We’re more than halfway through the college baseball season, and the biggest topic of the year? Offense. Home runs everywhere. And it’s not for a lack of star pitchers, of which there are many.
This season has been exciting, and with conference play halfway wrapped, our college baseball experts discuss their biggest takeaways yet, the most impressive teams and players, and what to expect in the closing weeks of the regular season.
Biggest snack from the first half of the season?
Chris Burke: Offensive explodes across the country. We have a home run pace that’s on track to break the all-time record for college baseball, and runs are being made on par with the late ’90s. At a time when pitchers are throwing harder than ever, hitters are still winning.
Kiley McDaniel: Paul Skenes is the best pitching candidate I’ve seen in college in a while. I find him a hair’s breadth more impressive than Jack Leiter, right next to the best of the last decade or so: Casey Mize, Carlos Rodon and Gerrit Cole.
Ryan McGee: It’s the SEC against the world. There is a lot of growing irritation around college baseball about the best players and coaches leaving other traditionally great regions and programs to join the SEC! SEC!” to be included. But unless someone steps in to break the “it just means more” block, it doesn’t feel like a trend that’s about to reverse.
Kyle Peterson: The power is back across the board. We’re on our way to the second most home runs per game in NCAA history, down only to 1998 when the national championship game was 21-14. I’m all for attack, but we need to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand.
Mike Rooney: We are in an era of explosive offense in college baseball. And we’re playing at a vastly improved pace. More action and less downtime…tag me for yes. This offensive environment has led to a host of incredible comebacks. We’re also seeing several off-the-radar programs making noise in the power conferences. I see you at Boston College, Kentucky, West Virginia and Southern Cal. I think it’s great how all of this is adjusting to the postseason.
Which player/team impressed you the most?
burke: Ethan Petry, South Carolina. Petry has put together one of the best seasons a true freshman has ever had in the SEC. He’s first in batting (.906), third in batting (.438), second in home runs (18), second in RBIs (56), and the list goes on and on. There are some monster seasons across the country, but to do all of this as a freshman and take the Gamecocks back to the center of the national stage, Petry has a shot at winning the Golden Spikes in his first season. It’s incredible!
McDaniel: Petry was ranked 120th in my draft rankings as a high school cornerman last year. I liked him and now I feel like I was pushed into putting him on my list when Boy Scouts told me he has a reasonable signing number but is probably still in school. He’s now one of the best hit/power combinations in college baseball and a clear first-round talent. His entire shot, which resulted in the home run against Skenes, was very impressive.
Your new home run record holder as a freshman in South Carolina!!@ethanpetry23
– Gamecock Baseball (@GamecockBasebll) April 16, 2023
McGee: I’ve been dying to find a team other than LSU to answer this question, but *checks notes* yes, they absolutely are the answer. They were No. 1 all season. Dylan Crews is still batting .500 and has 10 more runs than anyone in the nation. Oh, and Texas A&M head coach Jim Schlossnagle just said that Tigers ace Skenes is “in the wrong league…he has to be in the American or National League.” That seems pretty good.
Peterson: Either Crews or Petry. Crews is the country’s most complete player and has an OBP% of 0.648. Petry is putting together one of the best offensive seasons we’ve seen from a rookie. Petry’s slash is .424/.488/.879… but within the SEC it’s .444/.508/1.093. This is insulting in the truest sense of the word. As for the team, Wake Forest is doing everything right. The Deacs lead the nation in ERA and are top 15 in home runs. For me, Wake is the most complete team in the country.
Rooney: The LSU duo of Crews and Skenes is the easy answer here. This pair plans to take first and second overall in the MLB draft. No college teammate has ever done that. The question is, is this the best hitter-pitcher-teammate pairing in college baseball history? Lance Berkman and Matt Anderson (Rice 1997) or Trea Turner and Carlos Rodon (NC State 2012-14) might say a word, but the discussion is still a blast.
Biggest surprise of the season so far?
burke: Tennessee’s struggles. The Vols were #2 preseason, mostly because most of us expected them to have the best pitching in the country. Well, that wasn’t the case in the SEC game, and the revamped positional squad is struggling even more than expected. Add all of that up and Tennessee is 5-10 in the league midway through conference play. After last weekend’s win in Fayetteville, Tennessee now has a conference ERA of 5.16 (6th), a team field percentage of .952 (14th) and a league batting average of .240 (12th). Those numbers better improve drastically in the second half of conference play when Tennessee wants to hear its name on Pick Monday.
