The 2020 was canceled abruptly for all of college baseball. That means good teams had promising seasons interrupted, talented players had breakout performances stopped short and storylines were, frustratingly, left unwritten.
The 2021 season, then, will be one of opportunity. Those teams and players will have a shot to pick things up where they left them, and college baseball fans will get to see storylines play out over the course of a full season once again.
It will also provide an opportunity for bounce back seasons for teams that got out of the gate slowly last season, players who didn’t put up the numbers they would have wanted and players who have missed significant time to this point due to injury. Here are 25 players and teams most looking forward to a fresh start in 2021.
1. Kevin Abel, Oregon State
Given how long it has been since the college baseball world has had a long look at Kevin Abel on the mound, it’s easy to forget just how good he was when he was healthy and leading Oregon State to a national title back in 2018. If he returns to his old form in 2021, it would immediately place him among the best pitchers in the sport.
With a record of 5-11, things weren’t going well for Stanford at the time the 2020 season was canceled, but it seems extremely unlikely that the Cardinal will struggle like that again next season. The talented recruiting class that arrived before last season is now a year older and will be joined by the nation’s seventh-ranked 2020 class, led by infielder Drew Bowser.
3. Parker Chavers, Coastal Carolina
Going into the 2020 season, the script seemed written for Chavers. He would put together a third consecutive outstanding season for Coastal Carolina, help the Chanticleers to the postseason and leave for pro baseball after being drafted. But due to a shoulder injury, he missed the 2020 season and that uncertainty led to him going undrafted. Now, he’ll look to pick things back up in 2021.
4. Cal State Fullerton
Cal State Fullerton actually got off to a promising start in 2020, taking two of three from Stanford, but things unraveled quickly, as not only did the Titans finish 4-12, but the series win over the Cardinal continued to lose luster with each passing week. Fullerton simply seems too talented to limp out of the gate to quite the same degree in 2021.
5. Alex Binelas, Louisville
Binelas went down with a hamate injury during the first series of last season. While that’s a mild enough injury that he would have returned at some point during the season, he never got that chance, and it has to sting that he ended the season with just seven at-bats (and two hits) to his name. In 2021, he’ll look to do his part as a piece of one of the best position player groups in college baseball.
6. Boston College
With righthander Mason Pelio, infielder Cody Morrisette and outfielder Sal Frelick all set to be juniors this coming season, the 2021 campaign was always targeted as Boston College’s chance to make a big splash, but any hopes that the club would arrive a year early were somewhat dashed when the Eagles got off to a 6-9 start. It should be a different story in 2021.
7. Wake Forest
At 10-8 in 2020, Wake Forest wasn’t playing poorly so much as it was inconsistent, and it had the misfortune of playing and getting swept by Long Beach State while the Dirtbags were scalding hot. The Demon Deacons team assembled ahead of next season is talented and experienced enough that they should be ready to take a big step forward.
8. Brant Hurter, Georgia Tech
Tommy John surgery cost Hurter the latter half of the 2019 season and all of 2020, and the timing couldn’t have been worse for him personally, as he really seemed to be coming into his own at the time of the injury two seasons ago. He’ll look to continue that development for an extremely talented Georgia Tech team in 2021.
9. Jack Perkins, Louisville
Perkins needed Tommy John surgery late in the 2019 season, so he was going to miss the 2020 under any circumstance. He returned to the mound this summer and looked strong, putting him in position to be a key piece of the Louisville staff in 2021.
10. Jonathan Childress, Texas A&M
Childress threw the ball well in 2020 after coming back quickly from his own Tommy John surgery in 2019, but he appeared just a few times before the season shut down. In 2021, he’s expected to pick up where he left off and become one of the most dynamic arms in the SEC.
11. Hugh Fisher, Vanderbilt
Earning innings on a pitching staff as talented as Vanderbilt’s will be a tough fight for anyone, but Fisher, returning from missing the 2020 season, has the stuff to break through and hold down a big role. At the time of his injury, he was running his fastball into the high 90s and showing the type of stuff that will continue to make him a tantalizing prospect for big league scouts.
12. Allbry Major, Arizona State
There’s no doubt about Major’s promise and talent, and he showed well in his time in the Cape Cod League, but he’s yet to put it all together for a monster season during the spring. After spending three seasons at Xavier, he’ll look to make a leap as part of an Arizona State lineup that needs new stars to step up.
