Previewing the 2023 college baseball season: Teams and players to watch, key storylines
The college baseball season is in full swing and already showing off. With the top teams upset so early and the players showing incredible performance, the season is sure to be exciting.
So how good is the SEC? And which players should you keep an eye on? Our college baseball analysts give their opinion on the 2023 season and offer some early predictions for the Men’s College World Series.
How good is the SEC?
Chris Burke: The SEC is absolutely loaded again this year. LSU and Tennessee were nearly all Nos. 1 and 2 at the start of the year and did nothing to suggest they wouldn’t match that bill. The interesting thing is that while Ole Miss, Vandy and Arkansas have also shown the potential to be part of this high-level conversation, I think Florida is perhaps the most likely disruptor. The Gators rotation has the same amount of firepower as the Tennessee and their offense seems to be as powerful as LSU’s. Beware, the Gators are back!
Kylie McDaniel: Somehow even better than usual. Considering attendance, funds, money, and overall talent at the conference, it’s always under the microscope, with critics trying to decipher whether the SEC lives up to sky-high expectations. This year especially has a lot of top talent, as well as more flexibility in the NIL area and the transfer portal, making the gap to the next top field talent conference. with the huge lead the SEC has in fan interest, attendance, facilities, talent recruitment and training.
Ryan McGee: Like, super good. We joke about “it just means more” but it really is. I was at LSU last month, chatting with all the Tigers transfers, guys like Thatcher Hurd from UCLA joined by Paul Skins from the Air Force and Tommy White from NC State, really good baseball programs. When I asked them why LSU, no one mentioned the misfortune at their previous school or NIL, they talked about playing Box in front of 10,000 people and hitting the road to Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas A&M and Hoover. There was an unrivaled commitment to baseball at the conference, and in the era of the transfer portal, this recruiting tool – and lineups – will only get stronger.
Mike Rooney: If it wasn’t for the messy pop-up that grass was found in, the SEC would be looking for a sixth straight national baseball championship in 2023. Here’s the really scary part: There were five different SEC programs in this “streak,” and none of them are called Tennessee. or LSU. The Vols rotation is a remake of the famous Braves team from the 1990s. And LSU has a lineup that would make the late George Steinbrenner blush. Incidentally, the SEC West earned four of the eight seats in Omaha last June.
What other teams should we keep an eye on?
Burke: Outside of the SEC, there are some exciting teams/storylines to keep an eye on. The Big Twelve is always a super-competitive league, and while it may not be as tough this year, I still think it will be an exciting race with TCU and Oklahoma State seemingly leading the way. Also the race for ACC will be fierce. Wake Forest has so much juice in the roster, Louisville looks like it’s ready for the long haul, Virginia Tech and North Carolina are really offensive teams, but the team I’m eyeing is Link Jarrett’s Florida State Seminoles. They started the year outside the top 25 and have already moved up to 16th after winning the road series at TCU. I think the Nols are here to stay.
McDaniel: I’m approaching this from a more rough, prospect-focused perspective. Wake Forest captivates with its analytical approach, and this year is full of talent: Brock Wilken, Nick Kurtz, Rhett Lowder and more. Stanford is also at the top of the talent pool with Tommy Troy, Drew Bowser and Braden Montgomery. I’ll also be keeping an eye on Oklahoma State with returning two-way talent Nolan McLean, transfer right-hander Huaron Watts-Brown, and mid-infield combo Rock Rogio and Marcus Smith.
McGee: What about the far ends of the Tobacco Road? Wake Forest is loading. And in my humble opinion, East Carolina is the best college baseball program that never made it to the College World Series. Greenville has already become a legendary party city. If the ECU finally gets to Omaha, there won’t be enough rum in North Carolina to satisfy the loyal pirates…or if they fail again.
Rooney: Stanford has the most talented roster on the West Coast. Oklahoma State may be the most balanced team in the Big 12. And given that the ACC has beaten the No. 1 team in the country in the last two NCAA Tournaments, we need to figure out who will win this league. Will it be Wake Forest? Louisville? State of Florida maybe? If you like Cinderella teams, the top of the WAC is outstanding. The Grand Canyon, Cal Baptiste and Sam Houston State made big announcements in the first two weeks of the season.
Which of the players with the most power deserves attention?
Burke: Jacques Callanone – the student version of Shohei Otani – started the season brilliantly. The Cags have an OPS north of 1,500 and eight homers at bat, as well as 15 K in 11 IP in his two starts with a fastball that hit 99 mph. This dude is as talented as any player in America and he’s just a sophomore.
