2013 Preview – Southland Conference

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 4th, 2013 in Uncategorized
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 12

.

HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- Southeastern Louisiana

2- Sam Houston State

3- Oral Roberts

4- Lamar

5- Central Arkansas

6- Stephen F. Austin

7- McNeese State

8- Texas A&M-Corpus Christi

9- Northwestern State

10- Nicholls State

.

THE LOWDOWN.

“Southland Strong” is the new slogan for this conference. Well, don’t include the 2012 baseball season into that as the SLC had a pretty disappointing campaign. Although it was a two-bid conference, they dipped to having just four 30+ win team on the ledger, down from five the year before. And now, there has been an exodus of three teams to the WAC. On the positive side, national power Oral Roberts comes to the fray, which should offset the power ranking of the conference just a bit. SLU and The Sam will stay in the top rung of the conference and they’ll be joined by the Eagles on a yearly basis, no doubt. Now, the big question is will anyone else join them there? Lamar could have make a big jump and UCA has potential for a big year as well We just wonder what the conference will be like with no more traditional winners like Texas State and UT-A.

.

.

BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Lamar.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen ole Lamar rising to the upper crust of the Southland. Wasn’t too long ago that they were a fixture in the contending department, but last year’s 22-30 season marked the second straight losing season for coach Jim Gilligan and his crew. But it’s all hands on deck for LU this year as eight field starters and all three weekend starters are slated to come back to the squad for 2013.

.

.

TRENDING DOWN:

- Nicholls State

Crud! Just when the Colonels were close to breaking through. NSU had four straight seasons on win-total increases from 2008 to 2011. But after last season’s 26-28 mark, the Colonels now find themselves with very little experience coming back for this season. Hopefully coach Thibodeaux can get things jazzed up again in Thibodeaux.

.

.

BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Constellation Field.

The home of the Sugarland Skeeters, the team that Roger Clemens pitched for last summer, will host the SLC Tourney this year. It has been played on campus sites for the last few years, so there is a lot riding on Constellation Field being a money-maker for the SLC as other conferences have capitalized on with minor league facilities lately.

.

.

BEST PLAYER:

- Jose Trevino, 3B, Oral Roberts

It will be interesting to see how the Eagle leader does in the tougher, more competitive Southland Conference after hitting .317 with 13 dingers in the Summit League.

SFA SS Hunter Dozier will push ORU's Jose Trevino for Player of the Year honors after an impressive .357, 10-HR season for the Lumberjacks.

.

.

BEST PITCHER:

- Caleb Smith, LHP, Sam Houston State

It was tough to put Smith down here and leave SLU’s Dylan Hills off. Mainly because with Stefan Lopez gone from the Lion bullpen, Hills will become even more of a go-to guy. But Smith is no slouch by any means. Opponents hit just .218 off him a year ago, and look for him to surpass his 82K total from 2012 as well.

.

.

IMPACT NEWCOMER:

- Aaron Haag, 1B, Southeastern Louisinaa

Haag comes to Hammond at just the right time. The Lions lost a lot of punch off last year’s squad, including 2B Brock Hebert, the leading hitter in the Southland. Haag was a JC All American, who hit .414 with 10 home runs for Wallace CC last year.

.

.

STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- Sam Houston State at Southeastern Louisiana, May 10-12

I like the thinking of the Southland powers-that-be, having these two face off in the second-to-last weekend of the season. That nearly guarantees it will have heavy meaning, even if one of these two tanks it and doesn’t have the season we’re thinking they’re gonna have.

.

.

CAPSULES…

.

- CENTRAL ARKANSAS (25-30, 16-17)

2012 ISR: 146

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

.

All Conference Candidates:

OF Jonathan Davis (.333, 17SBs)

OF Forrestt Allday (.324)

RHP Caleb McClanahan (6-5, 4.32, .250OBA)

.

NOTES:

- Most of the team returns for the Bears in 2012, including four of the top five hitters, three of which went .301 or better. A full 41 of the 55 games started last year on the mound come back to the roster this year. Weekend starters Caleb McClanahan and LHP Jeffery Enloe (5-8, 5.44, .257OBA) combined for seven complete games last season and hope to have big senior years. Fellow senior Clint Green (2-0, 3.18) should be a valuable contributor as well.

- Four of the six returnees in the field are seniors, including slick-fielding dirtbaggers Garrett Brown (.301-2-17) and Blake Marchal (.286, 20SBs), who should improve the .968 defensive percentage.

- Coach Allen Gum surmises his team like this, “We have some talent and some athletes. We’re going to have to piece this pitching staff together a little bit, but we have some good arms and some good young arms.”