McDaniel: Continuing the Gamecocks trend, South Carolina did a lot better than I expected. Besides Petry, both Gavin Casas and Cole Messina were revelations. Now that Will Sanders has the ship back on track, Jack Mahoney and Noah Hall are giving them a solid weekend to compete at the top of the SEC.
McGee: Hey, Ole Miss… are you alright?
Rooney: Wake Forest competed in 2023 as the nation’s No. 6 team. So this was clearly a very good club. Still, the sheer dominance of Tom Walter’s team is surprising. The Demon Deacons were dominant from start to finish. They’ve survived injuries sustained by stars like Nick Kurtz and Teddy McGraw. And pardon the blasphemy, this list is more complete than LSU’s at #1. This is a great team, and that’s what I’m here for.
Peterson: I thought Arizona State would be better this year, but the Devils are on fire. They are currently 11-3 in the Pac-12 and are hosting Oregon State this weekend. This current Devil team looks just like it did when head coach Willie Bloomquist took them to Omaha as a player. Credit is due to Bloomquist for the work he and his staff have done in a short period of time.
Which team has to prove themselves the most on the track?
burke: guard forest stay here with me Wake has positioned himself to be No. 1 overall. That said, this is new territory for Walter and his program and it will be interesting to see how they deal with it later on. The Deacs are 31-5 overall and 14-3 in ACC play, they are undoubtedly a regional host. It will be fascinating to see how they deal with the direct hit on their back on the track.
McDaniel: Tennessee and Florida State have both been pretty disappointing this year. The handful of the Noles’ best players have lived up to expectations, but there’s little depth behind them at this point. With solid all-around performances and an admittedly tough schedule, Tennessee have been elusive so far, but have suffered more losses than expected.
McGee: Amid the five-man SEC bunkhouse crowd at the top of the national rankings, the two teams sit at opposite ends of Tobacco Road: No. 2 Wake Forest and No. 7 East Carolina. Wake hasn’t been to the College World Series since winning it all in 1955, and ECU is the best college baseball program not to make it to Omaha. Until the Demon Deacons and Pirates can finally figure out how to get to the banks of the Missouri River in June, there will always be doubts about their high placing. This time it feels very much like now or never for both of them.
Peterson: Tennessee. The Vols haven’t been very good so far and are 5-10 in the SEC at halftime. If the season ended today, Tennessee won’t get into the postseason. It’s got the horses to make a run, but that run needs to start really soon.
Rooney: Tennessee scuffles and it was puzzling. The Vols enter Week 7 of SEC play after losing five of their six conference series. Last year’s Juggernaut won the SEC series 9-1. Head coach Tony Vitello has brought back his entire weekend rotation (Chase Dollander, Chase Burns and Drew Beam), and all three right-handers are healthy and predicted as future first-round picks. However, the Vols’ announced rotation against Arkansas did not feature any of those names. Tennessee is searching for an identity and that’s shocking given the massive personality that the 2022 Vols were.
What can we expect in the rest of the season?
burke: Homers, Homers and more Homers. The ball flies out at historic speed and the weather is just heating up. Enjoy the stretch drive; there will be plenty of insults to keep you entertained.
McDaniel: Can Wake Forest compete with the top of the SEC? One could argue that the top five teams in the country outside of Winston-Salem are all in the SEC. The Demon Deacons rely on analytics with excellence in both their bats and their pitching staff, but haven’t quite had that big national breakthrough yet. This could be the year.
McGee: I wouldn’t call that an expectation, rather a hopeful prediction: chaos. I want to see chaos This time last year we were all openly speculating about candidates who would become the new head coach at Scuffling Ole Miss… and then, two months later, we were watching Mike Bianco and the Rebs dogpile in Omaha. I’ll have more of that, please. So who’s stepping up?
Rooney: We should expect the Big 12 and Pac 12 title races to continue until the final day of the regular season. We should expect the crews batting average (.500) to drop below .500, but not by much. We should expect Jac Caglianone (Florida) and at least three others to hit 30 or more homers. We should expect Petry to walk away with Freshman of the Year; He’ll be pushing Crews for the SEC Player of the Year honors while he’s at it. And we should expect the Sun Belt to get more regional bids than any other league outside of the Power 5. #FunBelt