As usual the SEC is loaded top-to-bottom. The 2017 season saw each division race come down to the final weekend of the regular season. No one was more dominant in the postseason than the SEC sending eight teams to the NCAA Tournament with six advancing to the Super Regionals and then three to the College World Series. And then of course two SEC teams met in the finals with Florida winning it all. Expect the same level of competition in the SEC this year with the chance for even more teams to enter the postseason.
Florida (2017 Record: 52-19, 21-9)
A College World Series championship alluded the Florida Gators over the last several years, but they finally captured the crown in 2017. With a loaded group coming back they’re the favorites to win again.
Catcher and first baseman JJ Schwarz returns for his senior season. Last year he hit .259 with 43 runs scored, 12 doubles, 12 home runs and 56 RBI. He was a consensus first round pick entering 2017, but saw his stock fall. He’ll try to regain that standing in 2018. Third baseman Jonathan India is one of my favorite players in college baseball. He has a very good glove at third base, and does everything he needs to do at the plate. He hit .274 a year ago with 38 runs scored, 15 doubles, 6 home runs and 34 RBI. Outfielder Nelson Maldonado led the team with a .299 average last year to go along with 40 runs scored, 9 doubles, 5 home runs and 32 RBI. Second baseman Deacon Liput also returns to the lineup after playing in a team-high 70 games last year. Transfer Wil Dalton could have an immediate impact in the outfield. Freshman Brady McConnell is another newcomer that could see some immediate playing time.
Florida returns two of the top college arms in the country in Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar. Singer had a 3.21 ERA last year in 126 innings pitched with 129 strikeouts. He’ll likely be a top 10 pick in this year’s MLB Draft. Kowar is another arm that could go in the first round. He had a 4.08 ERA last year in 108 innings pitched with 84 strikeouts. Tyler Dyson had a great freshman season last year and should get a spot in the weekend rotation. He posted a 3.23 ERA last year in 39 innings pitched with 47 strikeouts. He pitched six innings in the College World Series clincher. Michael Byrne was one of the best closers in college baseball last year with a 1.67 ERA in 75.2 innings pitched with 93 strikeouts and 19 saves. Nick Horvath will be another solid arm out of the bullpen after posting a 3.68 ERA last year in 29.1 innings pitched with 23 strikeouts. Freshman Jordan Butler could see some significant innings as a freshman.
It took a while for this team to come together in 2017, but with a lot of key contributors coming back from a championship team, this could be a remarkable season for the Gators. The only thing that could possibly hold them back is CWS fatigue. But there is no doubt this is one of the most talented teams in the country.
Georgia (2017 Record: 25-32, 11-19)
It was a year of transition for Georgia in 2017 and it showed as they finished with a losing overall. But they did sneak into the SEC Tournament as the 12 seed only to lose to Mississippi State 3-0.
Three of their top hitters from last year return in DH Michael Curry, shortstop Cam Shepherd and outfielder Keegan McGovern. Curry hit .297 a year ago with 27 runs scored, 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 46 RBI. Shepherd had a solid freshman season in 2017 hitting .307 with 29 runs scored, 16 doubles, 5 home runs and 28 RBI. He might be the most talented player on this Georgia team and has a very bright future ahead of him. McGovern is a four-year starter and he hit .291 last year with 39 runs scored, 15 doubles, 2 home runs and 21 RBI. Those three will form the heart of this lineup in 2018. A couple of freshman who could see the field this year are infielder Ivan Johnson and two-way player C.J. Smith – who can play in the outfield and is a left-handed pitcher.
Kevin Smith should get a shot in the weekend rotation after posting a 4.87 ERA last year in 61 innings pitched (12 starts) with 67 strikeouts. Chase Adkins should also be back after posting a 3.95 ERA last year in 79.2 innings pitched with 60 strikeouts. The bullpen was a bit of a mess last year. They’ll need to get that sorted out if they want to compete in the SEC this year. Freshman Emerson Hancock could certainly help in that regard.
Georgia hopes to pick up the 2018 season where they left off in 2017 when they went 8-3 down the stretch winning three series over ranked teams. They will have a veteran team in 2018, which should hopefully lead to better play defensively, good at-bats, and command of the strike zone on the mound.
