By Erik Hall
Four Southeastern Conference baseball teams are in the top 10 of Baseball America’s Top 25 rankings, released Monday. Four more teams filled spots in the next 15 slots.
Missouri is unranked in the poll and are scheduled to face five of the eight ranked SEC teams this season.
The SEC teams are No. 7 South Carolina, No. 8 Mississippi State, No. 9 LSU, No. 10 Vanderbilt, No. 21 Alabama, No. 23 Florida, No. 24 Texas A&M and No. 25 Arkansas.
Virginia begins the year ranked No. 1 after going 50-12 in 2013. The Cavaliers were swept out of the postseason last year by Mississippi State in the Charlottesville Super Regional.
“We are honored to be ranked as the preseason No. 1 team in the country,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor in a press release. “We are excited about the experience, depth and talent of our 2014 team. The college baseball season is a long grind, and we are looking forward to getting started.”
Mississippi State was the runner-up to UCLA at the 2013 College World Series. UCLA is ranked No. 12 to start the 2014 season. The Bulldogs are scheduled to visit Missouri the weekend of April 18-20. Missouri faces a gauntlet of five consecutive weekends against preseason top 25 teams beginning with the Mississippi State series.
Some of Missouri’s returning talent includes right-handed relief pitcher John Miles, who had a team-low 2.35 ERA in 23 innings last season, returns as a sophomore. Junior right-hander Brett Graves is back as well after starting a team-high 13 games on the mound in 2013. But Missouri lost starting pitcher Rob Zastryzny, who threw a team-high 90 1/3 innings last year and was drafted in the second round of the MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs.
The Tigers also lost outfielder Dane Opel, who was signed by the Chicago White Sox in free agency. Opel was the team leader in batting average, hits, triples and RBIs. Missouri’s top returning offensive players are senior catcher Dylan Kelly and sophomore infielder Josh Lester.
The Tigers play at Florida April 25-27, then face Vanderbilt at home from May 2-4. Missouri is at South Carolina May 9-11 before concluding the regular season by hosting Arkansas May 15 -17.
The Tigers’ first game this season is scheduled for Feb. 14 against Richmond at Jacksonville, Fla. Missouri’s first home game is scheduled for Feb. 28 against Illinois-Chicago.
Missouri went 18-32 overall and 10-20 in the SEC last season. The Tigers finished 2013 fifth in the seven-team SEC East Division. Their season ended with a 2-1 loss to Mississippi State in 17 innings during the SEC Tournament. The website College Baseball Daily predicts Missouri to finish last in the SEC East this year.
Baseball America Preseason Poll
2. Oregon State
4. Cal State Fullerton
5. North Carolina State
6. Florida State
7. South Carolina
8. Mississippi State
9. Louisiana State
17. North Carolina
19. Texas Christian
22. Kansas State
24. Texas A&M
Editor: Tyler Castner