2015 Conference Previews: Mountain West
Mountain West Projected StandingsBold indicates projected regional team, Top 25 ranking in parentheses, and records are from 2014. Teams are listed in order of projected finish.
|San Diego State||17-13||42-21|
|San Jose State||10-20||19-38|
Projected Regional Teams (1): New Mexico
Player of the Year: Austin Byler, 1b, Nevada
Pitcher of the Year: Bubba Derby, rhp, San Diego State
Freshman of the Year: Cal Stevenson, of/lhp, Nevada
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PROJECTED REGIONAL TEAM
• Hard to believe that just a few years ago New Mexico baseball was completely off the radar in college baseball. But the Ray Birmingham factor is in full force now. The approachable Birmingham translates his “no one’s a stranger” personality into a recruiting approach that lands him boatloads of talent. One of his biggest gets this year will be LHP Toller Boardman, a JC transfer from San Jacinto (Texas); Birmingham says, “He’d be a weekend starter for anyone in the country.” Boardman is so highly regarded, he’ll be the Friday starter despite the return of two weekend starters, LHP Colton Thomson (6-6, 3.60) and RHP Drew Bridges (4-1, 3.66). The bullpen will be a strength with the return of saves leader Victor Sanchez (4-1, 2.33, 10 saves), Taylor Duree (2-0, 3.55) and Jake Cole (3-1, 3.67, 3 saves), a trio of righties who combined for 74 appearances. The offense will be built more on speed than in recent years, headed by 2B Sam Haggerty (.340, 14 SB) and CF Aaron Siple (.290), who both have speed to burn. There will be some concerns with youth. Newbies will dot the lineup as freshman 1B Carl Stajduhar (a 27th-round pick of the Braves), catcher Cory Voss (34th round, Rockies) and RF Luis Gonzalez (who will also pitch some) will join JC transfer SS Dalton Bowers (a quick-twitch runner with a smooth glove) in the projected opening day starting lineup.
KEEP AN EYE ON
• Like New Mexico, UNLV was a college baseball purgatory for years, raising its head once in a while for an NCAA tournament appearance every decade or so. But now Tim Chambers has a handful of winning campaigns in Sin City. Last year culminated in a regular-season tie for the MWC crown and a trip to regionals. Hey coach, you got more for 2015? Yep, probably so. The Rebs had to say goodbye to stud righthander Erick Fedde, who ended up being a first-round draft choice last June. They also lost 11-game winner John Richy. But every other arm of note is back in the fold, led by RHPs Bryan Bonnell (7-5, 2.90) and Kenny Oakley (4-8, 3.06). Also returning is wildly talented Zak Qualls, who led the Rebs as a freshman but has had two straight years mostly spent in the MASH unit. The bullpen will be a strength, as saves specialists Brayden Torres (2-1, 1.93, 9 saves) and Zack Hartman (missed 2014 but is one save away from the school record) are back to lock down late-inning wins. Team captain and four-year starter Erik VanMeetren (.291) and top returning hitter Morgan Stotts (.337-3-36) will lead a very capable offense if the pitching tanks.
• San Diego State is dedicating the 2015 to the memory of its former mentor and Hall of Famer, the late Tony Gwynn. And after going to the NCAAs the last two seasons, this team is getting used to the smell of success. If star power says anything, then the Aztecs will be the team to watch as Mark Martinez’s charges include some of the better marquee players in the MWC this year. Five Aztecs are projected to be top-10-round talents in the upcoming MLB draft, particularly 3B Ty France (.356-5-45), C/RHP C.J. Saylor (a former 33rd-round draft pick who is also projected to be the staff closer) and two weekend starters on the bump in RHPs Bubba Derby (8-4, 3.08) and Mark Seyler (8-6, 3.90), who both hit the low 90s on their heaters. The middle infield will be filled with greenhorns as SS Danny Sheehan has had a star-crossed career but is finally 100 percent for this season and second base will be manned by incoming frosh Justin Wylie, who had the coaching staff buzzing in the fall.
THE REST OF THE PACK
• You know how every year there is a team that comes out of the woodwork and shocks everyone? Don’t be surprised if that team is Nevada in 2015. This will be a senior-heavy team, led by 1B Austin Byler (.326-14-47), one of the best power sticks in the country. He’ll join fellow senior Kewby Meyer (.328-3-29), who led the nation in doubles last year, and freshman All-American Trenton Brooks (.330-3-35) to make a formidable top of the order. All three weekend starters return on the mound with senior RHP Jason Deitrich (3-2, 2.80) and senior LHP Barry Timko (6-3, 4.40) joining junior RHP Michael Fain (4-5, 3.90) as leaning posts. RHP Adam Whitt (5-5, 3.71, 7 saves), a submariner with an 86-89 fastball and a good slider, was the Cape Cod League Reliever of the Year last summer.
• Hard to believe, but Fresno State finished 2014 with its second straight losing record (28-29 overall). To shake that albatross, the Bulldogs will lean on staff horses Tim Borst (4-5, 3.02) and William Munro (2-2, 3.49) and the two top relievers in RHPs Jake Shull (2-5, 4.61, 4 saves) and Garrett Mundell (4-0, 1.59, .182 OBA). They’ll throw to one of the best backstops in the country in Taylor Ward (.320-6-41), who is the only returnee to hit better than .259. Fleet OF McCarthy Tatum (a 20th-round draft pick last June) and Korby Batesole (2B) are fresh-faced frosh who should crack the starting lineup with their advanced skills.
• Weekend trips to Air Force are going to continue to be a dicey proposition for visiting teams. Not just because of the elements either. Coach Mike Kazlausky thinks he’s got one of the best starting pitching rotations in the MWC, and he’s got a point. RHPs Griffin Jax (3-8, 5.86, and a former 12th-round draft pick) and Steven Trojan (3-6, 5.33) are disciplined pitchers who should post better numbers, and LHP Jacob DeVries only pitched seven innings last year as a freshman but was a well-regarded lefthanders coming out of high school. At the top of the batting order will be freshman All-American OF Tyler Jones (.338-4-31), who is a difference maker.
• San Jose State has more questions than answers right now. But RHP Kalei Contrades (5-2, 2.50) finished second in the MWC in ERA and had just 10 walks in 80 innings of work. The staff raved over the improvement of RHP Logan Handzlik (2-3, 5.92), who was hitting low 90s in the fall. The best news of all is the arrival of new pitching coach Tom Kunis, who is a noted mound guru in the Bay Area and should improve the Spartan arms even though there won’t be a lot of experience to work with. Versatile CF Andre Mercurio (.280) will move from leadoff to cleanup in the order and joins top returning hitter Brett Bautista (.313). Incoming JC transfer Ozzy Braff is a wizard with the glove at 2B and was a California Coastal League all-star as well..