It's never too early to start thinking about next season.
LSU and Texas played for the national title this past season and are expected to return to the College World Series in 2010.
The Tigers welcome back ace pitcher Anthony Ranaudo and a talented collection of hitters. The Longhorns, meanwhile, welcome back the nation's best weekend rotation and a talented pitching staff headlined by Austin Dicharry.
Cal State Fullerton and Virginia bring back many key cogs and are expected to make a return trip to Omaha.
Rice, Florida State, Florida and UC Irvine round out our field of eight.
The Owls welcome back a productive offense and are in excellent shape if ace pitcher Ryan Berry decides to return for his senior season. Florida State exceeded its expectations this past season and is primed for an even better run next spring. Florida was a young team and reached a super regional this past season and UC Irvine is in fabulous shape if ace pitcher Danny Bibona returns for another campaign.
Next season will be here before we know it.
Could change if: First baseman Brandon Belt is the only returning starter the Longhorns are waiting on to make a decision about his future. Belt was drafted by San Francisco in the fifth round of the MLB Draft and was UT's leading hitter last season. UT is still in great shape if Belt departs, but his return would be icing on the cake.
The skinny: After a three-year hiatus from the College World Series, the Longhorns made a return trip this past season and played LSU for the national title. That was with one of the nation's youngest pitching staffs. The 'Horns certainly will have the tough chore of replacing position players such as Travis Tucker, Michael Torres and Preston Clark in addition to pitcher Austin Wood. However, they return the nucleus of the team in weekend starting pitchers Chance Ruffin, Taylor Jungmann and Cole Green. They also welcome back do-it-all pitcher Austin Dicharry. Offense once again will be a concern, but Kevin Keyes and Cameron Rupp expect to have banner campaigns. Still, UT's pitching staff will be fabulous next season.
Could change if: The Owls return a wealth of key players, but their situation could be a little different if ace pitcher Ryan Berry decides to sign a pro contract or isn't 100 percent healthy next spring. Baltimore drafted Berry in the ninth round of the MLB Draft and supposedly is prepared to make an offer well-above slot. Rice sources, however, are still confident he will return for his senior campaign. The Owls feel the same way about catcher Diego Seastrunk, a 31st round pick of San Francisco.
The skinny: If the Owls aren't paired up with LSU in the Baton Rouge Super Regional, there's a very good chance they make another trip to Omaha last season. However, they were forced to play with the hand the NCAA dealt them and LSU went on to win the national title. The Owls will have to get through next season without starting pitcher Mike Ojala, but are still in good shape with the possible return of Ryan Berry and the return of Taylor Wall. The Owls also are confident Matt Evers will return to his old self. Though the pitching staff has some questions to answer during the offseason, the offense is in great shape with the likely return of Diego Seastrunk in addition to Anthony Rendon, Rick Hague, Chad Mozingo, Michael Fuda and Steven Sultzbaugh.
Could change if: The Tigers will lose key cog Louis Coleman and likely will lose Ryan Schimpf, Jared Mitchell and DJ LeMahieu. LSU also could lose Blake Dean to the draft, but sources close to the situation have said there's a great chance Dean returns for another season. The Tigers still are in OK shape if Dean signs a pro contract. But his return would be more than huge for the Tigers.
The skinny: LSU may have a tough time winning back-to-back national titles without several key players from the 2009 national title team, but is expected to return to Omaha with the return of several arms. LSU starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo had a fabulous '09 campaign and should be even better next season. The Tigers also welcome back sophomore Matty Ott, who had an amazing freshman campaign. There's Austin Ross, Daniel Bradshaw, Paul Bertuccini and Chad Jones. The Tigers will have some tough holes to fill at the plate, but Mikie Mahtook, Austin Nola, Tyler Hanover, Micah Gibbs and Leon Landry at least give them a strong nucleus of experienced position players. LSU is really in business if Dean decides to return for another season.
Cal State Fullerton
Could change if: The Titans had several players selected in the MLB Draft and already know who must be replaced. Josh Fellhauer, Jared Clark, Joe Scott, Dustin Garneau and Khris Davis have signed pro contracts. Reliever Michael Morrison has yet to sign and his return to the program would be a win for Dave Serrano's club. The Titans still are in fantastic shape despite some significant departures.
