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2008 PRESEASON FAB 40: #21-30
February 7, 2008

SCS.comIt won't be very long before the college baseball season is upon us once again, and there are a ton of teams vying to take the crown from two-time defending national champion Oregon State.

The following teams may not be among the top 10 or 20, but that doesn't mean that they're at the back of the pack, in the least. Each of these teams could very well end up making a run well into June, so don't be surprised if you end up seeing at least a few of these clubs still standing when most are busy playing summer ball and daydreaming.

SCS.com(#21) Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia has experienced great success in Brian O'Connor's first four years at the helm, winning 177 games and hosting three regionals. However, they've fallen short in the postseason, including last season, when they got off to a 2-0 start in their regional, but then lost twice to eventual national champ Oregon St. But, the Cavaliers will look to get themselves in the position for some redemption with another strong team, led by star pitcher Jacob Thompson. The 2007 unanimous first-team All-American (11-0, 1.51 ERA, 101 Ks in '07) has a 21-4 record and a miniscule 2.02 ERA in two seasons. Thompson will be joined in the rotation by sophomore Matt Packer, who started 13 games as a freshman and went 3-3 with a 4.22 ERA, along with Pat McAnaney (2-0, 3.34 ERA). Stud closer Casey Lambert will be missed, but the bullpen should be great once again with Jake Rule (6-4, 2.63 ERA), Michael Schwimer (3-1, 2.77 ERA), and Andrew Carraway (5-0, 3.60 ERA) leading the way.

Replacing Sean Doolittle's arm and his bat won't be easy, but with the names mentioned above, the pitching staff should be just fine. As for the lineup, five key players return, led by Greg Miclat (.376, 34 RBI, 32 steals), whose season-ending injury late last season no doubt affected the Cavaliers' production, and David Adams (.372, five homers, 43 RBI). Virginia will certainly have the talent to make it deep into the postseason, but the big question is will they?

SCS.com(#22) Mississippi State Bulldogs

The Bulldogs were expected to finish at the bottom of the SEC last year, but proved many a prediction wrong by making a run to Omaha. This year, MSU has a few big pairs of shoes to fill, but that won't get in the way of MSU's hopes for a big year. Three of their biggest offensive stars are on to the pro ranks now, as catcher Ed Easley (.358/12/63), two-way star Mitch Moreland (.343/10/62, 3-0, 3.20, 2 saves), and the school's all-time hits leader, Jeffrey Rea (.343, 13 steals, 57 runs) are all gone. However, thanks to hot-hitting sophomore Brandon Turner (.399/3/48), Connor Powers (.306/8/37), and last year's NJCAA Division II Player of the Year, power-hitting Tyler Moore, and more, MSU's offense, at the least, should be able to get the job done. Easley will likely be succeeded by Ryan Duffy behind the plate, though highly-regarded freshman Cody Freeman might break into the lineup because of his plate prowess.

The strong point this season was supposed to be last year's weakness - pitching. MSU returns their top two weekend starters, in Justin Pigott and Chad Crosswhite, and reliever Ricky Bowen (5-2, 3.00, 5 saves last season as a freshman) will make the transition to weekend starter. The bullpen should also be strong, led by hard-throwing junior Aaron Weatherford (3-2, 5 saves, 72 Ks in 66.1 IP), along with John Lalor (3-1, 4.17, 3 saves, 54 Ks in 49 IP). Freshman Forrest Moore (no relation to Tyler) could also make an impact as a freshman, both on the mound and at the plate. With a great mix of experience and young talent, the Bulldogs have the chance to contend in the SEC, not only this season, but in the next few as well.

SCS.com(#23) Texas A&M Aggies

It didn't take long for Rob Childress to get Texas A&M back in the spotlight. After a rough first season under Childress, the Aggies went 48-19 in 2007 and advanced to the Super Regionals, where they lost to Rice. Several key players from last season's team, in top pitchers Kyle Nicholson and David Newmann, and top hitters Brandon Hicks, Parker Dalton, and Craig Stinson, but the Aggies will have a solid team in '08. While they lost Hicks, Dalton, and Stinson, they do return leading hitter and All-American Blake Stouffer, who hit .398 and led the nation with 85 RBI. He had 102 hits (40 extra-base - 23 doubles, five triples, 12 homers) and 22 steals. Stouffer is joined by Luke Anders (.336/11/46), Ben Feltner (.303, 34 steals), and Kyle Colligan (.284/10/37), and a few others who saw significant playing time last season.

