OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Ten teams to watch in college baseball in 2024, listed in alphabetical order with 2023 record:
The SEC-favorite Razorbacks enter most years as a national title contender, and this year's roster gives them their best chance at the program's first championship since the 2018 team came within a dropped foul ball of winning it all. Lefty Hagen Smith heads a deep pitching staff, and Kendall Diggs returns after driving in a team-best 63 runs.
The Tigers hosted a regional in their first NCAA Tournament since 2019 in Erik Bakich's first season, and they're set up to accomplish more. Cam Cannarella is one of the nation's top outfielders, Will Taylor had a strong second half with the bat and the bullpen is experienced. Starting pitching is the question.
EAST CAROLINA (47-19)
The Pirates' offense averaged better than seven runs per game last season and should be able to match that with a lineup returning its top four hitters and the American Athletic Conference's top incoming freshman in Bristol Carter. Also back is Friday night starter Trey Yesavage.
The national runner-up Gators bring back five everyday players, including two-way star Jac Caglianone and the SEC's top closer in Brandon Neely. Colby Shelton, who hit 25 homers for Alabama, is the big addition. Two of last year's weekend starters were among the top 56 draft picks, but pitching never seems to be an issue for Kevin O'Sullivan.
The national champion Tigers had the top two overall picks in the 2023 MLB draft but an impressive group of transfers give them enough firepower to make another run. Tommy White hit 24 homers and led the nation with 105 RBIs. Lefty Gage Jump, who didn't pitch at UCLA last year because of injury, has impressed in the preseason and will be a weekend starter.
OREGON STATE (41-20)
The Beavers made it to a regional final for the third straight year and are the Pac-12 favorites in the conference's final season. Travis Bazzana, a projected top-five draft pick, can do it all offensively. The top newcomer is California high school player of the year Trent Caraway. Arizona transfer Aiden May is in line to be the Friday night starter.
The Longhorns should have plenty of motivation after losing their super regional at Stanford on a walk-off homer. Peyton Powell and Porter Brown are double-digit home run hitters. Lebarron Johnson is Big 12 preseason pitcher of the year. The Longhorns are hopeful Tanner Witt, a top reliever on their 2021 CWS team, can come back from injury to be a weekend starter.
Though the Horned Frogs lost big pieces from the team that reached the CWS, this is still the favorite to win the Big 12. Kole Klecker had 10 wins and figures to be the No. 1 starter. Big 12 preseason newcomer of the year Payton Tolle transferred from Wichita State, where he had nine wins with 97 strikeouts and hit 13 homers with 50 RBIs.
UC SANTA BARBARA (35-20)
The Gauchos are Big West favorites and have one of the best pitching staffs in the country led by 6-foot-6, 225-pounder Matt Ager, who struck out 115, and 6-5, 230-pound lefty Hudson Barrett. Jackson Flora is Big West preseason freshman of the year. Leading hitter Aaron Parker is among seven everyday players who return.
WAKE FOREST (54-12)
The Demon Deacons are coming off the best season in program history and their first CWS appearance since 1955, and the good times are expected to continue. They are the unanimous No. 1 team in the preseason polls. Nick Kurtz is the big bat and Josh Hartle and Tennessee transfer Chase Burns are the big arms. The player to watch is OF Seaver King, a transfer from Division II Wingate who batted .424 in the Cape Cod League.
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