College Baseball Regional 2017: Dates, Schedule, Bracket and Players to Watch – Bleacher Report
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press
The 2017 NCAA Division I baseball tournament begins on Friday with regionals featuring 64 teams at 16 different locations around the country.
Oregon State is the No. 1 overall seed after going 49-4 and winning the Pac-12 conference title during the regular season.
Regionals are a double-elimination format, giving teams more than one opportunity to make their presence felt. The winners of the regionals will then go on to the super regionals, which will begin on June 10, and the last eight teams standing will compete in the College World Series.
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With the country’s best teams all competing for the right to be called college baseball’s best, there will be plenty of talent on display in each game worth watching.
Since the calendar is also approaching the draft for Major League Baseball, many of the best players in the NCAA tournament will soon be making their debut in pro ball and eventually competing to play in a World Series.
Here are the key players to keep an eye on as the NCAA tournament gets rolling.
J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, North Carolina
As the ace for the North Carolina Tar Heels, J.B Bukauskas played an instrumental role this season in helping the team earn the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
The right-handed junior dazzled throughout 2017 with a 9-0 record, 2.02 ERA, 111 strikeouts in 89 innings and held opposing batters to a .180 batting average against. He did that while facing the scrutiny and pressure of being a potential top-10 pick in the MLB draft.
MLB.com ranks Bukauskas as the No. 7 draft-eligible prospect in this year’s class, with a scouting report that will have all 30 teams salivating at the chance to add him to their system:
“At his best, Bukauskas can blow away hitters with a pair of double-plus pitches in a mid-90s fastball with sink and a mid-80s slider with tilt. His slider isn’t as consistent as his heater, but it’s still a plus offering more often than not. Bukauskas made good progress working on his changeup while with Team USA, and it shows signs of becoming at least an average pitch with armside run.”
There are few weaknesses on this Tar Heels team. They had a 2.96 team ERA and averaged 7.2 runs per game en route to a 47-12 record.
Bukauskas will set the tone for North Carolina’s pitching staff when he takes the mound against Davidson. The Tar Heels have never won a College World Series, losing the championship series in 2006-07, but this looks like their best chance to make a deep run.
Brendan McKay, 1B/LHP, Louisville
Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press
Thinking strictly of McKay as an MLB prospect, he’s one of the most fascinating players available in this year’s class because he’s a legitimate talent at first base and as a left-handed starting pitcher.
Focusing on McKay’s value to Louisville in the NCAA tournament, he could be the most impactful player for any team because of his ability to serve in dual roles.
In helping lead the Cardinals to a 47-10 record during the regular season, McKay was incredible. He hit .363/.481/.705 with 17 home runs and 12 doubles in 56 games. In 14 starts, he had a 2.37 ERA with 124 strikeouts and 58 hits allowed in 91 innings.
By the way, McKay’s 17th homer happened to be a grand slam that came against Notre Dame in the ACC tournament, via Cardinal Authority’s Michael McCammon:
Michael McCammon @mcmichael20
Brendan McKay with a 2-out GRAND SLAM!!! Cardinals lead Notre Dame 5-0 M3 https://t.co/8kU6kKAdqa
Bukauskas will make an impact for North Carolina as the ace of that squad, but once his day on the mound ends, he’s done for the next five days. McKay is the kind of player who can throw seven shutout innings, give way to the bullpen and deliver a crucial home run in the bottom of the eighth inning.
McKay is a special talent who is the leader of a Louisville program looking to make its first appearance in the College World Series since 2014. He’s got the chance to become a legend in program history if he can translate that regular-season success on the mound and in the box over to the NCAA tournament.
Luke Heimlich, LHP, Oregon State
Ralph Lauer/Associated Press
While Bukauskas and McKay were singled out, in part, because of their potential as MLB prospects, Oregon State starting pitcher Luke Heimlich is here because of his ability to dominate at the collegiate level.
The Beavers made their competition look silly this season. They went 49-4 en route to a Pac-12 title and have won 16 straight games entering the NCAA tournament.
Oregon State’s greatest strength is on the mound with a pitching staff that had 10 players with a sub-3.00 ERA. Heimlich is the leader of that group with a 10-1 record, 0.81 ERA, 120 strikeouts, 21 walks, .177 batting average against in 111.1 innings over 15 starts.
He also plays good defense on the mound, via Oregon State Baseball on Twitter:
Oregon St. Baseball @BeaverBaseball
“Luke made a tough play look very easy.” Mike Parker said it well.
Heimlich doesn’t light up a radar gun with his fastball, which often sits in the 89-91 range, but he’s so good at spotting the ball inside and outside. He mixes in a quality changeup and curveball to keep hitters off balance.
Oregon State has earned its spot as the favorite to win the College World Series. Heimlich is one of the biggest reasons for the Beavers’ optimism heading into Friday’s opening game against Holy Cross.