2013 Preview – The Atlantic 10

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 6th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, Atlantic 10
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 22

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

1- St. Louis

2- Rhode Island

3- Xavier

4- Richmond

5- VCU

6- Dayton

7- Fordham

8- St. Joseph’s

9- Charlotte

10- Temple

11- Butler

12- St. Bonaventure

13- Massachusettes

14- George Washington

15- LaSalle

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THE LOWDOWN.

Okay guys, you’re called the “Atlantic 10″ and you now have 15 teams. Knock it off. Dayton and St. Louis tied for the regular season crown last year, and look for the Billikens to stay on top of the standings this time around. Finding a new catcher and a new closer are the only missing pieces for STL, otherwise everyone else comes back for 2013. Dayton has half its team to fill back in but the talent level is still higher than most of the A-10, so the fall won’t be huge. Richmond, Xavier and Fordham could be in for big things in 2013. And of course, everybody is waiting – nay, cringing – to see when the old Charlotte 49ers are going to make their long-awaited return to being a conference tormentor. Last year’s sub-standard plunge was stunning. Virginia Commonwealth and Butler both come into the A-10, mainly for their basketball prowess. But look for VCU to be a factor right off the bat. The Bulldogs will need to spend a season or two acclimating and building up the talent level.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Xavier.

Just about every pitcher of note returns from the 4th-best unit in the conference. If the offense jumps back on track, as expected, The X could be ready for a title run and a Big Dance possibility.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- LaSalle.

It will be a tough go-round for the Explorers with only two field starters and just four pitchers of importance returning. They have to hope road trips to Texas Tech, N.C. State, New Mexico and New Mexico State don’t crush their youthful psyches right from the get-go.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Joe Popielarczyk, RHP, UMass

The Minutemen lost every weekend starter and will have to retool the mound staff. But Popielarczyk was the big hoss, having led the A-10 with a 1.66 ERA and 6-2 record. The big hose was a big loss.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Bill Cullen, OF, VCU

A career .337 hitter, Cullen has also sliced 13 triples (nine last season alone) in his two-year career. Look for big things from the mercurial Cullen in his new A-10 surroundings.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Alex Alemann, RHP, St. Louis

The best of a deep, experienced staff for STL. You could’ve also had teammate Clay Smith in this spot as well, as he also posted a 7-2 mark last season and a sub-3.00 ERA. Alemann has been a bit more of a punchout artist.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER

- Danny O’Donnell, RHP, George Washington.

Was one of only three high school seniors to play in the Cal Ripken Summer League, which is a collegiate wood-bat league. The Oleny, Maryland native went 3-1 and 3.22 with 22 strikeouts.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- Charlotte at St. Louis, May 16-18.

Okay, this one isn’t as obvious, I know. But the Billikens don’t play Rhode Island this year (another indication that your conference is too big) and the 49ers will either be playing for their post-season lives OR will actually get their act together well enough again to possibly play for the regular season title. So this weekend, the last of the regular season, could have huge implications either way.

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CAPSULES…

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- BUTLER (22-34, 10-20 in Horizon)

2012 ISR: 264

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

C Radley Haddad (.295)

1B Jimmy Risi (.282-12-46)

RHP Chase Byerly (2-4, 3.57, 10svs)

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NOTES:

- Okay, the bad news is that nobody will ever confuse the Butler basketball program with the Butler baseball program. But the good news is that the Bulldogs get to step up in competition starting in 2013, taking their wares to the A-10 from the Horizon League. Unlike the Horizon, the A-10 will give them a better chance at an NCAA bid ‘coz yes the Atlantic 10 can get an at-large bid from time to time. But that’s still a ways down the line.

- Of course, the other bad news with moving to the A-10 is that the Bulldogs haven’t been relevant in the Horizon League for a number of years now, so how can we expect them to make a challenge in the tougher Atlantic 10?

- The Bulldogs should be bulldog tough with a veteran infield and good bullpen, those two factors will keep them in a lot of games and should raise their win total in 2013. Austin Miller (.252) and seniors Lucas Calderon (.241) and Bob Akin (.252) were all pretty interchangeable in the infield positions last year. But the biggest news is the return of 3B Patrick Guinane, who hit .402 in 35 games of 2011 but suffered an off-season injury and sat out all of 2012. Similarly, the outfield will return Andrew Eckhardt, who hit .285 in 2011 but also sat out last season.

