College Baseball is almost back and, like so many of us, I have spent the past several months counting down the days until the first pitch of the 2023 College Baseball Season. I have spent a significant portion of my free time during the off-season researching this year's teams, especially in the SEC. With all the transfers, draft signings, and recruits, many rosters will look drastically different this year than last year. Speaking of last year, are we going to see Ole Miss make a repeat run to the World Series, or are they going to follow in the footsteps of Mississippi State and bottom-out in this post-title season? Is LSU going to live up to the hype, or are they going to fall short of their fanbase's mile-high (for good reasons) expectations? Does Dave van Horn have the right tools to get the Razorbacks back to Omaha? Can Texas A&M and Auburn make return trips to the promise land? Will Mississippi State bounce back? Can Alabama shock the world and make a postseason push? I have done my best to try and answer these questions below. Please feel free to let me know what y'all think of my predictions, and I apologize ahead of time if I jinx your team this season.
2022 Record: 40-22 (17-13)
Roster Breakdown: This team oozes talent and potential. MLB Scouts might as well set up shop at Alex Box this season to watch prospects such as Outfielder Dylan Crews, Third-Baseman Tommy White, and Two-Way superstar Paul Skenes headline this lineup, All-American lists, and preseason Golden Spikes picks across the country. When players the caliber of Tre’ Morgan and Gavin Dugas are pushed to the second sentence of impact players, it becomes blatantly obvious why this Tigers lineup is regarded as the deepest and most dangerous in the nation. LSU is as deep as they are talented offensively. Role players such as Catcher Hayden Travinski and Outfielder Brayden Jobert will be asked to step into more leadership roles as veterans, but do not be surprised if incoming Freshmen Catchers Brady Neal and Jared Jones push for playing time behind the plate. Freshman Outfielder Paxton Kling might have trouble breaking through the depth consistently early on in the season, but he has the tools to be a game-changer in the not too distant future. The Tigers’ pitching staff is full of talent as well, with Skenes leading the way. Transfers Thatcher Hurd and Christian Little could very well fill out the weekend rotation for LSU, giving them three high-caliber arms. Veteran arms Blake Money and Riley Cooper will be asked to lead this bullpen, and other returners, such as Griffin Herring and Will Hellmers will be looking to improve upon their 2022 seasons. Incoming arms Nate Ackenhausen, Jaden Noot, and Chase Shores will look to establish themselves as go-to arms in the bullpen as well.
Ceiling: LSU fans will expect transfers Skenes, White, Hurd, and Little to return the Tigers to the top of not only the SEC, but the country. No team will be able to shut down this lineup, and it will be very hard to go blow-for-blow with this team. With an unrelenting offense and an incredibly talented rotation, the fan base down in Baton Rouge can start making reservations for Omaha. This team is looking to do one thing and one things only: win it all.
Floor: No matter how talented your offense and pitching staff are, struggling on defense can doom teams. Last year, LSU shot itself in the foot early and often, putting more pressure on both the offense and pitching staff. More of the same this year will give opposing teams the chance to steal games from LSU. While the Tigers have the talent to overcome less-than-perfect defense, giving good teams in the post-season extra outs is a surefire way to find yourself sitting in the dugout as your season ends wondering what could have been.
Team MVP: Paul Skenes is a Golden Spikes favorite for a reason. Elite talent, both on the mound and at the plate, Skenes has both the ability and opportunity to anchor this team on both sides of the ball. Comparisons might be a little cliché, but Skenes is the closest thing to a Shohei Ohtani college baseball has to offer.
Season Prediction: Jay Johnson had an eventful first year in Baton Rouge, and yet despite losing stars Jacob Berry and Cade Doughty, the Tigers are undeniably better this year. This team will make a push for the Number 1 overall national seed and end their season in Omaha, quite possibly in the form of a dogpile.
