With just under a month remaining until opening weekend of the 2022 college baseball season, D1Baseball's Kendall Rogers and Aaron Fitt sat down with us to break down their preseason top 25 rankings, which features LSU as the No. 1 team in the nation after they stockpiled their roster with talent out of the transfer portal. Rogers and Fitt also broke down their top-five teams, talked top teams out of the ACC, Pac-12 and Big 12, made picks for player of the year candidates and predicted an under the radar team that could make it to the Men's College World Series.
Here are some fun previews and predictions for this year:
Why the LSU Tigers were a sure thing for the No. 1 spot heading into 2023
The LSU Tigers failed to make it out of their regional in 2022, but they enter the 2023 season as the standout No. 1 team in the nation. Head coach Jay Johnson picked up a boatload of talent out of the transfer portal this offseason with the addition of slugger Tommy White from NC State to join one of the nation's best hitters in Dylan Crews. But even more importantly, their pitching staff went from their biggest weakness last season to one of their biggest strengths this year with Air Force transfer and right-handed pitcher Paul Skenes leading the way. They also picked up UCLA transfer Thatcher Hurd.
So now you have a strong foundation of offense with White, Crews and Tre' Morgan. A great starting rotation with Skenes, Hurd and Grant Taylor. And on top of that some great bullpen pieces with Christian Little, a transfer out of Vanderbilt.
"The weekend rotation was an issue (last season). LSU fans kind of groaned in the stands a lot last year because they used about seven or eight pitchers a game," Rogers said. "I can promise you guys you will not be using eight pitchers a game this year. It's just a really deep pitching staff and outstanding offense."
One thing Rogers added, though, was that this team was going to have a lot of pressure and expectations to live up to this season, as well as a lot of teams gunning for them.
"Everyone expects them to win the national championship. How often do we see the No. 1 team actually with the national championship? Not very often," Rogers said. "So it'll be interesting to see LSU get punched a little bit and see how they react to that because with all the superstars, sometimes it's not so easy to handle that."
The rest of the top five — and why
Tennessee, Stanford, Ole Miss and Texas A&M close out the rest of D1Baseball's preseason top 25. Three of those teams, excluding Tennessee, played in the MCWS last season, with Ole Miss taking home the title. The Vols missed out on the MCWS last season despite winning 57 games and putting together a historic season. They come in at No. 2 despite losing an insane amount of offensive production with the loss of Trey Lipscomb (22 HR), Luc Lipcius (19 HR), Jordan Beck (18 HR), Jorel Ortega (18 HR), Evan Russell (14 HR), Cortland Lawson (12 HR) and Drew Gilbert (11 HR). But, Fitt said this team has by far the best pitching staff in the country coming back.
"It starts with Chase Dollander who I think most of us believe is the best pitcher in the country," Fitt said. "You've got Chase Burns who was the National Freshman of the Year last year who is your number two starter. Then you have got Drew Beam, who was another Team USA guy this summer. I mean, that's an insane weekend rotation and they still have nice pieces back in the bullpen as well."
As far as the offense goes, they filled in some holes in their lineup through the portal as well. Next on the list is Stanford, and for them, it's really a team that's built around big scary bats, according to Fitt. They have names like Carter Graham, Tommy Troy and Drew Bowser, which is an incredible amount of firepower in the infield. Then there is Braden Montgomery, who Fitt described as one of the most electric two-way players in the country who can hit for power and 'throw 100 miles an hour off the map.'
Next, Fitt took a look at the reigning champs in Ole Miss. This team lost Tim Elko and Dylan Delucia but enters the season at No. 4. Jacob Gonzalez is back at shortstop and Kemp Alderman returns for a big power threat offensively. Then on top of those names, they received some talent out of the portal as well.
"You bring in Anthony Calarco from Northwestern to play first base and Ethan Groff from Tulane who hit over .400 for the Green Wave last year, plays great defense in center field," Fitt said.
Lastly, another team from Omaha last season in Texas A&M. The biggest thing for the Aggies of note to Rogers was that they had a few players they expected to leave for the draft that decided to come back — Trevor Werner and Ryan Targac. Then you have a lineup loaded from top to bottom with Jack Moss leading the way.
Wake Forest enters the 2023 season at No. 6
Last season, Wake Forest took a big step forward and made a regional. Now, Fitt feels it is their time to make a run. Seven ACC teams made D1Baseball's preseason top 25 this year, second to the SEC's nine, and Fitt thinks Wake is the team to beat out of them all.
"They haven't really been in this position for 20 years where they were a top-10 team heading into the season having to deal with those kind of expectations," Fitt said. "But the firepower on the mound here really stands out."
That firepower is highlighted by the reigning ACC pitcher of the year, Rhett Lowder. Fitt gave him a pretty good compliment, mentioning that he is the only guy he thinks could rival Tennessee's Dollander as the best starting pitcher in the country. On top of that there is Teddy McGraw, who played for Team USA last year and has what Fitt described as electric stuff, and Josh Hartle, who was the highest-ranked pitcher to show up on campus last season but had some struggles his freshman season. Fitt said he overhauled his mechanics in the offseason and they are expecting a huge jump from him. So there you have it, a rotation that the D1Baseball guys think could rival anyones, a pretty stacked offensive lineup to go with it, and now the No. 6 team in the nation and team to beat out of the ACC.
