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2018 CWS: Bracket Two 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.

Bracket Two


ARKANSAS

Record: 44-19.
Preseason Ranking: 4.
Ranking at end of regular season: 4.


GRADING THE HOGS

Hitting

Preseason: 65.

Revised: 75.

The Hogs have the most dangerous offensive lineup in this field of eight, with Texas Tech just a hair behind. Arkansas seems to be a bit more versatile and ranks 13th nationally in team batting average, eighth in slugging percentage, 15th in scoring and 16th in on-base percentage. The Hogs are hitting .301 as a team and have a plethora of big-time hitters, including the freshman duo of Heston Kjerstad (.343) and Casey Martin (.341), who actually lead the team in hitting, while Third Team All-American Carson Shaddy (.339) isa a leader and fire-starter for Dave Van Horn’s club. Eric Cole is another consistent, mature bat, while Dominic Fletcher (.287) has a batting average that can fool you. He got off to a very slow start this season, but has been much better over the past month or so. The Hogs have a complete and balanced lineup, and if they get rolling early in games, they simply do not let off the gas.

Power

Preseason: 65.

Revised: 70.

TD Ameritrade Park typically does not play to the hitter’s advantage, but we’ll see how it plays over the next two weeks. That could have some bearing on Arkansas’ production despite their versatility and balance. The Hogs don’t rank anywhere near the top nationally in doubles and triples, but do rank third nationally in home runs per game at 1.49 per game. They also rank eighth in slugging. Kjerstad (14), Martin (13), Shaddy (12) and Cole (13) lead the power charge for the Hogs, while Luke Bonfield has hit eight homers, Fletcher has hit eight and Grant Koch has hit seven. Even Jared Gates has some definite pop in his bat, while Jax Biggers, thought he might be a little smaller in stature, has some pop in that compact frame of his.

Speed

Preseason: 55

Revised: 50

The Hogs certainly have some athleticism throughout the lineup. Fletcher is a terrific athlete and Cole can move a lot better than you’d think. And then there’s Shaddy and Biggers, both guys who can press the issue at times. But the Hogs have just two players — Martin and Biggers — with more than five stolen bases this season. Arkansas is not going to wear anyone out around the bases. In essence, that’s just not their style.

Defense

Preseason: 70

Revised: 60

The Hogs have certainly made a decent number of defensive mistakes this season, but this group as a whole is getting better and better with more repetitions, it seems. For instance, Martin struggled with mistakes a bit earlier in the year, but has evolved into a steady and fantastic third baseman, while left fielder Heston Kjerstad also continues to make good strides out there. Dom Fletcher is a premier center fielder, while Cole is more athletic than you’d think in right field. The infield also in good shape with Shaddy a steady defender and Biggers back in the mix.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 65

Revised: 60

The Hogs have had some issues in the weekend rotation at times this season, but it’s primarily because righthander Isaiah Campbell has been hot and cold, and also has dealt with injury issues at times. Campbell (4.17) is one of the best when he’s actually on, though, with a fastball up to 93-94, along with a slider and curveball, while lefty Kacey Murphy (3.12) is a workhorse who will get up to 90-92 with his fastball and will attack the zone with strikes. The rotation, though, is led by First Team All-American and righthander Blaine Knight (2.84). Knight has struck out 92 and walked 23 in 101.1 innings and rises to the occasion in big games. Knight will get up to 93-94 with his fastball, but will comfortable sit 91-93 with the offering. He’ll throw a low-80s slider and has shown consistently good feel of a curveball with late biting action. We feel good about Knight and Murphy, while Campbell is kind of a wild card.

Bullpen

Preseason: 60

Bullpen: 65

The Hogs might not have a ton of options at the back-end of the bullpen, but in a setting like Omaha, how many relievers do you truly need? What the Hogs have in short supply is very good. Righthander Jake Reindl (3.00) has developed into a premier weapon out of the pen. Though he’s hard-nosed, he still attacks hitters with a very calm approach most of the time and he doesn’t get rattled. Arkansas is also in good shape with the return of Matt Cronin, who spent time off the mound earlier this season because of Mono. Cronin (3.05) is back in the saddle and has 51 strikeouts in 41.1 innings with a fastball up to 95 that moves everywhere. Barrett Loseke (3.12) and Kole Ramage (3.56) are other solid options. Loseke has a big-time arm, while Ramage will attack hitters with a fastball and slider.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 70.

