Scouting the CWS field

csmith@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

NCAA LSU Sam Houston St Baseball

LSU pitcher Aaron Nola throws to the plate during the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against Sam Houston State, Saturday, June 1, 2013, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

BILL FEIG — AP

North Carolina and N.C. State are in good company in Omaha.

Really good company.

The College World Series includes six teams that won their regular season or tournament crown and four with 50 or more wins. Two, LSU and Oregon State, have won there before.

Here’s a scouting report on the six outside the Triangle, with comments from Baseball America’s national college writer Aaron Fitt:

Pool B (with UNC, N.C. State)

No. 4 Louisiana State (57-9)

Been there: 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009.

National champions: 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2009.

Road to Omaha: The Tigers dominated the SEC, jumping to a 39-4 overall record and No. 2 in the country before dropping their first series to then-No. 15 South Carolina. That was the only series LSU lost. It finished 23-7 in the SEC, just behind Vanderbilt, but beat the Commodores in the SEC tournament.

LSU continued its hot streak, going 5-0 in the NCAA tournament with three wins in the Baton Rouge regional and a sweep of No. 19 Oklahoma, 2-0 and 11-1, in the Super Regional.

Draft picks: 9. Top pick: Ryan Eades, 2nd round (2R), Minnesota Twins.

Best hitter: Mason Katz. The senior is hitting .366 with 15 homers and 68 RBIs. First team all-SEC recognition and All-American honors by NCBWA. Despite a 0-for-8 slump in the Super Regionals, Katz supplies most of the power for the explosive Tigers.

Best pitcher: Aaron Nola. The sophomore right-hander is 12-0 with a 1.68 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 118 innings. The SEC Pitcher of the Year is coming off a dominating two-hit complete game shutout against Oklahoma, outdueling Jonathan Gray – the third pick overall in the MLB Draft.

Strength: Versatility. With a .308 team batting average – with five players hitting over .300, including Alex Bregman hitting .380 – LSU averages more than six runs per game, and the starting rotation is 27-3 with all three possessing sub-3.00 ERAs. Flaws are few.

BA says: “They’re playing at a really high level coming into Omaha. They are a team that, a lot like UNC, doesn’t really have any weaknesses. They are a great defensive team, have power in the middle of their lineup and have one of the best big-game pitchers in the college game in Aaron Nola – probably one of the best pitchers period, actually. He’s just a monster. And I like the bullpen. The only concern I might have is the starting rotation after Nola.”

UCLA (44-17)

Been there: 1969, 1997, 2010, 2012.

Road to Omaha: The Bruins started 17-4 before dropping their first back-to-back games. They finished 21-9 in the Pac-12, good enough for third behind national seeds Oregon State and Oregon. UCLA swept the Los Angeles regional, then swept host and No. 5 Cal State-Fullerton in the super regional. The Bruins won a dramatic 10-inning game, 5-3, in Game 1 and cruised to a 3-0 victory to advance to their third College World Series in the past four seasons.

Draft picks: 7. Top pick: Nick Vander Tuig, 6R, San Francisco Giants.

Best hitter: Pat Valaika. The junior hit just .257 but leads the Bruins in home runs (five) and RBIs (44). He is also one of only two players – Brian Carroll being the other – to start all 61 games.

Best pitcher: David Berg. The Bruins closer is the reason UCLA is in Omaha. In his 71 1/3 innings over 46 appearances this season, the first-team All-American has a staggering 21 saves with a 7-0 record and a 0.88 ERA.

The PAC-12 Pitcher of the Year is the leading candidate for the NCBWA Stopper of the Year and in the running for National Pitcher of the Year.

Strength: Pitching, pitching and more pitching, and they need it because no Bruin regular hit over .300 on a team that hit just 19 home runs – or six more than UNC’s Colin Moran. Therefore, the pitching staff is used to working under pressure. Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig posted 2.37 and 2.35 ERAs, respectively, and a combined record of 20-7 with three complete game shutouts. If they do their job, Berg will be waiting to do his.

