College World Series 2017: Top Returning Prospects for Florida and LSU

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2017

Jackson Kowar helped close out the College World Series, and he will return to the Florida Gators next season.
Jackson Kowar helped close out the College World Series, and he will return to the Florida Gators next season.Associated Press

Florida earned its first College World Series as a result of its two-game sweep over Southeastern Conference rival Louisiana State in the championship series.

After the Gators took advantage of LSU's mix-and-match pitching effort in Game 1 on Monday night, they clinched the series by gaining an early advantage over Jared Poche and then scoring four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to put the series away with a 6-1 victory Tuesday night.

The win was Florida's first College World Series title.

LSU had the tying run on third base with no outs in the seventh and eighth innings, but the Tigers could not push that run across. In the top of the seventh inning, an interference call at second base on a double play prevented the tying run from scoring.

Kevin O'Sullivan
Kevin O'SullivanNati Harnik/Associated Press

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan made the crucial move when he brought in star sophomore pitcher Jackson Kowar in the eighth inning to snuff out another LSU assault.

Kowar induced LSU star Greg Deichmann to hit a hard grounder to first base, and JJ Schwarz made a perfect throw to Mike Rivera. The catcher tagged Kramer Robertson to keep the tying run off the board.

O'Sullivan's move was a huge gamble because Kowar was scheduled to be the starter in Game 3 if the Gators had lost Tuesday night.

"We rolled the dice," O'Sullivan said, per Mitch Sherman of "If it doesn't work out, it's a dumb move. If it works, it looks like you made the right decision."

As a result of the win, the Gators are rejoicing, and the Tigers are thinking about what might have been. LSU had eliminated tournament favorite Oregon State to reach the CWS championship series.

The Gators appear to be in good shape when it comes to having a shot at getting back to the CWS next year, but the Tigers could have a problem as they lose star pitchers in Poche and Alex Lange. Poche was drafted in the ninth round by the Oakland A's while Lange was a first-round choice of the Chicago Cubs.

Kowar will be back, and he figures to be one of the best college pitchers in the nation and a prominent choice in the 2018 Major League Baseball draft.

Kowar had a 12-1 record this season, and he will inherit the role of staff ace from Alex Faedo, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers earlier this month.

Stellar reliever Michael Byrne will also be back, and he had 19 saves during the season along with a 1.67 earned-run average.

Leading hitter Nelson Maldonado will return to the Gators next season and so will Jonathan India, Keenan Bell and Christian Hicks. Schwarz was drafted in the 38th round, and he could return for his senior year.

Maldonado completed his sophomore season, and he had a .299 batting average along with a .433 slugging percentage during the season. India hit .274 with six home runs and 34 RBI, while Bell hit .283 as a freshman. Hicks hit .282 with a .398 slugging percentage this year, and he will have a chance to return as a senior.

The Tigers will bring back Zach Watson, who batted a team-leading .317 along with nine home runs and 37 RBI as a freshman. Watson figures to be a cornerstone player in the LSU lineup.

Outfielder Antoine Duplantis hit .316 for the Tigers, and he tied for the team lead with 19 stolen bases. Duplantis should be back and so should Josh Smith. The freshman infielder hit .281 this season with five home runs and 48 RBI.

Eric Walker figures to be the ace of the Tigers' pitching staff after recording an 8-2 record as a freshman with a 3.48 ERA and allowing an opponents' batting average of .233.