2015 Conference Previews: America East
America East Projected StandingsBold indicates projected regional team, Top 25 ranking in parentheses, and records are from 2014. Teams are listed in order of projected finish.
Projected Regional Teams (1): Stony Brook
Player of the Year: Scott Heath, 1b/lhp, Maine
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Honahan, lhp, Stony Brook
Freshman of the Year: Erik Ostberg, c, Hartford
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PROJECTED REGIONAL TEAM
• Stony Brook went 18-5 last year to win the America East regular-season crown by two games before getting upset by Binghamton in the conference tournament. The Seawolves will have their hands full replacing stalwarts Kevin Krause, Brandon McNitt, Kevin Courtney and Frankie Vanderka, but the lineup does still feature one key holdover from their 2012 College World Series run in senior SS Cole Peragine (.287/.396/.378, .984 fielding percentage), a proven leader with rock-solid defensive skills and a knack for making contact at the plate. Peragine is a disciplined hitter who rates as one of the AEC’s toughest outs, as evidenced by his 31-14 BB-SO mark last year. He also has a fine double-play partner in 2B Robert Chavarria (.292/.395/.308), another pesky hitter who walked more than he struck out last year and fielded .980. Stony Brook ranked second in the nation last year with a .983 fielding percentage, but for this club to be as stellar up the middle as it was last year, it needs freshman catcher Drew Bene to mature in a hurry. Expect another step forward from versatile OF Casey Baker (.338/.418/.415 in 130 AB), who will join Peragine as a key middle-of-the-order run producer. A strike-throwing pitching staff should be Stony Brook’s biggest strength, as lefties Tyler Honahan (7-2, 2.89) and Dan Zamora (who missed last year after having Tommy John surgery) will anchor the rotation, and 2014 America East rookie of the year Cameron Stone (1.96 ERA, 8 SV) headlines the bullpen. Honahan’s fastball flashes above-average, and he can keep hitters off balance with his curveball.
KEEP AN EYE ON
• Maine stumbled to a losing overall record and a seventh-place finish in the America East last year, but there is reason to expect a big rebound. Any discussion about the Black Bears must begin with two-way standout Scott Heath (.361/.422/.555; 3-3, 4.86), a physical first baseman with significant raw power along with an advanced offensive approach. He also pitches in the middle of the rotation and attacks hitters with an 88-91 fastball, sharp slider and good changeup from the left side. Heath will pitch on Saturdays behind So. RHP Jeff Gelinas (3-4, 3.86), who works downhill with an 87-93 fastball, a 12-to-6 curve and a quality changeup. Six-foot-5, 225-pound freshman RHP Justin Courtney is polished for his age and can throw his three pitches in any count, giving him a chance to challenge Jr. RHP Jake Marks for the Sunday starter job. Cutter/splitter specialist Charlie Butler (2.54 ERA, 5 SV) anchors the bullpen. Heath should have some support in the lineup from senior Brian Doran (.314/.384/.424), a doubles machine with good athleticism and arm strength in the outfield. The Black Bears also expect a big contribution from C/DH Kevin Stypulkowski, a Florida bounceback with pop from both sides of the plate and solid catch-and-throw skills. Two freshmen—powerful 3B Danny Diaz and polished 2B Bobby Brennan—will bolster the infield.
• Even though Hartford lost first-round pick Sean Newcomb and ninth-rounder Brian Hunter from its rotation along with closer Alex Gouin and catcher James Alfonso, the Hawks think they have the talent to make a run at the conference title. Coach Justin Blood says this is his best overall group of position players since he arrived in Hartford in 2012, with a nice blend of established veterans and talented freshmen. The heart of the order has a strong duo in So. 1B David MacKinnon (.366/.406/.450) and Sr. OF Ryan Lukach (.296/.384/.449, 5 HR). MacKinnon is a standout athlete who doubles as the goalkeeper for the Hartford soccer team, and his athleticism translates well to the basepaths and the defensive side of the game. Lukach has exciting bat speed and could make a run at conference player of the year honors if he can improve his contact rate a bit. He’ll be joined in the all-upperclassman outfield by defensive whiz CF Chris DelDebbio (.260/.298/.313) and on-base machine Brady Sheetz (.288/.401/.375). Athletic 2B Aaron Wilson and steady SS Trey Stover form a strong middle infield to anchor a defense that should be stout. Two freshmen will make a big difference: DH/C Erik Ostberg has the most power potential on the team, a plus arm and surprising speed (6.84-second 60-yard dash). And 3B T.J. Ward was the team’s leading hitter in the fall while also playing good defense. On the mound, Jr. RHP Kyle Gauthier (4-1, 3.02) moves into the Friday starter job, where his mound presence will be an asset and his sinker/slider mix will play. Six-foot-6 Jr. RHP Brian Murphy has increased his velocity into the 87-90 range and sharpened up his 77-80 slider while also improving his control, making him the likely Saturday starter. Jr. RHP Sam McKay (6-2, 1.59 in 40 IP) makes the transition from the bullpen into the rotation, and he has the three-pitch arsenal to succeed in the role, highlighted by a stellar changeup. The bullpen will be anchored by Jr. RHP Jeremy Charles, who complements his 87-90 sinker with perhaps the league’s best slider and a changeup with good bottom.
