College World Series 2013: Players to Watch in Sunday's Opening-Round Games

Benjamin Klein@BenjaminJKleinContributor IIIJune 14, 2013

June 8, 2012; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers pitcher Aaron Nola (10) reacts after hitting the Stony Brook Seawolves batter with a pitch in the first inning of game one of the Baton Rouge super regional at Alex Box Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Crystal Logiudice-USA TODAY Sports
Crystal Logiudice-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re going to watch one day of college baseball in Omaha, it has to be Sunday, which features four teams with some very impressive young players.

The bracket that features the teams' opening game at the College World Series is easily the best, as it’s filled with many strong clubs and players that are getting a ton of national recognition for their play—whether it’s getting drafted or named to an All-American team.

The game between UCLA and LSU will be one of the best all weekend long and will feature quite the pitching duel. When UNC and NC State take each other on earlier in the day, it’ll be fun to see which in-state rival puts the other into the loser’s bracket.

While you’re watching both of Sunday’s games, be mindful of the two players described below, as they’re two of the top college players in the nation and two that just so happen to be playing on the same day in Omaha.

Aaron Nola, Starting Pitcher, LSU

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Game Information: Sunday, June 16 at 8 p.m. ET vs. UCLA

You cannot talk enough about how filthy Aaron Nola has been this year.

In 16 starts for LSU this season, the sophomore right-hander is 12-0 with a 1.68 ERA. In 118 innings of work, he’s struck out 117 batters and walked just 17—which is just more than one per start and one every nine innings on the mound. He has extraordinary command that gives him quite the edge against the opposition.

Nola was recently named a Baseball America All-American, along with two of LSU players, per a press release reported by LSUSports.net. Nola will also be taking the mound for the Tigers against UCLA, according to the official Twitter account of LSU Baseball.

Aaron Nola will take the mound against UCLA in Omaha. - Coach Paul Mainieri #CWS

— LSU Baseball (@LSUbaseball) June 10, 2013

Nola has been a major part of LSU’s success this season and the team is 15-1 when he starts. He has pitched in a number of big games throughout the year, but one in particular caught the eye of many, coming in the Super Regional against Oklahoma.

Why was this game so special?

Well for one, it was the Super Regionals. Two, he was going up against Jonathan Gray, arguably the top pitcher in the nation, who was drafted third overall in the 2013 MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies. Nola struck out six batters and didn’t walk one en route to an LSU victory.

Here’s what LSU coach Paul Mainieri said after the game to the Associated Press (h/t The Washington Post):

“You know what the great ones do? And he did it today. When the game is on the line, no matter how good you are, you’re still going to have that moment or two during the course of the game that’s doing to define the game, and he had it,” Mainieri said. “He raised his game to another level. All the great pitchers that I’ve had in my coaching career—that was the common denominator.”

It’s obvious that Nola is a great pitcher, and he’s arguably the top pitcher in Omaha. As a team, UCLA is hitting .251/.357/.334 this season, which isn’t very impressive at all. There should be no reason why Nola has any trouble against the Bears’ lineup that doesn’t feature one batter hitting higher than .280.

At the end of the day, Nola will remain undefeated, pick up his 13th victory of the season, his ERA will continue to drop and he’ll help LSU advance to the winner’s bracket. It’s that simple.

Colin Moran, 3B, North Carolina

Game Information: Sunday, June 16 at 3 p.m. ET vs. NC State

Colin Moran is one of the top hitters in the nation and everyone should know that. If North Carolina State hasn’t found out yet, it’s about to.

Moran is hitting .343/.472/.555 with 13 home runs and 88 RBI this year along with 74 runs. He has an extremely good eye at the plate, striking out just 22 times in more than 250 at-bats while walking 61 times. It’s no secret, however, that the UNC third baseman has struggled a bit thus far the College World Series.

But that didn’t keep Moran from getting taken early in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft. He was one of the top two position players in this year’s draft class, according to many, and the Marlins ended up selecting him with the sixth overall pick.

Bryant more power, I'll go Moran for pure hitter, better shot to play 3B. Top 2 college bats. @bgon781: Colin Moran or Kris Bryant #mlbdraft

— Jim Callis (@jimcallisBA) February 4, 2013

Here’s what Moran told the New York Daily News about getting drafted:

“It was just surreal seeing my name on the television,” Moran told the Daily News in a phone interview. “I got a call from the Miami owner [Jeffrey Loria] and I’m just super excited. I didn’t have any expectations. I couldn’t be more excited where I was picked. It didn’t matter if I was No. 1 or No. 6. I’m just excited to be a Miami Marlin. It’s nice to get this out of the way. Now I can focus on tomorrow and helping my team.”

I wonder how excited Moran was when he found out he was selected to the Baseball America All-American first team (h/t News Observer).

Moran will try to lead the Tar Heels over the Wolfpack of NC State in the first game in Omaha for the pair of programs and he should have relatively good luck against them. The three starters for NC State aren’t very good at preventing runners to score.

Ethan Ogburn has a 2.70 ERA, which is good for a college pitcher, but not great. Carlos Rodon is a player that a lot of people are starting to talk about, as he’s 9-2 with a 3.19 ERA this year. Brad Stone is the third starter, but his ERA is at 5.28 so I doubt that he gets the nod.

What’s interesting is that while none of the three NC State starters has a eye-opening ERA, each has been good at retiring batters. Opponents are only hitting .211 off of Ogburn, .201 off Rodon and .242 off Stone. Those numbers bode well for the Wolfpack, but they won’t matter once Moran steps up to the plate.