Mangum Leads 2019 All-Fitt TeamColumns
It’s time for the annual All-Fitt team. Please allow me to recycle the introductory note I wrote last year in this space, because all the same sentiments still apply, and they come from the heart:
As another college baseball season winds down, it’s time to express thanks to all the people who make it such a joy to cover this sport for a living. We never forget how fortunate we are to have these jobs, and we never take it for granted. So first and foremost, here’s a huge thank you to all of the fans — and especially the D1Baseball subscribers — whose passion for the game has allowed us to build our small business.
Thanks as well to all of the NCAA support staff for putting on a fantastic tournament once again this year. The College World Series is a first-class event, and they take very good care of us media members in the TD Ameritrade Press box. The CWS gets better and better every year.
Finally, thanks to the players. It is a real treat to watch these talented young men do amazing things on the field all season, and I always enjoy the chance to get to know many of them a little bit. Our game is full of great personalities.
So here’s my annual list of the players I most enjoyed covering in 2019. These are all players I covered in person this season, and they stood out to me for being fun to watch, or for being great interviews, or both. Given my longstanding affinity for dynamic short guys, you shouldn’t be surprised to plenty of vertically challenged grinders on this list. But being short is not a prerequisite for making the All-Fitt team (though it certainly helps!); there are plenty of big, strong stars on this list as well. The captain, of course, is the great Jake Mangum, who cemented his status as one of my all-time favorite college players as a senior this year.
Let’s get to it.
Catcher: Adley Rutschman, Oregon State
How could Rutschman not be on this squad? One of the greatest college baseball players of his generation, Rutschman has been a treat to cover for the last three years. One of those rare players we’ll always remember watching in college baseball, and be grateful we got the chance.
Catcher: Joe Donovan, Michigan
Not only does Donovan have a great head of hair and great leadership skills but he’s a top-notch quote, very thoughtful and insightful. Always appreciated.
First Base: Trevor Ezell, Arkansas
Ezell is a classic All-Fitt player — how many stocky 5-foot-8 first basemen do you see starring in the SEC? A graduate transfer from Southeast Missouri State, Ezell is the consummate dirtbag — and he was also a really good college baseball player.
First Base: Andrew Vaughn, California
Watching Vaughn hit is always a treat, because he’s one of the best pure hitters and best power hitters we’ve seen in college baseball this decade. I also enjoyed my conversation with him in Berkeley this year — he has a down-to-Earth, easy confidence about him, and he’s an exceptional teammate.
Second Base: Ako Thomas, Michigan
A repeat member of this squad, Thomas is the All-Fitt prototype: a 5-foot-7, 165-pound ball of energy who always plays the game with a big smile on his face and is a good quote to boot.
Second Base: Ryan Bliss, Auburn
The 5-foot-9 Bliss plays a similar style as Thomas. He really stood out for his silky-smooth defense at second base and his personality on and off the field. I appreciated his thoughtful quotes on the field in Chapel Hill after the Tigers secured their first trip to Omaha in 22 years. He’s only a freshman, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of Bliss on this team in the future.
Third Base: Austin Martin, Vanderbilt
Louisville’s Dan McDonnell described Martin as “the best hitter in the country” last week, and it’s tough to argue with him. He’s got a sweet swing, loads of athleticism, and a high motor. Another good press conference guy, too.
Third Base: Josh Jung, Texas Tech
Jung moved to shortstop midway through the season and handled the position with aplomb, stabilizing the Texas Tech infield defense. But he’ll play third base in pro ball, and I think he’s got a chance to be a big league All-Star at the hot corner. He’s the whole package as a player, and a wonderful human being off the field. He always gives thoughtful answers in postgame.
Shortstop: Will Wilson, NC State
Wilson has been a pleasure to watch up close for three years at NC State. He’s a gifted natural hitter with advanced baseball instincts who always plays the game at full speed. A grinder with a first-round tool set, and a good old country boy who is easy to like.
Shortstop: Patrick Frick, Wake Forest
I enjoyed watching Frick come into his own as a junior, making the jump from quality supporting player to a star shortstop, hitting .360/.457/.481. Another well-grounded personality who provided a solid interview, too.
Outfield: Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
The captain of this year’s All-Fitt team and a first-ballot All-Fitt Hall of Famer, Mangum will go down as one of my favorite college players of all time, and I know plenty of other people feel the same way about him. A dynamic speedster and a natural born hitter, a premium defensive center fielder with a rocket arm, and a guy who is all heart, all the time. He’s also exceptionally charismatic and always made a point to stop and chat whenever I was hanging around the Mississippi State dugout or batting cage over the last few years. And of course, he blew us all away with his final press conference moment, when he made an impassioned plea for college baseball to pay the third assistant. That was special.
Outfield: Hunter Bishop, Arizona State
Probably my favorite interview of the year, Bishop was honest, insightful and extremely friendly. He talked candidly about coping with his mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, and about his relationship with his major leaguer brother Braden. He’s also one heck of a talent, with a speed/power tool set that makes him a joy to watch.