No change here for me. Sure, the Hogs have a pair of young players they’re relying on this weekend, but they’re a veteran-laden team that should know what being in Omaha is all about. The Hogs have also navigated the tough waters of the SEC and are battle tested entering the College World Series. Sure, there’s always the concern the moment gets too big for guys like Martin and Kjerstad, but I wouldn’t count on it.


FLORIDA

Record: 47-19.
Preseason Ranking: 1.
Ranking at end of regular season: 2.


GRADING THE GATORS

Florida’s Jonathan India is a terrific all-around player. (Kendall Rogers)

Hitting

Preseason: 60.

Revised: 65.

We thought the Gators would have a solid offense coming into the season. What we didn’t account for was UF’s expected power production, especially with the addition of Wil Dalton. You never know how JC transfers will make the transition to big-time college baseball, and Dalton has exceeded expectations. He’s hitting .271, which is a huge drop from earlier this season. However, he has premium power numbers. India (.352) leads the team from an average standpoint and has a 1.205 OPS, while Schwarz, who has missed the last three weeks, is hitting .325 and possesses a 1.005 OPS. Langworthy (.294), Liput (.293) and Maldonado (.279) are all better than their averages indicate, while Horvath (.269) is one of those guys I’d expect to step up on the big stage. He lives for these moments. UF ranks 94th (.278) in team batting average and 44th in scoring (6.7 runs per game). With that said, the Gators have an impressive ability to switch gears when they need to.

Power

Preseason: 60.

Revised: 70.

This year’s Florida team is different than some in the past. The Gators have relied on the long ball more than usual this season, and they rank third nationally (96) in home runs as a team, while also ranking fourth nationally in home runs per game at 1.45 per game. India and Dalton each have 19 homers and possess premium power, while getting Schwarz back in the lineup is huge with his ability to hit home runs (12) and smack doubles (16). Horvath has some power with six homers and 14 doubles, Nelson Maldonado has power with eight homers and Deacon Liput has a nice power infusion with nine homers and 13 doubles. Also keep an eye on Austin Langworthy. Though Langworthy only has three homers this season, he’s more than capable of putting a charge into the ball, as we saw against Auburn this past weekend.

Speed

Preseason: 55.

Revised: 55.

There’s some athleticism in this lineup, but the Gators aren’t a team that will wear our opposing catchers on the bases. UF ranks 77th nationally in stolen bases, while it ranks 130th (1.03) in stolen bases per game. India leads the charge with 12 stolen bases, while Blake Reese is the only other Gators player with double digit stolen bases. Deacon Liput, Wil Dalton and Nick Horvath are all gritty guys who aren’t scared to force the action.

Defense

Preseason: 65.

Revised: 65.

Florida is one of the nation’s better defensive clubs, ranking 22nd nationally with a .978 fielding percentage. Though he struggled at the hot corner in the SEC tournament, third baseman Jonathan India is still a premier defender with a strong, accurate arm to first base. Deacon Liput is a strong defender at shortstop, while Blake Reese is just fine at second base. The outfield is a strong suit for the Gators. Nick Horvath is one of the better defenders in college baseball, while Austin Langworthy takes good routes and doesn’t make mistakes. In essence, UF is not a club you can count on to go out there and boot the ball around.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 75.

Revised: 70.

The Gators rank 22nd nationally in team ERA (3.46) and the two-headed monster in righthanders Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar is a big reason for that. Singer, our National Player of the Year, put together a sensational campaign. He has struck out 107 in 101.2 innings, while also tallying a 2.30 ERA with teams only hitting .187 against him. Singer will attack hitters with a sinking fastball in the 91-94 range, while he possesses a wipeout slider as well. Singer will occasionally show a changeup, but it’s not a go-to offering for him. As for Kowar (3.24), he put together a strong performance against Auburn over the weekend. He has struck out 102 and walked 41 in 105.2 innings and possesses electric stuff. Kowar will get up to 95-96 with his fastball, while also showing a plus changeup in the low-to-mid 80s. Those are his go-to offerings. Freshman lefty Jack Leftwich (4.50) rounds out the rotation. Leftwich, like most young arms, has had his up and down moments this season, but he’s another 90-plus fastball arm for the Gators and is a future star for this program.

