Every other week, SIOC's Bryan Smith checks in with a look across the college baseball universe.
1. Arizona State (22-1) -- The Sun Devils suffered their first loss of the season to Northern Colorado, which entered the game on an 11-game losing streak. But even in the shadow of their first loss, the Sun Devils are still the nation's best team. Arizona State also lost their closer, Jason Jarvis, after academic questions forced the right-hander to drop out and declare for the 2008 Major League Draft. In his place, head coach Pat Murphy inserted junior southpaw Ike Davis, who in addition to pitching 8.2 scoreless innings this season is hitting .444/.500/.867. The offense as a whole is slugging .583, and for the second consecutive season, should be the most dangerous set of bats in Omaha in June.
2. North Carolina (18-4) -- The bad news is that North Carolina entered ACC play on March 8 having faced a schedule that rarely tested them. And in some of those tests -- against Old Dominion and Coastal Carolina -- the Tar Heels dropped single midweek games. But weekends is where this team thrives, and they bring as much depth to the table as any team in the nation. Highly acclaimed freshman Matt Harvey has hit his stride, and boasts a 1.19 ERA through his first six college appearances. But most admirable has been the play of sophomore Dustin Ackley, hitting .409 after a freshman campaign that was also above .400.
3. Missouri (18-2) -- Beating Missouri in the postseason promises to be a difficult feat, as the Tigers boast the nation's best pitching staff. On Fridays, Aaron Crow is probably the most dangerous pitcher in the nation. The right-hander has command of a 95 mph fastball, an out-pitch slider and he has struck out 25 batters in his last two starts. After Crow, the Tigers throw Ian Berger (one earned run in 30.1 IP) and Kyle Gibson (43 K in 34.1 IP) on the weekends, and prized freshman Nick Tepesch closes things out. The question becomes whether the Tigers will hit, but with sluggers in Jacob Priday and Aaron Senne, they should be fine.
4. Miami (17-2) -- The return of Dennis Raben to this outfield turned this offense from an elite one to the one team that could hit with Arizona State. Since returning from back soreness, Raben has hit four home runs in 18 at-bats, and he joins potential 2008 first-rounders Jemile Weeks and Yonder Alonso in the middle of the lineup. But the Hurricanes find themselves in the top 5 because their pitching staff has been better than expected, with an aggregate 179 strikeouts in 169.1 innings. Friday night ace Eric Erickson is 5-0, and set-up man Kyle Bellamy has yet to allow a run in 12 innings.
5. Arizona (13-5) -- The Wildcats have lost a few more games than their talent dictates this spring, but if there is one program that promises to be a dangerous June opponent regardless of their regular season record, it's Arizona. On the pitching side, Arizona has two of the nation's best relievers in Daniel Schlereth (son of ESPN analyst, Mark) and closer Jason Stoffel. The offense has been fabulous thanks to a resurgence by Diallo Fon, who was benched to start the season but is now hitting .380/.466/.740. Arizona's 28 home runs suggest they can slug with anyone.
6. Long Beach State (16-3) -- On March 11, the Long Beach State offense reached a new low -- they were shutout by Western Illinois, who entered the game 0-6. But since then the Dirtbags are resurgent, and have won 7 straight games, including a sweep of UCLA over the weekend. The team has a cumulative 2.12 ERA, and junior Vance Worley has just started to find his stride. The Dirtbags strength is that they walk very few hitters and draw many walks themselves, but the team has a .383 slugging, and the offense must show some power before they join any top five.
7. Florida State (19-2) -- For the third time in the top eight, we meet a team that hits like crazy -- in fact the Seminoles have the best team numbers of all: .358/.476/.600. Of course, they also struggle from the mound the most, with a 4.43 ERA and 4.4 walks per nine innings. Friday ace and transfer Elih Villanueva has a 5.04 ERA, but the southpaw has proven that he has the potential to pitch with anyone. Sophomore Matt Fairel, who pitches Saturdays, has been the Seminoles most consistent starter. But allowing 5 runs a game doesn't mean much for an offense that scores 10, led by senior first baseman Dennis Guinn (.429/.531/.922).
8. California (15-4) -- The surprise of the season, the Cal Bears seem to be a program that has finally put it all together. California has always produced good pro talent, but it has been years since they were a true Omaha contender. However, with the resurgence of senior Josh Satin, hitting .443/.522/.785 while playing the middle infield, the Bears offense is the best it has been in years. The return of ace Tyson Ross gives this pitching staff, currently sporting a 2.96 ERA, another top arm, and they could be another top pitching staff for the West Coast.
Four that just missed: South Carolina, Mississippi, Rice, UC Irvine.
CLICK BELOW FOR THE NATION'S TOP TEN FRESHMEN
This section highlights the best newcomers to college baseball as generated through statistics as well as conversations from coaches and scouts.
