The college baseball season is in full swing and already showing. With the top teams getting upset early and the players having great performances, the season is sure to be exciting.
So how good is the SEC? And which players should we follow? Our college baseball experts give their take on the 2023 season and offer early predictions for the Men’s College World Series.
How good is the SEC?
Chris Burke: This year the SEC is fully loaded. LSU and Tennessee were pretty much No. 1 and No. 2 to start the year, and they’ve done nothing to show they don’t fit that bill. Interestingly, while Ole Miss, Vandy and Arkansas all show potential to be in the top-tier conversation, I think the most likely disruptor could be Florida. The Gators’ rotation features as much firepower as Tennessee’s, and their offense looks as potent as LSU’s. Watch out, the Gators are back!
Kiley McDaniel: Anyway, better than usual. With conference attendance, facilities, money and overall talent, it’s always under the microscope as critics try to decide if the SEC is living up to high expectations. This year has a bumper crop of top talent, especially in the NIL and transfer portal areas, along with great timing flexibility, providing a gap for the next best conference in terms of on-field talent. The SEC has a huge advantage in terms of fan interest, participation, facilities, recruiting and coaching talent.
Ryan McGee: For example, very good. We joke, “It just means a lot,” but the truth is. I was at LSU last month, with all the Tigers transfers, guys like Thatcher Hurd from UCLA, Paul Skenes from Air Force and Tommy White from NC State, really good baseball programs. When I asked them why no one talked about the bad luck at LSU, their previous school or the NIL, they talked about playing in the Box in front of 10,000 people and going to Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Hoover. The conference’s commitment to baseball is second to none, and in the age of the transfer portal, that recruiting tool — and the rosters — only gets stronger.
Mike Rooney: The SEC would be looking for a sixth straight baseball national championship in 2023 if not for the nasty popup that found the grass. Here’s the really scary part: The streak involved five different SEC programs, and none of them were named Tennessee. or LSU. The Vols’ rotation is a remake of the Braves’ iconic crew of the 1990s. And LSU has a roster that would make the late George Steinbrenner blush. By the way, the SEC West had four of Omaha’s eight spots last season.
What other teams should we be following?
Burke: There are some interesting teams/plots outside of the SEC. The Big 12 is always a competitive league, and while it won’t be as tough this year, I think it will be an interesting race with TCU and Oklahoma State looking to be the frontrunners. Also, the competition for the ACC will be tough. Wake Forest has a lot of juice in it, Louisville looks set for a long road trip, Virginia Tech and North Carolina are really offensive teams, but the team I have my eye on is Link Jarrett’s Florida State Seminoles. They started the year outside the top 25 and jumped to #16 after a road series win at TCU. I think the Noles are here to stay.
McDaniel: I’m coming at this from a forward-looking project perspective. Wake Forest is exciting because of its analytics-driven approach, and it’s loaded with talent this year: Brock Wilken, Nick Kurtz, Rhett Lowder, and more. Stanford also has a lot of talent overall, led by Tommy Troy, Drew Bowser and Braden Montgomery. I’d keep an eye on returning Oklahoma State two-way talent Nolan Maclin, right fielder Juaron Watts-Brown, and infielders Rock Roggio and Marcus Smith.
McGee: What about the far ends of the tobacco lane? Wake Forest loaded. In my humble opinion, East Carolina is the greatest college baseball program to ever make it to the College World Series. Greenville is already a legendary party town. If ECU finally makes it to Omaha, North Carolina won’t have enough rum to satisfy the Pirates’ loyalties … or if they fall short again.
Rooney: Stanford has the most talented roster on the West Coast. Oklahoma State might be the most balanced team in the Big 12. And considering the ACC team has beaten the No. 1 team in the nation in the last two NCAA Tournaments, we have to figure out who will win this league. Will it be Wake Forest? Louisville? Maybe Florida State? If you like Cinderella teams, the top of the WAC is great. Grand Canyon, Cal Baptist and Sam Houston State have made strong statements in the first two weeks of the season.
Who is the strongest player worth watching?
Burke: Jac Caglianone — the college version of Shohei Ohtani — has been impressive to start the season. The ‘Cags’ OPS is north of 1.500 and the bat has eight homers and 15 K’s in his two 11 IP starts with a 99 mph fastball. This guy is as talented as any player in America and is just a sophomore.
McDaniel: Back in the SEC, I’d keep tabs on Gators seniors Wyatt Langford and Callianon, as well as LSU’s Dylan Crews and Ole Miss’ Kemp Alderman. Kurtz, Wilken, Bowser and MacLean have raw juice along with Clemson’s Caden Gris, Arizona’s Chase Davis and Miami’s Yohandi Morales. Oregon freshman Gavin Turley also has electric bat speed.
