OMAHA, Neb. – The Road to Omaha has been filled with plenty of exciting moments and plenty of surprising twists. But now eight teams descend on Rosenblatt Stadium for two weeks for the final College World Series at the old stadium.
The event, of course, moves to a new downtown ballpark next year.
This year's CWS field is loaded with intriguing storylines.
Arizona State's Zack MacPhee and Riccio Torrez hope to carry a national title back to Arizona, the UCLA three-headed pitching monster of Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Rob Rasmussen hope to continue their magical ways. Then there's Oklahoma, which no one expected to be in Omaha this weekend.
We take an inside look at the best of the bunch for Omaha's field of eight.
TOP FIVE HITTERS
1. Arizona State 2B Zack MacPhee – MacPhee enters the CWS with a .394 batting average, nine homers and 64 RBIs. He also has a fantastic .491 OBP.
2. Arizona State 1B Riccio Torrez – Torrez has had a fabulous offensive campaign and enters the CWS with a .399 batting average, 10 homers and 53 RBIs.
3. Clemson OF Kyle Parker – The Tigers are tough to stop when Parker and others are hot. Parker is hitting .353 with 20 homers and 64 RBIs.
4. Oklahoma 3B Garrett Buechele – The Sooners are led at the plate by Buechele, who's hitting .371 with 16 homers and 64 RBIs.
5. South Carolina OF Jackie Bradley – Bradley has a high on-base percentage and is hitting .371 with 11 homers and 51 RBIs.
TOP FIVE STARTING PITCHERS
1. UCLA RHP Trevor Bauer – Bauer has recorded 141 strikeouts in 116 1/3 innigns of work this season. He's as consistent as it gets.
2. UCLA RHP Gerrit Cole – Cole is a power arm that enters the CWS with 138 strikeouts in 108 innings. Teams are hitting just .195 against him.
3. TCU LHP Matt Purke – The freshman rose to the occasion in a big way against Texas last weekend. Purke has struck out 133 batters and teams are hitting just .219 against him.
4. South Carolina RHP Blake Cooper – Cooper has had a veteran campaign to remember with a fabulous 2.81 ERA. Also, opponents are hitting Cooper at just a .227 clip.
5. UCLA LHP Rob Rasmussen – Rasmussen was absolutely fantastic against Cal State Fullerton last weekend and opponents are hitting just .208 off him. He is pitching with a wealth of confidence entering the CWS.
TOP FIVE RELIEVERS
1. Florida's Kevin Chapman – He has had a banner campaign for the Gators with a 1.48 ERA and 11 saves. Opponents are hitting him at a .183 clip.
2. UCLA's Dan Klein – The redshirt sophomore enters the CWS with a 1.93 ERA in 36 appearances. He has been incredibly consistent.
3. Arizona State's Jordan Swagerty – Swagerty has been a staple on the back end of the bullpen with a 2.06 ERA and 14 saves.
4. Arizona State's Mitchell Lambson – Lambson has appeared in 37 games this season and has a fabulous 2.10 ERA.
5. Florida State's Mike McGee – The two-way star has done a great job as closer, recording 12 saves and holding teams to a .125 batting average.
TOP FIVE DRAFT PROSPECTS
1. Clemson OF Kyle Parker – Parker enters the CWS with fantastic offensive numbers and will have a tough decision to make at the conclusion of the season after the Rockies drafted him in the first round of the MLB draft.
2. Arizona State RHP Seth Blair – Blair's stock greatly increased this season with an incredibly strong campaign on the mound. The talented righty was a first round supplemental pick by the Cardinals and hopes to help his leverage with a strong showing in Omaha.
3. UCLA LHP Rob Rasmussen – Anyone that saw Rasmussen in action against Cal State Fullerton last weekend knows why the Marlins took him in the second round of the MLB draft. Rasmussen has solid stuff and is pitching with a wealth of confidence entering the CWS.
4. Arizona State UTI Jordan Swagerty – Swagerty can take care of business at the plate, too, but the Sun Devils enjoy his services more on the mound, where he has recorded 14 saves in 33 appearances. His season got the attention of the Cardinals, who drafted him in the second round a couple of weeks ago.
5. UCLA RHP Dan Klein – Klein has had a fantastic season as a key reliever for the Bruins. He was drafted in the third round by the Orioles, but has a plethora of leverage as a redshirt sophomore. Klein really could help his leverage status with a strong showing in Omaha.
BEST OFFENSE: Arizona State
The Sun Devils aren't as power packed as they have been the past few years, but once again enter a CWS with a fantastic offense. The Devils are hitting .338 and have a plethora of solid hitters. Riccio Torrez and Zack MacPhee, who each are hitting over .390, lead the way at the plate. Also, the Sun Devils have five often-used players that head to Omaha hitting over .350. ASU almost is impossible to beat if its offense gets going. After all, the Sun Devils also happen to have a very solid pitching staff, too.
BEST PITCHING: UCLA
Only Texas has had as much of an argument for the nation's best pitching staff label this season. The Bruins enter the CWS with an amazing 2.97 ERA and have a plethora of talented pitchers to choose from. The fabulous weekend rotation of Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Rob Rasmussen leading the way. The bullpen also is in fantastic shape, though, with relievers Dan Klein, Matt Grace and Erik Goeddel leading the way. Garett Claypool, who can start or serve in relief, also is a fantastic arm for the Bruins. This team has unlimited options on the mound.
BEST DEFENSE: Florida
There are several teams in the CWS field that play solid defense, but no team has been as impressive this season as the Gators. UF enters the CWS with a fabulous .978 fielding percentage. In the infield, first baseman Preston Tucker has a .989 fielding percentage, second baseman Josh Adams has a .984 fielding percentage, shortstop Nolan Fontana has a fantastic .989 fielding percentage, third baseman Austin Maddox has a .945 fielding percentage and catcher Mike Zunino has a .995 fielding percentage. Also keep an eye on athletic outfielder Matt den Dekker.
BEST COACH: Florida State's Mike Martin
People can say what they want about the fact Martin is still searching for his first national title, but you can't argue with his overall record. Martin has led the Seminoles to the NCAA postseason in all 31 seasons in charge of the program. Additionally, Martin has guided the Seminoles to 14 CWS appearances. Clemson's Jack Leggett and South Carolina's Ray Tanner certainly have arguments, but Martin leads the way.
THE FAVORITE: Arizona State
The Sun Devils were put in a supposed difficult situation when long-time coach Pat Murphy was booted from the program last November. But instead of making his departure an issue, the Devils prospered and enter the CWS with a fabulous 52-8 record. Coach Tim Esmay has done a phenomenal job this season and the Devils are very balanced, entering the CWS with a .340 batting average and a 3.14 ERA. ASU plays excellent defense, pitches well and makes pitchers pay for mistakes. There are several reasons why ASU is the favorite to take the national title.
HOTTEST TEAM: TCU
The Horned Frogs made a statement early in the season with a road series win over Cal State Fullerton and haven't deviated from their ultimate plan. The Frogs dominated the Fort Worth Regional before hitting the road and taking two of three from a Texas team that many believed would move on to make the CWS and win the national title. In addition to hitting .340 entering the CWS, the Frogs also have an excellent pitching staff with freshman left-hander Matt Purke leading the way.