1. Kyle Blair, San Diego (2.51 ERA, 51 K, 32.1 IP) -- Blair was not a sure thing to attend San Diego until the Angels, who drafted him, refused to meet his seven-figure signing bonus. Not meeting the demands seems like a mistake, as Blair struck out 16 Hawaii-Hilo batters last week using one of the nation's most electric sliders. Even when ace Brian Matusz graduates to professional baseball next year, San Diego still might have the nation's best starter.
2. Matt Harvey, North Carolina (1.19 ERA, 26 K, 22.2 IP) -- If Scott Boras hadn't been Harvey's agent, he very well could have been a top 10 overall pick last June. Instead, his bonus demands led him to drop until the third round, and he was never very likely to sign. His loss was the Tar Heels' gain, as Mike Fox continued to inherit some of the nation's top pitching talent. Using a mid '90s fastball and beautiful slow curve, Harvey is becoming one of the nation's best Sunday starters.
3. Victor Sanchez, San Diego (.330/.421/.682) -- Not many hitters could have done what Sanchez did last summer: as a high school graduate, Sanchez moved to the Midwest to participate in the wood bat, college-only Northwoods League. And guess what? He was one of the nation's top prospects, showing a power bat and skills behind the plate. While San Diego isn't giving him much time at catcher, Sanchez has still proven to be the Torreros' most dangerous hitter.
4. Chris Hernandez, Miami (1.11 ERA, 32 K, 32.1 IP) -- As a freshman, Hernandez is already one of the nation's most polished pitchers. Despite a fastball without much velocity, Hernandez moves the ball around the plate, throws a good change and 3 plus pitches. Coach Jim Morris started Hernandez on Sundays, but when Enrique Garcia struggled, he moved the freshman up to Saturdays. No freshman has bigger responsibility over the rest of the season than Hernandez, and no one else is as prepared to handle it.
5. Kentrail Davis, Tennessee (.394/.529/.652) -- Perhaps the toolsiest player to opt for college baseball than pro ball, Davis has had no problem hitting SEC pitching. Davis has great patience at the plate, great defense in the outfield, and has the potential to slug with anyone. At the bottom end of the spectrum, Davis is a good leadoff hitter. At the top end of the spectrum, he profiles as an All-Star center fielder. Tennessee's resurgent start is as much owed to Davis' big start than anyone.
6. Cameron Rupp, Texas (.424/.519/.758) -- Despite his defensive prowess coming into question, Rupp has been the best hitter in a lineup that features potential first round juniors in outfielders Jordan Danks and Kyle Russell. Rupp was not the game's highest recruited catcher, but his bat has caught on faster than expected, and particularly faster than Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was considered to be a similar player. Rupp's bat is a special weapon, but until catching comes more naturally, he's still a background selection.
7. Rick Hague, Rice (.361/.433/.578) -- Hague was offered serious money by the Yankees to forgo his college career, and by passing on that amount of money, Hague essentially valued himself as a first-round selection in 2011. A taller shortstop with good range but positive power assessments, Hague has been one of the Owls best hitters. Like Gordon Beckham as a freshman, Rice coaches believe that as Hague loses lineup insurance, he will develop further patience and power skills.
8. Tommy Toledo, Florida (1.93 ERA, 12 K, 28 IP) -- Toledo's strikeout numbers and his low 90s velocity don't assume the position of a potential 2010 first rounder, but his 4-0 record does. Toledo's decision to opt for Florida rather than professional baseball looks even smarter since pitching guru Kevin O'Sullivan became in charge of the program, turning the staff's pitchers onto his elite throwing program. The program's largest beneficiary is Toledo, who has gained command of all three of his pitches, and has yet appeared overwhelmed on the mound.
9. Derek Dietrich, Georgia Tech (.333/.426/.667) -- The Houston Astros didn't have many selections in the early rounds of the 2007 Draft as a result of free agent signings and such. But when the dust settled and the picks became clear, the Astros drafted Dietrich in the fourth round. After all, his grandpa had been a pro ball player, and he showed potential shortstop skills. And while he hid for a few months, scouts and coaches alike found him and bombarded him with small school offers. Dietrich, though, wants to be a shortstop at a premier program, and there's no reason to think in 2010 that he won't be Georgia Tech's version of Beckham.
10. Nick Tepesch, Missouri (1.04 ERA, 4 K, 8.2 IP) -- Since Jim Callis mentioned Tepesch as a potential first overall selection in the 2010 draft, the freshman right-hander has been ascribed as one of the most talented pitchers in his draft. In reality, Tepesch's potential is far greater than his current skills, and his pitching acumen is far duller than it appears. Despite EKU's series victory over Austin Peay, they are just the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Tepesch has adjusted to D-1 pitching remarkably quickly, but until his stuff works at bigger levels, he doesn't belong as potential 1-1 banter.