McDaniel: Back in the SEC, I would look after the Gators brothers Wyatt Langford and Callanone, as well as LSU’s Dylan Crews and Ole Miss’s Kemp Alderman. Kurtz, Wilken, Bowser and McLean also have raw juice along with Clemson’s Caden Grice, Arizona’s Chase Davis and Miami’s Yohandi Morales. Oregon State rookie outfielder Gavin Turley also has bat-speed.
McGee: All Callanone has done is smash eight homers in nine games. It’s pretty good, right? Oh, and he also struck out 15 from the mound.
Two-way Florida sophomore Jacques Callanone hit THREE home runs in the game he started!
4.2 IP, 2 CH, 3 EP, 4 BB, 6 K, 92 P
3 out of 5, 3 HR, 5 RBI 🤯
— Farm to Fame (@FarmToFame_) February 26, 2023
Rooney: The word “power” suggests insult, but Caglianone offers two-way pop. He leads the nation with 8 points and his fastball hits the 90 mark with shocking regularity. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound southpaw is the best double-sided talent in college baseball since Brendan McKay. If Caglianone continues this trajectory, you will have a candidate for the Golden Spikes award in front of you.
Who is the most interesting player we should watch?
Burke: If you love a combination of world-class speed, protection, strength and athleticism, then Vance Honeycutt is your choice. On the heels of an All-American freshman season in which he hit 25 home runs and 29 stolen bases, he’s off to a strong start with an OPS of over 1,000 and already with 6 SBs…oh, and he’s looking forward to SportsCenter’s top 10 games. take place on the defensive.
McDaniel: Jurrangelo Cijntje in Mississippi is easy here, just like a real professional pitcher. I also think that the two fights at the top of the draft – Crews and Langford for the best college hitter, Chase Dollander (TN) and Paul Skenes (Lux) for the best college pitcher – will be heavy slugfest. Wake Forest’s Tommy Hawk, Camden Minacci and Lowder are interesting to watch for a variety of reasons.
McGee: When I was in Dayton for the opening of the 500 over College baseball tournament, I made my annual trip to Stetson to see the Hatters open the season. Remember the name Andrew Estrella, sophomore buddy. I saw him start the 2023 season with a homer that hasn’t landed yet and he’s added four more since then…and he’s leading the way! The Dude has a total of 38 bases in nine games. This sounds pretty fun to me.
Rooney: Honeycutt is the obvious answer. He’s a legitimate candidate for a home run lead. And stolen bases. And a stolen home run in center field. There is nothing Honeycutt can’t do on the baseball field. Rhett Roseweer of Southeast Louisiana also deserves a mention. Last year, he topped the country in the HBP rankings with 37 points. In nine games in 2023, he scored 15 runs…on just two hits. His 13 walks and 10 HBP carry him .581 OBP. #Winner
What inconspicuous team could make a surprise run?
Burke: I already reached out here, this is Florida. Jarrett is a freshman at his alma mater and comes with huge momentum, leading Notre Dame to MCWS last year. The roster has many talents highlighted by pitcher and ace Jackson Baumeister. Combine that with Jarrett’s winning streak and I think the Knowles could go from unranked to Omaha in the first year of their new coaching staff.
McDaniel: Virginia. The roster is very deep, led by potential first-rounders Jake Gelof and Kyle Teal, while freshman right-hander Jack O’Connor and infielder Henry Godbout could be good enough to propel them to the elite level by the end of the year.
McGee: I haven’t stopped following the Grand Canyon Antelopes since they beat out Tennessee the first weekend. They lost the next two to Michigan and Michigan State, but have not lost since, including a couple of wins over Ohio State. They host Arizona next week before kicking off the wacky WAC schedule and then playing both Arizona State and Arizona State by the end of March. In April they go to Texas Tech, host Oregon State, play Long Beach State. Give credit to the Antelopes, they are not scared.
Rooney: Last weekend, Iowa beat top ranked LSU to defeat the Tigers 12–4 in the Karbach Round Rock Classic. A year ago, the Hawkeyes won 36 games, including 20 of their last 27 games. Skipper Rick Heller has enviable serving depth and the high-profile hand of right-hander Brody Brecht. Brecht, who hit 101 mph against LSU, also happened to be a scholarship recipient on the Iowa football team. If middle bats Keaton Anthony and Brennen Dorigi can create enough attacks, this is a team that can go big.
What is your prediction for the College World Championship?
Burke: I’m not going to take a risk with a full…