The dogpile from Vanderbilt’s national championship celebration has barely been untangled, but already d1Baseball.com has come out with its staff predictions for the eight teams it thinks will make it to Omaha for next year’s College World Series.
I’m not a big fan of “way-too-early” picks such as this. In fact, I think they’re as meaningless as a solo homer in the bottom of the ninth when your team is down by 10 runs.
But in the context of this particular column, it is worth noting that one of the website’s three analysts believes that ECU will finally break through and make its first ever trip to college baseball’s promised land.
That’s saying something, since Bryant Packard, Spencer Brickhouse, Jake Agnos and other key members of this year’s 47-win team won’t be returning in 2010.
But in the opinion of d1Baseball’s Eric Sorenson, the Pirates will still field “an experienced squad, led by pitchers Alec Burleson and Jake Kuchmaner,” adding that “there is still plenty of heft coming back in the batting order as well, especially if Jake Washer returns despite being a 29th round draftee.”
Washer, whose stock took a giant leap with his MVP performance while leading ECU to its come-from-behind regional title, has until Friday to decide whether or not to sign with the Chicago Cubs. As a 23-year-old who has already been in college for four years, there’s a reasonable chance the redshirt junior go ahead and turn pro.
But even if he doesn’t return for his final year of eligibility, the Pirates will still have enough of a nucleus on hand to make another serious run at getting to Omaha.
It’s a core that, as Sorenson noted, begins with pitching.
Outside of Washer, no one in purple and gold helped himself more during this year’s postseason than the sophomore left-hander — who transformed himself from a dependable two-way player to budding star status with sterling performances both with his arm and bat. Combined with the experience he’s getting this summer as a member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National team, he’s primed to step into a Friday or Saturday starter role when the 2020 season begins next spring.
Kuchmaner has already proven himself worthy of such an important role, having thrown the first perfect game in program history, although he still needs to improve on his stamina after running out of gas late in the season.
Those two, along with fellow returners Gavin Williams, Tyler Smith, Ryder Giles and Cam Colmore are a nice starting point for a staff that figures to be bolstered by the addition of several talented new arms — including recent draftee C.J. Mayhue and the younger brothers of departing stars Jake Agnos and Trey Benton.
As for the batting order, 300-hitting freshmen Lane Hoover and Thomas Francisco are coming off productive rookie seasons, backup catcher Seth Caddell has shown some power potential and leading hitter Burleson returns to anchor the middle of the lineup.
There are some glaring holes to fill, to be sure. But given coach Cliff Godwin’s track record as a recruiter, it’s safe to assume that there are some capable replacement bats either on the way or already in the program waiting for their chance to take their cuts.
The fact that only one recruit was drafted — Mayhue in the 36th round by the Mariners — means that ECU almost certainly won’t be losing any of is top prospects to the pros before they ever step onto campus.
Even more important than those that are coming is the man that isn’t going anywhere.
Godwin’s name is often mentioned for higher profile jobs at Power 5 schools, most recently as a successor to retiring legend Mike Martin at Florida State. But he has stated on several occasions that he’s not interested in leaving his alma mater, focusing instead on finishing the job he, his teammates and their late mentor Keith LeClair started two decades ago.
“I’ve been pursued a couple times since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here for five years. I haven’t wavered from that decision and this place means a lot to me,” Godwin said after the Pirates were eliminated from the Super Regionals by Louisville. ‘We’re working our tails off every single day to just be better and we’re in a great place right now with our program.”
The Pirates are truly blessed to have a leader with Godwin’s loyalty, passion and baseball knowledge. His ability to identify, sign and develop talent has made ECU one of the best, most consistent programs in the country.
Sorenson might be going out on a limb by projecting the Pirates to finally break through and get to Omaha next season.
But it’s not a very long one.