(As most of our readers know, my “day job” is with NCAA.com. I’ll be sharing a lot of my work on Division I and Division II players as the year goes on. It will hopefully get you in tune with who to watch as the season unfolds, and help build up your draft prep for June.)
From NCAA.com —
College baseball season is creeping its way up the calendar.
Heading into any new season, it always seems appropriate to make some projections for the upcoming schedule. Last season, several teams -- like West Virginia, for example -- made their return to the postseason. Others, like Miami, were uncharacteristically missing. Instead of ranking the best teams or grading the conferences, let’s take a look at a few things that wouldn’t be surprising if they were to unfold.
We wouldn’t be surprised if...
… Tennessee Tech’s offense is the best in the land.
The Golden Eagles offense was a blitzkrieg last season, and with plenty of returners to the offense-friendly confines of Ohio Valley Conference baseball, it could be even better.
Tennessee Tech will have no shortage of firepower. The team finished second in the country with 99 home runs and a .520 slugging percentage, third in the country in doubles (144) and runs scored (504), and eleventh in the country in batting average (.317).
Ryan Flick, who was the unquestioned leader of the offensive barrage, is gone, but nearly everyone else returns. First baseman Chase Chambers (.299/.399/.582, 11 doubles, 18 home runs) and OF Kevin Strohschein (.292/.351/.511, 12 doubles and 14 home runs) bring the muscle while guys like third baseman Trevor Putzig (.394/.441/.568 and 23 doubles) set them up. Add in outfielders Collin Harris (.325/.397/.555) and Alex Junior (.323/.405/.429) and there is a ton of offense in Cookeville,Tennessee.
The Golden Eagles made their first postseason appearance since 2009, riding that offense to an opening game victory against Florida State. Expect them to make another run at the OVC this year. The battle between Tennessee Tech and Morehead State will be one worth watching.
… Niko Hulsizer led the nation in dingers.
Speaking of the OVC being a launching pad, Hulsizer has a great chance to be the 2018 home run king.
After a strong freshman debut and a full summer ball regimen, Hulsizer went from 9 doubles to 21 and five home runs to 27 last year. He finished two home runs shy of Iowa’s Jake Adams for the most in all of college baseball.
Hulsizer is entering his junior season as the reigning OVC co-Player of the Year -- he split the honor with Eastern Kentucky’s Ben Fisher. With a ton of returning offense to protect him, and Eli Boggess (who finished second in baseball with a .425 batting average) ahead of him, Hulsizer’s bat could very well lead the Eagles to the postseason and a home run crown.
At the very least, he’ll make every at bat fun to watch.
… Greyson Jenista and Alec Bohm lead Wichita State to the tourney.
Wichita State hasn’t been to the tournament since 2009 and haven’t had a winning record since 2014. And yes, they were projected to finish sixth in a pretty tricky American Athletic Conference.
It’s true that two offensive stars does not a championship make. But Jenista and Bohm are special players who have the ability to make something special happen in Kansas this year. They both enter 2018 as preseason All-Americans, watching their MLB Draft stock rise on a daily basis.
The two juniors, Jenista an outfielder and Bohm a third baseman, are coming off monster sophomore campaigns. Their summers on the Cape were arguably larger than that. Jenista won Cape Cod League Most Valuable Player and Bohm finished second in hitting (.351) and third in both RBI (28) and doubles (10). The Cape has long been a launching pad for future stardom.
Wichita State opens AAC play March 29 against East Carolina. Of the eleven teams that they play on their non-conference slate to open the year, only three made the NCAA tournament. If the Shockers can get something going early, they could have the momentum heading into ACC play. If they are going to get something going, it will be from the play of Jenista and Bohm.
The Shockers will need a few things to go their way, but it’s not out of the question they have a little magic this season and surprise a few people… other than us.