By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network
Daniel Pinero of the defending College World Series champion Virginia Cavaliers heads the list of six Canucks on the pre-season Perfect Game USA top 40 NCAA Division I.
These 40, along with every other NCAA club hopes to A) win their respective conference B) gain a tournament bid C) make Omaha and D) win it all.
Pinero, who played for the Ontario Blue Jays and coach Danny Bleiwas, earned all-tourney honors last year in Omaha. He earned Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian College Team First Team honors, batting .308 in 67 games with eight doubles, a triple, six homers and 29 RBIs. He had an .828 OPS and was 9-for-11 stealing bases.
The other six Canucks on the rosters of the top 40 teams:
_ Brad Antchak (Delta, BC) of the Louisiana-Lafayette Rajin Cajuns was elected to the Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian College Team Second Team honors in 2015. With the Northeastern Oklahoma A@M Golden Norse he hit .364 with 13 doubles, three triples, 10 homers and 55 RBIs. He was 14-for-15 stealing bases.
_ LF Phillippe Craig-St.Louis (Gatineau, Que.) of the Oregon Ducks. Craig-St. Louis earned 2014 Canadian Baseball Network College Player of the Year honors at Seminole State Trojans. Craig-St. Louis played for Attak de Gatineau and coach Steph Petronzio. He earned Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian College Team Honourable Mention, batting .296 in 62 games with eight doubles, two triples, two homers and 38 RBIs. He had an .766 OPS.
_ INF Robert Grilli (Mississauga, Ont.) of the Houston Cougars. Grilli played for the Ontario Terriers and coach Scott VandeValk. Grilli hit .320 in 21 games making six starts with a double and two RBIs.
_ OF Jacob Robson (Windsor, Ont.) of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Robson played for the Windsor Selects then Bleiwas and the Ontario Blue Jays. Robson earned Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian College Team Second Team honors, hitting .324 in 54 games with five doubles, a homer and nine RBIs, while going 21-for-27 stealing bases.
_ RHP Zachary Pop (Brampton, Ont.) of the Kentucky Wildcats. As a freshman he had a 4.50 ERA in 11 games making two starts. He walked eight and fanned nine in 16 innings. Pop, who earned Canadian Baseball Network All-Canadian College Team Honourable Mention, pitched for the Ontario Blue Jays and Bleiwas.
_ And C-3B Austin Guzzo (Brooklin, Ont.) of the Iowa Hawkeyes. As a freshman, the former Ontario Blue Jay hit .217 in 26 games with three doubles, a triple and seven RBIs. He had a .584 OPS.
And now the team-by-team mentions of the pre-season rankings by Patrick Ebert, Jheremy Brown, Mike Rooney, Andrew Krause and Brian Sakowski.
Prospect number in parenthesis is player’s rank in Perfect Game’s most recent ranking of the top 250 prospects eligible for the 2015 draft.
Conference: Atlantic Coast
2015 record: 44-24 (15-15 ACC)
2015 finish: National Champions
Top 2016 prospects: SS Daniel Pinero (125)
Why they’re here: Reigning. Shortstop Daniel Pinero returns after a solid sophomore campaign in which he was draft eligible.
Conference: Sun Belt
2015 record: 42-23 (18-11 Sun Belt)
2015 finish: Baton Rouge Super Regional
Conference: Pacific 12
2015 record: 38-25 (16-14 Pac-12)
2015 finish: Springfield Regional
Top returning hitters: DH/OF Phil Craig-St.Louis (.296-2-38)
Difference maker: Physicality. The Ducks seem to be on the verge of a trip to Omaha but their lack of physicality on offense has been an issue in the postseason ... return Phil Craig-St.Louis (back for senior year) laid a great foundation.
Conference: American Athletic
2015 record: 43-20 (16-8 AAC)
2015 finish: Houston Regional
17. Mississippi State
2015 record: 24-30 (8-22 SEC)
2015 finish: Did not play in postseason
Top returning hitters: OF Jacob Robson (.324-1-9).
Top 2016 prospects: OF Jacob Robson (3rd on team)
Why they’re here: Projected to be one of the best teams in the nation because of those valuable learning experiences and in large part due to the star power of Dakota Hudson and Jacob Robson. Robson hit .324 last season and stole 24 bases for the Bulldogs before enjoying a strong summer of his own on the Cape. His game-changing speed and on-base skills make him the consummate leadoff man and table-setter.
2015 record: 30-25 (14-15 SEC)
2015 finish: SEC Tournament
Synopsis: With Zach Pop in the back end of the bullpen the Wildcats seem to be in good shape when they have a lead as well.
Conference: Big Ten
2015 Record: 41-18 (19-5 Big Ten)
2015 Finish: Springfield (Mo.) Regional