Kentucky (2017 Record: 42-23, 19-11)
It was a big year for Kentucky in 2017 as they surpassed 40 wins and pushed for the regular season SEC East title. They hosted a regional and came back to win an exciting series over NC State. Then they traveled to face Louisville in the Super Regionals, but were swept.
Kentucky was one of the top offenses in the country last year hitting .316 as a team and averaging over seven runs a game. You would expect that offense to take a step back in 2018 with all they’re losing, but they do return a top 20 MLB prospect in outfielder Tristan Pompey. He hit .361 a year ago with 70 runs scored, 18 doubles, 10 home runs, 45 RBI and 9 stolen bases. The Preseason All-American will have to lead this lineup in 2018. Catcher and first baseman Kole Cottam will try to support him after hitting .319 last year with 34 runs scored, 12 doubles, 7 home runs and 44 RBI. Troy Squires will also split time between catcher and first base. He hit .305 last year with 25 runs scored, 10 doubles, 1 home run and 26 RBI, while providing great defense behind the plate. Several junior college transfers could get a chance to have an immediate impact on this lineup. That list of players includes Trey Dawson (SS), Ben Aklinski (OF), Troy Black (3B) and Ryan Johnson, Jr. (OF).
Not only does Kentucky possess one of the best hitting prospects in college baseball, but they have one the top pitching prospects as well in Sean Hjelle who was the 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year. He posted a 3.89 ERA in 2017 with 102 strikeouts in 108.2 innings pitched. Hjelle’s ERA in SEC play was under two. Justin Lewis also returns to the starting rotation despite being drafted in the 11th round this past summer. He had a 3.56 ERA in 91 innings pitched with 72 strikeouts. Lewis possess a dominant change-up, and with another solid year he could move up the draft boards. Zack Thompson actually led all starters last year with a 3.45 ERA as a freshman, while striking out 96 batters in 75.2 innings pitched. He’ll be a top prospect for the 2019 MLB Draft. They will have to rework the bullpen a bit, but this could be one of the better starting rotations in the conference. Junior college transfer Zach Haake could help out there.
Kentucky snuck up on some teams in 2017, but that won’t be the case this year with two guys in Pompey and Hjelle who are expected go very high in the 2018 MLB Draft. This year they hope to improve their fielding percentage, while looking to replace most of their everyday lineup and their closer.
Missouri (2017 Record: 36-23, 14-16)
After losing their first game of the season, Missouri won 20 in a row only to finish the year 16-22 to miss out on the NCAA Tournament.
Catcher Brett Bond was taken in the 23rd round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, but he chose to return to Missouri. He hit .307 last year with 41 runs scored, 13 doubles, 10 home runs, and 45 RBI. Outfielder Kameron Misner hit .282 a year ago with 39 runs scored, 12 doubles, 7 home runs and 34 RBI. Outfielder Connor Brumfield hit .272 in 2017 with 37 runs scored and 11 stolen bases. Trey Harris hit .268 with 35 runs scored, 12 home runs and 48 RBI last year.
They lose a couple of starters from last year to the MLB Draft in Tanner Houck and Cole Bartlett. Andy Toelken does return after posting a 2.82 ERA last year in 70.1 innings pitched with 52 strikeouts. TJ Sikkema hd ad 2.72 ERA in 79.1 innings pitched with 81 strikeouts. Bryce Montes De Oca was drafted this past summer but will come back to the Tigers after posting a 4.30 ERA last year in 60.2 innings pitched with 60 strikeouts.
They were very close to being a tournament team last year, but with a lot coming back in the lineup and solid arms in the pitching staff, I think they make the postseason in 2018.
South Carolina (2017 Record: 35-25, 13-17)
It was a surprisingly bad year for South Carolina in the SEC finishing with a losing record, which could be blamed on injuries in the pitching staff. They made a run in the SEC Tournament, but it wasn’t enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
Outfielder Carlos Cortes returns to lead the lineup after hitting .286 last year with 27 runs scored, 9 doubles, 12 home runs and 41 RBI. Outfielder Jacob Olson led the team with a .294 average last year to go along with 37 runs scored, 10 doubles, 6 home runs and 27 RBI. Shortstop LT Tolbert hit .284 last year with 3 home runs and 32 RBI. Third baseman Jonah Bride hit .282 in 2017 with 33 runs scored, 5 home runs and 32 RBI. TJ Hopkins, Chris Cullen and Madison Stokes should also have a large role in the lineup.