2022 Record: 46-21 (18-12)
Roster Breakdown: The Razorbacks have a lot to replace offensively, but their pitching staff should rival the best in the nation. Losing key players like Battles, Wallace, Lanzilli, Turner, and Moore might be too much for most programs to overcome, but Arkansas is not most programs. Sophomore phenom Peyton Stovall will transition from 1st to 2nd Base and lead the charge offensively. Outfielder Brady Slavens is the only other returning Razorbacks starter from last year, and he will look to put together his best offensive season in Fayetteville. Jace Bohrofen and Kendall Diggs will also look to capitalize on their high-end talent and lock down starting spots. Incoming bats will have the opportunity to get on the field early and often, and look for newcomers Parker Rowland, Hudson Polk, John Bolton, Jared Wegner, Tavian Josenberger, and Caleb Cali to make some noise with the sticks. Freshman Mason Neville has all the tools to impact the game immediately as well. Outside of Tennessee, you would be hard-pressed to find a more talented 1-2 punch in the SEC than Jaxon Wiggins and Hagen Smith. Regardless of the ERAs last year, there is no denying that the arsenals of either arm are absolutely electric. While the Sunday starter might not be locked in quite yet, the Razorbacks have the luxury of having several quality options, including returners Will McEntire, Brady Tygart, and Dylan Carter. Incoming arms from the JUCO ranks Cody Adcock and Hunter Hollan will throw their hat in the ring as well. Regardless of who ends up as the Sunday starter, this entire staff will be difficult for opposing offenses to barrel up.
Ceiling: As long as Dave van Horn is the Head Coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks, this team and fan base expects to end the season in Omaha. If the pitching stays healthy and the offense is opportunistic, this team will push for a national seed. Do not be surprised if the Omahogs return to their second home once again.
Floor: While it might be hard to imagine, Wiggins and Smith might not be the anchors in the rotation we all expect them to be this year. While they might flash their high-upsides, a few occasional big innings will cost this team several key wins throughout the year. If the offense fails to gel together, the Razorbacks could be frustratingly inconsistent all year. This inconsistency at the wrong time will have Arkansas packing their bags in the regionals.
Team MVP: It might be cheating to have co-MVPs, but it’s my article so I make the rules. Hagan Smith and Jaxon Wiggins will be responsible for this Razorbacks team’s success from the first pitch of the season until its last. With an offense full of newcomers, Smith and Wiggins will need to be rock-steady all year if Arkansas is going to meet or exceed expectations this season.
Season Prediction: Dave van Horn does arguably his best coaching job of his career, Wiggins and Smith hold their own throughout SEC play, the offense produces enough to win a couple swing games, and the Razorbacks find themselves hosting a regional. A complete team, expect Dave van Horn and his guys to be tough to beat in the post-season.
3. Mississippi State
2022 Record: 26-30 (9-21)
Roster Breakdown: Everything that could go wrong for the Bulldogs in 2022 went very wrong. Their MVP and Miss State legend Landon Sims went down with Tommy John early in the year, and things just got worse. If you think the torture ended when the Bulldogs missed the SEC tournament all together, hated rival Ole Miss ends up winning the national title. Chris Lemonis looks to hit the reset button in 2023, and everything lines up for a substantial bounce back this season. Hunter Hines looks to build upon a stellar freshman campaign and headline a powerful offense. Returners Kellum Clark and Slate Alford look to capitalize on their potential and fill out the middle of the order. Fans in Starkville will come to love some of the newcomers to this year’s team, especially transfers such as Colton Ledbetter and Amani Larry and freshmen Dakota Jordan, Ross Highfill, and David Mershon. Lane Forsythe is back as a solid defensive presence, but needs to add some pop if he wants to secure his spot in the line-up. The Bulldogs will feature one of the sneakiest staffs in the SEC. Cade Smith should be penciled in as their Friday ace after a solid personal season amongst the team’s tumultuous season. Returners Parker Stinnett and KC Hunt, as well as transfers Landon Gartman and Nate Dohm could see multiple starting opportunities prior to SEC play. Freshmen lefty Bradley Loftin and switch-pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje give Lemonis plenty of options when it comes to setting up his bullpen.
Ceiling: The injury bug leaves Miss State alone and the talent blooms in Starkville. Cade Smith competes as a bona fide SEC Friday night arm, the pitching talent gives the offense the chance to outslug opponents, and Hunter Hines leads a powerful Bulldog offense which mashes all year. Lemonis and his troops reintroduce themselves with authority and make some postseason noise, possibly as a regional host.
