Preview: The College World Series

It’s been an exciting postseason in college baseball. Some powerhouse teams, like Arizona State and UCLA, have plowed their way through the competition to their rightful places in Omaha. Other favorites, like Texas and Virginia, found their paths blocked by teams that got hot at the right time.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to get into college baseball, now’s the time. Lots of early-round draft picks are in action, and even more early-round 2011 picks will play featured roles. The competition level is high, the stakes are higher, and the fan enthusiasm makes it feel like … well, the World Series.

The action starts with two games this Saturday, and continues through the following weekend. You can even watch it online.

Who’s going to win?

Let’s start with my standard approach to every double-elimination bracket I come across: a Monte Carlo simulation. When the field was announced, I published odds for all 64 teams; now things look a little more even.

The field is split into two four-team brackets, each of which plays until three teams have been beaten twice. The two surviving teams play a best-of-three series to determine the national champion.

Team             FinalTwo  Champ  
Arizona State       40.3%  23.3%  
Clemson             15.6%   6.2%  
Oklahoma            25.0%  12.0%  
South Carolina      19.0%   8.1%
  
Texas Christian     35.1%  19.5%  
Florida State       14.3%   5.5%  
UCLA                33.3%  18.2%  
Florida             17.3%   7.3%

The Sun Devils have an edge on the field, but it’s hardly a commanding one. In a double-elimination format, anything can happen, and the top-notch pitching of a team like UCLA puts them right in the mix.

Let’s look at each team in the field and highlight some players to watch.

Arizona State

Draftee to watch: RHP Seth Blair. Blair was drafted by the Cardinals in the supplemental first round and is one of the better arms in the tournament. He can throw in the mid-, even high 90s, and has command to match, limiting opponents to barely two walks per nine innings.

Also watch: 2B Zack MacPhee. He was just named a Baseball America All-American and was a driving force for the Sun Devil offense. If there were no other reason to watch him, try this: He’s hit 14 triples this year.

Clemson

Draftee to watch: OF Kyle Parker. The only first-rounder in Omaha, Parker will be putting his big bat at the disposal of the Rockies after the tournament. He strikes out a bit much, but the K’s come with big power: 19 homers and an 1.174 OPS in about 275 plate appearances.

Also watch: SS Brad Miller. Miller is another part of the punishing Tigers offense, and he’s on everybody’s list for the 2011 draft. A lot rests on the hitters here, because by College World Series standards, the Clemson pitching staff is a weak one.

Oklahoma

Draftee to watch: 3B Garrett Buechele. Oklahoma doesn’t have a clear star; second baseman Dan Black was the first guy taken this year at No. 437, and there’s no one topping the lists for 2011, either. Buechele is the driving force of the offense, with 16 home runs and an OPS just shy of 1.100.

Also watch: OF Chris Ellison. He stole 16 bases in 16 tries last summer in Alaska, and followed it up with 23 in 26 tries this spring. He’ll be draft-eligible in 2011.

South Carolina

Draftee to watch: RHP Sam Dyson. The best of the seven Gamecocks selected last week, Dyson was taken in the fourth round by Toronto. He’s extremely stingy with extra-base hits, allowing only four home runs in almost 90 innings, and few enough doubles that opponents managed a mere .323 slugging percentage against him.

Also watch: OF Jackie Bradley Jr. Scouts love this guy, and why not? He’s on the small side (listed at 5-foot-11) but is already the capstone of the USC offense. You know the refrain by now: He’s part of the ’11 draft class.

Texas Christian

Draftee to watch: C Bryan Holaday. He hardly rates as an elite college player—drafted 193rd by the Tigers—but Holaday is a key cog in the Frogs offense and an absolute monster behind the plate. He’s a senior, making him the NCAA equivalent of a crusty veteran, and he plays like one. In a good way.

Mental Health and the CBA
A particular bit of language in the latest CBA could have negative consequences for some players.

Also watch: LHP Matt Purke. Sorry, Rangers fans. He would’ve been expensive to sign away from college last year, but it probably would’ve been worth it. Purke was one of the best pitchers in college baseball this year, striking out more than 11 per nine innings. Particularly nasty are his numbers against lefties: 82 batters faced, slash line against of .198/.280/.247, and 35 strikeouts.

Florida State

Draftee to watch: CF Tyler Holt. Popped in the 10th round, Holt was actually the third Seminole selected last week, but as regular readers know, I strongly believe he should’ve gone eight rounds earlier. He’s an elite defender, a top-notch base-stealer, and you can hardly complain about the 1.095 OPS. Capture the magic in real time.

Also watch: OF/RHP Mike McGee. He was selected by the Diamondbacks with pick No. 1,231, which drastically understates his value to Florida State. As a regular in the field, he’s hit 15 home runs and a four-digit OPS; as closer, he’s held opponents to four earned runs in 26 innings.

UCLA

Draftee to watch: LHP Rob Rasmussen. Rasmussen is small, but you can’t doubt the results. With almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter, he’s the class of the 11 Bruins picked in this year’s amateur draft.

Also watch: RHP Gerrit Cole. Perhaps you’ve heard of him? Along with Purke, he’s one of the guys who makes the 2011 draft class so special, having spurned Yankee money two years ago. Fans in the Bronx weren’t happy about it, but the real suffering belongs to Pac-10 hitters. This year, Cole limited them to a .196/.301/.270 slash line. In other words, if he throws strikes, he gets you out.

Florida

Draftee to watch: LHP Kevin Chapman. Closing for the Gators, Chapman struck out a batter per inning, and more impressively limited opponents to only seven walks for the season. He’s no Drew Storen, but now that he’s been drafted by the Royals, he’s the kind of arm who could make the trip from Omaha to Kansas City in only a couple of years.

Also watch: 1B Preston Tucker. Florida has a nice group of players returning for 2011; of them, Tucker might be the one most likely to make noise in Omaha. This season, he’s been good for a four-digit OPS batting third; also recommending him is a sterling 43:27 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

A final word of caution

This stuff is addictive. Follow at your own risk.


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Jeff Arnett
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Jeff Arnett
Nice summary. I used to really enjoy the College World Series. But I was treated so poorly by the Omaha CWS folks a few years ago, that to this day I still can’t watch it on TV without feeling embittered. After waiting 7 years to buy season tickets, I finally earned the right to do so in 2002, and had hoped to keep them until my son was old enough to attend with me (he’s now 12, so it’d be perfect for him). At first, I travelled to Omaha alone and saw every game in person. Unfortunately, living in San… Read more »
Brad
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Brad
A sad story and I can appreciate the frustration & disappointment.  It should also be said that YOU were treated that way not every fan.    Good for you in trying to be honest with your sale of the tickets, but can you really be that surprised that someone profited off of you.  WOW, thats never happened before!!!  Every big time event has their stories, but this event has been around for a lot of years. The number of fans that have been treated in a first class manner and return year after year after year dwarfs your pity party. … Read more »
Jeff
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Jeff
Brad, I’m glad you “can appreciate the frustration & disappointment,” but I think you’ve read a few things into my tirade above that I didn’t mean to imply. My only “surprise” was at the CWS folks holding me responsible for a second or third generation ticket sale that occured two thousand miles away from me, not that the sale itself occured. Looking at ebay any time, there are tons of CWS tickets for sale at many times their face value, and I’m sure more than a few of those are season tickets seats, so no one here is that naive.… Read more »
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