2015 Conference Previews: Big South
Big South Projected StandingsBold indicates projected regional team, and records are from 2014. Teams are listed in order of projected finish.
Projected Regional Team (1): Liberty
Player of the Year: Alex Close, 1b, Liberty
Pitcher of the Year: Ashton Perritt, rhp, Liberty
Freshman of the Year: Dalton Ewing, of, Coastal Carolina
PROJECTED REGIONAL TEAM
• Liberty is in wash, rinse and repeat mode under the direction of head coach Jim Toman and his excellent coaching staff. The Flames made their second straight regional last year, but scuffled, going 0-2 in the tourney with setbacks against Arkansas and, surprisingly, Bucknell. The Flames have a chance to take a real step forward this season with the return of several key components both offensively and on the mound. At the plate, the Flames have a good one in 1B Alex Close. Close, who hit .323 with nine homers and 46 RBIs last season, is a multi-tooled player with legitimate pop in his bat and the ability to get hits in crucial situations. Meanwhile, SS Dalton Britt hit .299 last year, is expected to take another step forward offensively, and is a quality fielder with an impressive ability to put the ball in play. The Flames also welcome back a potential game-breaker in OF Nick Paxton, who broke his ankle last year. Paxton has above-average speed, thus can cause issues on the basepaths. While Ashton Perritt’s offensive potential can’t go unnoticed, the Flames look forward to his pitching contributions even more. Perritt closed for the Flames in 2014, but he moves to the Friday ace role this spring. The righty sat 93-95 mph with his fastball as closer, and it should be interesting to see how long he can hold his velocity as a starter. Meanwhile, fellow righty Parker Bean is a rising prospect with a 90-93 mph fastball and improved control, while LHP Shawn Clowers is the perfect guy to have nestled in the middle of the rotation. Clowers is coming off another strong summer, sits anywhere from 88-92 with his fastball, and also possesses an above-average slider. Look for Clowers to be Mr. Stability on the weekends. In an injury note, the Flames expect starting pitcher Carson Herndon back from Tommy John surgery, perhaps as early as mid-March.
KEEP AN EYE ON
• Coastal Carolina hopes to return to the NCAA postseason after a one-year hiatus, and at minimum, should be a regional qw1bubble type of club. Gary Gilmore’s club has the personnel to do some special things this season. Offensively, the Chanticleers have a balanced and athletic club with the ability to plug and play at several positions and in different situations. JUCO transfer catcher Casey Schroeder is one of the top newcomers in the league, and comes with high billing after turning down overtures as a 14th-round pick in the draft last summer. Schroeder is a physical catcher with much upside, while the rest of the infield is in good shape with slick SS Michael Paez and veteran 3B Zach Remillard leading the charge. Remillard has a good arm, but his offense will need to progress this spring after finishing last season with a .259 batting average. Keep close tabs on talented freshman Dalton Ewing, who has a strong arm from the outfield, athleticism and good speed, and a mature hitting approach. The Chants have some question marks on the mound without a true front-line ace, but RHP Alex Cunningham has potential and is back from an injury, while previously injured RHP and closer Patrick Corbett is one to watch this spring. Corbett has upside with a fastball around 87-90 with an average to above-average slider at times.
THE REST OF THE PACK
• Campbell has the tough chore of replacing departed head coach Greg Goff (now the head coach at Louisiana Tech), but don’t expect new coach Justin Haire and his staff to skip too much of a beat. Haire knows the lay of the land around North Carolina and knows exactly what’s needed to win with the Camels. As usual, the Camels are a rather intriguing club, and they will have an athletic offense. Veteran 3B Seth LaRue is back in the mix after hitting just .263 last season. He’s expected to take a step forward, while the Camels are really excited about SS Anthony Lopez and OF Cedric Mullins. Both players are talented, and Mullins should do a great job of commanding the outfield with his athleticism and speed. On the mound, question marks abound with RHP Bobby Thorson and LHP Andrew Witczak both needing to be more consistent. The duo tallied ERAs of 5.80 and 6.21, respectively, last season. But the Camels have an experienced and quality ace in RHP Heath Bowers, who pounds the strike zone and is coming off a season in which he accumulated 101 strikeouts as opposed to just 33 walks. Keep tabs on utility player J.D. Andreesen. The C/RHP was a top-500 prospect nationally out of high school and should give the Camels an immediate boost if he meets potential.
• Charleston Southern put together a respectable campaign in 2014 that included a 30-26 overall record, and this team has a chance to be much better this year. The offense was considered a concern going into the fall, but several players emerged. 1B Bryan Dye emerged as a middle of the order type of hitter with five homers during fall workouts, while 3B Nate Blanchard is a much improved hitter, hitting .400 during the fall and doing a nice job of hitting into the gaps. Athletic outfielders Jack Crittenberger and Sly Edwards, and power hitter Chase Shelton, a senior, also have potential to make this lineup scary as the season progresses. The pitching staff is in good shape with some seasoned arms leading the charge. LHP Andrew Tomasovich is expected to start on Friday nights, and sits 88-92 with his fastball, along with a decent slider and changeup combination. RHP Dylan Lee can touch 90-91 and has good command, and sidearmer Austin Weekley, a senior, leads the bullpen. Weekley is deceptive and sits 85-88 with his fastball, along with a good slider. LHP Alex Ministeri is another arm to watch this spring. The talented lefty had a 1.16 ERA in 77 2/3 innings for Brunswick (N.C.) CC last year. He typically sits 86-90 mph with his fastball, but touched 91-92 during fall workouts.