Floor: The injury bug lives in the Bulldog’s locker room once again this season, but the chances of this team missing the SEC Tournament again is slim-to-none. A missed NCAA tournament, much less an SEC bid would most likely have to result in Lemonis’ termination. While it would be fairly surprising, a tough skid in SEC play could have this team struggling to secure a postseason berth.
Team MVP: Hunter Hines might be the name to know on offense, but this team absolutely needs Cade Smith to be their rock on the mound. The season fell apart when the pitching staff collapsed last year, and this team needs to establish good vibes as early as possible in order to truly close the door on last season.
Season Prediction: The Bulldogs are back. This team might get banged up a bit as the season goes on, but the injuries are spread out enough across the roster so Lemonis and company can weather the storm. Look for this team to win games by outslugging opponents with the occasional pitching duel. Hines has an All-American type year and leads Miss State back to the postseason and primed to make a run.
4. Ole Miss
2021 Record: 42-23 (14-16)
Roster Breakdown: Rebel fans experienced the entire emotional spectrum last season, but not a single one would trade back the rollercoaster of emotions they experienced for the National Title they won last year. Ole Miss returns plenty of headline talent in Hunter Elliott and Jacob Gonzalez, but the losses of DeLucia and Elko means there is plenty of opportunity for others to make themselves household names in Oxford. TJ McCants looks to channel his undeniable talent into a consistent 2023 season, and expect Kemp Alderman to take advantage of a full-time roll with an explosive year at the plate. Peyton Chatagnier is a gamer who grinds out at-bats and gets under the skin of opposing players and fans alike. Calvin Harris provides stability both in the lineup and behind the plate. However, newcomers could determine how the offense performs in 2023. Transfer Ethan Groff is expected to man Centerfield and be an impact bat immediately. Northwestern transfer Anthony Calarco brings experience and will most likely anchor the infield at First Base. Ole Miss picked up some JUCO talent as well in the form of Bo Gatlin, Ethan Lege and Braden Luke and brought in talented freshmen Mason Morris, Will Furniss, Tim Simay, and Will Plattner to push for playing time. The pitching staff has both talents and question marks. Hunter Elliott is locked in as the ace, but beyond that, little is certain. Yes, Jack Dougherty returns, but in what role? Can he fill in as an effective starter, or would he be better used as a key bullpen arm? Freshmen Grayson Saunier and JT Quinn both have the pure stuff to be frontline guys in the SEC, but can Bianco trust two true freshmen to fill out his weekend rotation? Losing their best returning bullpen arm in Josh Mallitz for the year already puts a strain on the bullpen, and outside of Mason Nichols, there aren’t a whole lot of returning experienced arms. This pitching staff might live or die according to its freshmen, a scary proposition.
Ceiling: Jacob Gonzalez lives up to his Golden Spikes potential, builds a fantastic résumé to be one of the first draft picks in 2023, and leads this team offensively. McCants, Alderman, and Chatangier cement themselves in Ole Miss history by leading this team back to postseason baseball and beyond. Back-to-Back, anyone?
Floor: Oxford follows the lead of Starkville and has a disastrous season fueled by several key injuries and too much reliance on true freshmen to carry the load. A tumultuous SEC season could result in very unenthusiastic beer showers as the season comes to a close. While missing the SEC tournament seems unlikely, the 2023 could end in a whimper.
Team MVP: This could be a coin-flip between Gonzalez and Elliott, but the preseason injuries and question marks in the bullpen highlight the need for Elliott to be a true ace in arguably the most competitive division in college baseball. This team will need him to eat innings, keep his pitch count down, keep the ball in the park, and give his team a chance to win on Fridays.
Season Prediction: Last season ended as an absolute dream for Ole Miss and Rebel fans alike, but this season is likely to serve as a wake-up call. While Gonzalez and Elliott have more than respectable seasons, there is not enough support behind them to fuel a deep run into the postseason. They make the dance, but they do not survive the regionals.
