2015 Conference Previews: Southland
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SLC Projected StandingsNCAA postseason bid/team listed in Bold, records are from 2014.
|Sam Houston State||22-8||43-19|
|Stephen F. Austin||11-19||20-35|
Projected Regional Teams (1): Sam Houston State
Player of the Year: Curtis Jones, 3b, Houston Baptist
Pitcher of the Year: Adam Oller, rhp, Northwestern State
Freshman of the Year: C.J. Moore, of, Lamar
SLC TOP PROSPECTS AND NEWCOMERS (must be a subscriber to view)
• Sam Houston State is again poised to make a regional, and compete to win the SLC. You can bet the Bearkats will be hungry after just missing out on a Super Regional thanks to a loss to TCU in a thrilling, 22-inning affair, and it will be first-year head coach Matt Deggs’ job to get them back. The strength of this team will be on the mound. After an impressive freshman season (2.61 ERA and .218 batting average against in 79.1 innings), righty Sam Odom is back to anchor the staff along with left-hander Andrew Godail (31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings in 2014), and righty Dylan Ebbs (2.77 ERA in 52.0 innings). Keep an eye on lefty Logan Boyd, who really turned heads this fall, and Ryan Brinley is a strong, veteran closer. Odom will sit anywhere from 88-91 mph with his fastball, along with a strong three-pitch mix, Boyd will sit 88-91 and up to 92 with his FB, along with a quality changeup, while Godail, the veteran, will sit 88-91 with a good breaking pitch that’s effective against righties and lefties. Meanwhile, Brinley is a power arm at the back-end of games with a 92-94 FB, up to 95 at times, along with a hard and sharp breaking pitch. Sam Houston State has to replace a few key bats, including Anthony Azar (.368/.450/.543) and Corey Toups (.310/.392/.513). However, it does return a pair of seniors in Colt Atwood (.306/.339/.358) and Hayden Simerly (.256/.342/.411). Freshman outfielder Bryce Johnson should be a name SLC fans are very familiar with by the end of the season. Johnson is a very good athlete with 6.50 60-yard dash speed, some gap power and a smooth approach.
• The outfield duo of junior Jordan Lee (.309/.367/.404 in 2014) and senior Tyler Ware (.287/.386/.416) returns for Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. The Islanders should have a nice blend of speed and a little power, especially with the addition of JUCO transfer Cody Clarke. Clark and first baseman Frankie Salas should provide some legitimate power for this team, while Ware is an athletic outfielder with a strong overall skill set. With righthander, and preseason first-team All-SLC selection, Matt Danton (3.74 ERA in 101.0 innings) and lefty Trevor Belicek (80 strikeouts and 24 walks in 95.1 innings) back, the rotation is in very good shape as well. If the Islanders can find consistent bullpen production and new additions like Clarke perform as expected in the lineup, this team should be in it until the very end. Danton will sit 88-92 mph with his fastball and can throw three pitches for strikes along with an aggressive approach, while Belicek is 88-91 from a 3/4 slot, along with a good, hard, slider. Sophomore RHP Devin Skapura is another arm that can get into the 90s, while closer Jacob Dorris isn’t a power pitcher, but possesses a wipeout slider that makes him effective.
• After just missing out on the regular season conference crown in 2014, Northwestern State has the ability to again win 20-plus games in the conference. Senior first baseman Caleb Dugas (.282/.354/.388 in 2014) and last year’s leading hitter Chase Daughdrill (.324/.410/.401) return after all-conference campaigns. Daughdrill is coming off a good summer and has an advanced skill set, while OF Cort Brinson has a chance to shine this year. Brinson is a physical presence in the middle of the lineup with some serious pop, while Dugas is the ultimate competitor. Northwestern State really didn’t lose much production from last year’s lineup, and also returns last year’s Freshman Pitcher of the Year Adam Oller (2.44 ERA and .249 batting average against in 92.1 innings). If JUCO transfer Chase Hymel, who spins a plus hook, contributes in the rotation as expected, this club should be in really good shape. Remember, Northwestern State went from five to 19 conference wins last season; this group knows how to win and has really brought the program back. Oller has very good command of three pitches and will sit anywhere from 87-92 mph with his FB, along with a plus curveball and quality changeup, while RHP and closer Brandon Smith is one to watch with a FB up to 91, along with a hard-nosed, but composed, approach.
