National Seed Projections

Tom Kessler

We’re a little more than halfway through the college baseball season.

I got a chance to take in Florida State and Georgia Tech over the weekend for the Tallahassee Democrat (you can read Sunday’s story here, and click the baseball tab to see the rest). I was impressed with both teams, especially Georgia Tech, who is doing a nice job of playing itself back into postseason contention after a slow start.

FSU once again looks like a top-eight national seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Here is my best shot at projecting who else will join FSU as a national seed this summer.

1. Virginia, 30-6 and 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 8: The Cavaliers are off to an incredible start in 2014 with 30 wins. UVA currently boasts the fourth-best ERA in the country with a 2.06. The Cavs have taken two of three from both Miami and Clemson this year. All three weekend starters have an ERA below three runs, and closer Nick Howard (1.56 ERA, 11 saves) has been sensational. The biggest concern for Brian O’Connor’s squad is the offense. UVA averages just 5.6 runs per game. Mike Papi does provide a power presence with a .319 average, 31 RBI and six homers.

2. Texas, 30-8 and 9-3 Big 12. RPI No. 3: Texas split its opening series with California, and dropped an early series with Kansas, but the Longhorns have been on a tear lately. UT swept Oklahoma over the weekend and has a big series against TCU this weekend. The Longhorns have taken 2 of 4 from Rice this season, and defeated Houston in their only match-up. Texas has the fifth-best ERA in the country at 2.12. In 1,221 at-bats this season, Texas’ opponents have recorded just one home run and 43 extra-base hits. Offensively Texas averages five runs per game, but has scored at least seven runs in four straight games.

3. South Carolina, 28-8 and 8-7 SEC. RPI No. 2: South Carolina ripped off 16 straight wins to start the season, but is in a bit of a tailspin right now. The Gamecocks dropped 2 of 3 to Florida over the weekend and lost 4-1 to Charleston Southern on Tuesday. Pitching is USC’s strength, with a team ERA of 1.88 (good for second-best in the country), and all three weekend starters have at least five wins. In half of the Gamecocks’ losses their opponents have scored four runs or less. Only Grayson Greiner has more than 23 RBI for USC. If they don’t find some more offense soon it could be short postseason run for the Gamecocks.

4. Florida State, 28-8, 14-4 ACC. RPI No. 4: Florida State dropped its first weekend series of the year this weekend in Atlanta, losing two of three to Georgia Tech just days after Florida completed its season sweep over the Seminoles. Still FSU has an impressive resume with two wins at Clemson, two at home against Miami and an 11-4 record overall on the road. DJ Stewart has been a monster this year with a .374 average, 30 RBI and seven homeruns. John Nogowski has developed as a solid run-producer too for the Seminoles with 36 RBI for a team averaging 7.3 runs per game. Luke Weaver is an electric Friday night starter, but if Brandon Leibrandt (knee injury) doesn’t return soon then starting pitching could become a real worry for FSU. Gage Smith (4-0, 1.17 ERA) is as good a set-up man as there is in college baseball and it will take a lot to get to closer Jameis Winston (1.56 ERA, five saves).

5. Oregon State, 27-7 and 11-4 PAC-12. RPI No.24: Oregon State dropped a pair of early games to Nebraska and Michigan State, but didn’t lose consecutive games again until Arizona State took two of three on March 22 and 23. Starter Ben Wetzler is 6-1 in his seven starts with a 0.69 ERA (fourth best in the NCAA). The Beavers as a staff have an ERA of  2.20 (8th best in the country) and have allowed just one homerun. The duo of Dylan Davis (.296 avg., three HRs and 40 RBI) and Michael Conforto (.395 avg., two HRs and 38 RBI) power the offense. Remaining weekend sets against Oregon and Washington will go a long way towards determining the Beavers seeding.

6. Cal Poly, 31-5 and 8-1 Big West. RPI No. 12: In the footsteps of Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State, Cal Poly belongs in the national seed discussion after its start in the Big West. Cal Poly has series victories over Kansas State, UCLA, California and UC Santa Barbara (RPI No. 33). As a team the Mustangs are hitting .301 with an on-base percentage of .391. Five players have driven in 26 runs or more. Starting pitchers Casey Bloomquist (8-0, 1.58 ERA), Matt Imhof (7-2, 2.07 ERA) and Justin Calomeni (7-1, 3.40 ERA) have been more than good thus far. A three-game series beginning on Thursday with Cal State Fullerton (18-13) could firmly put the Mustangs in the top eight.

7. Florida, 24-13 and 9-6 SEC. RPI No. 1: The Gators have been a hard team to figure out in 2014. UF dropped an early series to Miami, and three of four in a three-team round robin with Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois. They bounced back with a series win at Texas A&M, but then dropped a series to Kentucky. The Gators are now trending upwards once again after completing the season sweep of Florida State, sweeping LSU and taking two of three from South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.. Florida has used 12 different starting pitchers so far this season. Logan Shore (3-2, 1.67 ERA) is the only one to make more than five starts. UF as a team has an ERA of 3.44. Offensively Taylor Gushue carries the load for a team that averages just 4.5 runs per game with a .338 average, 32 RBI and four homeruns. The two biggest remaining series for UF are at Alabama May 2-4 and at home against Vanderbilt the following weekend. The Gators can’t afford to drop to both of those three-game sets if they’re going to be a top-eight team, even with their strength of schedule and RPI.

8. Louisiana-Lafayette, 34-4 and 14-1 Sun Belt. RPI No. 7: What a start for the Rajin Cajuns. After dropping their season opener ULL won 10 straight, including a mid-week win at LSU and taking two of three from Alabama. The team’s .327 batting average is the fourth-best in the country and second baseman Jace Conrad’s 42 RBI put him in a tie for the the ninth-most in the nation. Louisiana-Lafayette’s weekend rotation is a combined 17-2 with three complete games. With an RPI that will continually drop due to Sun Belt-play, ULL has to avoid dropping any remaining weekend series and mid-week games to remain a top-eight seed. A more-than-feasible request with its remaining schedule.

Others in the hunt: Ole Miss (29-9, RPI No. 5), Houston (26-9, RPI No. 6), Washington (24-7, RPI No. 13), LSU (27-9-1, RPI No. 21), and Vanderbilt (27-10, RPI No. 14).

*Stats and RPI rankings are as of April 15.

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