5. Texas A&M
2021 Record: 44-19 (19-11)
Roster Breakdown: After an incredibly surprising season in 2022 which included an SEC West Title and a CWS birth, can Coach Schlossnagle recapture the magic with several different pieces? Returners Jack Moss, Austin Bost, Jack Werner, and Brett Minnich provide plenty of pop and experience to the Aggie lineup. If this group can stay healthy, they could form an incredibly dangerous murderer’s row. Ryan Targac can be the bat that stretches a lineup just that much more, and homeruns should come in bunches for the A&M lineup, especially in non-Conference play. Freshman phenom Jace LaViolette might very well swing his way into a substantial chunk of playing time. The Aggies will turn to JUCO transfers, JD Gregson and Hank Bard, to replace Troy Claunch behind the plate. On the mound, departures in both the rotation and bullpen of key pieces leaves plenty of question marks on this Aggies staff. Dettmer is a big arm with Friday upside, but can he consistently pitch like a true ace? The talent is there, just like it is with Chris Cortez. Both righties should be starters unless disaster strikes, but the Sunday spot is completely up in the air. My bet is that transfer Troy Wansing wins the spot out of spring ball, but Justin Lamkin can pitch his way into the rotation with good mid-week starts. The bullpen is almost nothing but question marks, and the Aggies will need to rely on transfers and freshmen alike to play massive roles if they want to close out games in SEC play.
Ceiling: This offense is capable of winning games regardless of who pitches for them. If Dettmer, Cortez, and a couple bullpen arms can provide a modicum of stability, this team can rake its way to Omaha again. Feel free to doubt them, it worked out pretty well for them last year
Floor: The lack of stability in the back end of the bullpen rears its head at the worst possible times, resulting in several crucial losses in the beginning of SEC play. Some regression from Moss, Bost, Minnich, and Targac spells a disappointing follow-up to a CWS run. This team, despite all of its talent, finds itself on the outside of the postseason picture.
Team MVP: Dettmer needs to provide stability to the front end of this pitching staff if this team wants any realistic chance to push for another division title. Anything less than stability from Dettmer would push this pitching staff to its absolute limits, and that is without any injuries.
Season Prediction: This team will not be bad by any stretch of the imagination, but they will just be missing that special magic they had last year. Top end talent will carry, or drag, depending on your perspective, this team to the postseason, but lack of pitching depth means an early exit.
2022 Record: 43-22 (16-13)
Roster Breakdown: Butch Thompson shocked the college baseball world by leading a team many had pegged to finish in the cellar of the SEC to the CWS. Auburn loses quite a lot from last year’s team, especially stars Sonny DiChiara and Blake Rambusch. How does this team recover? They have to rely on veteran pieces such as Kason Howell and Bobby Pierce to be leaders and make sure the clubhouse believes in themselves, even if the rest of the country writes them off. If you are looking for someone to step into that DiChiara role, good luck. However, transfer Justin Kirby provides both experience and power, so he could be a pick to click this season. Role players Nate LaRue and Cole Foster will need to step up their games in big ways to fill the holes left on offense, but the Tigers will likely need to rely on freshmen Gavin Miller, Chris Stanfield, and Ike Irish if they want to reach their ceiling this season. The pitching staff is much more solidified than the lineup, and that starts with the return of ace Joseph Gonzalez. Reports out of Tigers’ camp are tabbing Chase Allsup as the Saturday starter, and he certainly has the stuff to succeed in that role. The final rotation spot is up for grabs between a couple of freshmen and a couple of transfers. My guess is that whoever performs better between the freshmen, Zach Crotchfelt and Hayden Murphy, in spring practice will win the Sunday role. Transfer arms Tanner Baumann and Tommy Sheehan give the Auburn coaching staff options, but I expect these arms are used out of the bullpen to start the season. Chase Isabell is the Tiger closer, but every other roll in the bullpen is up in the air.
Ceiling: Elite pitching will carry you far, and with Gonzalez and Allsup providing an effective 1-2 punch, Auburn squeaks out several close conference series wins on the way to once again surprising the country by putting themselves in the discussion to host a regional. No one wants to face a deadly rotation in May and June, and Auburn could give quite a few teams headaches on their way to a super-regional.
