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College Baseball Primer: Who and What You Need to Know

Looking to get your baseball fix during the MLB lockout? Here’s a quick guide to the 2022 NCAA season.

When MLB locked out the players on Dec. 2, commissioner Rob Manfred wrote a letter to baseball fans telling them not to worry about the work stoppage cutting into the regular season. Now, nearly three months later, the lockout continues and the league and players’ union still have a lot of ground to cover. If they don’t have a deal by Monday, Opening Day will be delayed.

Fortunately for fans looking to get their baseball fix, the college season began last Friday and delivered a successful opening weekend. Not only did college baseball's first weekend of the season start as scheduled, but it also received more attention than in previous years, with multiple programs seeing record attendance numbers. The reigning national champions, Mississippi State, had the highest turnout for any three-game opening weekend at its home stadium. Texas, who has lingered at No. 1 throughout the preseason and Week 1, also saw the highest opening weekend attendance in program history.

Whether you’re a lifelong college baseball fan or just settling in during the lockout, here is a quick look at whom and what to watch in college baseball.

Mississippi State pitcher Landon Sims throws against Texas in the sixth inning during a baseball game in the College World Series Saturday, June 26, 2021, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.  The college baseball season opens Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

Mississippi State ace Sims

Conference to Watch

Apparently, it just means more in college baseball, too. The Southeastern Conference’s dominance isn’t limited to the gridiron. With Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas all ranked in the top 10, the SEC holds a majority when it comes to the big dogs of college baseball. Additionally, the conference has had six teams play in the last four College World Series finals; only two of the past eight title contenders have come from other conferences. But don’t sleep on the Big 12. Texas swept Rice to start the season. No. 4 Oklahoma State could also challenge SEC supremacy; the Cowboys entered the year ranked seventh before taking two of three from then No. 3 Vanderbilt over the weekend. The Commodores dropped to fifth. The season kicks off with nonconference games until about the middle of March, so there is plenty of time for different conferences to go head-to-head. Circle March 4–6 on your calendar. Texas, LSU, Oklahoma and Tennessee will be among the teams competing that weekend at the Shriners Children’s College Classic.

No. 6 Stanford (2–1) and No. 11 Arizona (3–1) appear to be the two strongest College World Series contenders in the Pac-12. The Wildcats were a top-eight national seed in last year’s tournament, which gave them a home field advantage during the super regional round. The Cardinal was the conference’s preseason favorite and could be the West Coast’s best bet to host super regionals this season.

Texas slugger Melendez

Texas slugger Melendez

Teams to Watch

With 37 College World Series appearances and six national championships, Texas is used to winning—and this year should be no different. The Longhorns came up short of the 2021 national title game when they fell to eventual champion Mississippi State, but Texas returns an experienced roster that features seven preseason All-Big 12 players—headlined by Ivan Melendez, who last year set a program record with a six-game home run streak. He also led the Longhorns with a .319 batting average, 13 homers and a .603 slugging percentage while driving in 51 runs. On the mound, Texas features left-handed starter Pete Hansen and right-handed reliever Aaron Nixon. Hansen is on the Golden Spikes watch list and finished his redshirt freshman season in ’21 with a 1.88 ERA, while Nixon’s role as a closer during his true freshman season last year landed him as a first-team preseason All-American coming into ’22.

Over the last two decades, Vanderbilt has emerged as quite possibly the best program in college baseball. The Commodores came close to back-to-back national championships last year—they lost the World Series after taking the title in 2019 (the tournament was canceled in ’20)—and are perennial contenders every year. Coach Tim Corbin is in his 20th season with the team and is credited with turning the program into a baseball powerhouse, leading it to two national championships in the last eight seasons. This year, Vanderbilt has had some large gaps to fill on the diamond following the departure of star pitchers Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker. The two led the country in strikeouts last year with 179 apiece. Nonetheless, the Commodores are returning key position players—mainly shortstop Carter Young and catcher Dominic Keegan—who can step up to power the group.

A final team to look out for this year is Long Beach State. Nicknamed the Dirtbags, they are the team most on the rise following the opening weekend, when they took two of three at Mississippi State. Long Beach State was ranked No. 24 entering the season after winning 15 of its last 17 games to end the 2021 campaign. After winning the series against the defending champs, the Dirtbags jumped to No. 12.

Stanford's Brock Jones (7), right, celebrates with teammates after hitting a home run against Vanderbilt in the third inning during a baseball game in the College World Series Wednesday, June 23, 2021, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The college baseball season opens Friday, Feb. 18, 2022.

Stanford star outfielder Brock Jones

Players to Watch

Brock Jones, Stanford

Brock Jones garnered a lot of attention in the college baseball world last summer when he helped lead Stanford to its first College World Series appearance since 2008. The junior outfielder finished the ’21 season with 18 home runs, 62 RBIs, 14 stolen bases and a 1.099 OPS. Jones also played football for Stanford his freshman year before choosing to focus on just baseball; the Cardinal star is projected to be an early first-round pick in the ’22 draft.

Landon Sims, Mississippi State

Pitching dominance was one of the main story lines from the 2021 season, and while that trend isn’t likely to continue for this year, Mississippi State righthander Landon Sims is definitely a pitcher to follow. Before this season, Sims had only ever pitched in relief for the Diamond Dogs; now, he’s their top dog. He was the Friday starter this past weekend (the college equivalent of the staff ace) and went seven innings, allowed one run on five hits and struck out 13.

Jacob Berry, LSU

Infielder Jacob Berry followed coach Jay Johnson from Arizona to LSU after his freshman season and is expected to be a standout in his Tigers debut. He homered in consecutive at bats in game two of opening weekend. Berry, who turns 21 in May, is draft eligible after this season, and with a strong season in Baton Rouge, he could emerge as a top-five selection.

Brooks Lee, Cal Poly

Shortstop Brooks Lee is a player to watch from one of the nonranked teams because of his draft potential. Lee was ranked as No. 1 on’s list of college draft prospects and has been drawing first-round interest since he came out of high school in 2019. Lee is coached by his father at Cal Poly and in ’21 led the team in batting average, home runs, RBIs, hits and total bases.

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