• Gardner-Webb didn’t have a great 2014 campaign, but it’s a clean slate and the Bulldogs have some potential if all the stars align. The Bulldogs do have some question marks at the plate, but this team has a couple of stalwarts in the lineup to watch. For instance, 1B Patrick Graham is a quality middle-of-the-order-type of bat who hit over .400 at Brunswick (N.C.) CC last season, while reigning all-Big South freshman team member Matt Simmons should make a smooth transition to third base. Simmons is a quality lefthanded hitter with some pop. On the mound, the Bulldogs get things started with a good one in senior RHP Matt Fraudin. Fraudin sits 87-90 with his fastball and throws four pitches for strikes, while junior closer and RHP Brad Haymes is one to watch with a fastball 86-90, along with a high quality breaking ball. Haymes had a 3.29 ERA in 41 innings last year.
• High Point definitely needs some guys to step up from an offensive standpoint, but this team has some legitimate talent and potential. C Josh Spano is a physical, sturdy and experienced catcher with good offensive skills, while HPU is very excited about 3B Carson Jackson, a two-way guy with explosiveness and power as a premier athlete. OF Josh Greene is another guy earning nice reviews entering the spring. Greene is a very athletic player with potential middle of the order pop in his bat. On the mound, RHPs Cas Silber and Conor Lourey join ace RHP John McGillicuddy in the weekend rotation. Silber is low-90s with his fastball, along with a power slider and quality changeup, while Lourey is a big 6-foot-7 righty who can get into the mid-90s with his fastball, along with a swing-and-miss breaking ball.
• Longwood finished last season with just nine conference wins, and hopes to have a much more productive offense this season. The Lancers have one of the premier prospects in college baseball in speedy OF Kyri Washington. Washington is still developing as a hitter, but the tools are there with huge raw power and impressive athleticism. Meanwhile, the Lancers coaching staff feels like 1B Connor Bastaich has a chance to be an immediate impact bat from the juco ranks. Closer Mitchell Kuebbing has a quality arm and is a nice back-end arm for this team. Kuebbing, a converted reliever, has a good curveball, and his command seems to be improved.
• Presbyterian won just 19 games overall last season, and hopes to find a way to take a step forward despite some heavy departures. The Blue Hose must replace a very solid ace starting pitcher in Chandler Knox, who had a 3.25 ERA in 91 1/3 innings last season, while Brad Zebedis was a very solid bat with a batting average over .300 and one of the more decorated sluggers in program history. The Blue Hose does welcome back leading hitter Jacob Midkiff, who finished the 2014 campaign with a batting average over .300.
• Radford finished last season with over 30 wins and could match or better that success this season. The Highlanders have some real potential with the return of several key cogs both at the plate and on the mound. Offensively, 2B Josh Gardiner is an exciting player to watch. He has very good speed and defensive skills, and is coming off a successful stint at the Perfect Game Collegiate League. Meanwhile, the Highlanders are excited about CF Trevor Riggs, an athletic outfielder with plus pop and good bat speed. On the mound, Radford has some real game-changers. LHP Michael Boyle is a quality staff ace with an 88-92 mph fastball along with a plus changeup, while Dylan Nelson has a lot of upside. He sits anywhere from 89-93 with his fastball, along with a good slider. Though he’s listed as the No. 4 starter, RHP Austin Ross is another good arm to watch. Ross needs to be more consistent, but has the arm with an 88-92 mph fastball and good stuff when he can command it.
• UNC Asheville will need several arms to rise to the occasion to make some noise in this league this season, but has some potential at the plate. 1B Hunter Bryant has a chance to be a big, middle of the order type of bat, and he’s more athletic than some first basemen out there. UNCA also has high hopes for slick-fielding SS Derrick Smith, who’s the anchor of this infield.
• Winthrop finished last season with a 27-33 overall record, and will need some guys to emerge offensively to take that next step forward and get into NCAA postseason contention. The Eagles return few big-time hitters, but have high hopes for 2B C.J. Hicks, who had a very good fall and showed good athleticism and the ability to be dynamic. DH Babe Thomas should take the next step forward with more consistency, while C Roger Gonzalez, a former player at Miami, should be an impact guy this spring. On the mound, this group has a chance to be special. No. 2 starter RHP Zach Sightler sits 90-92 with his fastball, and was up to 93 on scout day this fall, along with easy arm action and a low-80s slider. Meanwhile, keep an eye on LHP Matt Crohan, who sits 88-91 with his fastball and can get up to 92. His command has improved since his summer at the Cape Cod League, and he has a good frame at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds.
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