2018 College Baseball preview: Preseason rankings, prospects, what and how to watch

Still somewhat frigid Hot Stove got you down? Chins up, people of baseball. Soon enough the winding journey to the College World Series in Omaha begins in earnest, and that -- blessedly -- means meaningful, for-keeps baseball played in February. February! 

Yes, the start of the 2018 college baseball season is upon us, and now it's time preview that very thing. So consider this a first look at who might replace defending champ Florida atop the college baseball heap (note: it quite possibly could be Florida). Let's light this candle:

Preseason composite rankings

To get started, let's take a look at some composite rankings. What we've done is taken each of the six major preseason polls (Baseball America, Perfect Game, USA Today coaches' poll, D1Baseball.com, Collegiate Baseball, and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association) and assigned "poll points" to each team ranked in the top 25 of each poll. No. 1-ranked teams get 25 points, No. 2-ranked teams get 24 points, all the way down to the No. 25-ranked teams, which get one point. So we add all the points up -- across, again, all six major polls -- and arrive at our composite rankings.

Here are those composite rankings for 2018, with point totals in parentheses:

RankTeamPoll pointsConference2017 results

1.

Florida

150

SEC

52-19, National Champions

2.

Oregon State

144

Pac-12

56-6, College World Series

3.

Texas Tech

133

Big 12

45-17, NCAA Regional

4.

Florida State

130

ACC

46-23, College World Series

5.

Arkansas

127

SEC

45-19, NCAA Regional

6.

TCU

121

Big 12

50-18, College World Series

7.

North Carolina

116

ACC

49-14, NCAA Regional

8.

Kentucky

108

SEC

43-23, NCAA Super Regional

9.

LSU

81

SEC

52-20, National Runner-up

10.

UCLA

76

Pac-12

30-27, NCAA Regional

T-11.

Cal State Fullerton

75

Big West

39-24, College World Series

T-11.

Texas A&M

75

SEC

41-23, College World Series

13.

Stanford

71

Pac-12

42-16, NCAA Regional

14.

Vanderbilt

67

SEC

36-25, NCAA Super Regional

15.

Louisville

60

ACC

53-12, College World Series

16.

Ole Miss

59

SEC

32-25

17.

Mississippi State

51

SEC

40-27, NCAA Super Regional

18.

Virginia

44

ACC

43-16, NCAA Regional

19.

Clemson

39

ACC

42-21, NCAA Regional

20.

Dallas Baptist

38

Missouri Valley

42-21, NCAA Regional

21.

Texas

31

Big 12

39-24, NCAA Regional

22.

Miami (Fla.)

25

ACC

31-27

23.

South Alabama

24

Sun Belt

40-21, NCAA Regional

24.

Indiana

20

Big Ten

34-24-2, NCAA Regional

25.

NC State

17

ACC

36-25, NCAA Regional


Others receiving poll points: Houston (12), Southern Mississippi (9), Louisiana-Lafayette (8), Oklahoma (8), Duke (7), South Carolina (7), Central Florida (4), Missouri State (4), Sam Houston State (4), West Virginia (4), St. John's (1)

As indicated by their receiving the maximum 150 poll points, Florida was ranked No. 1 in all six preseason polls. Similarly, Oregon State was ranked No. 2 in every preseason poll. Further down, Kentucky -- in a bit of an oddity -- was ranked eighth in every poll. You'll also note the poll points indicate a major drop-off from Kentucky at eight to LSU at nine. 

Since eight teams make it to the College World Series in Omaha, you can consider Florida, Oregon State, Texas Tech, Florida State, Arkansas, TCU, North Carolina, and Kentucky the preseason favorites to make it to college baseball's flagship event. 

Conference power rankings

Let's widen our scope a bit and cobble together some preseason "conference power rankings" by adding up all the poll points conference by conference (we'll also include the "others receiving poll points" teams in our tabulations). Here's what comes out of the wash heading into the 2017 season:

Conference Preseason poll points
SEC 725
ACC 438
Big 12297
Pac-12291
Big West75
Missouri Valley42
Sun Belt32
Big Ten20
American Athletic16
Conference USA9
Southland 4
Big East1


As is typically the case, the SEC and ACC profile as the strongest conferences in college baseball. The SEC this time around has four teams in the preseason top 10, a total of eight in the top 25, and one more under "others receiving poll points." That's dominance. 