The key to A&M's success will be the pitching staff. Scott Migl (7-3, 3.77 ERA) and Kyle Thebeau (3-6, 4.67, 92 Ks in 79 IP) are the two most experienced pitchers on the staff, though a guy to watch out for is sophomore Travis Starling, who had a 1.33 ERA in 15 appearances as a freshman. There will likely be some recruits who play a part this season, and so could their two Division I transfers, both of whom come from Winthrop. Junior pitcher Alex Wilson (19-7 record, 240 strikeouts in two seasons at Winthrop), one of the nation's top freshmen in 2006 with 13 wins and 143 strikeouts, may actually not pitch in 2008 after Tommy John surgery. But teammate Phil Carey, who was one of the Eagles' leading hitters the past two seasons, should provide an immediate impact at the plate.

SCS.com(#24) Michigan Wolverines

Micigan made shockwaves last season by knocking off #1 Vanderbilt to advance to the Super Regionals, but they get there - or further - this season, it shouldn't be a surprise. Rich Maloney's Wolverines are going to have a very formidable team at the plate and on the mound, with six of their top nine hitters returning, along with most of their pitchers. Leading the way are two-way stars Zach Putnam (.330/8/59, 8-5, 3.87 ERA, 87 Ks) and Adam Abraham (.320/5/45, 5-1, 2.97 ERA). Also returning in the lineup are Derek VanBuskirk (.384), regional hero Kevin Cislo (.364), leading power hitter Nate Recknagel (.354/12/61), and Jason Christian (.328/7/44).

Putnam, Mike Wilson (7-1, 3.52 ERA), and Chris Fetter (6-3, 4.71 ERA) should lead the way in the rotation, and Abraham, Michael Powers (3-3, 4.76 ERA), and closer Ben Jenzen (2-1, 4.39 ERA, 5 saves) make up a solid bullpen, which will have the chance to help wrap up many, many wins this season.

SCS.com(#25) Kentucky Wildcats

After a big breakout season in 2006, John Cohen's Wildcats got off to a school-record start in 2007, winning their first 19 games. But, once conference play started, the 'Cats weren't able to keep up their torrid pace, and wound up missing out on both the SEC Tournament and the NCAA tourney. The Wildcats had one of the nation's most potent lineups in 2006, and were solid once again in '07, but lacked the same power from the '06 club. However, the return of home-run hitter outfielder Collin Cowgill should be a huge boost. The junior missed all of 2007 due to injury, but was a Cape Cod League All-Star in the summer, so he should be back to producing numbers like he did in '06 (.298/16/61). The lineup also returns four top hitters in Brian Spear (.358/5/49), Sawyer Carroll (.350/3/56), Keenan Wiley (.327), and Ryan Wilkes (.324/2/41).

Kentucky's pitching staff returns all three starters from last season, and Andrew Albers, Chris Rusin, and Greg Dombrowski are all going to have to improve upon their numbers from last year to avoid putting too much pressure on the offense. They also return nearly all of their top relievers, including closer Aaron Lovett, who had seven saves last season. So, the talent is there for the Wildcats to make another run at a postseason berth, but they'll have to be on the right side of .500 in conference play to have a chance to do so.

SCS.com(#26) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech was left disappointed on Selection Monday last season when they were one of the teams on the outside looking in. The Yellow Jackets will look to get back into the postseason in '08, but have a tough task of replacing their top four hitters, all of whom hit .330 or better, including catcher/closer Matt Wieters, who was the fifth overall pick in the draft. Junior Luke Murton is going to have to bounce back after a sophomore slump that saw him hit 100 points lower (.239) than he did as a freshman (.339). Patrick Long (.299) and Tony Plagman (.273) were regular starters as freshmen, and should see their numbers go up, along with fellow sophomores Jeff Ussery and Curtis Dupart.

The pitching staff, just like the hitters, had their struggles last season, but starters David Duncan and Eddie Burns return, along with a few key relievers. Danny Hall also brought in another strong recruiting class, and a few out of his 11 fresh faces will likely play a role right off of the bat. If the Jackets can put all of their talented pieces together, there won't be any sweating on Selection Monday this time around.

SCS.com(#27) Fresno State Bulldogs

Last season, the Bulldogs went 38-29 and made a surprise appearance in the championship game of the San Diego regional as a #4 seed. This year, the two-time defending WAC champions could be as good as the 2006 club that won 45 games. Six starters return at the plate, led by senior left fielder Steve Susdorf (.340/12/68), junior second baseman Eric Wetzel (.346, 36 RBI), and sophomore third baseman Tommy Mendonca (.281/10/37), who could have a big, big year.