Bullpen

Preseason: 65.

Bullpen: 65.

Kevin O’Sullivan’s team has been just OK at the back-end of the bullpen at times this season, but the good news about the CWS? You really are at a luxury from a scheduling standpoint. For instance, you only play every two days, so a guy like righthander Michael Byrne (1.71) could easily come back two days later and pitch again despite throwing 30-40 pitches. Byrne will get into the low-90s with his fastball, but it’s his ability to throw and command secondary offerings that makes him such a brilliant pitcher. No situation is too big for him. Jordan Butler (4.11) has some deception with his delivery and will get into the low-90s with his fastball, while freshman righthander Tommy Mace (4.61) will serve as another quality arm out of the pen. Mace’s ERA is a little deceiving, because he’s been very good down the stretch at times. Mace will get into the mid-90s with his fastball and the stuff has steadily gotten better as the season has progressed. Lefthander Andrew Baker (4.59) is another interesting arm to watch. Baker, despite the high ERA, has limited teams to a .210 OBA.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 75.

The Gators have had to navigate the past couple of weeks without one of their leading hitters and leaders in JJ Schwarz. Schwarz, though, should be ready to go in Omaha this weekend. That’s huge news. With Schwarz, Nick Horvath, Deacon Liput and plenty of others, the Gators have an experienced lineup that fought through the CWS field last year to win the program’s first national title. Additionally, they also have a pair of experienced arms in the rotation in Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar, while Michael Byrne is Mr. Cool at the back-end of the bullpen. This UF club is in great shape in this department.


TEXAS

Record: 42-21.
Preseason Ranking: 21.
Ranking at end of regular season: 14.


GRADING THE LONGHORNS

Kody Clemens is an electric hitter for the Longhorns. (Kendall Rogers)

Hitting

Preseason: 50.

Revised: 55.

Even though the Longhorns have gotten the job done offensively in the postseason, this is the easiest lineup to pitch to in this side of the bracket. Of course, that isn’t exactly a slam when you consider the other teams like Texas Tech and Arkansas, and the defending national champs, Florida. With that said, Kody Clemens can make your life a living hell as a pitching coach, while the top of the Texas lineup has consistently gotten it done down the stretch with David Hamilton (.300) and Duke Ellis (.304) setting the stage. DJ Petrinsky (.255) is more of a power threat than he is a guy that will just go bonkers at the plate in Omaha, while Jake McKenzie (.254) is a senior leader who knows who he is and who hit well at the end of the Austin Super Regional. Ryan Reynolds (.248) has really struggled at the plate the last month or so, but potentially showed signs of breaking out last weekend. Texas ranks 129th nationally in batting average and 105th in scoring.

Power

Preseason: 45.

Revised: 60.

Kody Clemens wasn’t exactly this type of power hitter last season, so it was hard to see this coming. But the Longhorns get a nice adjustment grade-wise in this department with the hard-hitting second baseman and First Team All-American entering the CWS with a whopping 24 homers and 15 doubles. Zach Zubia has some definite swing and miss in his bat, but can also put a charge into the ball with 11 homers and 13 doubles, while backstop DJ Petrinsky hits mistake pitches hard and has eight home runs on the season. Also, don’t be fooled by David Hamilton, who has some deceptive power in that frame of his, while Hibbeler and Reynolds both have gap power with double digit doubles. Texas ranks 32nd in home runs, 45 in home runs per game and 49th in doubles.

Speed

Preseason: 55.

Revised: 55.

The Longhorns definitely have some closing speed in the outfield, but in terms of that speed being used to aid the offensive game, there are just a few guys to watch. Hamilton is a table-setter atop the lineup with his ability to not only get on base, but also steal bases. He has 31 stolen bases this season. Two-hole hitter Duke Ellis is another athletic guy for the Longhorns, and he’s stolen 16 bases this spring. Masen Hibbeler (13) is another threat to watch for David Pierce’s team. But overall, this isn’t a team that will scare you in that regard. UT ranks 47th nationally in stolen bases and 80th nationally in stolen bases per game.

Defense

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 70.

