The College Baseball World Series started yesterday, but most people wouldn’t know. The ratings of the cellar-dweller of the top college sports have been rising, but compared to college basketball and football, the numbers look puny. Last year, the CWS final averaged 1.96 million viewers over a three-game series. This is a 4% increase from 2017, but when you compare it to a first round March Madness game between Duke and North Dakota State that accumulated 6.22 million viewers, you wonder what’s gone wrong with college baseball. This is why I’m here to shed some light on a College World Series filled with powerhouses, but also some promising underdogs.
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Vanderbilt: Vandy is the clear favorite to win the title. They have the most players drafted to the MLB out of the remaining teams with 13. JJ Bleday is the guy to watch. He was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award for best amateur baseball player in the United States while mashing 26 home runs. He may be bound for the losing Marlins (who drafted him #4 overall), but he should enjoy some winning in this tournament. Pitcher Kumar Rocker also made headlines this season when he threw a 19 K no-hitter in the Super Regional. This star-studded squad will likely leave Omaha with a title, especially after their win over Louisville today.
Arkansas: After losing in the CWS championship last season, the Razorbacks were determined to make it back. They stormed through their regionals and took on Ole Miss in the Super Regional. There they won 14-1 in the third game of the series. They started the CWS shakily with a 1-0 loss to FSU, but everyone knows they have the potential to steal their bracket back. They’re led by OF Dominic Fletcher, who batted .317 this season. On the mound, Isaiah Campbell posted a 12-1 record with 115 strikeouts and a 2.26 ERA. Unfortunately, we won’t see him against Texas Tech after a strong start against Florida St., but hopefully we’ll see him if the Razorbacks prevail over Tech.
Mississippi St.: The Bulldogs tore through their regionals and swept Stanford in the Super Regionals. They did this while riding their star southpaw pitcher, Ethan Small. He was drafted in the first round of this year’s draft, and for good reason. He posted a 1.76 ERA with 168 strikeouts this season (14.8 K/9). When he starts, you can usually count another game in the win column for the Bulldogs. However, we’ll see if this holds true in this World Series.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are the only team representing the Big 12 in the CWS, and, despite a strong regular season, they haven’t started off well. Michigan upset them 3-1 and they’re facing a top-flight program in Arkansas tomorrow. However, anything is possible with Josh Jung. This star third baseman crushed 14 home runs and 56 RBIs. He’s efficient, too, as he batted .342 with more walks than strikeouts. He also has shown how great of a fielder he is at short and third. As a result of all this, he was drafted #8 overall and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award. With Jung, the Red Raiders will have a chance to knock off Arkansas and advance through the loser’s bracket.
Louisville: Even though the Cardinals are a top 16 team, I still will count them as an underdog. They took a tough loss to Vanderbilt today and Auburn/Miss. St. won’t be an easy draw in the loser’s bracket. They don’t have a clear stud like Bleday or Jung, but they boast five players taken in the first ten rounds of this year’s MLB Draft. 1B Logan Hyatt (2nd round), P Michael McAvene (3rd round), SS Tyler Fitzgerald (4th round), P Nick Bennett (6th round), and P Bryan Hoeing headline a deep team. They have the capability to bounce back, but it won’t be easy.
Michigan: I was hesitant to list the Wolverines as an underdog, but since they were a 3 seed in their regional, I felt it was necessary. Michigan landed in Oregon St.’s bracket, but the 1 seed Beavers were eliminated early. Michigan capitalized and took the Corvallis Regional. Then, they beat the top team in the whole tournament, UCLA, in the Super Regional. On Saturday, they beat higher-seeded Texas Tech. So, don’t try to tell these Wolverines they can’t win because they won’t listen. Starting pitchers Karl Kauffmann and Tommy Henry, who were both taken in the second round of this year’s draft, have been huge for the Wolverines. They have the most momentum in college baseball. Don’t expect that to change.
Florida St.: Despite having a team with just four players drafted to the MLB, legendary coach Mike Martin has taken his team to Omaha for his 17th time. He’s the winningest coach in all of college sports with over 2,000 wins. However, he’s never won a national title and this is his last chance to do so, as he’s retiring after this season. The chances of a championship look better than they ever have this season because FSU upset Arkansas on Saturday. Pitcher Drew Parrish threw eight scoreless innings in a masterful performance. OF J.C. Flowers did it all. He made a spectacular leaping catch, scored the only run of the game, and closed the contest on the mound with a 1-2-3 inning. The Seminoles aren’t favored to win it, but they have a reason to play; for their devoted, fabled coach and a fairy tale ending fitting of such a legend.
Auburn: Last, but not least, we have the Tigers. They haven’t had an easy road here. They had to defeat #6 overall Georgia Tech twice in the regionals and then take down the ACC champions, North Carolina, in the Super Regional. They did all this with just two players that were drafted in the first ten rounds of the MLB Draft. SS Will Holland has been their rock. He’s a flashy-fielding field general who anchors the defense. Starting pitcher Tanner Burns has also been a steady, guiding force for the Tigers. He has a 2.73 ERA right now with 11.4 K/9 innings. Overall, the gritty Tigers have prestiged wins under their belts, but will their lack of star power impact them negatively in this CWS? We’ll find out soon.
So, here’s a look at the teams of this little-watched competition. Hopefully viewership keeps rising, but it’s scary to me that the MLB Draft and the NCAA Baseball Tournament are such small-market environments when the NBA/NFL Drafts, March Madness, and the CFP are such marquee events. The MLB needs to figure out how to sell their draft and the NCAA needs to put sell their tourney, too. If these things don’t happen, baseball could continue it’s downward spiral. Changes need to be made, and they aren’t cheap, but I like to believe baseball can be restored to its former glory. I’d love to write a study about baseball as a business some day, but for now I’m focusing on Thursday’s NBA Draft and finalizing my mock. Hopefully I’ll release that on Wednesday or the day of, so stay tuned.