Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball. E-mail
North Carolina wound up with the 2007 Freshman of the Year in first baseman Dustin Ackley en route to its second straight second-place finish in Omaha.
Now, they may have another in 2008.
But unlike Ackley, who led the nation in hits in his first collegiate season, this time around it's from a guy on the hill in Matt Harvey.
Sensational freshmen are nothing new to the college game. With teams cramming the same 56 games into a schedules that has three less weeks, we're likely to see even more freshmen have an impact than ever before.
While a freshman leading the country in hits is something you don't see every year, expect big things from some players that will be expected to contribute right when the gun sounds on Feb. 22.
Top Five Freshmen
1. Matt Harvey, North Carolina, Pitcher
So what happens when you lose your top starter off a team that made it to the brink of a national championship a year ago? Bring in the nation's top high school talent. Coach Mike Fox had three of the top seven high school prospects ready to come to North Carolina, but Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner opted to sign, leaving Matt Harvey as the only one left. In this case, one out of three isn't bad. The Mystic, Conn., native will fit right into the Tar Heels rotation after being drafted in the third round by the Los Angeles Angels. Harvey is the highest drafted high school prospect to attend college in 2008, and the 6-foot-4 right-hander should have an instant impact. As a senior, Harvey went 6-1 with a 0.64 ERA over 54 2/3 innings with 112 strikeouts, and finished high school with a career ERA of 1.08.
2. Kentrail Davis, Tennessee, Outfield
Davis is short and stocky and reminds a lot of people Kirby Puckett. For new coach Todd Raleigh, he'll certainly take a Puckett-like outfielder as he tries to rebuild the Vols. The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Alabama native brings a lot to the table after missing part of his senior season due to a car crash. Drafted in the 14th round by the Colorado Rockies, Davis hit .443 with 12 homeruns, 34 RBI and 34 steals in only 99 at-bats in his junior season. Davis is a classic case of how looks may be deceiving. But with good speed and real good power, Davis should have a big impact on the 2008 Vols.
Before even adding the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, head coach Rich Hill already had what many believe to be the best pitching staff in the country coming back to school. When you add a guy like Kyle Blair into the mix with Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski, Matt Couch and A.J. Griffin, you start to see why the Toreros should be right there with the top teams in the nation in June, despite losing some big bats off last year's team that received a No. 7 national seed. The 6-foot-3 righty was drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Dodgers after compiling a very impressive resume at Los GatosHigh School. Blair finished with a 0.16 ERA as a junior, and a 0.31 ERA as a senior. Thanks to the need for more starters in 2008, Blair will certainly get a chance to show his stuff early on.
After a disappointing 2007 season, the Yellow Jackets are hoping to build a foundation with Derek Dietrich in the mix. Dietrich was taken in the third round by the Houston Astros (the Astros first pick in the draft), but decided to head to Atlanta from his hometown of Parma, Ohio. With last season's starting shortstop gone in Michael Fisher, Dietrich will look to take over those duties after hitting .425 as a senior and holding all sorts of records at St.IgnatiusHigh School. Among Dietrich's many awards, he was named the Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year, No. 1 draft prospect for Ohio and the Perfect Game Ohio Player of the Year in 2007.
The Titans are going to need some of their newcomers to have big impacts in 2008 if they hope to get back to Omaha once again with new head coach Dave Serrano, and one of those guys will be Christian Colon. The Corona, Calif., native was drafted in the 10th round by the San Diego Padres, and although he hit .435 at CanyonHigh School his senior season, Fullerton is perhaps even more excited about Colon's fielding ability. At 6-feet, Colon can flash the leather right there with the best in the entire nation and is slotted to start right away for Fullerton. No matter what he does at the plate, it should be fun to watch Colon in the field.
Others to Watch: Cameron Rupp, Texas; Yasmani Grandal, Miami; Greg Peavey, Oregon State; Evan Danieli, Notre Dame; Ben Klafczynski, Kent State.