BA says: “They have the experience because they’ve been here before obviously a number of times. They have two really good pitchers with Plutko and Vander Tuig and they both pitch their butts off and are well-suited for TD Ameritrade Park. They are both fly-ball pitchers and the ball doesn’t really carry very well there. The bullpen is one of the best in baseball because David Berg is the best closer in the country and they have a lot of guys who are just very versatile. They’re not a great offensive team … but I think the pitching staff only needs a little help and they’ve been getting that so far.”

Pool A

No. 3 Oregon State (50-11)

Been there: 1952, 2005, 2006, 2007.

National champions: 2006, 2007.

Road to Omaha: The Beavers dropped just two series and won the Pac-12, which included No. 8 national seed Oregon and fellow Omaha-bound UCLA, en route to earning a No. 3 national seed. OSU rolled through the Corvallis regional, going 3-0, but dropped the Super Regional opener to Kansas State, 6-2, before winning 12-4 and 4-3, respectively.

Draft picks: 7. Top pick: Ben Holmes, 6R, Philadelphia Phillies.

Best hitter: Michael Conforto. After hitting .349 with 13 homers and 76 RBI as a freshman, the lefty hit .320 with 11 homers and 45 RBI this season.

Best pitcher: Andrew Moore. The true freshman won 14 games this season, tying an OSU record and tops in the country with Vanderbilt’s Tyler Beede. The 5-11, 180-pounder commands a fastball that reaches 92 mph and earned first team honors from the NCBWA and Baseball America, among others.

Strength: Pitching. The Beavers feature two All-American starters in Moore and Matt Boyd and have two live arms coming out of the bullpen with Max Engelbrekt and Scott Schultz. Moore and Boyd boast 2.13 and 1.36 ERAs, respectively, and a combined 24-4 record, while Engelbrekt and Schultz have a combined 47 appearances and 15 saves.

BA says: “This team has more power than the ’07 team, which bodes well for them. That’s not going to be a huge factor in this ballpark in Omaha, but that’s still an asset. They’ve got a lot of veterans in the lineup and they are extremely well-rounded. They have a great pitching staff. I think it’s the best rotation in this field with three guys that are All-American caliber. They also have a nice variety coming out of the bullpen with guys that command several different pitches and can come at you several different ways. I think they, like LSU, are very complete.”

Mississippi State (48-18)

Been there: 1971, 1979, 1981, 1985, 1990, 1997, 1998, 2007.

Road to Omaha: Mississippi State started 17-0 and rose to No. 3 before faltering in the SEC. Despite finishing 16-14 in conference play, the Bulldogs rattled off three wins in the SEC tournament before losing to then-No. 1 Vanderbilt in the semifinals.

The Bulldogs then hosted the Starkville regional and went 3-1, advancing to the Charlottesville super regional where they swept Virginia, 11-6 and 6-5.

Draft picks: 7. Top pick: Hunter Renfroe, 1R, San Diego Padres.

Best hitter: Renfroe. The outfielder leads the Bulldogs in batting (.360), home runs (15) and RBIs (61).

Best pitcher: Kendall Graveman. The senior right-hander had a career year, coming into Omaha with a 3.14 ERA and 103 innings over his 17 starts. Graveman didn’t have his best outing against Virginia in the Charlottesville super regional opener, but has three complete games and one shutout this season.

Strength: Versatile offense. They get on and can hit for power. Renfroe is one example, but infielder Adam Frazier has been on a tear, going 8-for-13 against Virginia, including a 6-for-6 performance with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs in the opener.

Wes Rea adds to the power bats with his .288 average and 16 extra-base hits this season, including seven homers.

BA says: “They’re one of those teams with a lot of upperclassmen that are clicking at the right time. They are finally living up to their expectations late in the season after we had them as a preseason top 10 team. Renfroe and Rea give you some power and Adam Frazier is a guy who makes their offense go as a dynamic table setter. They’re a lot like N.C. State with Grant Clyde and Tarran Senay, they just have a lot of tough outs who battle every time at the plate and have a bullpen with an elite closer in Jonathan Holder, who has 18 saves (a school record).”