.

.

- LAMAR (22-30, 14-19)

2012 ISR: 141

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

.

All Conference Candidates:

OF Darian Johnson (.344-4-25)

1B Brad Picha (.320)

.

NOTES:

- Yikes. We’re not used to seeing this from LU. The 2012 season marked the third straight campaign where the Cardinals finished below the Mendoza Line in Southland Conference play. They finished in a three-way tie for 8th place in the SLC with Texas A&M-CC and Northwestern State, but got nosed out of the post-season tournament thanks to a combined 1-5 record against those two teams.

- Seven of the eight returning starters are JC transfers who should have a better feel for the sport at the D1 level. The top four hitters all return, led by Darian Johnson, Brad Picha, Seth Dornak (.310-3-22) and Garret Autrey (.299-4-29).

- All three weekend starters are slated to come back to campus (at the time I’m writing this in mid-January, the Cardinals still hadn’t posted their 2013 roster… yes, hard to believe). Jonathan Dziedzic (5-4, 3.47), Eric Harrington (3-9, 4.46) and Carter Hahn (3-3, 4.82) combined for 36 starts and had seven complete games last season.

.

.

- McNEESE STATE (24-30, 17-16)

2012 ISR: 160

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

.

All Conference Candidates:

RHP Blake Ware (7-7, 3.16)

LHP Trey McGee (3-2, 2.78, .254OBA)

RHP Michael Clemens (3-3, 3.43, 6svs)

.

NOTES:

- The Cowboys limped out to a 4-12 start last season which put them in a hole early on. They rebounded well-enough to forge to a winning record in Southland play and make their way to the post-season tournament. Of course, they fell flat there, going 0-and-2, getting outscored 13-3 in losses to UTA and Sam Houston. Hopefully that will give the Pokes some motivation to take this one step further this year.

- Unfortunately the offense is pretty threadbare with Taylor Klouser having the best average of the returnees at .254. (Though part-time starter Taylor Drake hit .281 in 25 starts). That explains why you see that crappy .239 team average from last year. Gah!

- Opponents hit .293 off the Cowboys pitching last season, but they’ll get staff ace Blake Ware back, along with top reliever Michael Clemens, who had six saves while also starting seven games too.

.

.

- NICHOLLS STATE (26-28, 13-19)

2012 ISR: 143

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

.

All Conference Candidates:

2B Phillip Lyons (.335, 16SBs)

OF Matt Richard (.278, 26SBs)

RHP Michael Suk (7-1, 4.79)

.

NOTES:

- For the first time in five years the Colonels didn’t increase their win total from the year before. In fact, last year’s season featured an 11th place finish in conference play. But on the good side, NSU did open the season with an upset at Southern Miss and also had winning weekends vs. Southeastern Louisiana and Northwestern State, so it wasn’t a total lost cause.

- The offense lost some big sticks (like leading hitter Jeremy Hill – .368 – and Michael LeGrange – .308), but there is going to be speed to burn for coach Seth Thibodeaux to utilize to his advantage. Phillip Lyons, Matt Richard and OF Mike Barba (.272-2-18) will lead the charge as they combined for eight triples and 55 stolen bases last season. Also look for OF David Zorn, a part-time starter who hit .321 and was 7-for-11 in stolen base attempts to add to that trio.

- The pitching corps was ravaged by graduation and will have to rely on a bevy of newcomers. But the remaining three pitchers of note would make a formidable D-Line for a football team. Michael Suk is 6’5″ 250, Kory Delange (3-0, 5.74, .245OBA) is 6’5″ 245 and Jordan McCoy (1-4, 5.20) goes 6’4″ 190… Okay, so McCoy would have to be the speedy end, but you get the point. These guys should make for an intimidating core to re-build upon.

.

.

- NORTHWESTERN STATE (19-32, 14-19)

2012 ISR: 178

Starters Returning: 2

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

.

All Conference Candidate:

OF/1B Will Watson (.335, 23SBs)

.

NOTES:

- Oof! And you thought Nicholls State had a bare cupboard? Look at the Demons meager experience they’ve got returning to campus for 2013. The good news is that the two returnees are really good returnees in leading hitter Will Watson and a good backstop in fellow senior Nick Purdy (.230).

- Pitching-wise, things are even more bleak in the returnees department. Only junior Andrew Adams (1-5, 7.13, 7starts) and senior A.J. Funk (0-2, 7.91, 15apps) return to the roster.

