(Photo from Stetson University)
When the 2018 NCAA Baseball Tournament Field of 64 was being set to be announced two days ago, the Stetson Hatters knew they were a lock to get in. All that was left was the waiting game – who would be the first matchup, and who would be included in the region? When the field was announced, it became apparent that Stetson drew the Hartford Hawks out of the America East conference.
Accompanying the Hatters and Hawks in the DeLand, FL region are the (2) South Florida Bulls (35-20-1) out of the American Athletic Conference, and the (3) Oklahoma State Cowboys (29-24-1) out of the Big 12. Stetson’s chances at winning its first matchup against Hartford seem pretty straightforward. Hartford doesn’t come in with a sparkling resume. Going 26-29 overall (16-8 in conference), the Hawks’ potentially most impressive feat was playing No. 2 Oregon State close in two games out of four, losing by one run in both of those contests. Otherwise, it was mostly them beating up on subpar America East teams, all of whom were under .500 on the season, except for Stony Brook.
On the other hand, Stetson, who went 45-11 on the season (15-3 in conference), proceeded swiftly through its schedule to capture the Atlantic Sun regular season title, then knocked off North Florida in the A-Sun Championship game to win the postseason, too. Stetson is talented as a team, but perhaps what’s most notable about the DeLand region is the Hatters’ ace, Logan Gilbert.
MLB.com Prospect Watch has Gilbert listed as the No. 16 prospect for this year’s upcoming Amateur Draft. He features a four pitch arsenal: a fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball. Although there has been some noted inconsistency in fastball velocity, it should be expected to sit around low to mid-90s, with flashes around 97. His scouting report indicates that of his two breaking balls, the slider works more effectively than the curveball, which was described as a “get me over” pitch. Lastly, it was also noted Gilbert’s changeup might potentially be his best pitch, with the only knock to it being it’s not used enough.
— JT Baseball Scouting (@JTScouting) May 24, 2018
Gilbert started 14 games for Stetson in 2018, going 10-1 with a 2.52 ERA. He also struck out 41 percent of the batters he faced. The 6’5 righty has had a great supporting cast, as well, which perhaps has taken some of the edge off of what he is expected to do on the mound – he doesn’t have to carry the bulk of the workload. Stetson’s rotation has been one of the best around, featuring four pitchers with 10 or more starts, all with ERAs under 3.00. Overall, the Hatters’ have a team ERA of 2.58.
En route to breaking @StetsonBaseball's single-season strikeout record, Logan Gilbert K'd nearly 38% of the batters he faced. He won his 2nd consecutive @ASUNBSB Pitcher of the Year Award & was selected First-Team All-ASUN/Academic All-ASUN!#MeetTheSemifinalists pic.twitter.com/hya1roNbxv
— Golden Spikes Award (@USAGoldenSpikes) May 25, 2018
Predictions likely indicate that Stetson will knock off Hartford, but the interesting matchup lies with what’s next. As noted, the two potential opponents for Stetson is South Florida or Oklahoma State. USF had the better year, albeit in a weaker conference, but baseball is a strange sport that way – it can be difficult to predict who’s going to win during any given matchup.
Baseball fans will probably hope to see Stetson and South Florida meet up for a simple reason: it will likely pit two first round-caliber pitching prospects against each other, Logan Gilbert and Shane McClanahan. MLB.com Prospect Watch lists McClanahan two slots ahead of Gilbert, at No. 14. McClanahan finished the season 5-6 with a 3.41 ERA through 13 games started.
The excitement surrounding the potentiality of these two to matchup can be seen around Twitter:
I would pay good money to see Stetson and USF with a Logan Gilbert and Shane McClanahan pitching matchup
— Matt Powers (@MattPowers31) May 28, 2018
I'm curious how Stetson and South Florida set up their pitchers. We could see Logan Gilbert vs. Shane McClanahan.
— Josh Nelson (@soxmachine_josh) May 28, 2018
A nonpartisan fan, or one whose rooting interest lies in the competition among draft prospects, likely hopes for the Stetson/USF matchup for the sheer entertainment of it all. As for the fans of the two squads, they should expect a good matchup between two competitive teams. On the line for both squads is obviously the chance to advance, but also bragging rights, as the two schools are separated by only two and a half hours along Interstate 75 in Florida.
South Florida and Oklahoma State kicks the action off at Melching Field at 1:00 ET on Friday. Stetson and Hartford follow up that game at 7:00 ET later in the day.