College baseball: 10 early contenders for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award
USA Baseball released its Golden Spikes preseason watch list on Feb. 9, highlighting the 55 student-athletes contending for the best amateur baseball player honors.
That sample will be cut down as the season progresses and the cream of the crop rises. But NCAA.com staff members Wayne Cavadi, Andrew Cyr and Anthony Chiusano attempted to narrow down the list before the season gets underway Friday. Below are our picks for the top 10 contenders for the 2018 Golden Spikes Award:
|Luken Baker||DH/ 1B||Big 12||TCU|
|Seth Beer||1B/ OF||ACC||Clemson|
|Jeremy Eierman||SS||MVC||Missouri State|
|Nick Madrigal||2B||Pac-12||Oregon State|
|Travis Swaggerty||OF||Sun Belt||South Alabama|
|Matt Wallner||OF/RHP||C-USA||Southern Miss|
Note: All student-athletes listed in alphabetical order
Wayne Cavadi: Luken Baker, TCU
Here’s what we know: TCU will be in the hunt for Omaha and Luken Baker will hit. That’s just what they both do. Baker hit .379 with 16 doubles and 11 home runs as a freshman in 2016, and was on pace to at least match if not better those numbers before a May injury ended his 2017 season.
“I’m ready to go, I don’t feel any lingering effects," Baker told NCAA.com on Jan. 22. "I’ve felt 100 percent since two or three weeks after I was fully cleared. I’m excited to get back out there and win a championship.”
I tend to agree with Andrew here that playing as much DH as Baker does may hurt him down the road. Seeing that A.J. Reed and Brendan McKay are two of the more recent Golden Spikes winners, all-around play definitely comes into the decision. That said, if Baker is at the heart of a lineup making its fifth straight trip to Omaha, he can’t be denied consideration.
Andrew Cyr: Seth Beer, Clemson
Cyr: Griffin Conine, Duke
As Wayne had pointed out, the Blue Devils haven't gone above .500 in conference play since the 2014 season. If this is the year Duke finally emerges from the middle of the pack within the ACC, the Blue Devils will need hefty production from the junior outfielder Conine. Although his 2017 stats aren’t as eye-popping as some of the other top outfielders around the country — .298/.425/.546 65 hits, 13 home runs, 56 RBI — Conine has one of the highest upsides heading into the season after a terrific summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“I started off not too hyped. I’m getting a lot of attention now, it’s not something I’ve had before,” Conine, a D1baseball.com preseason first-team All-American told NCAA.com. “I don’t think it changed anything for me. It’s cool to get these preseason honors, but it’s weird because I didn’t do anything to accomplish them. It’s what they are predicting. It's a huge honor, but I want the ones at the end of the season for our team.”
Cyr: Jeremy Eierman, Missouri State
Eierman is my personal preseason favorite to win the 2018 Golden Spikes Award, and if his jump from freshman to sophomore year was any indication, this season should be a special one. Coming off an impressive 2017 campaign where the Bears finished 43-20 and made an appearance in the Super Regional, Eierman displayed serious power, finishing with .313/.431/.675 splits, 23 home runs, 68 RBIs, 15 doubles and 76 hits. Check out the jump he took from 2016 to 2017:
At 6-1, 205 pounds, Eierman has a bigger frame than a traditional shortstop, but his athleticism is far from an issue for him in the middle infield. He made only 10 errors in 178 attempts last season (.962 fielding percentage) and was successful in 17 of his 19 stolen base attempts. Eierman played some third base for Team USA over the summer and could move to the corner infield at the next level, but for now you can mark him as one of the top handful — if not the best — shortstops in the country,
Anthony Chiusano: Nick Madrigal, Oregon State
From Dustin Pedroia to Jose Altuve, there are plenty of flattering comparisons that fit Madrigal’s play for the Beavers. The junior slashed .380/.449/.532 at the plate in 2017 and boasted one of the best gloves in the nation in the middle of the infield. He also has sneaky power, cranking four homers and 20 doubles last year. Reminder: He’s listed at only 5-8, 165 pounds.
One amazing stat on Nick. In 432 at bats with the Beavers, he has struck out just 30 times (and walked 42 times).— Oregon State Baseball (@BeaverBaseball) January 23, 2018
That's an average of one K per every 14.4 at bats. That's basically one strikeout per series.
That is phenomenal.#GoBeavs pic.twitter.com/kdagTBlX5O
The do-it-all Madrigal returns to an Oregon State team that went 56-6 last year before falling in the College World Series semis. Seven starting position players return in all, including Madrigal’s running mate at the top of the order in Steven Kwan. The duo combined for 85 runs scored in 2017.
Madrigal was a semifinalist in last year’s Golden Spikes Award race. With his all-around game on a highly-talented team expected to get back to Omaha, Madrigal should be a popular pick to win the award this season.
Cavadi: Casey Mize, Auburn
What needs to be said about Mize? He is the ace of a solid Auburn squad and is already high on top of everyone’s draft boards. He has three pitches he throws well, as evidenced by a ridiculous 109-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 83.2 innings last year. Pitching in the SEC, and successfully at that, tends to give a player the upper hand.