• Pitching and defense are the things Southeastern Louisiana is built on, and even though it lost a key arm in Andro Cutara (drafted in the seventh round by the Twins), the pitching staff is deep and talented. RHP Tate Scioneaux (3.02 ERA in team-high 110.1 innings in 2014; SLC Tournament MVP) is the Friday starter. He’ll be joined by two key JUCO transfers in right-hander Jake Johnson and lefty Domenick Carlini. Mason Klotz is arguably the league’s best closer, and the defense is strong up the middle. Brett Hoffman (.312/.353/.397), Kennon Mennard (.283/.354/.327) and switch-hitter Daniel Midyett give the Lions a strong returning nucleus in the middle of the lineup. JUCO addition Julian Service might have the best tools of anyone in the lineup. Scioneaux has interesting range with his fastball, throwing it anywhere between 87-93 with life, while he also possesses an average changeup and 76-80 mph slurve. Juco transfer RHP Jake Johnson can get up to 93 and has a good 80-84 mph slider, while Klotz is a talented righty who will sit 88-91 from the top and 85-88 with his FB when he chooses to throw from a sidearm angle. Offensively, also keep a close eye on C Chris Eades, who was drafted in the 35th round by the Pirates last summer and has good arm strength and power at the plate.
• McNeese State’s success could depend on three new additions to the lineup: JUCO transfer Connor Crane at first base, freshman second baseman Joe Provenzano and JUCO addition third baseman Kris Molter. Crane is known for his bat, while Molter should immediately become one of the best defensive players in the league. If those three provide the expected presence, the Cowboys will be in good shape offensively because of returning preseason first-team All-SLC selections Andrew Guillotte (.316/.383/.381) and Bill Sommers (.293/.350/.359). They’ll need to score runs at a high rate too because outside of righty Kaleb Fontenot (2.14 ERA in 80.0 innings last year) the rotation has some questions to answer. Fontenot is a quality arm who will sit anywhere from 89-92 mph with his fastball, with command, while his curveball and changeup are good pitches that can be thrown in any count. RHP Bryce Kingsley can sit anywhere from 87-91 with his FB, along with command of three pitches (also a CB/CH), while righthanded reliever Cory Lapeze is worth watching. Lapeze will sit 90-93 with his FB, along with a wipeout curveball with hard, late, action.
• There weren’t many teams in the country that enjoyed the kind of success on the mound Nicholls State did during the 2014 season. The Colonels posted a 2.60 team ERA last season and a .249 batting average against. Taylor Byrd (1.92 ERA) and Brandon Jackson (2.19 ERA) are gone. But Grant Borne (2.97 ERA) is back to lead the rotation, and Marc Frazier (0.92 ERA in 19.2 innings) is poised to thrive in a rotation role. Even it takes a little while for roles to work themselves out, this team is going to pitch and play defense. But will it hit? Nicholls needs transfers Alex Shermer and Kyle Reese to really help an offense that hit .248/.329/.315 as a whole last year. Borne, a junior lefty, will sit anywhere from 88-91 with his FB and his changeup is a quality secondary offering, while he continues to show better feel for a 12/6 curveball and slider. Fellow righty Marc Frazier has a big arm that sits 90-93 with four pitches, including a slider, changeup and curveball, while No. 3 starter Cole Stapler, also a righty, will sit 90-92 with developing secondary stuff. Last but certainly not least, also look at senior LHP and closer Stuart Holmes, who will sit 89-92, and up to 93, at times with his FB, along with a good changeup that serves as a quality secondary offering. Offensively, OF Justin Smith could be the pick to click for this team. Smith is a physical 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, who struggled at the plate last season (hit .189). However, he had a strong summer at the MINK League, and could be ready to take a big step forward.