13. Steven Williams, Auburn
Williams was a productive player in 2019 and during the first four weeks of the 2020 season, but he hasn’t taken a step forward statistically from where he was in 2018, when he hit .291/.409/.488 with 12 home runs. Auburn’s lineup could use someone stepping up to become a bopper in the middle of the order, and Williams is a prime candidate.
14. Cal Poly
Cal Poly got off to a quick start last season, winning games against Connecticut and Vanderbilt over the first weekend of the season, but the good times didn’t last and the Mustangs finished 5-11 with three straight losing weekends to wrap up the campaign. With a talented group of younger players back in the fold, they should be much improved in 2021.
15. Ohio State
Optimism about Ohio State’s season faded a bit after it was swept emphatically by Georgia Tech over the second weekend of the season, and it ended the campaign 6-8. The optimism should be renewed for 2021, what with a team led by lefthander Seth Lonsway, who projects to be one of the best pitchers in college baseball.
North Carolina State Baseball: Five Questions to Answer Entering 2021
NC State is one of the most consistent programs in the country, and expectations should be high once again in 2021.
16. Brooks Lee, Cal Poly
The healthy return of Lee, who played just two games in 2020 due to injury, is a huge reason why Cal Poly should be better than they were last season. The son of Cal Poly coach Larry Lee, Brooks is the No. 3 ranked college prospect for the 2022 draft.
17. Porter Brown, Texas Christian
Brown has had tough luck ever since arriving at Texas Christian. In 2019, a promising first season was cut short due to injury. Last season, he got off to a slow start and then had the rest of the season canceled before he could get going. In 2021, he’ll hope for a chance to prove he’s the type of dynamic player he has shown he can be in small spurts.
18. Noah Cardenas, UCLA
As a sophomore in 2020, Cardenas hit .237/.367/.289 and just generally wasn’t able to put up the type of impressive offensive numbers that he had as a freshman the year prior. That first year, he hit .375/.476/.500. His game is much more centered around being an elite defensive catcher, but Cardenas would undoubtedly like to bounce back offensively and be more of an impact bat in 2021.
19. Justin Fall, Arizona State
Fall arrived in Tempe before last season hoping to lock down a spot in the weekend rotation and help give ASU a standout pitching staff to match its dynamic offense. The lefthander got his chance, but he struggled in four starts, putting up a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings of work. The 2021 season will be a chance to improve upon that initial impression.
20. Brigham Young
It was an up-and-down season for BYU in 2020 that ended with a road sweep at the hands of Oklahoma State and a 7-9 overall record. With a very talented roster, it was entirely likely that the Cougars would have bounced back and still competed to win the West Coast Conference, but it wasn’t the start to the season they would have wanted. Their talented 2019 recruiting class has also had more time to grow into the college game. They’ll look to do better in 2021.
21. Oregon State
It was hard to know what to expect from Oregon State going into last season, and after four weeks of action in 2020, it was still difficult to gauge just how good the Beavers would have been over a full season. What we know is that OSU is talented, coach Mitch Canham has another year of experience under his belt and Kevin Abel is back healthy to lead the rotation. All of those things bode well for improvement in 2021.
Rice is a long way from its peak as a regular College World Series participant and its 2020 non-league schedule was brutally tough, but it was still surprising to see the Owls finish 2-14 last season. They still may not be ready to compete at the top of Conference USA alongside Southern Mississippi and Florida Atlantic, but there is more talent on the roster than that record last season might lead you to believe.
23. St. John’s
St. John’s is a consistent program that typically competes well out of conference play, which is why it was so surprising to see it finish 5-9 with sweeps at the hands of Charlotte and Nevada-Las Vegas over the last two weekends of the season. Even though St. John’s will always have to begin the season with several weeks of road games, it seems a safe bet that it will get out of the gate in better form in 2021. The Red Storm has also now had more time to settle in under coach Mike Hampton, who was promoted to head coach in January when longtime coach Ed Blankmeyer left for a job with the Mets.
24. Brandon Dieter, New Mexico State
Dieter arrived at Stanford as a highly-regarded recruit, but he just wasn’t able to make much of an impact in his two seasons on The Farm, either at the plate or on the mound. He’ll now try to make an impact at New Mexico State, where you have to imagine he’ll have a chance to hold a starring role for the Aggies.
Houston finished the 2020 season 6-9 and went 1-2 each weekend, including a surprising series loss against Youngstown State at home to begin the season. Houston usually challenges itself early in the season, so it may still take some lumps next season, but with another talented junior college-heavy recruiting class in the fold, it will probably expect to get off to a quicker start.