Adam Hill returns as one of the top pitchers in the conference. He posted a 3.04 ERA last year in 77 innings pitched with 87 strikeouts. He’ll lead the weekend rotation with Clarke Schmidt and Wil Crowe gone. Cody Morris should get a chance in the weekend rotation after posting a 3.66 ERA last year in 39.1 innings pitched with 47 strikeouts.
Newcomers who could have an immediate impact include: Noah Campbell, Kyle Jacobsen, Logan Chapman, Jordan Holladay and Eddy Demurias.
This will be a veteran lineup in 2017, but they’ll need to improve on last year’s numbers. The pitching staff will be inexperienced, and they’ll need some young guys to step up.
Tennessee (2017 Record: 27-25, 7-21)
The Volunteers amazing only lost four games out-of-conference last year, but unfortunately for them they lost 21 conference games and missed the SEC Tournament.
First baseman Andre Lipcius hit .275 with 32 runs scored, 11 doubles, and 26 RBI. Catcher Benito Santiago hit .250 a year ago with 20 runs scored, 6 doubles, 4 triples, 3 home runs and 20 RBI. Pete Derkay can play all over, including catcher, and hit .288 last year.
Zach Linginfeller had a 3.67 ERA last year in 56.1 innings pitched with 61 strikeouts and should lead the weekend rotation. Garrett Stallings posted a 3.47 ERA a year ago in 70 innings pitched with 39 strikeouts. Will Neely had a 3.43 ERA last year in 57.2 innings pitched with 41 strikeouts.
They lose a lot from an offense that wasn’t very good in 2017. There are a lot of solid arms coming back in the pitching staff though.
Vanderbilt (2017 Record: 36-25-1)
Vanderbilt never really seemed to put it all together last year as they looked better on paper than they were on the field. Still, they won the Clemson Regional, but then had to travel to number one Oregon State in Corvallis where they were swept.
First baseman Julian Infante returns after hitting .315 last year with 51 runs scored, 16 doubles, 11 home runs and 66 RBI. Second baseman Ethan Paul hit .251 last year with 34 runs scored, 15 doubles, 5 home runs and 27 RBI. Outfielder JJ Bleday hit .256 in 2017, while shortstop Connor Kaiser hit .222. Kaiser had a solid summer in the Cape where he hit .300 in 100 at-bats with 9 doubles and 2 home runs.
Patrick Raby returns after leading all starters with a 2.73 ERA last year in 105.1 innings pitched with 87 strikeouts. Chandler Day posted a 3.78 ERA a year ago in 52.1 innings pitched with 53 strikeouts. Drake Fellows made 10 starts last year and had a 3.30 ERA in 62.2 innings pitched with 68 strikeouts. Zach King was solid out of the bullpen last year with a 2.56 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched with 31 strikeouts.
The offense might take a step back from last year with Will Toffey and Jaren Kendall gone, but the pitching staff should be even deeper in 2018.
2018 All-SEC East Preseason Team
C: Kole Cottam (Kentucky)
1B: Julian Infante (Vanderbilt)
2B: Ethan Paul (Vanderbilt)
SS: Cam Shepherd (Georgia)
3B: Jonathan India (Florida)
OF: Tristan Pompey (Kentucky)
OF: Nelson Maldonado (Florida)
OF: Carlos Cortes (South Carolina)
DH: Michael Curry (Georgia)
SP: Sean Hjelle (Kentucky)
SP: Patrick Raby (Vanderbilt)
SP: Brady Singer (Florida)
SP: Jackson Kowar (Florida)
SP: Adam Hill (South Carolina)
RP: Michael Byrne (Florida)
RP: Zach King (Vanderbilt)
C: Brett Bond (Missouri)
1B: JJ Schwarz (Florida)
OF: Trey Harris (Missouri)
SP: Justin Lewis (Kentucky)
SP: Zack Thompson (Kentucky)
SP: Zach Linginfeller (Tennessee)
Predicted Order to Finish:
- South Carolina