Floor: Outside of Gonzalez, pitching lets this team down. Without a stellar lineup to lean back on, Auburn limps its way through most SEC series, doing their best to scrape out a couple series wins against weaker competition. There isn’t much of that in the SEC, and Auburn misses out on both the SEC tournament and other postseason festivities.
Team MVP: This team needs an offensive weapon to replace the massive holes left from last season’s departures. Bobby Pierce is arguably in the best position to take that step forward and lead this team. He finished second on the team in homeruns last season, and he needs to be the focal point of Auburn’s offensive identity if this team has any hope of resembling last year’s group.
Season Prediction: Lightning does not strike twice, at least not in back-to-back seasons. There is too much to replace on offense for this team to have much success in conference play. They will steal a couple of series because Butch Thompson is a great coach, but a regional berth should be considered a successful season this summer in Auburn.
2021 Record: 31-27 (12-17)
Roster Breakdown: This roster is overall better than it was a year ago, and, at one point last season, they were a ranked team. So why are they residing in the basement of the SEC West? Blame the general depth of the conference. Alabama has a very solid roster with a few potential stars in the rotation, but things have to almost always break your way for a roster like this to find sustained success in the SEC. On offense, returner Andrew Pinckney is probably the best all-around bat on the roster. Pinckney and Drew Williamson should pace the team in homeruns among returners, while Bryce Elbin, Dominic Tamez, and Tommy Seidl have enough pop to stretch a lineup and keep opposing pitchers on their toes. Several transfers will immediately challenge for plying time, including Mac Guscette from Florida and Tennessee Tech transfers Ryan Guardino and Ed Johnson. Without a true star on this offense, playing time is absolutely there to be earned. The best arm on the entire staff is Ben Hess. Hess, once he got healthy, was an absolute weapon for the Crimson Tide last season. He will most likely slide into either the Friday or Saturday role, with Grayson Hitt filling in the opposite spot. The Alabama coaching staff is very high on Hitt, and they expect him to improve substantially over last year’s numbers. The Sunday spot is not written in stone yet, but Alabama is most likely going to decide between veterans Garrett McMillan and Jacob McNairy. I would not be surprised, especially early on in the season, if the Crimson Tide rely on veteran leadership to eat up innings in the beginning of the season as they build the confidence of their younger, more electric, arms. This staff might not be the most exciting, but with several arms that can climb into the mid-90s, like Riley Quick, Hunter Furtado, and Kade Woods, this team is more than capable of surprising some people.
Ceiling: If everything breaks just right for this Alabama squad, they can crack .500 in the SEC. Hess and Hitt have to pitch at an All-SEC level, and the entire lineup has to be just dangerous enough to win every game they should and a couple they should not. The Crimson Tide wouldn’t be a team that would be feared per se, but no one would feel comfortable playing in the postseason either.
Floor: The SEC is an absolute grind. If the injury bug bites either Hitt or Hess, this pitching staff could find itself in dangerous waters. If there is one conference that requires frontline pitching, it’s the SEC. If you don’t have those aces, you better have a dynamic lineup to slug your way to wins. With Alabama having arguably the most pedestrian lineup in the SEC, they could very likely find themselves scratching and clawing to reach .500 overall and missing the SEC tournament by a decent margin.
Team MVP: Hitt and Hess are going to be vital to this team’s success, but someone on offense needs to give this team an identity. Andrew Pinckney is in the perfect position to be the catalyst on this year’s quad that can provide both the dynamic offense and leadership this Crimson Tide team will need to reach their personal goals for the season. Call it a gut feeling, but if Pinckney is having an All-SEC type season, Alabama will be exceeding expectation.
Season Prediction: Last season, Alabama made the SEC Tournament over both Missouri and Mississippi State. I like what Coach Bohannon is building in Tuscaloosa with some of these highly-touted recruits, but I think they struggle during the dog days of SEC play and will be very fortunate if they stay out of the cellar in the SEC West. I think they finish above Mizzou in the SEC as a whole, but it would take some underachieving by other teams to give the Crimson Tide a chance to play in Hoover.