• Looking for a team that could jump from the middle-of-the-pack to the top? Central Arkansas returns a ton of experience from last year’s team that went 17-13 in league play. Righty Connor Gilmore (2.98 ERA in 102 innings) gives the Bears the Friday arm they need, and Nate Ferrell (.309/.402/.371) and Chris Townsend (.281/.389/.357) are back from an offense that hit .270/.376/.348 last season. Gilmore has a good fastball with two-plane movement and good feel for his slider and changeup, while freshman RHP Dillon Drabble is one to watch this season. The projected No. 3 starting pitcher has a good fastball with run/life and commands a cutter and slider. He’s also a good athlete. Transfer SS Logan Preston should be an immediate impact guy in the lineup with power to all fields and good defensive skills, while freshman 1B Corey Herndon is one to watch as well. Herndon is a physical guy with the ability to spray the ball, with power, around the field.
• Lamar will have to replace stud shortstop Sam Bumpers after he hit .361 last season, but returning catcher Brandon Provost (.301/.348/.366) and third baseman Reed Seeley (.283/.417/.349) will help ease the load. Both of Lamar’s top two starters from last season Chase Angelle and Will Hibbs are back as well. However, the pitching staff is very unproven beyond those two.
THE REST OF THE PACK
• Stephen F. Austin must replace its four top hitters from last season, and the pitching staff in 2014 combined to post a 5.21 ERA. The good news for it is that staff ace Dillon Mangham (2.83 ERA) is back.
• Curtis Jones is a standout in the middle of the Houston Baptist order and on the mound as well. However, it needs to replace nine of the 10 homers it hit last season. The Huskies will look to fellow weekend starters RHP’s Taylor Wright and Tyler Hoelscher to get the job done. Wright needs to be more consistent after tallying a 5.71 ERA last season, while Hoelsher is coming off an injury, but granted he stays healthy, should be a quality arm.
• If Abilene Christian can develop some pitching depth throughout the season, it could really improve on its 6-18 mark in the league last year. ACU feels good about its offense, and is expected to get significant contributions from freshman 3B Brayden Gomez, who had a strong fall.
• UIW could look like a completely different team this season thanks to six JUCO transfers (four on offense, two in the rotation) that are expected to be key contributors. RHP Geno Encina is an underrated arm that posted a 2.64 ERA in 95.1 innings in 2014. Encina is a Friday guy with a lot of potential. He’ll sit anywhere from 89-93 mph with his fastball, along with a good changeup and developing slider. Meanwhile, JC transfers Garrett Cooper and Brandon Anderson are worth watching, with Cooper a mid-80s FB guy with a good changeup, and Anderson a big 6-foot-6, framed guy with an impressive ability to throw strikes despite not having overpowering stuff. UIW has a hefty crop of juco transfers this spring, but keep close tabs on 3B Brance Kahle in the middle of the lineup. Kahle has good bat speed and hands along with an above-average arm.
• Similar to UIW, New Orleans will also lean on a ton of new additions, including freshman pitcher Shawn Semple after his encouraging fall session. Semple has a lot of upside with the ability to touch 91 with his fastball and possessing a legitimate three-pitch mix. Meanwhile, RHP Kevin Kelleher is quite an intriguing prospect to watch. The transfer touched 98 in the fall with his fastball and has a hard slider that will sit in the mid-to-upper 80s. Offensively, the Privateers really like 3B/P Sam Carriere, who has potential at the plate, and also possesses a big-time arm with a FB up to 94. Meanwhile, OF Chaz Boyer really could make a statement this spring. Boyer is very athletic with 6.4 60-yard-dash speed. However, he hit just .208 last season and needs to improve..