Unfortunately, or should I say fortunately?, the number 11 overall pick in this year's draft, Max Pentecost, was eliminated, along with the rest of Kennesaw State University, at the super regionals at the hands of the University of Louisville. Gunnar Heidt's College of Charleston was beaten 1-0 twice in a row by Texas Tech, so the Blue Jays' 13th round pick will not go to Omaha either. Not even the 33rd round pick, Houston reliever Chase Wellbrock, made it to the College World Series, as the University of Houston went down to the University of Texas.
So no Blue Jays draftees on display, why would anyone want to watch? Well, there will be some of the amazing talent from the 2015 draft class on display, highlighted by the incredible pitching staffs of Vanderbilt and Viriginia. Vandy's Commodores probably profited the most out of all college teams from the stricter draft bonus rules that went into effect in 2012, as they managed to hold on to Walker Buehler, Carson Fulmer and Dansby Swanson, the 50th, 123rd and 138th prospects on Baseball America's top 500 that year. Behind Beede, Buehler and Fulmer the Commodores even have a 4th starter who has a fastball that can sit mid-90s, which is Tyler Ferguson. If any team is going to get close to Rice's "big three" rotation of triple top 8 picks in one draft, it could be this Commodores team in 2015, although I do think next year's class is too deep for that to happen. Besides their powerful rotation and star 2B Swanson, Vanderbilt also features a shutdown bullpen and an impressive freshman in outfielder Bryan Reynolds.
The University of Virginia Cavaliers didn't need as much help from the new draft bonus rules, as their current ace Nathan Kirby simply didn't take the mandatory drug test, thereby declaring himself ineligible for the draft. Kirby, a legitimate contender for the first overall pick in 2015, is backed up by two fellow sophomores in pitchability lefty Brandon Waddell and power righty Josh Sborz, while senior Artie Lewicki is also a possibility to get starts. The Cavaliers also boost an impressive lineup with juniors Mike Papi and Derek Fisher who were drafted back-to-back in this year's supplemental first round. If Virginia can take a lead into the late innings, they have their premium closer, Nick Howard (19th overall this year), to rely on.
In keeping with the theme established, the Louisville Cardinals have a potential top ten 2015 draft pick in the rotation. This time it's Kyle Funkhouser, a guy with some serious top of the rotation stuff, although he does need to work on his command a bit. Beyond Funkhouser, there are no players who really stand out, but Louisville's rotation is very solid and they've got no less than 6 postion players with an OBP over .400. If you like changeups, I hear Cardinal starter Anthony Kidston has a very good one. If you like power arms from the bullpen, you might like to see Nick Burdi come out to close a game for Louisville. The Cardinals will not have an easy game, as they will be up against Vanderbilt to start off.
Like Louisville, but possible even better, the Ole Miss Rebels have a lineup full of solid hitters, even though none of them were drafted higher than the 5th round, which is where outfielder Auston Bousfield was drafted. Their highest 2014 draft pick was Chris Ellis, their top starting pitcher, who got drafted in the third round. The bullpen for Mississippi is also very good, continuing the theme of "solid or better all around". With almost all of the key members of the squad already drafted, next year's team isn't likely to be nearly as good, but this year's team should very much be a feared opponent, even for a top team like Virginia.
Out of the three Texan universities to make it to Omaha, Texas Christian University is probably the one with highest profile players. Lefty Brandon Finnegan was a first-round pick by the Kansas City Royals, and unlike fellow first-rounder Tyler Beede there are no questions about Finnegan's performances on the mound, just concerns about the long-term health of his shoulder. TCU's rotation also has the seemingly rare pitchability righty in Preston Morrison, who doesn't throw hard but throws strikes very well. And then there's one of the better freshman hurlers in college baseball in Tyler Alexander, who sits 88-92 with very good command and could be a high draft pick next year as a draft eligible sophomore. The hitters are not the strongest point of the Horned Frogs, though Kevin Cron's name might ring a bell, as C.J. Cron's brother was once considered a potential high draft pick. Closer Riley Ferrell can reach the upper-90s and will likely be a high draft pick next year, and there is talk of him moving to the rotation, which would further increase his draft stock.
TCU's opponent, the Texas Tech Raiders, make their first ever appearance at the College World Series. The underdogs in a bracket which included the University of Florida and the University of Miami, Texas Tech ended up beating the College of Charleston in two very close games to become an even bigger underdog in Omaha. Though the Raiders' offense isn't great and scored only two runs in two games against Charleston, they do have some intriguing hitters. Eric Gutierrez is first baseman who is just 5'8 "tall", but he has the rare gift of being able to hit for power without striking out a lot. Tyler Neslony is probably the more interesting player to watch with the 2015 draft in mind, as the left fielder hit .392/.474/.622 in a year and draft class where offense is very hard to find. The Raiders' rotation is headlined by 6th rounder Chris Sadberry, and impressive freshman Dylan Dusek. Their bullpen is neither a strength nor a weakness.
The University of Texas, in stark contrast to Texas Tech, will go to the College World Series for the 35th time already. Despite losing their top starting pitcher Dillon Peters to an elbow injury just before this year's draft, which meant Peters slipped to the tenth round, the rotation for the Longhorns has been surprisingly good. Senior Nathan Thornhill and junior Parker French have had solid, if unspectacular, seasons which earned them the honor of being picked in the 13th and 19th rounds of the Draft, respectively. I'm more intrigued by their offense though, which has names to watch for both the 2015 and 2016 draft, as catcher Tres Barrera had a very solid freshman season. Shortstop C.J. Hinojosa was big name in the 2012 draft, but although he has hit for average, he has lacked power. Senior Mark Payton (7th round) and sophomore Ben Johnson are solid outfielders. The bullpen for Texas is very strong and features closer John Curtiss, a 6th round pick in this year's draft.
The Longhorns will have to deal with the Anteaters, as UC Irvine caused an upset in the regionals by defeating the highly rated Oregon State Beavers, and then dispatching Oklahoma State as well. Possibly because their home park is often described as a "graveyard" or "prison", the Anteaters' position players don't have the most exciting batting lines. But third baseman Taylor Sparks still managed to get himself drafted in the second round, hitting for surprising power despite bad pitch recognition skills. Ace pitcher Andrew Morales had a dominant season and was also selected on the first day, while lefty Elliott Surrey also has an ERA under 2. Irvine's bullpen isn't the shutdown bullpen some of the other teams in the College World Series possess, so they'll hope to get lots of innings from their starters.
The College World Series starts tomorrow at 3 PM EST with the game between Texas and UC Irvine, followed by the afternoon game of Vanderbilt versus Louisville at 8 PM. You can see the full schedule here, all games will be broadcast live on ESPN or ESPN2. The tournament format is double-elimination brackets (lose two and you're done, basically) followed by a best-of-three final series.