well. Graffanino returned to action at second to join Jordan in a stellar middle infield, and Kahle handles the pitching staff very well behind the plate. Ward’s speed translates to excellent range in center field, and MacIver is another standout at the hot corner.

Washington’s Joe DeMers (Shotgun Spratling)

Starting Pitching

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 55

Washington ranks 39th nationally and fifth in this CWS field with a 3.70 ERA. Third-team All-American Joe DeMers (7-3, 2.56) is a legitimate ace who can dominate by commanding his lively fastball and plus changeup, mixing in a decent breaking ball at times. The Huskies have used DeMers to close out a series opener three times and then brought him back later in the weekend to start, so there’s a chance they take that approach again in Omaha, but the smart money is on DeMers starting Saturday’s opener. Fellow righty Jordan Jones (6-4, 3.99) is similarly competitive and similarly polished, and redshirt freshman Lucas Knowles (6-5, 3.99) has an advanced feel for pitching that makes his 84-88 fastball play up. This group of starters doesn’t dominate with velocity, but they compete hard and give their team a chance to win.

Bullpen

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 50

Washington’s bullpen has a rock-solid closer in senior righty Alex Hardy (5-2, 2.14, 8 SV), who doesn’t overpower hitters with his pure stuff but locates his 88-91 fastball well and can get strikeouts with his quality breaking ball. He’s a hard-nosed competitor at the back end, and Washington has a pair of solid setup guys in Josh Burgmann (2.90 ERA) and Stevie Emanuels (4.26).

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: N/A

Revised: 55

This is uncharted territory for Washington, which had never won a regional in program history until this year. The upperclassmen did play in a regional in 2016, and this team has proven its mettle by traveling cross-country to win a regional at Coastal Carolina, then surviving a harrowing super regional at perennial power Cal State Fullerton. Like Mississippi State, Washington is playing with house money, as the lowest-seeded team in this powerhouse field. UW has nothing to lose and everything to gain, which makes this group particularly dangerous.

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