We’re through the first month of the Division I college baseball season. Slow starters still have the opportunity to right the ship, while those outperforming expectations have to prove they can sustain that production long-term. Nothing is yet set in stone. Still, we now have a few weeks of data to supplement our preseason expectations; that’s particularly notable in 2021, where leagues like the ACC and Big Ten have already gotten into conference play, testing some of the nation’s best teams quite early in the year.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few programs and players who seem to have meaningfully altered their stock over the season’s first few weeks.
The Irish are off to a 7-2 start, entirely in conference play. They’ve taken each of their first three series against Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia (a sweep). The ACC might be as deep in 2021 as it has ever been, so there’ll have to be a few talented teams at the bottom of the league that don’t earn an NCAA tournament bid. Entering the year, Notre Dame looked to be one of those bubble teams, but their fast start now has them in a strong position. Not only does the roster look better than expected, they’ve banked victories against three other potential bubble teams in conference.
First baseman Niko Kavadas has big power and was expected to mash. He’s more than living up to his end of the bargain so far, hitting .313/.432/.813 with five home runs over his first 41 plate appearances. Kavadas has been one of the better offensive players in the country for a while, but that wasn’t true of Jared Miller (.462/.512/.795) until this year. The senior second baseman already has seven extra-base hits, including three homers; he had fourteen extra-base hits (and just one homer) over his first three college seasons combined.
Shane McGuire, San Diego
Shane McGuire (the younger brother of former first rounder and current Blue Jays backstop Reese McGuire) isn’t one of the most famous players in college baseball but he’s among the most productive. Also a catcher, Shane has long been adept at reaching base but added significantly more power to his game in 2021. After hitting one home run apiece over his first three years on campus, he’s already popped five this season. In no small part because of McGuire, the Toreros are 11-3 and riding an eight-game win streak.
Benjamin Cowles, Maryland
Despite being limited to eight games to this point because of the Big Ten’s delayed start to the season, Cowles is the only shortstop in the country with at least six home runs. The Terps entered the year as something of a sleeper in the Big Ten behind star first baseman Maxwell Costes and ace Sean Burke. Cowles’ emergence as a two-way threat would go a long way to bolstering their chances of making a run. The junior has done most of his damage so far against Rutgers. It’ll be fascinating to see if he continues to mash as Maryland faces some of the top teams in the conference moving forward.
The Sycamores have emerged as a quality mid-major program over the past few years. They’ve built a strong non-conference resume in the early going. After losing two of three against Pittsburgh, Indiana State has split a four-game set with Tennessee, swept Florida International, and taken a series from a nationally-ranked Florida Atlantic team. ISU and perennial powerhouse Dallas Baptist have a good shot at getting multiple NCAA tournament bids from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Indiana State’s a veteran team, led by a few redshirt seniors. Geremy Guerrero and Javin Drake are performing well as weekend starters, while catcher/outfielder Max Wright is leading the lineup with a .360/.515/.600 line. The roster isn’t star-studded or loaded with prospects, but an experienced core that got to a regional final in 2019 is back at it again.
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