McGee: Caglianone hit eight homers in nine games. That’s pretty cool, huh? Oh, and he also hit 15 over the hill.
Florida’s two-way sophomore hit THREE home runs in a game started by Jacques Callianone!
4.2 IP, 2 H, 3 ER, 4 BB, 6 K, 92 P
3-for-5, 3 HR, 5 RBI 🤯
— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) February 26, 2023
Rooney: The word “power” suggests offense, but Caglianone offers two-way pop. He leads the nation with 8 HRs, and his fastball hits the low 90s with surprising consistency. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound lefty is the best two-way talent in college baseball since Brendan McKay. If Callanon continues this trajectory, you’re looking at a sleeper contender for the Golden Spikes award.
Who is the funniest player we should watch?
Burke: If you like a combination of world-class speed, defense, strength and athleticism, then Vance Honeycutt is your guy. On the heels of an All-America freshman season in which he posted 25 home runs and 29 stolen bases, he’s off to a solid start with an OPS over 1.000 and 6 SB…and he’s on track for a “SportsCenter” Top 10 game. will be on defense.
McDaniel: Mississippi State’s Jurrangelo Cijntje is easily a true switch prospect. I also think the two battles at the top of the draft — Crews and Langford for the top college player, Chase Dollander (Tennessee) and Paul Skenes (LSU) for the top college player — will be a heavyweight slugfest. Tommy Hawk, Camden Minacci and Lowder in Wake Forest are fun to watch for different reasons.
McGee: While I was in Daytona for the opening weekend of over 500 college baseball games, I made my annual sneak trip to Stetson to watch the hat season opener. Remember the name sophomore Andrew Estrella. I saw him start the 2023 season with a homer yet to hit, and since then he’s added four more… and he’s the leadoff hitter! Friend has 38 total bases in nine games. This sounds very interesting to me.
Rooney: Honeycutt is the obvious answer. He is a legitimate candidate for the leadership of the country. And stolen bases. And a stolen home run in center field. There’s nothing Honeycutt can’t do on the baseball field. Rhett Rosevear of Southeast Louisiana should also be mentioned. He led the nation in HBP last year with 37 games. In nine games in 2023, he scored 15 runs … on just two hits. His 13 walks and 10 HBP carry his .581 OBP. #Winner
Which radar group can make unexpected runs?
Burke: I’m holding out my hand here, this is the state of Florida. Jarrett is a freshman at his alma mater and comes with the momentum that led Notre Dame to the MCWS last year. The roster has plenty of talent, as noted by the pitching staff and Jackson Baumeister. Combine that with Jarrett’s winning history and I think the Noles can go from unranked to Omaha in the 1st year of their new coaching staff.
McDaniel: Virginia. The roster is deep, led by potential first-rounders in Jake Geloff and Kyle Thiel, while freshmen Jack O’Connor and inside linebacker Henry Godbout could be enough to propel them to the elite level by the end of the year.
McGee: I haven’t stopped watching the Grand Canyon antelopes since I drove down Tennessee over the weekend. They lost their next two to Michigan and Michigan State, but haven’t lost since, including a pair of wins at Ohio State. They host Arizona State next week before starting their WAC schedule, then play at Arizona State and Arizona State in late March. In April, they travel to Texas Tech, host Oregon State, and play Long Beach State. Give the antelopes credit, they are fearless.
Rooney: Iowa dealt with top-ranked LSU last weekend in the Karbach Round Rock Classic, defeating the Tigers 12-4. The Hawkeyes won 36 games a year ago, including 20 of their last 27. Skipper Rick Heller’s right-hander Brody Brecht has unmatched depth and a superior arm. Brecht, who hit 101 mph against LSU, was also a scholarship wide receiver on the Iowa football team. If Keaton Anthony and Brennen Dorihy can get enough offense, this is a team that could make a big run.
What are your predictions for the College World Series?
Burke: While we’re not going to come out with full predictions for Omaha just yet, let’s get into conference play and see what happens when the real tension begins.
McDaniel: The best/most talented team will never make it all the way, so even though the Tigers look like the best on paper right now, I’m giving up on LSU. Florida is my choice, over Wake Forest.
McGee: LSU, Tennessee, Stanford, Wake Forest, East Carolina, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State, Arkansas.
Rooney: Fastest games we’ve seen in recent MCWS memory. The timer has already started on 2023 in college baseball. We have noticed a significant improvement in game speed. We’ve also seen the law of unintended consequences, including last weekend’s game-ending strike penalty. The hope is that players and coaches will continue to adapt to this new system. Strict timer enforcement makes me nervous, I resisted. But to be honest, I never minded it before.