The skinny: Fullerton has the returning pieces to make a strong run at the national title next season. Sure, it must replace several key cogs, including power hitters Khris Davis and Jared Clark. But they welcome back plenty of talented offensive players, such as Christian Colon, Gary Brown, Nick Ramirez and Joey Siddons. Fullerton also welcomes back Corey Jones and Carlos Lopez, which missed last season because of injuries. The pitching staff is in excellent shape for next season. Weekend starters Daniel Renken, Noe Ramirez and Tyler Pill are back in the mix. Nick Ramirez also will be back on the mound in addition to Kyle Mertins, Ryan Ackland and possibly Morrison. This, of course, is not including the addition of several talented newcomers. The Titans aren't flawless but should feel very good about their situation for next spring.
Could change if: Unless Matt Packer and Tyler Cannon surprise everyone by signing pro contracts, the Cavaliers are full speed ahead this summer. Virginia will miss pitchers Andrew Carraway and Robert Poutier, but welcome back more than enough key cogs from the first CWS team in school history.
The skinny: The Cavaliers were pleased with making their first CWS appearance this past season, but next season is all about winning a national title. Virginia will have the players to do it, too. Virginia welcomes back one of the nation's best one-two punches on the mound in Danny Hultzen and Robert Morey. They also welcome back relievers Tyler Wilson, Kevin Arico and possibly Matt Packer. The offense is in fabulous shape. Leading hitters Dan Grovatt, Jarrett Parker and Tyler Cannon are back in the mix, and they also return Steven Proscia, Phil Gosselin, John Hicks, Keith Werman and Franco Valdes. The Cavaliers won't have any huge holes to fill next spring. As a result, they should once again compete for the national title. They should be back in Omaha.
Could change if: Not much could change for the Seminoles before next season arrives. The Seminoles already know they'll be without Jason Stidham and Jimmy Marshall, which have signed professional contracts. They also will be without captain Ruari O'Connor, who was a senior this past season.
The skinny: The '09 season was expected to be a rebuilding campaign. The young Seminoles, however, didn't receive the memo. The Seminoles put together another fantastic campaign and coach Mike Martin did a job that should be commended. A year older and wiser next season, the Seminoles expect to experience a wealth of success and make a return trip to Omaha. Sean Gilmartin, Brian Busch and Mike McGee once again will anchor the weekend rotation and Geoff Parker also will be back after making 31 appearances this past spring. At the plate, Stephen Cardullo, Tyler Holt and Mike McGee will spearhead what should be one of the nation's best lineups. The 'Noles once again are ready for compete for the national title.
Could change if: The Gators have a few key players to replace such as Avery Barnes, Patrick Keating, Billy Bullock, Brandon McArthur and Stephen Locke, but they also welcome back several key cogs. The only additional damage that could be done to the Gators is if Matt den Dekker decides to sign a pro contract despite getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 16th round.
The skinny: Florida definitely isn't the most likely team out of this group to get to Omaha for the first time since '05 next season, but it is a good bet. The Gators will be without some key players next season. However, they also welcome back several key cogs, both at the plate and on the mound. Alex Panteliodis, Anthony DeSclafani and Nick Maronde will spearhead a talented pitching staff. Josh Adams, Preston Tucker and Matt den Dekker will lead a lineup that should be very productive. The Gators have a few holes to fill but will have more than enough talent to get to Omaha. UF reached the super regional round this past season before Southern Mississippi derailed its dreams.
Could change if: There's not a team on this list that could be affected more by the MLB Draft than the Anteaters. Irvine ace pitcher Danny Bibona only was a 16th round pick to St. Louis, but sources close to the situation say that the left-hander is leaning toward signing with the Cardinals by the August 17 deadline. For now, we're going to assume Bibona decides to return for his senior season.
The skinny: The Anteaters are in excellent shape if Bibona decides to return for another campaign. While Bibona is the headliner for the UCI pitching staff, the 'Eaters also will welcome back Crosby Slaught, Christian Bergman and Eric Pettis. That is a strong nucleus of pitchers from a production and leadership standpoint. Even without shortstop Ben Orloff, the Irvine offense should be improved next spring. Ronnie Shaeffer, Tommy Reyes, Casey Stevenson and Francis Larson had productive '09 campaigns and DJ Crumlich also showed that he could be productive. He just needs to establish some consistency. The offense will be better and the pitching staff also will be good. How good hinges on whether Bibona returns for another season.
- Cal State Fullerton