- The Demons program has a new head honcho to try to right the ship in Lane Burroughs, who comes to Nacogdoches after spending the last four years as an assistant at Mississippi State. Burroughs has been an assistant under John Cohen, Dave Van Horn, Rob Childress and Jim Wells the past few years. Although this is a tough first gig, I still don’t think the dude is going to be a wilting flower here.

.

.

- ORAL ROBERTS (38-25, 17-6 in the Summit League)

2012 ISR: 98

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

.

All Conference Candidates:

3B Jose Trevino (.317-13-57)

RHP Drew Bowen (7-2, 1.95, .245OBA)

RHP Alex Gonzalez (6-3, 2.30, .205OBA)

RHP Kurt Giller (6-4, 3.42, .212OBA)

.

NOTES:

- Obviously, as you’re reading this in the Southland portion of the preview, the Eagles have migrated to a new conference home. They’ve been dominating the Summit so long it’s just as well they make a move to a tougher order of business. And now they’ll do so with a new head coach. Rob Walton moved on to be an assistant under Josh Holliday at Oklahoma State, so in steps Ryan Folmar, a nine-year Eagles assistant.

- The strength of this year’s team – are you sitting down – will be pitching again. Yeah, I know, try to act surprised. Coach Folmar has forged his reputation on developing great hitters, but he has inherited a good pitching staff, though possibly not as deep as it normally is. The weekend rotation of Drew Bowen, Alex Gonzalez and Kurt Giller was extremely effective – I mean, just look at those opponent batting averages: .245, .205 and .212. Wow. The best part of that rotation? They combined for eight complete games last season. Considering saves leaders Joe Spring and Matt Rush have moved on, they may need to go deep into games once again this year.

- Jose Trevino has a bright future ahead of himself with the Eagles – and further – after being named a Freshman All American. He nailed 13 home runs last year and had a .573 slugging percentage. He should be one of the top power bats in the country as a sophomore.

- There’s not a lot of experience coming back defensively, but the highly-regarded incoming class should help that cause. Be sure to watch for catcher Justin Morhardt, a strapping 6’4″ 200-pound prep star from Connecticut who was drafted in the 38th round of last summer’s draft.

.

.

- SAM HOUSTON STATE (40-22, 24-9)

2012 ISR: 42

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

.

All Conference Candidates:

C/1B Anthony Azar (.354-3-38)

OF Colt Atwood (.316, 11SBs)

3B Kevin Miller (.315-2-33)

LHP Caleb Smith (8-6, 3.23, .219OBA)

LHP Cody Dickson (4-5, 3.25, .256OBA)

RHP Michael Burchett (4-3, 3.35, 10svs)

.

NOTES:

- We’ve gotten used to seeing Southland Conference teams taking down the big boys, but the Bearkats really came up aces last June in coach David Pierce’s first season at the helm, eliminating homesteading Rice from the Regionals before falling to Arkansas in the title round. They also downed San Diego (twice), Dallas Baptist and Rice (during the regular season too, that is). So I guess we better tell Texas, Tulane, Rice, Baylor, Dallas Baptist and Texas A&M to take heed since they’re on the slate this season.

- There’s not a lot of pitching coming back, but the ones that ARE back are outstanding. Caleb Smith and Cody Dickson are weekenders that combined for over 170 innings and kept their ERAs in the lower 3s. Ace reliever Michael Buchett made 32 appearances last season, which included the 10 saves that were mentioned above, but also had three starts on the year. He needs to bear down a tad more though since his K-to-BB rate was just 27-to-14 and opponents hit .299 off him last season.

- By the way, almost forgot to mention that Cody Dickson was also named the No. 1 pro prospect in last summer’s California Collegiate League after going 3-1 and 3.13 for the Santa Barbara Foresters.

.

.

- SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA (39-21, 20-13)

2012 ISR: 49

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

.

All Conference Candidates:

RHP Andro Cutura (6-1, 3.30, .244OBA)

LHP Jordan Hymel (6-3, 2.65, .201OBA)

RHP Dylan Hills (9-4, 1.65, .181OBA)

OF Harry Slade (.294, 14SBs)

.

NOTES:

- Aw crap! The Lions had to be gnashing their teeth seeing 1st place Sam Houston State and 3rd place UT-Arlington both go Big Dancing and play on into the post-season. SLU lost to the Mavericks in the title round of the Southland Tournament and have had to stew on that for these past eight months. Arrrrgh!

- Well don’t shed too many tears for the Green & Gold, the heavy amount of arms power could put them right back into contention for more post-season opportunities. The three-man rotation will have a very familiar look as Jordan Hymel, Andro Cutura and Buck Bernard (2-2, 3.68) bring their 38 starts and 202 innings of work back to the hill.

