Top programs ready for action with recent Draft picks on display
By Cash Kruth
The College World Series once again returns to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., as college baseball looks to crown its champion.
The two-bracket, double-elimination tournament begins Saturday and concludes with a best-of-three championship series from June 27-29.
Below is a breakdown of how each team reached Omaha, their strengths and prospects to watch:
No. 1 seed Florida How they got here: The nation's top overall seed stormed its way through Regionals, going a perfect 3-0 by beating Bethune-Cookman, Connecticut and Georgia Tech. The Gators dropped their first game in Super Regionals to in-state rival Florida State, but blanked the Seminoles in the next two games.
Why they might win it: The Gators have been the favorite since January, topping D1Baseball.com's preseason rankings. They entered the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and are back in Omaha for the 11th time since 1988 thanks in large part to their dominant pitching.
Prospects to watch: The Gators had seven players selected in this year's Draft, highlighted by left-hander A.J. Puk (No. 6, A's), right-hander Dane Dunning (No. 29, Nationals), right-hander Logan Shore (second round, A's), outfielder Buddy Reed (second round, Padres) and first baseman Pete Alonso (second round, Mets).
No. 3 Miami How they got here: The Hurricanes went undefeated in Regional play, escaping with two one-run victories over Long Beach State. They dropped the middle game in the best-of-three Super Regionals against Boston College before winning Game 3.
Why they might win it: The Hurricanes return to Omaha with many of the same faces as last year. They also have a balanced, powerful lineup, led by catcher Zack Collins, and lead the nation in fielding percentage.
Prospects to watch: Catcher Zack Collins (No. 10, White Sox) is hitting .357 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs, while outfielder Willie Abreu (sixth round, Rockies) is another impact bat (.286 average, 12 homers and 56 RBIs). Right-handed reliever Bryan Garcia (sixth round, Tigers) has a 1.95 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 37 innings.
No. 5 Texas Tech How they got here: The Red Raiders advanced out of Regionals by beating Dallas Baptist in the final. They then dropped their Super Regional opener against East Carolina, survived a 13-inning win and posted an 11-0 rout.
Why they might win it: The Red Raiders have a versatile lineup that can hit for average, power and get on base. They also have experience, with several players returning from the 2014 College World Series team.
Prospects to watch: Outfielders Stephen Smith (10th round, D-backs) and Tyler Neslony (ninth round, Braves) each hit 10 home runs this season, while right-hander Ryan Moseley (eighth round, Orioles) has appeared in 23 games (four starts).
Oklahoma State How they got here: The Cowboys are undefeated this postseason, outscoring their opponents, 35-6. They twice beat Clemson at Clemson in Regional action before knocking out South Carolina in consecutive games on the Gamecocks' home field in Super Regionals.
Why they might win it: Oklahoma State features a patient lineup that makes pitchers work and steady fielders who don't make mistakes. The Cowboys also are one of the more experienced teams in Omaha.
Prospects to watch: Ace Thomas Hatch (third round, Cubs) leads the pitching staff, going 8-2 with a 2.04 ERA, while another Cubs' pick, Trey Cobb (12th round), posted a 3.33 ERA. Lefty Garett Williams (seventh round, Giants) also has a big arm, while righty Tyler Buffett (seventh round, Astros) joins him in the 'pen. Shortstop Donnie Walton (fifth round, Mariners) hit .342 with 14 stolen bases.
UC Santa Barbara How they got here: The Gauchos provided the most memorable moment of the postseason thus far, hitting a walk-off grand slam to beat Louisville, 4-3, in Super Regionals and advance to Omaha. Santa Barbara is undefeated in the NCAA Tournament.
Why they might win it: The Gauchos are this year's Cinderella story after the walk-off grand slam, and they could be the crowd favorite. They play small ball and aren't particularly dominant in any phase of the game, but if they get the lead, they can trust it in the hands of closer Kyle Nelson for multiple innings.
Prospects to watch: Right-hander Shane Bieber (fourth round, Indians) is a workhorse, posting a 2.84 ERA in 17 starts (four complete games). Outfielder Andrew Calico (11th round, Indians) is a big part of the offense, as is 2017 prospect Austin Bash (11 homers).
Arizona How they got here: The Wildcats swept a doubleheader against Louisiana Lafayette to advance to Super Regionals, where they earned two one-run victories -- the final in 11 innings -- over host Mississippi State.
Why they might win it: The Wildcats are a scrappy bunch that rely on several pitchers instead of one ace. They've already been victorious in hostile environments this postseason, so being in Omaha shouldn't phase them.
Prospects to watch: Bobby Dalbec (fourth round, Red Sox) impacts the game with his bat (.270, seven homers) and arm (2.92 ERA), while sophomore first baseman J.J. Matijevic (.292, 16 doubles) is a name to remember for next June. Righty Kevin Ginkel (22nd round, D-backs) is reliable out of the 'pen.
Texas Christian How they got here: The Horned Frogs saw little resistance in Regional play, going 3-0 and outscoring their opponents, 19-4. TCU dropped the middle game of its Super Regional matchup with Texas A&M before winning the finale.
Why they might win it: TCU is playing as well as anybody at this point, particularly its pitching staff. The Horned Frogs aren't afraid to steal bases, which could help them win the small-ball game that so often occurs in Omaha.
Prospects to watch: TCU rode many of its youngsters to Omaha, including sophomore catcher Evan Skoug (.299, nine homers, 20 doubles) and freshman Luken Baker, a two-way player who hit .379 with nine homers at first base and went 3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 10 starts on the mound.
Coastal Carolina How they got here: The Chanticleers advanced to Omaha by sweeping Louisiana State at raucous Alex Box Stadium in Super Regionals. They opened NCAA Tournament action by winning the Raleigh Regional, taking two of three from NC State.
Why they might win it: Power. The Chanticleers lead the nation in home runs, though that might not play at cavernous TD Ameritrade Park. Although this is Coastal Carolina's first-ever appearance in Omaha, its players should be up to the task after winning in a tough environment at LSU.
Prospects to watch: Shortstop Michael Paez (fourth round, Mets) is a power-hitting shortstop who launched 15 home runs this season. Right-Hander Alex Cunningham (28th round, Tigers) went 9-3 with a 3.58 ERA working mostly as a starter, while second baseman Connor Owings (34th round, D-backs) hit .379 with 16 homers.
Cash Kruth is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @cashkruth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.