Cyr: Brady Singer, Florida
After pitchers dominated the Golden Spikes for a decade from 2000-09 with six winning the award, there hasn’t been a true pitcher to win since UCLA’s Trevor Bauer did so in 2011. If there ever was a pitcher to break that trend, Singer has the potential to do so.
After breaking through in the CWS last year where he picked up two wins, including Game 1 of the finals where he tallied a CWS-record 12 strikeouts in a 4-3 win, Singer is widely regarded as the top pitching prospect this year’s upcoming MLB draft. He finished 2017 with a 9-5 record, 3.21 ERA and 129 strikeouts over 126 innings. Playing in the SEC is never easy for any pitcher, but the unanimous preseason first-team All-American has the stuff to be even more dominant in 2018.
FILTHY (filTHē)— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) June 27, 2017
1. disgustingly dirty.
2. Brady Singer last night. pic.twitter.com/4Gn1t17JcI
Cavadi: Travis Swaggerty, South Alabama
South Alabama is one of the trendier teams with darkhorse appeal this preseason. The Jaguars still fly under the radar a bit playing in the Sun Belt Conference, which may hurt Swaggerty’s appeal on the national level. But as Anthony said, if you can play baseball, you can play baseball.
Swaggerty has the tools to take Golden Spikes honors a la Kyle Lewis from Mercer in 2016. He had a big freshman campaign and improved in every aspect of his game as a sophomore (.356/.484/.571, 12 doubles, 11 home runs, 19 stolen bases in 2017). Swaggerty has performed well on the big stage in both the NCAA postseason and this past summer with Team USA. If the Jaguars are going to be as good as most think, it’s because Swaggerty is putting up Golden Spikes numbers.
Chiusano: Matt Wallner, Southern Miss
Let’s take a look at the past four winners of the Golden Spikes: Brendan McKay (1B/P), Kyle Lewis (OF), Andrew Benintendi (OF), A.J. Reed (1B/P). Two-way play has long been lauded in college baseball, and this recent history shows how important it may be when it comes to award season.
Wallner can be the top two-way player in the nation this year after a very promising freshman season. The lefty-hitting outfielder/right-handed pitcher led So. Miss with 19 homers and a .655 slugging percentage in 2017 en route to being named the nation’s Freshman Hitter of the Year. On the mound, he had three saves but was limited to nine appearances due to a hip injury. Whether he's used as a reliever or starter, Wallner will toe the rubber plenty more times in 2018. And if he can juggle both roles like McKay did so well for three seasons, we may see a two-way player lift the hardware for the third time in five years.
Congrats are in order to Matt Wallner who made the Golden Spikes Award watch list pic.twitter.com/RV1eUjrAbP— SouthernMissBaseball (@SouthernMissBSB) February 9, 2018
Chiusano: Zach Watson, LSU
Simply put, Watson was a stud last year as a freshman. On an experienced squad that reached the CWS finals, it was Watson who led LSU with a .317 average to go along with 21 extra base hits (nine homers), 37 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. His mix of power and speed helped earn him third team NCBWA preseason All-America honors entering 2018.
It’s worth wondering how Watson will develop, now forced into a larger spotlight as one of the many young Tigers looking to fill big shoes left behind by last year’s departures. But Watson already gave a glimpse of what he can do on the biggest of stages under the most immense pressure — he batted .346 with a home run in seven games in Omaha last year.
Alec Bohm, Wichita State — I had a hard time deciding between he or his teammate Greyson Jenista, but Bohn has a little more over-the-fence pop which, let’s face it, makes a player stand out above the rest (see Seth Beer). (Cavadi)
Logan Gilbert, Stetson — Gilbert hasn’t lost since April 17, 2016, a game he started and allowed a whopping two runs. Any other questions? (Cavadi)
Steven Gingery, Texas Tech — Don’t forget Gingery when considering arms that can end the drought of pitchers winning this award. The lefty had the second-best ERA in the nation last year among 2018 returners (1.58) and finished 10-1 in a very tough Big 12 conference. (Chiusano)
Tyler Holton, Florida State — The southpaw led all returning pitchers with 144 strikeouts in 2017 and guided FSU to an appearance in Omaha. He also batted .244 with two homers. With improvements at the plate, he could challenge Wallner as the nation’s top dual threat. (Chiusano)
Shane McClanahan, South Florida — If this award was handed out purely for best stuff, McClanahan would be a no-brainer. Last season the lefty struck out 104 hitters in just 76 innings. Expect to see a jump for McClanahan, however, not facing ACC or SEC-caliber lineups like some of the other pitchers on this list could hurt his stock. (Cyr)
Tristan Pompey, Kentucky — Pompey is a phenomenal contact hitter, batting .361 in 2017 with 96 hits. If he can improve his power (17 home runs combined in his first two years), expect to hear Pompey’s name be thrown around with more serious consideration this year. (Cyr)