Here is the full D1baseball preseason top 25
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How about some other conferences?
We mentioned, nine SEC teams and seven ACC teams dominate the D1Baseball top 25 entering this season. Stanford leads the Pac-12 with its No. 3 ranking. But there are some other teams to note, especially out of the Big 12. Oklahoma State and TCU standout as the frontrunners in the conference with OSU entering the season at No. 9 and TCU at No. 15. But Rogers was mostly interested in how the rest of the conference would shake out. Think of teams like Texas — the Longhorns played in the 2022 MCWS but lost a large chunk of talent, including the National Player of the Year in Ivan Melendez.
"They are going to be a different team, but will the results be vastly different?" Rogers said.
Texas Tech is another team to look at. This is a team that barely made the D1Baseball top 25, entering the season at No. 23. Rogers said if you look at this team on paper, you might think 'oh man, how do you rank this team?' But, he followed that up by saying you've just got to believe in head coach Tim Tadlock.
"In Tim Tadlock we trust," Rogers said.
Oklahoma is another team to keep an eye one. This team finished as national runner-up last season, but they enter the season not even ranked. Rogers mentioned this OU team has a lot of question marks. The offense still has the likes of John Spikerman, Jackson Nicklaus and Wallace Clark, but the big question for Rogers was if Texas Tech transfer Jamie Hitt could make an immediate impact on the mound.
Players to watch and NPOY picks
Dylan Crews — LSU
Tommy White — LSU
Paul Skenes — LSU
Chase Dollander, Chase Burns, Drew Beam — Tennessee
Jacob Gonzalez — Ole Miss
Vance Honeycutt — North Carolina
Fitt started off his spiel by mentioning that Crews is certainly the the biggest name in the nation this season, but that the strongest competitors he will face for the NPOY award are his own teammates. White, who became an instant folk hero after opening his freshman season at NC State by hitting a ton of home runs, is only going to hit more at LSU. Skenes is going to step right into the rotation, according to Fitt, and show you mid- to high-90s stuff for power. Then there are the Tennessee pitchers, the Stanford bats, Jacob Gonzalez over at Ole Miss and Vance Honeycutt at UNC.
"But, I think right now, this race is Crews' to lose," Fitt said. "He feels like the guy, and if I have to pick some body, that is who I am going to go with."
Dylan Crews — LSU
Wyatt Langford — Florida
Garret Forrester — Oregon State
Rogers started off by saying, of course, Crews is the safest choice, but he wanted to throw out two more names to watch for this season as well as a sleeper pick out of the west. Langford at Florida, in Rogers' opinion, would be the favorite out of the SEC if it weren't for Crews and White. He hit .355 with 26 homers and 61 RBI last season for the Gators, and if UF is going to be a top-five team this season, Langford will need to have a great season. And then there is Forrester, who had nine home runs, 60 RBI and 60-plus walks. He is what Rogers described as Swiss Army knife, and is his sleeper pick from the Pac-12 to watch this season.
Under-the-radar-teams that could make a run for the MCWS
Rogers picked Oklahoma last year and the Sooners made it to the national championship series. Just FYI. But here is why he picked UConn this year:
"I love teams... and I know this sounds a little odd... but I love teams who got to a Super Regional or got to a regional final, and just fell a little bit short. I think that keeps them really hungry," Rogers said. "And I think when you look at UConn last year, beating Stanford in game one and losing the next two games — I think they're gonna be really hungry. I think obviously the question mark with UConn is without Pat Gallagher and Austin Peterson, how do they rebound on the mound? But again, kind of like Tim Tadlock at Texas Tech.... in Josh MacDonald at UConn, I trust ."
Rogers couldn't help but mention Florida State and Link Jarrett, too.
"If there is one team from a talent standpoint and coaching standpoint that at the end of the year is playing for a berth to Omaha that would not surprise me that much, it is Florida State," Rogers said. "If that rotation pans out to go with that offense, that could be a really good team. Keep an eye on the Seminoles. I would not be surprised if their pitching comes together and they're one of the better teams in the ACC."
Fitt went with Campbell last season, a team that gave Tennessee a run for it in the regionals last year, and this year he went with Charlotte and a lineup that he think could be one of the most dangerous in baseball.
"Robert Woodard, their head coach, thinks this could be the best team he's had and they've had some good teams last few years. But there's still a lot of guys back. You go through their lineup — I mean Austin Knight is just a doubles machine, he had a little bit of a down year last year, but he's back for fifth season and he's a really good player to kind of anchor. Jack Dragum, another fifth year guy at shortstop, you love to have experience of that position. Will Butcher... how about Jake Cunningham, Cam Fisher... these are guys that have real tools, real ability and can hit for power," Fitt said. "It's a very intimidating lineup. I think it's gonna be one of the better lineups certainly in C-USA and maybe in all of of college baseball. The key for them is whether the pitching staff holds up."