- The big loss in the arms corps will be losing Stefan Lopez, who had an incredible 20 saves last season to go along with his 2-1, 0.61 and .179 opponents batting average. There are a few relievers coming back, but the featured head honcho will be Dylan Hills, who won the most games of all the Lions and made 27 appearances. Jason Greenleaf (3-2, 2.26) and Kaleb Manuel (1-2, 3.63) will provide some depth after making 44 combined appearances.

- The dirtbaggers return SS Ben Hernandez (.280) and 3B Brett Hoffman (.212), who are a pair of good gloves and were a large part of the Lions’ having a .975 fielding percentage, the best defense in the conference. But the best two hitters on the team – who were also the right side of the infield – are missing in 1B Jonathan Pace and 2B Brock Hebert, who led the SLC in hitting at .374. Hebert also was a great leadoff man, including his 36 stolen bases.

- The best of the newcomers should be 1B/DH Aaron Haag, a stoutly-built power-stick, who the coaches feel should play at an All-Southland level. But also watch for incoming catcher Jameson Fisher, who was drafted in the 24th round of the pro draft by the Cubs, but chose to come to campus instead.

- Unlike most years, the Lions have a pretty soft pre-SLC schedule, with weekends against UT-Martin, Texas Southern, Hartford and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. So the RPI could take a couple of hits. But to be fair, SLU will have a few good one-offs in there featuring a game at LSU, two at Ole Miss and a home-and-home with Tulane.

.

.

- STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (26-33, 16-17)

2012 ISR: 139

Starters Returning: 3

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

.

All Conference Candidates:

SS Hunter Dozier (.357-10-37)

2B Freddy Villalobos (.296-3-25)

1B Max Lamantia (.325-4-17)

RHP Chase Greening (5-7, 4.92)

RHP Cameron Gann (7-3, 2.62)

.

NOTES:

- Oy vey. I hate to say this, so don’t hate me SFA fans. But the Jacks were sort of due for a rebuilding season where they would probably meddle in the middle. Last year’s team was pretty inexperienced with so much attrition from the school-record 37-win team of 2011.

- The Lumberjacks were the biggest lumberjacks in the SLC, meaning they led the loop with 35 home runs. A big reason for that is the return of Hunter Dozier, who is a strapping 6’4″, 210 and leads by example. But his partner in crime, Bobby Loveless (9HRs), has moved on. So some new power bats will need to be cultivated.

- Team CG will lead the pitching staff. Chase Greening and Cameron Grant combined for 25 starts and 154 innings of work last season and will return to the weekend rotation. But among the penners, SFA will also have the services of Righties Brett Higginbotham (2-3, 5.93, 6starts, 13apps) and Justin Choate (0-5, 4.13, 6starts, 23apps), both seniors who spot-started last season.

- The strength of this team will be the returners in the infield. Although they were just .964% in the field – 8th in the conference – having experienced gloves like Hunter Dozier, Freddy Villalobos and Max Lamantia, who came on strong at first base as 2012 went on. OF-turned-3Bman Zach Benson (.250) will take over the hot corner in his senior year.

.

.

- TEXAS A&M-CORPUS CHRISTI (24-33, 14-19)

2011 ISR: 163

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

.

All Conference Candidates:

DH Jonathan Gonzales (.299-9-33)

OF Jordan Lee (.333-2-18)

RHP Tyler Schnuriger (0-0, 5.73)

RHP Trevor Foss (3-8, 5.18)

.

NOTES:

- The 2012 season didn’t seem to go as the Islanders had hoped to, especially considering there was a lot of experience coming back to the roster. Although on the plus side, 2011 and 2012 was the first time the Isles made back-to-back appearances in the Southland tournament. So there is a little good with the bad. This year’s squad doesn’t have as much numbers coming back, but four of the starters in the field are seniors, as are both weekend mound starters in LHP Adam Hoelscher (6-7, 4.33) and Trevor Foss.

- Coach Scott Malone has to hope that new blood will pay off in spades this year, especially on the defensive side. The Islanders had the worst defense in the SLC, fielding at a .957 pace, so having an all-new infield may not be a bad thing after all. One player to keep an eye on is incoming shortstop Jakob Silva, a compact hometown product with smooth skills. 1B Brad Porres (.281-3-15) will be back to man his post as well.

- Only three pitchers from last year’s team who pitched significant innings come back for 2013,  led by the aforementioned senior starters Hoelscher and Foss. But righties Matt Danton (2-1, 3.68) and Tyler Schnuriger, should step up big time this season and be the anchors for the rebuilt bullpen.

 

Comments are closed.