What we learned from the first weekend in college baseball

February 19, 2024

In short? Nothing. We learned absolutely nothing. What did you think I was going to write a story burying a kid and crowning another after one week? Get out of here. It’s one week. It’s entirely meaningless. This weekend will represent roughly five percent of the composite resume players will put together over the course of this entire spring. It was a fun little launching pad for the 2024 season, but mostly only that.

Some things that stand out? It was a good week to be a Duke. Chris Pollard’s squad blasted 16 homers over the course of three days. Five players (Alex Stone, AJ Gracia, Zac Morris, Devin Obee and Ben Miller) already have multiple long-balls this season and nine players in total have a round-tripper next to their name. That’ll do.

On the unfortunate receiving end of some of that carnage was George Mason. A year removed from a super regional, it was an uncharacteristic showing for the Patriots. The surrendered 58 runs in three games; 23 of which came at the hands of Duke. One of the more challenging showings in program history.

Over in Winston-Salem, righty Chase Burns looked like the best pitcher in college baseball supporting some of the whispers coming out of the fall and spring exhibitions. Burns lived 97-99 all day and touched 101 mph in the first inning. He coupled that with a hellish 92 mph slider and folded in a couple bigger curveballs. In total it was six innings of three-hit ball with ten punch outs and just a single walk. The stuff is so enormous it’s easy to forget he surrendered just 2.8 BB/9 over his first two seasons at Tennessee. He’s far more polished than the narrative gives him credit for.

One of the biggest storylines from this weekend probably came from the other highly-touted starting pitchers. Several names lauded as potential day one talents struggled in their season debuts. LSU righty Thatcher Hurd, Arkansas lefty Hagen Smith, Iowa righty Brody Brecht and Vanderbilt righty Greysen Carter all struggled to varying degree. Brecht was able to grind through 4.1 innings, striking out eleven hitters, though his final line was marred by six walks, a hit batter and a wild pitch. His elite stuff still managed to stymie Seton Hall to just one hit and one earned run.

Smith labored over just one inning throwing 42 pitches, walking two batters and hitting another. The lone hit he surrendered was a three-run homer. His day was done after the arduous first inning. Fastball command and an atypical inability to miss bats contributed to his abbreviated day.

Carter had a similar experience going just three innings, walking seven batters and surrendering three earned runs.

Hurd’s day was considerably different. He went just 2.2 innings surrendering four earned runs on five hits, walking one batter and surrendering a balk. Hurd had a very difficult time getting the fastball by VMI hitters.

*2023 walk rates included for 2024 draft-eligible arms*

These are just a few examples of arms that struggled to get off to the starts they’d like this season, but up and down the college baseball landscape pitchers were tested and taxed more than usual this weekend. Hurd, Smith, Brecht and Carter seem especially important to point out considering what scouts are looking to see from them this season. Walks and command woes have led to big pitch counts and short outings at times during some of their collegiate careers. They’ll want to tighten things up going forward as the track record for guys with sky-high walk rates in the draft generally isn’t kind.

On the other side of spectrum, San Diego righty Ryan Forcucci was a wrecking ball against San Jose State. He struck out eleven hitters and didn’t walk anyone. The strikeouts were comfortably a career high and it was only the second time in the last two seasons he’d not walked a batter.

Iowa righty Marcus Morgan deserves some love for what was a promising first start of the season. He went 5.2 innings and issued just two walks, both of which came in his final inning of work. He punched out nine batters. The ten percent walk-rate for the day probably doesn’t do his final line justice. Morgan walked almost 18 percent of the batters he faced in 2023. This was a big step in the right direction.

Duke southpaw Jonathan Santucci was dynamic in his outing going five innings and surrendering just two walks as well. Good for a ten percent walk-rate. Not superb, but the final line, again, better than his actual numbers. He punched seven tickets and saw his stuff and execution both tick up for most of that start.

Guys like Coastal Carolina righty Alexander Meckley and Mississippi State righty Khal Stephen put their names on the national map.

Walk rate is one of the biggest qualifiers to get yourself drafted in the first round. In the last six drafts, only Hurston Waldrep (Braves, 2023) and Shane McClanahan (Rays, 2018) have posted a walk-rate north of 12 percent and still been taken in the first. Brecht has things in common with Waldrep and McClanahan, but it’s no guarantee.

Week one means next to nothing. It’s always a weird season-opening weekend. Cheers to college baseball, folks. It’s finally here.

Joe Doyle
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