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College World Series: Players to watch as Texas, Auburn, more go for title

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

And then there have been eight.

It has been a wild few weeks filled with excessive drama and unbelievable upsets within the Division I baseball postseason, and the sector has narrowed to eight groups that can compete for a nationwide championship June 17-27 at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska.

Last week within the Women’s College World Series, the Oklahoma Sooners softball staff captured this system’s sixth national championship after spending your entire season as the prohibitive favorites and clear No. 1 staff within the nation. 

Meanwhile, in baseball, Tennessee — the staff that led Div. I in each ERA and residential runs and captured the attention of the national audience all season — gained’t be taking part within the College World Series after shedding within the super-regional to Notre Dame. And final 12 months’s nationwide champion, Mississippi State, completed final within the SEC in 2022 and didn’t make the postseason in any respect. 

This baseball factor, it’s exhausting to predict.

All of which is to say: These eight groups have taken some unbelievable routes to get to this level, and any of them may win all of it. 

Here are the gamers to know earlier than the motion will get began Friday.

3B/RHP Jack Brannigan
Notre Dame (third CWS look, first since 2002)

Let’s start with the staff that knocked off the mighty Vols. This postseason started in controversial trend, as the Fighting Irish had been despatched to the regional hosted by Georgia Southern as the No. 2 seed, regardless of many analysts believing they deserved to host a regional. It clearly didn’t faze the Irish, as they dealt with the Statesboro area with ease earlier than heading into Knoxville and stunning the school baseball universe with the upset of the 12 months. 

Brannigan has been an enormous a part of this unbelievable run, as he led the staff in residence runs with 12, together with a dramatic, go-ahead homer towards Tennessee, and began the double play within the ninth inning to remove the Vols: 

Brannigan’s manufacturing on the plate is just more spectacular when you think about that MLB groups predominantly favor him as a pitcher. Although he has pitched in simply eight video games this season (and none since May 1), Brannigan’s upper-90s fastball and cruel slider have big-league groups more intrigued by his potential as a dynamite reliever than as a 3rd baseman. 

It appears unlikely that we’ll see him on the mound in Omaha, although, as he stays a lot more essential to the Notre Dame offense at this stage of the season.

Oh, and one more factor: He loves to steal residence. What can’t this man do?

Others to watch: DH Jack Zyska, LF Ryan Cole, LHP John Michael Bertrand, LHP Jack Findlay, RHP Liam Simon

1B Ivan Melendez
Texas (thirty eighth CWS look)

It’s exhausting to consider that I didn’t spotlight Melendez, aka The Hispanic Titanic, when previewing last year’s College World Series, however I’m pleased to get a mulligan, as the Longhorns return to Omaha for a Div. I-record thirty eighth time. 

Melendez’s uncooked energy is just jaw-dropping, a pure 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale and on par with any of essentially the most prodigious sluggers the school recreation has ever seen. And it doesn’t simply present up in batting follow; Melendez’s 32 residence runs this season are essentially the most ever by a participant within the BBCOR bat period, surpassing Kris Bryant’s mark of 31 in 2013. 

Melendez was identified for his energy lengthy earlier than he arrived in Austin; he was a junior-college All-American at Odessa College in 2019 earlier than transferring to Texas for the 2021 season. He was wonderful a 12 months in the past however leveled up in an amazing method in 2022, main Div. I in OPS (1.404) and, after all, dingers. 

While Melendez doesn’t provide a lot defensive worth, it appears awfully doubtless that some MLB staff will name his identify in Rounds 2-5 of subsequent month’s MLB Draft, and I can’t wait to see how his legendary energy interprets to professional ball.

Others to watch: RF Murphy Stehly, CF Douglas Hodo, SS Trey Faltine, 3B Skyler Messinger, LHP Pete Hansen, RHP Tristan Stevens

LHP Jacob Palisch
Texas A&M (seventh CWS look, first since 2017)

The Aggies have cruised thus far this postseason, going undefeated in regional and super-regional play as they return to Omaha for the primary time in 5 years. This is a really balanced roster with out overwhelming star energy, so I’m opting to put the highlight on a reliever in Palisch who has had a captivating trajectory in his faculty profession. 

The Dallas native performed his first 4 seasons at Stanford earlier than returning nearer residence to play for the Aggies in 2022, and he has been top-of-the-line lefty relievers within the nation. Palisch additionally dominated within the prestigious Cape Cod League in the summertime of 2019 however was not chosen within the shortened 2020 draft and thus continued his faculty profession.

He’ll flip 24 in August, so Palisch is way older than what MLB groups have a tendency to covet within the draft. That mentioned, he might be an intriguing possibility within the later rounds for groups that suppose he may pitch his method right into a big-league bullpen relatively rapidly. More importantly for now, he’ll absolutely be requested to get some big outs if the Aggies are to have a shot at profitable a nationwide championship.  

Others to watch: LF Dylan Rock, 2B Ryan Targac, 1B Jack Moss, RHP Nathan Dettmer, RHP Micah Dallas

RHP Cade Horton
Oklahoma (eleventh CWS look, first since 2010)

Horton was a two-sport star at Norman High School and dedicated to OU to play quarterback and baseball (as each a hitter and pitcher), which made him awfully tough for MLB groups to signal within the 2020 draft. His faculty profession took a flip when he wanted Tommy John surgical procedure in February 2021, wiping out his freshman 12 months and delaying his collegiate debut till March 29, 2022. 

