As evidenced by last season’s shocking run to the national title by Coastal Carolina, the Forgotten 5 know how to play some baseball. Due in part to the MLB Draft, fewer scholarships, and some incredible coaching among other reasons, there is rarely a year that does not include the “little” guys hanging with the best of the best.
Now that basketball is virtually over, we can finally take a look at the 2017 baseball season and some trends to watch.
Current Top 25 Programs (Baseball America Poll):
- Cal State Fullerton (15-9, #10): The Titans are currently sitting at #10 nationally after flirting with the top five nationally for a majority of the season. They are a perennial national power with four national titles, five trips to the title game, and 17 overall trips to the College World Series. Anyone that knows about the Titans. After starting the season 15-5, CS Fullerton is on a four-game losing streak after losing all three games at Long Beach State as well as a mid-week game to UCLA.
- Florida Gulf Coast (23-3, #11): Dunk City is more than just basketball. The Eagles have been a force all season long in knocking off Florida (#2 at the time) twice, Florida State (#1 at the time), Ohio State twice, and South Florida (#21 at the time). Righty Kutter Crawford leads the team with a 1.24 ERA and 43 strikeouts. FGCU can also mash at the plate, averaging 7.07 runs per game on the year.
- Houston (19-5, #23): The Cougars have been on the verge of something special in talent rich Texas for many years. Since 2000, the Cougars have been to the NCAA tournament eight times and got as far as the super regionals in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2014. This team has wins over Cal State Fullerton (#7 at the time), Baylor (#10 at the time), ULL (#10 at the time), and a sweep over UC Irvine. We will find out if Houston is for real when they start AAC play with teams like USF (23-3), UCF (20-6), and ECU (18-8, #25) on the conference slate.
- East Carolina (18-8, #25): The Pirates have struggled at times to live up to their lofty #6 preseason ranking this season. Getting swept by Ole Miss is one thing; getting swept by Mercer at home is a cause for worry. The Pirates have turned things around recently with a four-game winning streak, but an eight-game stretch that includes a trip to North Carolina, three games at Houston, and a three-game visit from UCF will show just how good ECU can be.
Others to watch:
- Louisiana-Lafayette (13-9, #21 at D1Baseball.com), Southern Miss (19-5, #25 at D1Baseball.com), San Diego (15-6, #23 at D1Baseball.com), South Florida (23-3), Mercer (21-6), Central Florida (20-6), Sam Houston State (17-8), Missouri State (15-9), New Mexico (16-9), McNeese State (18-7), Saint Mary’s (17-7).
Players to watch:
- Ben Fisher, Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels are only 14-12 on the year, but Fisher is having a dream start with a .423 average, NCAA leading 13 homeruns, and NCAA leading RBI in 26 games.
- Devin Hemmerich, Norfolk State: Arguably the biggest workhorse in the nation at this point, Hemmerich has pitched a shade under eight innings per start on the year. He has four complete games and a sparkling 2.11 ERA on an otherwise forgettable Spartan squad.
- Drew Butler, Campbell: There is nothing like watching an expert basestealer at the top of his game. No one expected that out of Butler. He had 23 total steals in his first three years before breaking out with a nation-leading 22 steals in 25 games played. He has only been caught once, so expect him to continue to get the green light.
- Seth Romero, P, Houston: The lefty will have a tough decision to make after the season as he is going to be selected very high in the MLB Draft. Romero is a strikeout machine with 62 strikeouts in 37.1 innings pitched, good for 14.95 per nine innings. That is not bad at all.
- Michael Gigliotti, OF, Lipscomb: The centerfielder is a speedster that has MLB scouts drooling. He has over 40 career bunt singles and just knows how to get on base. He has struggled so far this season, but expect him to find his form in the A-Sun schedule. Gigliotti was a Baseball America preseason All-American.
- Keston Hiura, OF/IF, UC Irvine: The do it all player extraordinaire, Hiura is again leading the Anteaters in virtually every offensive category. He is batting .403 with 13 doubles, six homeruns, and 21 RBI for an offensively challenged UC Irvine squad. Hiura was a Baseball America preseason All-American.
- Jake Burger, 3B, Missouri State: A hot prospect at the hot corner, Burger is having a great season at the plate with a .379 average and nine homeruns. His 70 total bases lead the team by 13 and his slugging percentage (.737) is .143 higher than anyone else. Burger was a Baseball America preseason All-American.
- Zach Rutherford, SS, Old Dominion: With expectations at a high for the Monarchs, Rutherford is living up to expectations with a .340 average and 11 doubles. He is getting some help from teammates Vinnie Pasquantino (.378) and Culver Lamb (.348), but Rutherford is the glue for an Old Dominion team that sits at 20-5 heading into April.
- Will Gaddis, RHP, Furman: On an otherwise bad Furman squad, Gaddis stands above all others. He is only 2-2, but has a 2.43 ERA and 41 strikeouts on the year. If he could get some run support, he would be better known nationally.
- Brandon Marsonek, P, Alabama A&M: Look, I know the Bulldogs are bad. Just take a look at Marsonek. He has made only two starts, but has a nation-high 21 appearances and 50.2 innings pitched. Let’s hope his arm doesn’t fall off this year.
- Riley Adams, C, San Diego: We have to put a catcher on this list. Adams has struggled at the plate, but plays a demanding position and catches a pitching staff that has three starters with an ERA under 2.60.
- Andrew Beckwith, P, Coastal Carolina: The main reason the Chanticleers won the national title last season, Beckwith has been bad this year. He has not been able to adjust to being the center of attention and has a disappointing 6.69 ERA. He has the ability to kick out of his funk and dominate down the stretch, but it will be tough.
Sam Donko (VCU), Glenn Otto (Rice), Nick Feight (UNCW), Collin Thacker (Gardner-Webb), Carl Stajduhar (New Mexico), Kevin Strohschein (Tennessee Tech).