Arms define College World Series semifinalists
Virginia set for duel with Florida; nightcap features Vanderbilt-TCU matchup
OMAHA, Neb. -- After Texas Christian reliever Trey Teakell shut down Paul Mainieri's Louisiana State team with 4 1/3 scoreless innings in an elimination game Thursday night, the Tigers' coach mused on the importance of pitching at the College World Series.
"Listen, TCU's got a tremendous pitching staff," Mainieri said. "Their team ERA is 2.30. They don't do that by accident. They've got a lot of great arms. Vanderbilt does, Florida does, Virginia does."
The four teams that Mainieri cited brought the deepest pitching staffs to the CWS. Not coincidentally, they're the four left standing.
Thanks in large part to a switch to flatter-seamed balls by the NCAA this year, offense is up at TD Ameritrade Park. Teams are averaging 4.4 runs per game at the CWS this June, up from 3.3 in the previous four years it was held at TDA. Yet the Cavaliers, Commodores, Gators and Horned Frogs have permitted an average of just 2.0 runs in their 10 contests.
Quality pitching will be on display again in the semifinals on Friday. The first game will pit left-hander Nathan Kirby (Virginia), a Brewers supplemental first-round pick, against right-hander Logan Shore (Florida), a projected first-rounder in 2016. Kirby hasn't pitched since April 17 because of a lat strain behind his pitching shoulder, but he has a 91-94 mph fastball and a plus slider when he's at his best. Shore relies on a similar fastball and an advanced changeup.
The nightcap likely will feature righty Walker Buehler (Vanderbilt), a Dodgers first-rounder, against lefty Tyler Alexander (Texas Christian), a Tigers second-rounder. Buehler is capable of showing four solid-or-better pitches with command, while Alexander is a control specialist with an upper-80s fastball.
Should the Gators and Horned Frogs win on Friday and force rematches on Saturday, the scheduled starters will be no less impressive. Florida would trot out another likely 2016 first-rounder in left-hander A.J. Puk, while Virginia would do the same with right-hander Connor Jones. Vanderbilt would turn to righty Carson Fulmer, MLBPipeline.com's top-rated pitching prospect in the 2015 Draft and the No. 8 overall choice by the White Sox, to face Texas Christian righty Preston Morrison, a Cubs eighth-rounder.
The Cavaliers (Dodgers supplemental second-rounder Josh Sborz), Gators (Braves ninth-rounder Taylor Lewis) and Horned Frogs (Astros third-rounder Riley Ferrell) all have closers who were selected early in the 2015 Draft. The same is true of three more starters -- Texas Christian's Alex Young (D-backs, second round), Vanderbilt's Philip Pfeifer (Dodgers, third), Virginia's Brandon Waddell (Pirates, fifth) -- who probably won't pitch this weekend but have been outstanding in Omaha, allowing one run in a combined 21 2/3 innings.
Despite all that pitching, the most prominent prospect in Omaha is Vanderbilt shortstop Dansby Swanson, the No. 1 overall pick by the D-backs on June 8. Swanson was named Most Outstanding Player at the 2014 CWS as the Commodores won their first national title, but he has gone 0-for-8 in his first two games this June. He, Fulmer and Buehler made Vanderbilt just the fifth school to have three first-rounders in the same Draft.
Slick-fielding Florida shortstop Richie Martin was a first-round pick (Athletics), too, and outfielders Harrison Bader (Florida/Cardinals) and Rhett Wiseman (Vanderbilt/Nationals) were third-rounders. The Gators and Commodores also boast several potential first-rounders in the next two Drafts. Vanderbilt has outfielders Jeren Kendall and Brian Reynolds, and Florida has catchers Mike Rivera and J.J. Schwarz and outfielder Buddy Reed.
The first time Friday's combatants met in Omaha, pitching dominated. Pfeifer outdueled Young for a 1-0 victory, while Waddell and Sborz combined to beat Florida by the same score. If the arms lined up for the weekend are any indication, there won't be much offense in the semifinals either.
Virginia at Florida, 3 p.m. ET (Florida eliminated with loss)
Texas Christian at Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET (Texas Christian eliminated with loss)