Big games

It's not an exhaustive list of high-leverage 2017 contests, but here's a rundown of the scheduled matchups between teams in the top 10 of our composite preseason rankings:

  • March 9 - Texas Tech at Kentucky
  • March 10 - Texas Tech at Kentucky
  • March 10 - TCU at UCLA
  • March 11 - Texas Tech at Kentucky
  • March 13 - Florida State at Florida
  • March 16 - Kentucky at Arkansas
  • March 17 - Kentucky at Arkansas
  • March 18 - Kentucky at Arkansas
  • March 23 - Arkansas at Florida
  • March 23 - Florida State at North Carolina
  • March 24 - Arkansas at Florida
  • March 24 - Florida State at North Carolina
  • March 25 - Arkansas at Florida
  • March 25 - Florida State at North Carolina
  • March 27 - Florida vs. Florida State (in Jacksonville, FL)
  • April 10 - Florida at Florida State
  • April 19 - Florida at Kentucky
  • April 20 - Florida at Kentucky
  • April 21 - Florida at Kentucky
  • April 24 - Texas Tech at Arkansas
  • April 25 - Texas Tech at Arkansas
  • April 27 - Texas Tech at TCU
  • April 28 - Texas Tech at TCU
  • April 29 - Texas Tech at TCU
  • May 4 - Arkansas at LSU
  • May 5 - Arkansas at LSU
  • May 6 - Arkansas at LSU
  • May 24 - UCLA at Oregon State
  • May 25 - UCLA at Oregon State
  • May 26 - UCLA at Oregon State

That's a healthy slate of intra-top 10 clashes right there. You'll note that No. 1-ranked Florida shows up time and again on that list above. In all, the Gators will play 26 games against teams ranked in our preseason top 25 or in the "also receiving poll points" list. That's not to mention the SEC Tournament in late May. If Florida goes wire to wire, then they'll have earned it and then some. 

How to watch: The television landscape for college baseball was pretty bleak for a long time. That's changed, though. The WatchESPN platform is definitely the way to go. With streaming access to the usual ESPN channels plus the SEC Network, ACC Network Extra, and the Longhorn Network, you can pretty much always catch a game during the season. This season, you can catch more than 800 games on the ESPN web of networks.

Players to watch

Each year, the Golden Spikes Award goes to the top amateur baseball player in the country. While NAIA and high school players are also eligible to win the hardware, it's almost always a D-I player who wins. Notable past winners include Brendan McKay, Andrew Benintendi, Kris Bryant, Mike Zunino, Trevor Bauer, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, Buster Posey, and David Price. 

Now here's a look at this year's 55-player preseason watch list for the award: 

Chris Acosta-Tapia, OF, Sr., Oklahoma Wesleyan
Johnny Aiello, 3B, Jr., Wake Forest
D.J. Artis, OF, Jr., Liberty
Luken Baker, 1B/DH, Jr., TCU
Joey Bart, C, Jr., Georgia Tech
Seth Beer, 1B/OF, Jr., Clemson
Alec Bohm, 3B, Jr., Wichita State
Kris Bubic, LHP, Jr., Stanford
Michael Byrne, RHP, Jr., Florida
Tim Cate, LHP, Jr., UCONN
Griffin Conine, OF, Jr., Duke
Trey Cumbie, LHP, Jr., Houston
Gianluca Dalatri, RHP, So., North Carolina
Tanner Dodson, UT, Jr., California
Colton Eastman, RHP, Jr., Cal State Fullerton
Jeremy Eierman, SS, Jr., Missouri State
Tyler Frank, SS, Jr., Florida Atlantic
Logan Gilbert, RHP, Jr., Stetson
Steven Gingery, LHP, Jr., Texas Tech
Ethan Hankins, RHP, Sr., Forsyth Central High School (Cumming, Ga.)
Zack Hess, RHP, So., LSU
Sean Hjelle, RHP, Jr., Kentucky
Nico Hoerner, SS, Jr., Stanford
Tyler Holton, LHP/DH, Jr., Florida State
Niko Hulsizer, OF, Jr., Morehead State
Jonathan India, 3B, Jr., Florida
Julian Infante, 1B/DH, Jr., Vanderbilt
Jared Janczak, RHP, Jr., TCU
Greyson Jenista, 1B/OF, Jr., Wichita State
Nolan Kingham, RHP, Jr., Texas
Jackson Kowar, RHP, Jr., Florida
Shea Langeliers, C, So., Baylor
Matthew Liberatore, LHP, Sr., Mountain Ridge High School (Peoria, Ariz.)
Nick Madrigal, 2B, Jr., Oregon State
Jake Mangum, OF, Jr., Mississippi State
Jake McCarthy, OF, Jr., Virginia
Shane McClanahan, LHP, Jr, South Florida
Drew Mendoza, 3B, So., Florida State
Casey Mize, RHP, Jr., Auburn
Konnor Pilkington, LHP, Jr., Mississippi State
Tyler Pittmon, IF, Sr., Antelope Valley
Tristan Pompey, OF, Jr., Kentucky
Patrick Raby, RHP, Jr., Vanderbilt
Cal Raleigh, C, Jr., Florida State
Alfonso Rivas, 1B, Jr., Arizona
Ryan Rolison, LHP, So., Ole Miss
Braden Shewmake, 2B, So., Texas A&M
Brady Singer, RHP, Jr., Florida
Nick Sprengel, LHP, Jr., San Diego
Travis Swaggerty, OF, Jr., South Alabama
Brice Turang, SS, Sr., Santiago High School (Corona, Calif.)
Andrew Vaughn, 1B, So., California
Steele Walker, OF, JR, Oklahoma
Matt Wallner, UT, So., Southern Miss
Zach Watson, OF, So., LSU

You'll note that No. 1-ranked Florida places four players in the preseason watch list. Anyhow, the Golden Spikes Award for 2018 will be handed out on June 28. 