It’s hard not to like this team from a defensive standpoint. They’ve done all the important things well in the postseason. Ryan Reynolds will make an error from time to time, but has also made some very good and surprisingly athletic players at the hot corner this postseason. Shortstop David Hamilton is an elite defender with an accurate arm, Clemens is an instinctual defender who makes accurate throws and McKenzie does a nice job at first base. DJ Petrinsky showed good control of the running game the last two weekends, while the outfield takes good routes and tracks most balls down with Tate Shaw and Duke Ellis leading the charge. Texas ranks 26th nationally (.977) in fielding percentage.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 60.

Revised: 55

The Longhorns have a solid starting rotation, but it’s certainly not one that they’re looking to get seven or eight innings out of. They know in most instances they’ll need to turn things over to the bullpen in the middle innings. That formula has worked for them for the most part this postseason. Nolan Kingham (4.37) pitched well two weeks ago and just OK last weekend against Tennessee Tech. Kingham will sit 90-93 with his fastball, while also showing feel for a sometimes plus slider in the low-80s. Shugart, as we mention below, will start if need be and Bocchi could very well get another start in Omaha if the Longhorns need him. Bocchi was terrific last weekend against hard-hitting Tennessee Tech, and while he had some command issues earlier this season, he appears to be have turned a corner.

Bullpen

Preseason: 60.

Bullpen: 65.

It will be interesting to see how the Longhorns choose to set things up from a bullpen standpoint in Omaha. Nolan Kingham will start the CWS opener against Arkansas, so that means that righty Chase Shugart could come out of the bullpen as he has at times in the postseason in the opener if need be. Shugart (4.07) has been outstanding down the stretch and has a fastball up to 94-95, along with a low-80s slider that, when commanded, can be a filthy pitch. He’ll also show a true curveball at times. Parker Joe Robinson (1.29) has been nails in the postseason and won’t walk hitters. He also has a calm approach on the mound and isn’t rattled by the big stage. He works from a funky slot. Andy McGuire is another interesting slot guy and he has a 2.03 ERA in 31 innings. Also keep an eye on Kamron Fields (1.88) who has a fastball up to 94 and a nasty changeup, while Josh Sawyer is limited but can throw heat up to 95 mph from the left side and Matteo Bocchi (3.34) showed in the super that he can be relied upon. Bocchi showed more juice on his fastball in the super regional round.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 60.

Revised: 65.

We love what the Longhorns bring to the table from an intangibles department. Sure, the ‘Horns haven’t been to Omaha in a few years, and perhaps that’s something that works against them over the next few days. But our money is on the Longhorns playing well at TD Ameritrade. Why? No matter the situation this season, the ‘Horns have found ways to step up, whether it’s hard-hitting Clemens, senior Jake McKenzie or righthanders Chase Shugart or Parker Joe Robinson. The “it” factor with this Texas team is strong and we’ll see if that leads to success at the CWS.


TEXAS TECH

Record: 44-18.
Preseason Ranking: 3.
Ranking at end of regular season: 15.


GRADING THE RED RAIDERS

Josh Jung is a big-time hitter for the Red Raiders. (Kendall Rogers)

Hitting

Preseason: 65.

Revised: 70.

The Red Raiders are right behind Arkansas and Oregon State in my book for the most potent lineup in this College World Series field. I think Oregon State is more versatile overall, while the Hogs are slightly more balanced. With that said, this is a terrific lineup that should matchup OK at TD Ameritrade with its ability to hit the ball into the gaps. Tech ranks fifth in batting average (.311) and third in scoring with 8.3 runs per game. Jung (.381) is one of the premier players and prospects in the sophomore class and is just an exciting overall player with a strong presence at the plate. Little (.380) put together a strong Big 12 campaign, rivaled only by Texas’ Kody Clemens, and Zach Rheams (.349) makes coaches hold their breath anytime he steps into the box. Gabe Holt (.349) is another fun hitter to watch. Holt has a good plate approach and he’s a hard-nosed, gritty guy who goes the extra mile to make things happen, while the same can be said for a guy like Cody Farhat (.293). Much like Arkansas, this Tech lineup is hard to slow down if it gets into an early groove.

Power

Preseason: 60.

Revised: 70.