Louisville (51-12)

Been there: 2007.

Road to Omaha: The Cardinals rolled through the regular season, dropping just four games in the Big East to Rutgers and St. John’s, losing both series, and finishing 20-4 in conference. Despite that success, Louisville was bounced from the Big East tournament after dropping two straight to UConn and Rutgers.

The Cardinals are hot again, however, going 5-0, including two straight wins over No. 2 Vanderbilt, 5-3 and 2-1, who many – including Fitt – believed should have been the No. 1 national seed.

Draft picks: 7. Top pick: Dace Kime, 3R, Cleveland Indians.

Best hitter: Ty Young. The durable third baseman hit .339 with 24 extra-base hits and 57 RBIs in a team-leading 63 starts. Young also had 26 stolen bases, second to Adam Engel’s 41 – which is third best in the country. The junior went just 1-for-9 in the Super Regional, but will likely return to form in Omaha.

Best pitcher: Jeff Thompson. Part of the one-two punch, the 6-6 Thompson has a 2.00 ERA with an 11-1 record and 109 strikeouts, leading Louisville in every category. The third-round pick held Vandy in check in the Super Regional clincher, giving up just one earned run over seven innings, recording nine strikeouts to earn the win.

Strength: The Cardinals have speed and an imposing lineup, especially the middle of the lineup of Young and Coco Johnson, but pitching carried them to Omaha. Thompson and Chad Green have ERAs below 3.00 and are a combined 21-4. Kime, the first pitcher taken off the board for the Cards, has moved to a starting role, but teamed with Cody Ege and closer Nick Burdi – who saved 16 games this season – to headline a strong bullpen.

BA says: “This team has an elite pitching staff. From top to bottom, they don’t have many weaknesses there. The top of that rotation is similar to Oregon State in that they have two guys that have great stuff and can work in a lot of different pitches to fool batters and elevate that fastball to make them pop up. Then you’ve got a guy in Burdi that can throw 100 mph and has great command of the zone. It’s a really athletic team that’s No. 2 in the country in stolen bases, but they can also hit for power when they need it. I think that speed and ability to score runs will be crucial in Omaha.”

Indiana (48-14)

Been there: First appearance.

Road to Omaha: The Hoosiers dominated the Big Ten, dropping just one series in a sweep in mid-April to Michigan State, and finished 15-6. Indiana then cruised in the Big Ten tournament, taking home the conference regular season and tournament crowns.

IU stayed hot, going 5-0 in the regional and Super Regionals. The Hoosiers swept ACC Atlantic Division champion and No. 7 national seed Florida State, 10-9 and 11-6, to become the first Big Ten team to advance to the CWS since Michigan in 1984.

Draft picks: 3. Top pick: Aaron Slegers, 5R, Minnesota Twins.

Best hitter: Kyle Schwarber. The sophomore is one of seven Hoosiers to hit over .300. Schwarber posted a .376 average with 18 homers, 54 RBIs and a .674 slugging percentage.

Best pitcher: Aaron Slegers. The 6-10, 250-pound sophomore has lost just one game in 17 appearances and posted a 2.13 ERA. Had 54 strikeouts, but just 15 walks.

Strength: Hitting – enough said. The Hoosiers can hit for power or contact and routinely get timely hits. Seven starters have hit above .300 and have more than 43 RBIs. With Schwarber, Dustin DeMuth and Scott Donley, the Hoosiers might be one of the most dangerous offensive teams in Omaha.

BA says: “It’s a big deal that a Big Ten team made it for the first time since 1984, but this team is definitely for real. I’m not really shocked that they made it to this point, because I had them as a dark horse to earn a national seed. They have a stacked lineup of guys that can hit it hard to all spots on the field from the right side and the left side. You can just rattle the names off of guys that are really good hitters and they are extremely athletic. Their only downfall might be there defense because they tend to kick the ball around a little bit. That can haunt you in Omaha.”

Smith: 919-829-4841

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