Since his return, Horton has performed each methods for the Sooners, getting ample time at third base and on the mound. On May 21, he began towards Texas Tech and allowed eight runs, ballooning his season ERA to 7.94. Since then, nevertheless, he has posted a 2.55 ERA with 25 strikeouts and simply 5 walks in 17.2 innings pitched in three of a very powerful video games of Oklahoma’s season, together with Game 3 of the super-regional towards Virginia Tech. 

Horton is peaking on the proper time and will probably be essential within the Sooners’ efforts to sluggish the top-tier offenses they will face in Omaha.

Because he turns 21 in August, Horton is a draft-eligible sophomore. We know he was extremely touted in highschool, however has he proven sufficient over the previous three begins to warrant a excessive choice on this draft? Or is he higher off going again to OU, pitching a full, wholesome and dominant season and making an attempt to be a slam-dunk first-rounder in 2023? How he performs in Omaha would possibly impression that call. 

Others to watch: SS Peyton Graham, 1B Blake Robertson, CF Tanner Tredaway, LF Kendall Pattis, LHP Jake Bennett

3B Drew Bowser
Stanford (18th CWS look)

The Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles has gotten loads of consideration over the previous decade for producing three of one of the best younger beginning pitchers in MLB: Lucas Giolito, Max Fried and Jack Flaherty. But it’d quickly even be identified as the highschool that produced Bowser, a power-hitting third baseman who has been having a monster sophomore season for the Cardinal. 

Bowser was a extremely touted prospect at Harvard-Westlake and will have gone within the prime two rounds out of highschool, had he wished to begin his professional profession. However, his dedication to Stanford — an elite baseball program and the college that his mother, Yvette, an acclaimed TV producer, attended — was far too sturdy to lure him into professional ball, and now he’s top-of-the-line gamers on the staff some sportsbooks consider the favorite to win it all

Bowser has hit 12 homers in his previous 16 video games, bringing his season whole to 18 and his OPS to .942. He nonetheless strikes out loads, one thing he’ll absolutely look to enhance upon as he enters his draft spring in 2023. But for now, he’s some of the harmful hitters within the College World Series, and he’ll be key for a Stanford staff wanting to avenge its heartbreaking, walk-off loss to Vanderbilt in final 12 months’s CWS.

Others to watch: CF Brock Jones, OF/RHP Braden Montgomery, 1B Carter Graham, C Kody Huff, LF Eddie Park, RHP Alex Williams, LHP Ryan Bruno

3B Cayden Wallace
Arkansas (eleventh CWS look, first since 2019)

Wallace starred as a freshman on the 2021 Arkansas squad that spent a lot of the season as the No. 1 staff within the nation earlier than shedding in dramatic trend to NC State within the super-regional. His offensive profile took one other step ahead this season, as he confirmed even more energy and reduce down on the strikeouts. He additionally performed practically each recreation on the scorching nook after primarily taking part in in proper discipline as a freshman.

Many of the highest faculty hitters on this 12 months’s MLB Draft include questions on the place they may play defensively in professional ball. But as a draft-eligible sophomore, Wallace stands out as an thrilling hitting prospect who can unquestionably stick and excel at an vital place. Look for him to hear his identify known as on Day 1 of the draft after he’s completed serving to the Razorbacks chase a title in Omaha.

Others to watch: 2B Robert Moore, SS Jalen Battles, C Michael Turner, RHP Connor Noland, RHP Brady Tygart

1B Tim Elko
Ole Miss (sixth CWS look, first since 2014)

Elko gained nationwide consideration a 12 months in the past, when he returned from a torn ACL far sooner than anybody would’ve thought potential to assist the Rebels make a deep postseason run. Despite his heroics, although, Ole Miss got here up simply brief, shedding to Arizona within the super-regional. 

Elko returned to Oxford for his fifth 12 months afforded by the canceled 2020 season and has been top-of-the-line hitters within the nation as soon as once more, slashing .302/.413/.656 with 22 residence runs and numerous clutch hits alongside the best way. Ole Miss was the No. 1 staff within the nation earlier within the season, earlier than Tennessee took over for good, so there’s ample expertise on this squad. 

But Elko is the driving pressure, and he’ll want to hold cashing in runs for the Rebels to make noise in Omaha.

Others to watch: SS Jacob Gonzalez, LF Kevin Graham, RHP Dylan DeLucia

1B Sonny DiChiara
Auburn (sixth CWS appearances; first since 2019)

If you thought Melendez achieved cult-hero standing for his monumental dingers for Texas, the legend of Sonny D has arguably grown even larger. The 22-year-old slugger has been an absolute pressure for the Tigers this spring, carrying an offense that in any other case lacks star energy to assist head coach Butch Thompson’s squad get again to Omaha. 

As with Melendez, there was some query about how DiChiara’s manufacturing would translate after he transferred from Samford, the place he loved three wonderful seasons towards SoCon competitors. But clearly, the SEC was no bother for DiChiara, as he has put up even higher numbers in 2022: His .385/.554/.792 line is bested by solely three Div. I hitters, together with Melendez. 

DiChiara has additionally been scorching scorching down the stretch, with six homers in his previous eight video games. He’ll undoubtedly be one of many fan favorites in Omaha, irrespective of how far Auburn goes, and he might be an intriguing, later-round draft selection for a staff that totally believes within the bat.

Others to watch: 3B Blake Rambusch, RHP Mason Barnett, RHP Blake Burkhalter

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball author for FOX Sports. He lives in D.C. however is a big Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which implies he does not get lots of sleep. You can comply with him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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