Doug Kroll is an editor for CSTV.com, focusing on baseball. E-mail here!
Last week we took a look at who are the best catchers returning to what should be an incredible 2008 season. We head up the base path this week to first base, which could easily be the most stacked position in college baseball this coming season.
Taking a look at our 2007 Player of the Year race, three first basemen finished in our Top 10, the most from one position except for pitcher. Florida's Matt LaPorta is the only one not returning, after being drafted seventh overall by the Milwaukee Brewers.
But there is still loads of talent. Just look at Arizona State and North Carolina for that proof, who both have the top first base talents with expectations of taking their teams right back to Omaha.
1. Brett Wallace, Arizona State
A slow end to his season really kept Wallace from putting up gaudy numbers, but they still ended up in the ridiculous range during ArizonaState's run to Omaha. Wallace finished with a .404 average, 16 homeruns and 78 RBI, all stats that led a high-powered ASU offense. He was just as impressive in the field, only committing four errors in 613 chances, which is good for a .994 fielding percentage. And how about this stat for a first baseman: 12 stolen bases. Take into account all of those numbers were basically out of the second spot in Pat Murphy's lineup all year. In what should be Wallace's final season in Tempe, look for those numbers to be even more spectacular, especially after hitting .312 for Team USA this summer.
2. Dustin Ackley, North Carolina
Ackley is another guy who had astronomical numbers before Omaha, only to see them fall off a little bit while the Tar Heels went to the CWS Finals for the second straight season only to lose. The best part about Ackley? He was only a freshman when he led the country in hits with 119 a season ago. What is he going to do for an encore? Ackley hit .402 with 10 homeruns and drove in a team-leading 74 runs in 2007, and stole a team-high 11 bases. What is it with these first basemen stealing bases? As for his glove, Ackley committed six errors and finished with a .990 fielding percentage. One of the interesting things to watch for in 2008 is how North Carolina deals with playing its home games 30 minutes from Chapel Hill in Cary, N.C. while Boshamer Stadium is knocked down and rebuilt, and part of that is if Ackley can put up Brett Wallace-type sophomore numbers after a solid freshman campaign.
3. Justin Smoak, South Carolina
All Smoak did in his sophomore season is hit 22 homeruns, which was good for fourth best in the nation, and be apart of a Gamecocks squad that led the country in longballs. With a lot of pieces back in 2008, South Carolina may see more than 113 homeruns, and Smoak will be a key component. Sometimes, the best part about looking at a power hitter's numbers are the inflated on-base percentages thanks to a whole load of walks, the Barry Bonds treatment. Smoak finished tenth in the country in base on balls, with 54, leaving his OBP at .434 when the junior hit .315. Four errors in the field left Smoak's field percentage at an impressive .993. If Ray Tanner's charges would like to get back to Omaha after an absence, look for Smoak to continue filling up the stat sheets, in every column.
4. Yonder Alonso, Miami
The Hurricanes had quite a run in Alonso's freshman season, getting to Omaha in a year that no one thought they would even get close. His sophomore campaign wasn't as successful, in a year when they started as high as No. 2 in the nation, things never quite clicked for Jim Morris and Co. But Alonso certainly did his part. The Cuban native raised his batting average almost 85 points from his freshman season to .379, hit eight more homeruns to finish with 18, and finished with 74 RBI. Not to mention opposing pitchers were walking him left and right, as he finished second in the country with 64 free passes. One downside to Alonso's 2007 season was the increase in errors. After finishing with just four in his first collegiate season, that number mushroomed to nine and finished with a not-so-impressive .985 fielding percentage. It goes without saying that if Morris and his squad want to get back to what some might call his second home in Omaha, this might certainly be their best chance.
5. David Cooper, Cal
The Golden Bears aren't the first team you think of when it comes to the Pac-10 and baseball. Lately, they wouldn't be second or third either. But a hidden gem lies in Berkeley and it could propel Cal to a better than 29-26 finish overall and 12-12 in conference play like a year ago. That gem's name is David Cooper, and if that name sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember him from his impressive freshman season with Fullerton two years ago and his near CWS record of seven straight hits in Omaha. Well, Cooper really enjoyed his first season with Cal, too. The Stockton, Calif. native led the Bears with a .382 average, hit 12 of the team's 39 homeruns, and drove-in 55 runs. Cooper also wields a slick glove in the field, posting a .992 fielding percentage after committing only four errors in 2007.