We actually undervalued Tech’s power potential coming into the season, but it has had some guys step up in that department. As a unit, Tech ranks 8th in home runs as a team, 9th in home runs per game (1.32) and 46th in doubles per game (0.90). Those are all impressive marks. Jung leads the offensive charge with 12 homers, 16 doubles and a 1.131 OPS, while Grant Little has hit 12 homers, smacked a whopping 24 doubles and has a 1.145 OPS. Michael Davis (11 homers) and Cameron Warren (10 homers) also are worth watching, while husky Zach Rheams can put an absolute charge into the ball. Rheams has a good plate approach, but let’s not sugarcoat it, he’s constantly looking to do serious damage with 17 homers and nine doubles and a 1.214 OPS. Gabe Holt and Brian Klein also have doubles/gap power.

Speed

Preseason: 55.

Revised: 55.

The Red Raiders’ style isn’t to get on base and wear out the opposing catcher up and down the lineup, but there’s definite athleticism in this lineup. Holt is a table-setter and is pure energy at the plate and once he gets on base. Holt doesn’t hesitate to swipe bags and he has 29 this season. Another gritty, spark plug type, Cody Farhat, has 16 stolen bases, while Little is another ultra-athletic player and has nine stolen bases on the year. Though he’s not looking to steal, Jung is more than athletic enough to surprise some people with stolen bases in Omaha. Tech ranks 58th nationally in stolen bases and 87th in stolen bases per game (1.21).

Defense

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 65.

The Red Raiders enter the College World Series ranked 112th nationally fielding percentage (.971), but that number might be a little deceiving. Tech has an athletic and speedy outfielder with Cody Farhat, Gabe Holt and Grant Little leading the charge. Michael Davis is a seasoned infielder and leader for the Red Raiders up the middle, while Brian Klein is a strong defender. Meanwhile, Josh Jung is one of the best in the business at the hot corner, while Braxton Fulford has been a solid backstop for Tim Tadlock’s club.

Starting Pitching

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 50.

As you can see, the starting pitching was expected to be an area of strength for the Red Raiders entering the season, but things changed. Steven Gingery went out with a season-ending injury, while righthander Davis Martin (4.56) has put together a disappointing campaign, showing uncharacteristic command at times this season with 34 walks in 71 innings. Caleb Killian (3.04) has looked very good at times in the rotation. The talented righty will get up to 93-94 with his fastball, while he possesses a nice hammer curveball that is lethal when commanded. The No. 3 starting spot is somewhat up in the air for the Red Raiders, but Dylan Dusek (2.10) and John McMillon (4.14) are options should Tech need a third starter in Omaha. Dusek is more someone who needs to command the zone to be successful, while McMillon can get swings and misses with his explosive fastball. The rotation needs to be better if the Red Raiders have any chance of advancing out of this bracket.

Bullpen

Preseason: 65.

Bullpen: 65.

Tech’s bullpen has had to step up on numerous occasions this season with the starting rotation such a see-saw. Davis Martin has been inconsistent and the bullpen was forced into early action this past weekend after a rough Caleb Killian start. Veteran Ryan Shetter (3.03) is a hybrid arm who typically does a good job of commanding the zone. Shetter can come out of the bullpen in long relief, or he could be called upon to start. Jose Quezada (2.16) is a power arm who has made 20 appearances this season, and Dylan Dusek (2.10) has a calm presence and is yet another hybrid arm who can start or come out of the bullpen. Dusek started against Duke in the series opener last weekend before coming out of the bullpen later in the weekend to close out the super regional victory. Ty Harpenau (3.40) will get up to 93-94 with his fastball, while hard-throwing John McMillon (4.14) has an ability to blow hitters away with his mid-90s heat. McMillon entered the game against Duke in the series finale and tossed two shutout frames to help lead Tech to a win.

Experience/Intangibles

Preseason: 70.

Revised: 65.

Some key pieces were lost either before the season began or right after the season started with the departure of fiery catcher Michael Berglund and lefthander Steven Gingery, a Preseason All-American. Additionally, righthander Davis Martin hasn’t been the guy we expected him to be. With that said, the Red Raiders still have a wealth of experience throughout the lineup, Martin is still a seasoned arm more than capable of putting together strong starts in Omaha and Caleb Killian has evolved into a quality arm. Tech was tested the past two weekends and passed with flying colors. That could bode well for its trip to the CWS.

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