Outfield: Elijah MacNamee, Mississippi State
I just loved MacNamee’s postgame interview after delivering one more clutch hit in the postseason: “I walked up to the plate and I said, ‘What have I been doing? I’m Big-Hit Mac.’” Another big-hearted personality on a Mississippi State team loaded with them.
Outfield: Kyle Stowers, Stanford
With his flowing blond locks and his laidback California surfer persona, Stowers came across as a fun-loving goofball that every clubhouse needs to keep things loose. He’s also an outstanding defender with a knack for delivering timely hits, and I think he’s got a bright pro career ahead of him.
Outfield: Jordan Brewer, Michigan
I enjoyed watching Brewer play on TV this year, and now I’ve gotten to enjoy watching him play in Omaha. He’s got power, speed, elite athleticism and a rocket arm, which he showed off Monday night with a rocket throw to third base. He was a super-fun interview after the game — another guy with easy charisma who is just having the time of his life, and it shows.
Outfield: Michael Busch, North Carolina
Busch played both left field and first base for UNC this year, so I’m sticking him on the outfield for this club. A star player with an elite lefthanded bat, Busch was a model teammate who always seemed to play with a smile on his face, and he was always friendly when I bumped into him off the field. He was devastated after UNC’s season-ending loss in super regionals — it was obvious how much he cares about his teammates.
Honorable mention: Jack Stronach, UCLA; Kennie Taylor, Duke; Mojo Hagge, Nebraska.
DH: Cameron Warren, Texas Tech
Big Cam just seemed like a jolly fellow, with his curly mop of hair hanging out of his hat and his easy smile. And it was fun to see him show off his blazing speed in Omaha, when he raced around from first base to score on a double. Afterward, Warren said, “I saw J-Bob at third base telling me to go, so I was like, ‘Come on, big boy, you’ve got to score.’” Classic.
DH: Aaron Sabato, North Carolina
I fell in love with Sabato’s bat during UNC’s fall world series, when I saw him hit an opposite-field grand slam. That was a sign of things to come, as Sabato smashed homers to all parts of the ballpark all spring during his march to ACC freshman of the year honors. He’s a Jersey kid with great personality, and he’s a thoughtful quote.
Starting Pitcher: Ethan Small, Mississippi State
My favorite pitcher to cover this year, Small became a rock star as a junior for the Bulldogs, dominating by imposing his will with his fastball and mixing in an excellent changeup. I’m a sucker for the pitchers who are willing to break down the nitty-gritty of their craft in detail, and I really enjoyed my conversation with Small about his changeup grip and how he was working on the development of his breaking ball after a game at the Frisco Classic. He’s a class act, and I suspect he’ll pitch in the big leagues for a long time.
Starting Pitcher: Max Meyer, Minnesota
After dominating at the back of the Minnesota bullpen as a freshman, Meyer made a smooth transition to the top of the rotation as a sophomore, and I saw his first start of the year at the Seattle Baseball Showcase, when he showed 93-96 mph heat and a filthy power slider. That’s electric stuff from a wiry 6-foot righthander, though he has added strength as a sophomore.
Starting Pitcher: Jake Agnos, East Carolina
A stocky 5-foot-11, 207-pound tank of a lefthander, Agnos made the leap to All-America status as a junior, anchoring the ECU rotation and racking up strikeouts by the bucketload with his plus hammer curveball. He had big-time presence on the mound and also in the clubhouse, and it came across in his postgame media sessions. He’s a born winner and a top-notch teammate.
Starting Pitcher: TJ Sikkema, Missouri
Sikkema is just fun to watch because of his innate feel for pitching. He’ll mix up his arm slots, carve up the zone with an 88-94 fastball from the left side, and make hitters look silly with his slider. Another good postgame interview, too.
Starting Pitcher: Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
I’ve never seen a more impressive fall ball performance than Rocker’s outing against Oklahoma State in an October scrimmage, when he struck out seven straight batters and eight out of nine. It was premium stuff and advanced command — and by the time we got to the postseason, he had it all working again. That 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in super regionals was the stuff of legend.
Relief Pitcher: Christian Chamberlain, Oregon State
He’s listed at 5-foot-11, but I don’t buy it: Chamberlain is a hero for us short guys, because he has electric stuff. He’s also a high-energy bulldog who always stays in attack mode. My ears perk up every time I hear his name announced as the new OSU relief pitcher; you know he’s going to put on a show.
Relief Pitcher: J.C. Flowers, Florida State
You could put him in the outfield too — he plays an amazing center field and hit for power as a junior this year — but we’ll sneak Flowers onto this team as a closer. Pretty amazing for a guy who didn’t throw a pitch in his first two seasons to pull double duty as a junior and wind up with 13 saves and a 1.69 ERA for an Omaha team. The ball comes out of his hand easy, and there’s plenty more in the tank as he heads into pro ball. I did a double take after seeing Flowers work a scoreless inning in a fall scrimmage against Alabama — it was obvious the Seminoles had found something special there. He seemed like a class act too, good press conference guy.