Commentary

Preseason baseball power ranks

Originally Published: February 11, 2014
By Eric Sorenson | Special to ESPN.com

Michael ConfortoAP Photo/The Oregonian/Ross William HamiltonOregon State junior outfielder Michael Conforto was the Pac-12 Player of the Year last season after he hit .328 with 11 home runs and 47 RBIs.

First pitch of the 2014 college baseball season is days away. To get you ready, here are ESPN.com's preseason top 20 power rankings.

The pursuit of the road to Omaha has no prohibitive favorites, so expect a wide-open race. We'll be here every week to update who is playing the best baseball and who is dropping off the radar. 

Until then: Play ball.

Note: The records listed are from the 2013 season.

1. Oregon State (52-13 overall, 24-6 Pac-12)

Returning Starters: 4; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0;
Key Relievers (15-plus innings): 5

Of note: LHP Ben Wetzler and RHP Scott Schultz turned down the MLB for their senior years, and the Beavers have power hitter Michael Conforto and Dylan Davis to spark the batting order.

2. NC State (50-16, 19-10 ACC)

Returning Starters: 5; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 3

Of note: This is the year to which Elliot Avent has been pointing. With LHP Carlos Rodon and SS/3B Trea Turner, the Wolf Pack have two of the top five players for this June's draft.

3. South Carolina (43-20, 17-12 SEC)

Returning Starters: 5; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: Year 2 of the Chad Holbrook era could end in Omaha, as LHP Jordan Montgomery, INF Joey Pankake and C Grayson Greiner lead an experienced squad that is out to make amends.

4. Indiana (49-16, 17-7 Big Ten)

Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 6

Of note: Nearly every key piece returns to the roster from last year's Omaha team, including All-American C Kyle Schwarber, top bat Dustin DeMuth and saves ace Ryan Halstead.

5. Kansas State (45-19, 16-8 Big 12)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 2; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: Last year's surprise Super Regional squad gets back 2B Ross Kivett and 1B Shane Conlon after both were drafted last June. The arms corps is still very well stocked for another run.

6. Oregon (48-16, 22-8 Pac-12)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 3; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: Pitching and defense are the hallmarks of the Ducks, as weekenders Tommy Thorpe and Jake Reed lead a deep mound staff. But the offense must hit better than last year's .258.

7. Cal State Fullerton (51-10, 23-4 Big West)

Returning Starters: 4; Weekend Starters: 3; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 3

Of note: Talk about pitching-heavy. The Titans return Freshmen All-Americans Thomas Eshelmen and Justin Garza. Plus, No. 10 overall draft pick RHP Phil Bickford will add another lethal arm.

8. Florida State (47-17, 20-10 ACC)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 5

Of note: The Seminoles have aces Brandon Leibrandt and Luke Weaver back, and they also return 2012 Freshman All-American Mike Compton from injury. OF D.J. Stewart is back to lead the offense.

9. Clemson (40-22, 18-12 ACC)

Returning Starters: 8; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 3; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: Eight field starters return to bolster the starting pitching of Matthew Crownover and Daniel Gossett. The Tigers also stole 111 bases last year, so expect the track meet to continue.

10. LSU (57-11, 23-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: 5; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 5

Of note: Coach Paul Mainieri lost a lot of senior leaders, but with staff ace Aaron Nola and super-sophs SS Alex Bregman and OF Mark Laird back, he has a trio of legit difference-makers.

11. Virginia (50-12, 22-8 ACC)

Returning Starters: 7; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 5

Of note: A bruising offense, led by Mike Papi, Brandon Downes and Derek Fisher is intimidating enough. And you know Brian O'Connor's teams always have quality pitching to boot.

12. Vanderbilt (54-12, 26-3 SEC)

Returning Starters: 2; Weekend Starters: 1; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 2

Of note: The past three recruiting classes have been top-five nationally, so this year's reload won't be too daunting. Returning RHPs Tyler Beede (14 wins) and Brian Miller (16 saves) are All-American types.

13. Mississippi State (51-20, 16-14 SEC)

Returning Starters: 5; Weekend Starters: 1; Midweek Starters: 2; Key Relievers: 5

Of note: The rich got richer. The Bulldogs picked up the second-ranked recruiting class, which will join talents such as Ross Mitchell (13-0) and Jonathan Holder (21 saves) on the hill and hulking 1B Wes Rea.

14. TCU (29-28, 13-12 Big 12)

Returning Starters: 7; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: The Horned Frogs had a team ERA of 2.78 last year and return nearly every hurler. The batting order is talent-rich with Boomer White and Kevin Cron, among others, but hit just .246 in 2013.

15. Florida (29-30, 14-16 SEC)

Returning Starters: 7; Weekend Starters: 1; Midweek Starters: 2; Key Relievers: 7

Of note: Ten of the top 13 pitchers return, as does former first-round draftee Karston Whitson, who sat out 2013. The Gators also bring in a top-flight recruiting class to fill the holes.

16. UCLA (49-17, 21-10 Pac-12)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 1; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 2

Of note: The defending national champs will keep any lead safe with David Berg (24 saves) and James Kaprelian back in the 'pen. The top four hitters, led by Kevin Kramer and base-stealing specialist Brian Carroll, return.

17. Miami (37-25, 14-16 ACC)

Returning Starters: 8; Weekend Starters: 3; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 2

Of note: The Canes get back 59 of last year's 62 starts on the mound, including sub-2.00 ERA lefties Chris Diaz and Bryan Radziewski. Incoming 1B Brad Zunica is a future first-round draft pick.

18. North Carolina (52-8, 21-7 ACC)

Returning Starters: 4; Weekend Starters: 1; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: A rebuilding season in Chapel Hill? Maybe. But don't expect a precipitous drop off, as 12-game winner Trent Thornton and RHP Benton Moss will keep things steady on the mound.

19. Oklahoma State (41-19, 13-10 Big 12)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 2; Midweek Starters: 0; Key Relievers: 4

Of note: Flingers such as Vince Wheeland, Mark Robinette and Tyler Nurdin will form a stout rotation, and the No. 5-ranked class will contribute to getting the Pokes back to national prominence.

20. Texas (27-24-1, 7-17 Big 12)

Returning Starters: 6; Weekend Starters: 3; Midweek Starters: 1; Key Relievers: 2

Of note: That last-place Big 12 finish was so un-UT. All three weekend starters -- Dillon Peters, Nathan Thornhill and Parker French -- return, and the offense features OF Mark Payton (.393) and SS CJ Hinojosa (.311).

Five on deck: Louisville, Rice, Alabama, Arizona State, Mercer

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