You thought you had to wait another six weeks for regular season baseball? Well boy, do I have a treat for you, because baseball is back TODAY.
College baseball is the most under-appreciated sport out there. While purely anecdotal, I do feel it has gotten a little more popular over the last five years or so. It could be because I've been in the South — by far the most popular area of the country for college baseball — but I've noticed an uptick in media and fan engagement in the sport recently.
But for those who may not be as up-to-speed heading into the 2020 college baseball season, I wanted to give a bit of a primer heading into this season. Whether you're only interested in college baseball for its professional prospects or want to know what series to watch this weekend to get a sense of how things are going to shake out this season, here's to whom and what you need to be paying attention.
Hitter to Watch: Austin Martin, SS, Vanderbilt
While I toss compliments to Vanderbilt around like manhole covers, it's hard to just ignore what has become one of the best baseball programs in the country. And it has another potential No. 1 overall pick this year in Austin Martin.
As a sophomore in 2019, Martin slashed .392/.486/.604 with 10 HR and 46 RBI en route to Vandy's second national championship — keep in mind the 10 HR and 46 RBI came in 65 games, good for a 162-game pace of 25 HR and 115 RBI. And most of that production came against the best competition in the country in the SEC.
Martin is the best middle infielder in the draft and is right up there in the No. 1 overall conversation.
Pitcher to Watch: Garrett Crochet, LHP, Tennessee
Note: I promise this is not just a homer pick. He's listed as the No. 6 overall pick in MLB.com's 2020 mock draft.
Garrett Crochet has had one of the best developments during college of any player I've seen in the SEC recently. He had a pretty misleading 4.02 ERA in 65 IP last season, which tells you how nasty his stuff is to be a projected top 10 pick in this year's draft.
MLB — Already considered a first-round talent, Crochet boosted his profile by adding velocity and throwing at 96-100 mph for most of fall practice. He also possesses one of the better changeups in the Draft as well as a solid slider with good spin rates.
I expect Crochet to be right up there with Emerson Hancock (Georgia) and Asa Lacy (Texas A&M) as the three best Friday night guys in the SEC this season.
Freshman to Watch: Jerrion Ealy, OF, Ole Miss
Yes, that is the correct player.
Jerrion Ealy will play his first series for the Ole Miss baseball team this weekend after putting up 894 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman on the gridiron. But he's an even better baseball player. Ealy was a high school All-American and a third round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks who could certainly move himself into the first round after three years with the Rebels. It will be fun to watch him on the diamond this season.
Series to Watch This Weekend:
No. 1 Louisville at No. 25 Ole Miss
Arguably the best series of opening weekend, the No. 1 Cardinals travel to Oxford, Mississippi to take on an Ole Miss team that just missed the College World Series in 2019.
Louisville looks poised to get back to Omaha for a second consecutive season and should be right there with Vanderbilt all season in the national championship conversation. Left-handed pitcher and likely first rounder Reid Detmers will lead the Cardinals this season and his first start of the year will come on the road against a hungry Rebels squad looking to get a step further than it did last season. And as I mentioned earlier, watch for Jerrion Ealy in this series.
And the Cardinals likely could have gotten this series at home, but it will be great watching the No. 1 team open the season on the road in one of the best atmospheres in college baseball.
No. 2 Vanderbilt vs No. 13 Michigan
While not a full series, a rematch of the 2019 College World Series finals will take place to open the 2020 season in the MLB4 Collegiate Baseball Tournament in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Vandy comes back as loaded as ever, while a still-talented Michigan squad is ready to make another run to the CWS and win the whole thing this time. In addition to the aforementioned Austin Martin, Kumar Rocker is a must-watch player for the Commodores. He's just a sophomore, but is already in discussions to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
It will be fun to watch these teams go at it again after having their last games in 2019 against each other ending in heartbreak for one and jubilation for the other. I'm glad these schools ended up playing in the opening round of this tournament. It should be a fun one.
Indiana at No. 11 LSU
With the rise of Vandy, Arkansas, Georgia and a handful of other teams in the SEC, LSU is the team that has sort of fallen under the radar but still finds a way to be right in the mix for the College World Series every season. The Tigers will open with an Indiana team that made a regional for the third consecutive season in 2019 but is still looking for just its second-ever CWS appearance. And Baton Rouge is another place that's just awesome to watch a college baseball game. Those Louisianans care.
So that's what to look for heading into the first weekend of college baseball. The Road to Omaha starts now.