The pitching staff returns their three top starters, in senior Clayton Allison (10-5, 4.50 ERA) and juniors Justin Wilson (8-5, 3.19 ERA, 105 Ks) and Tanner Scheppers (7-5, 4.65 ERA). Closer Jason Breckley (3-1, 4.58 ERA, six saves) and Brandon Burke will lead the bullpen. Coach Mike Batesole has built a winning program in Fresno, and there'll be a lot of Ws coming this season, and very likely a third straight WAC title.

SCS.com(#28) Baylor Bears

With a relatively young team, the Bears went 35-27 and 12-15 in the Big 12 last season, and finished their season with a 1-2 mark in the Rice regional. However, 2008 could be a big year for Baylor, as they return a lot of talent from last year's team at the plate and on the mound. Leading the way at the plate is junior shortstop Beamer Weems (.321/9/59 in '07), who's both a great hitter and a sharp fielder. Watch out for the highly-touted duo of Aaron Miller and Dustin Dickerson, who put up respectable numbers as freshmen last season, but could be primed for a huge sophomore year.

On the mound, the Bears do lose Jeff Mandel, but return most of their key pitchers, including Kendal Volz, who went 6-2 as a freshman last year, reliever Willie Kempf, who recorded 43 strikeouts in 39 innings last season and projects to be a weekend starter in '08, and closer Nick Casevecchia, who's one of the best in the country (6-2, 3.12 ERA, 11 saves, 72 Ks in 52 innings last season). The wildcard could be redshirt freshman Shawn Tolleson, who may have been the top prospect out of that stellar recruiting class along with Miller, Dickerson, and Volz, but didn't pitch last season due to Tommy John Surgery. The Bears certainly have the talent to contend in the Big 12 and maybe even make it as far as Omaha, but it's up to them to parlay their plethora of talent into success.

SCS.com(#29) Oklahoma State Cowboys

The memory of their season-ending 20-2 loss to Louisville in last season's Super Regionals no doubt still remains fresh for all that were part of last year's Oklahoma St. team. But, the Cowboys are locked and reloaded for another run to the postseason, and should be led by another potent hitting team, despite losing the likes of Tyler Mach, Corey Brown, Ty Wright, Keanon Simon, and Matt Mangini. Senior first baseman Rebel Ridling (.336/14/68) should lead the way for the offense, and transfers Matt Hague (Washington - .353/13/49 last season) and Luis Flores (Houston - .263/9/24) should provide plenty of punch as well. Starting shortstop Jordy Mercer returns, along with Corey's brother Dylan, Steve Ptak, and a few others who got some good swings in last season.

The key for the Cowboys was their downfall last season - pitching. Andrew Oliver (6-1, 5.52 ERA), Joe Kent (4-3, 3.88 ERA), and Flores should make up the starting rotation, though Matt Gardner (4-0, 5.70 ERA) and Jeff Breedlove (0-4, 5.36 ERA) could figure in as well. A healthy Mercer should be the closer, with Robbie Weinhardt and Tyler Lyons seeing regular innings out of the bullpen. If the pitching staff improves - and it needs to for the Cowboys to be as good as they could be - OSU could be a serious contender in the Big 12, and have a shot at making another trip to the Supers.

SCS.com(#30) Pepperdine Waves

Pepperdine had dominated the West Coast Conference in recent years, until San Diego stormed to the top of the heap last season. 2007 might have been considered a disappointment, as the Waves finished in third in the WCC. But, they still won 35 games and played in a regional yet again, and should contend for another postseason berth this season, despite a schedule that doesn't do them any favors. The Waves lose their top two hitters in Danny Worth and Adrian Ortiz, but seven of 10 starters/key performers return, led by Chase d'Arnaud (.331), Donald Brown (.328), and Eric Thames (.320). 6'6, 240 pound Ryan Heroy led the team in home runs last season with seven, and if he can keep up the power and significantly bump up his batting average (.261 in '07), he could be a consistent threat in Steve Rodriguez's lineup.

The rotation takes a hit with ace Barry Enright departing for the pros, but Brett Hunter should step in as the #1, with Robert Dickmann as a solid #2 starter. They do have some holes to fill in the bullpen, most notably at closer, where Jason Dominguez had 12 saves last season. However, sophomore Jordan Durrance (1-1, 2.08, 24 appearances) could step in where Dominguez left off and be the ace at the back end.

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