Now let's pivot this discussion a bit toward long-term MLB implications. To do that, we'll lean on Rotoworld MLB columnist and draft and prospect expert Chris Crawford (@Crawford_MILB on Twitter), who shared with us his list of top-10 draft-eligible college players for the upcoming season. Forthwith:

1. Casey Mize, RHP, Auburn
2. Shane McClanahan, LHP, South Florida
3. Travis Swaggerty, OF, South Alabama
4. Griffin Conine, OF, Duke
5. Nick Madrigal, 2B, Oregon State
6. Brady Singer, RHP, Florida
7. Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson
8. Jackson Kowar, RHP, Florida
9. Greyson Jenista, OF, Wichita State 
10. Seth Beer, 1B, Clemson

In honor of Casey Mize's top ranking, here's some relevant scouting footage ... 

A bit of history

In conclusion, let's run down all the past college baseball national champions and runners-up: 

Year National Champion Runner-up
2017Florida (52-19)LSU
2016 Coastal Carolina (55-18) Arizona
2015 Virginia (44-24) Vanderbilt
2014 Vanderbilt (51-21) Virginia
2013 UCLA (49-17) Mississippi State
2012 Arizona (48-17) South Carolina
2011 South Carolina (55-14) Florida
2010 South Carolina (54-16) UCLA
2009 LSU (56-17) Texas
2008 Fresno State (47-31) Georgia
2007 Oregon State (49-18) North Carolina
2006 Oregon State (50-16) North Carolina
2005 Texas (56-16) Florida
2004 Cal State Fullerton (47-22) Texas
2003 Rice (58-12) Stanford
2002 Texas (57-15) South Carolina
2001 Miami (Fla.) (53-12) Stanford
2000 LSU (52-17) Stanford
1999 Miami (Fla.) (50-13) Florida State
1998 Southern California (49-17) Arizona State
1997 LSU (57-13) Alabama
1996 LSU (52-15) Miami (Fla.)
1995 Cal State Fullerton (57-9) Southern California
1994 Oklahoma (50-17) Georgia Tech
1993 LSU (53-17-1) Wichita State
1992 Pepperdine Cal State Fullerton
1991 LSU (55-18) Wichita State
1990 Georgia (52-19) Oklahoma State
1989 Wichita State (68-16) Texas
1988 Stanford (46-23) Arizona State
1987 Stanford (53-17) Oklahoma State
1986 Arizona (49-19) Florida State
1985 Miami (Fla.) (64-16) Texas
1984 Cal State Fullerton (66-20) Texas
1983 Texas (66-14) Alabama
1982 Miami (Fla.) (55-17-1) Wichita State
1981 Arizona State (55-13) Oklahoma State
1980 Arizona (45-21-1) Hawaii
1979 Cal State Fullerton (60-14-1) Arkansas
1978 Southern California (54-9) Arizona State
1977 Arizona State (57-12) South Carolina
1976 Arizona (56-17) Eastern Michigan
1975 Texas (59-6) South Carolina
1974 Southern California (50-20) Miami (Fla.)
1973 Southern California (51-11) Arizona State
1972 Southern California (47-13-1) Arizona State
1971 Southern California (46-11) Southern Illinois
1970 Southern California (45-13) Florida State
1969 Arizona State (56-11) Tulsa
1968 Southern California (43-12-1) Southern Illinois
1967 Arizona State (53-12) Houston
1966 Ohio State (27-6-1) Oklahoma State
1965 Arizona State (54-8) Ohio State
1964 Minnesota (31-12) Missouri
1963 Southern California (35-10) Arizona
1962 Michigan (34-15) Santa Clara
1961 Southern California (36-7) Oklahoma State
1960 Minnesota (34-7-1) Southern California
1959 Oklahoma State (27-5) Arizona
1958 Southern California (29-3) Missouri
1957 California (35-10) Penn State
1956 Minnesota (37-9) Arizona
1955 Wake Forest (29-7) Western Michigan
1954 Missouri (22-4) Rollins
1953 Michigan (21-9) Texas
1952 Holy Cross (21-3) Missouri
1951 Oklahoma (19-9) Tennessee
1950 Texas (27-6) Washington State
1949 Texas (23-7) Wake Forest
1948 Southern California (26-4) Yale
1947 California (31-10) Yale


Soon enough, we'll be adding another champ to this list. In the meantime, enjoy the baseball.

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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