The first step in a long road to the College Baseball World Series, the NCAA regionals will cut down a field of 64 to 16 while showcasing top prospects right before June 8's MLB amateur draft.
During regionals, schools are divided into four-team sections. One winner will emerge from each of the 16 regions following a double-elimination tournament, which began on Friday. On Saturday, Friday's losers must fend off elimination while the victors have a chance to purchase an express ticket to the final bout.
Those 16 then advance to super regionals, where eight teams will survive a best-of-three series to earn a spot in the College World Series. The full bracket and schedule are both available on NCAA.com.
With the draft around a week away, several stars have a golden opportunity to make one last statement to MLB organizations. These three prospects are already on their way to parlaying breakout seasons into first-round selections.
Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
In his second mock draft, ESPN Insider Keith Law has the Arizona Diamondbacks making Dansby Swanson the No. 1 pick, a choice his sources support.
"Arizona knows whom it wants to take, but it's keeping a tight lid on it," Law wrote. "However, everyone I've talked to about it says they're taking Swanson—or at least they say that's who I should have them taking in the mock."
The Vanderbilt shortstop bolstered his case during a rousing SEC tournament, clubbing four home runs for the Commodores, who lost to Florida in the championship. Baseball America's Michael Lananna offered footage of the last blast:
Following his hot streak, Swanson entered regionals hitting .350/.438/.654 with 13 home runs and 14 stolen bases. The 21-year-old exhibited advanced plate discipline, registering 38 walks and 41 strikeouts through 278 plate appearances.
A late bloomer, Swanson tallied three homers during his first two years, but he rarely played as a freshman and still slugged .475 as a sophomore. His quick and forceful swing would be a welcome sight for the Diamondbacks, who need supporting pieces to build around superstar first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.
Andrew Benintendi, OF, Arkansas
At 5'10" and 180 pounds, Andrew Benintendi packs a powerful punch. During his sophomore season, the National Player of the Year hit .391/.492/.738 with 18 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
He remained in striking distance of the SEC Triple Crown but ultimately fell short in the RBI category, a poor measure of individual achievement anyway. During a breakout season, the Arkansas outfielder led the conference in more important areas including home runs, walks, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
As SEC Network noted when his average hovered around .400 over a week ago, Benintendi did not brandish any comparable muscle as a freshman:
After dominating the NCAA's strongest conference all year, he'll get scooped up during the first round. Law projects him to go No. 7 to the Boston Red Sox, who continue to stockpile offensive talent rather than riskier pitching counterparts.
The complete package this year, Benintendi hit for contact and power, wreaked havoc on the basepaths and flashed some leather in center field. That'll make him a desirable commodity unlikely to slip outside the top 10.
Tyler Jay, P, Illinois
Pitchers like Tyler Jay are typically workhorses frequently overused at the collegiate level. Yet Jay, a potential No. 1 overall pick, has served as Illinois' closer all season long.
Through 56.1 dominant innings, the lefty has allowed just four runs, 29 hits and six walks while issuing 65 strikeouts. Teams usually want to maximize a game-changing hurler's innings, but Illinois has instead limited its top pitcher's exposure.
"I know people want to see me start, but it is what it is. I like doing both," Jay told WAND-TV.com's Matt Loveless. It's worth noting that he was utilized far more frequently than a typical MLB reliever, who will often work around 60-70 innings during an 162-game season.
While it's possible a franchise might subvert common convention and draft him in hopes of securing a superstar reliever, it's more likely he gets stretched out in the minors. MLB.com's Jim Callis cited Jay's starter profile as a reason he remains in such popular demand.
For this strategy to make any sense for Illinois, it'll need to keep trotting out Jay in high-leverage situations during the weekend. For fans, that at least means more chances to watch him pitch.