• Binghamton finished with a losing record last year but through the losers’ bracket in the conference tournament with four straight wins to snag the AEC’s automatic bid. The Bearcats return most of the key pieces that helped them rank second in the conference in fielding percentage last year, and they expect their defense to be a strength once again, led by standout 3B David Schanz and Jr. 2B Reed Gamache (.283/.362/.347), who also brings a quality gap-to-gap bat. Binghamton hopes sophomores 1B Brendan Skidmore and OF Darian Herncane can also provide some pop as he moves into an everyday jobs, and Jason Agresti’s advanced offensive skills make him a leading candidate for AEC freshman of the year. But the centerpiece of the offense is Sr. RF Jake Thomas (.270/.387/.427, 6 HR), who can hit for average and power and also provides good speed. He and fellow senior CF Zach Blanden (.276/.332/.352) provide veteran stability. The Bearcats should be strong on defense and solid on offense, but their pitching staff is a question mark. They do have a solid three-pitch senior bulldog atop the rotation in Greg Ostner (3-2, 2.81 in 57.2 IP), and they hope Jr. RHP Mike Bunal (1-2, 5.89 in 18.1 IP) can make a successful transition to the rotation after two years of development. He owns one of the staff’s best arms, with a 90 mph fastball and low-80s slider. Sr. RHP Mike Urbanski (3-1, 4.40), the top prospect in the Perfect Game Collegiate League in 2013, brings power stuff to the back of the bullpen, highlighted by a fastball that can bump the mid-90s.
THE REST OF THE PACK
• After finishing in the conference’s top three for two straight years, Albany struggled through a miserable 2014, going 12-33 overall and tying UMBC for last place in the standings. A strong group of junior-college transfers—led by SS Trevor DeMerritt, 2B Karson Canaday, and OFs Eric Mueller and Will Miller—should help the Great Danes improve significantly this spring. DeMerritt showed good speed, pop and range at shortstop last summer in the California Collegiate League, and the Albany coaches call him “explosive.” Canaday is a 6.6 runner with good defensive actions and a scrappy offensive approach. Miller brings even more speed (6.45) and excellent instincts in center field, along with strength to the gaps. Mueller is a fast-twitch athlete who also runs well and should hit for average. Another newcomer, freshman 1B Shawn Blake, brings lefthanded power potential. That group will complement DH/C Evan Harasta (.314/.484/.409), the team’s leading hitter a year ago, and Sr. C Craig Lepre (.273/.341/.338), a defensive standout who took a step forward offensively in the Northwoods League. The weekend rotation has a chance to be good, offering hitters three different looks. Jr. LHP Brendan Ryan (3-2, 3.28) is a soft-tosser with command of three pitches. Sr. RHP Cameron Sorgie relies on a heavy sinking fastball and is healthy after being hampered by shoulder soreness a year ago. And So. RHP Stephen Woods, a sixth-round pick out of high school because of his projectability, has the best arm on the staff, with an 89-93 fastball that has bumped 96, improving command and the makings of a plus curveball.
• Massachusetts-Lowell finished third in the conference last year in its Division I debut but won’t be eligible for the NCAA tournament until 2018, when its transition to D-I is complete. The River Hawks will rely heavily on young, unproven pitchers to fill out the staff behind Sr. RHPs Christian Lavoie (1-4, 4.13) and Geoff DeGroot, and they could experience some growing pains. But the veteran starting lineup, which looks likely to feature five seniors and a junior, will keep them competitive. UMass-Lowell’s best player is Sr. SS Danny Mendick (.314/.405/.478, 5 HR, 11 SB), who is versatile and instinctive enough to play all over the infield and also brings pop to the middle of the lineup. Sr. 3B Matt Sanchez (.357/.409/.420, 14 SB) brings additional on-base ability and speed, while Luke Reynolds, Ian Strom and DeGroot form a quality all-senior outfield. Expect this team to be aggressive on the basepaths and play sound defense.
• UMBC didn’t do much well last year, ranking 273rd in the nation in batting (.243), 219th in scoring (4.4 runs per game), 263rd in ERA (5.66) and 203rd in fielding percentage (.963). But the Retrievers did steal bases at a sound clip (1.35 per game, 57th in the nation), and their pitching staff minimized walks (2.87 per nine innings, 33rd in the nation). Two players who earned conference all-freshman honors last year are back to lead the lineup: C/INF Hunter Dolshun (.304/.400/.422) and OF Andrew Casali (.264/.325/.365, 10 SB). Like Albany, the Retrievers will rely upon a host of junior-college transfers to help them reverse their fortunes, led by pitchers Kevin Little and Conrad Wozniak, along with D-I bouncebacks Patrick Phillips (formerly of Old Dominion) and Tim Kelly (Virginia Tech)..