- One thing on the BU side is that they actually won last summer’s “Schedule Fever” contest, being the first program in Division 1 to post their 2013 schedule of games, which happened way back on July 12 of last summer. But the bad part of that is the fact that National Champion Arizona shows up on the BU slate, as part of a rigorous three-week spree that sees the Dogs go from Arizona to Texas State and then to Virginia Commonwealth to start their new A-10 lives. Rough stretch.

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- CHARLOTTE (21-32, 9-14)

2012 ISR: 219

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Tyler Barnette (3-3, 4.20, .250OBA)

LHP John Hamilton (2-1, 2.92, 7svs)

3B Shane Basen (.327-2-45, 26BBs)

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NOTES:

- With the possible exception of Jacksonville (who finished with an ISR of 230) the 49ers were the most disappointing mid-major bust in the landscape of 2012 college baseball. Going from 43 wins in 2011 to 21 wins? Despite having almost the entire pitching staff and six field starters back? I mean, sure, things like injuries and lack of motivation play a big part in any teams’ destiny… or in this case, it’s infamy… but to win less than half of the previous season’s total. Ouchie-Mama! Time to make amends guys.

- And yes, just to be clear, I had Charlotte pegged at No. 25 in my preseason rankings for Athlon’s Magazine going into last season. What a precipitous fall that was. The Niners finished 9th in the A-10 in defense (.962) and surprisingly way down at 8th in pitching (4.68). But it was the tank running dry that was the worst part, as the Niners went 8-18 in the months of April and May, causing them to miss the post-season altogether.

- This time around coach Loren Hibbs and his staff will have to revamp the weekend rotation after losing the two most-used pitchers on the staff in Joe Yermal and Andrew Smith, who combined for 27 starts, 162 innings and 11 of the 21 wins last season. Having LHP John Hamilton (2-1, 2.92, 7svs) back at the back end of the bullpen will be a huge boon, especially since he gave up just eight multi-base hits in his 39 innings of work.

- The biggest returnee has to be RHP Corey Roberts, who was just 1-3, 6.00 in an injury-shortened season. But he was a weekend starter the previous two years, so if he’s back to 100% he’ll be a much-needed, experienced, savvy arm for the rotation. He’ll team with Tyler Barnette for a potentially great one-two punch on the weekends. But be sure to put an asterisk (*) next to the word “potentially.”

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- DAYTON (31-30, 17-7)

2012 ISR: 192

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Robby Sunderman (.296-4-30, 15SBs)

RHP Parker Schrage (4-6, 4.46)

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NOTES:

- Last year in this spot I wondered if the Flyers were capable of winning 40 games. So they didn’t do it, but a second straight 30+ win season and – better yet – a sweep of the A-10 Tournament and a trip to the Regionals made for a successful 2012 season. That is… until the way it ended. Yes, for all the good things that happened for the Flyers, that 28-12 blowout loss to TCU was a pretty terrible black eye to finish the season. Hopefully it will light a fire for this team.

- But getting back to the big picture here, UD came up clutch repeatedly as the season went on last year. The Flyers lost their first six one-run games of the season, but then won 13 of their final 16 one-run games from mid-March onward.

- The Flyers once again lived up to their name by stealing a league-high 164 bases last season. Don’t look for UD to stray far from that formula again as the lineup is blessed with team-cursing speed nearly throughout the lineup. They still have mercurial types like 3B Robby Sunderman, OF Ian Hundley (.319, 17SBs) and Mel Skochdopole (.226, 20SBs) to terrorize opposing pitchers and catchers.

- Oddly, the Flyers finished dead-last in defense at .956, so the biggest roll-your-sleeves up in the fall came in developing a smoother infield. The onus falls on talents like the aforementioned Sunderman at 3rd, Skochdopole at 2nd and A.J. Ryan (.261-4-40), who will form three-fourths of the dirtbaggers. Clamp down guys. Your team needs you. Finding a shortstop to replace leading hitter Brian Blasik is a big deal.

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- FORDHAM (22-34, 12-12)

2012 ISR: 233

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Ryan Lee (.250, 15SBs)

RHP Joseph Charest (5-8, 3.43)

RHP Chris Pike (4-2, 5.21)

RHP Jeremy Adel (3-4. 1.54)

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NOTES:

- Prior to last year the Rams got a new coach in former Manhattan guru Kevin Leighton, but they came away with the same number of wins in A-10 play, that being 12. In fact, it marked the fourth straight season of having a .500 or better mark in conference play. The win total took a hit though as a slow start led the Rams from 31 wins in 2011 to just 22 wins last season.

- The biggest problem for the Rams was hitting just .250 as a team, second-worst in the A-10, and also striking out a conference-high 418 times. But the good news is that a pair of .300+ hitters come back to pace the offense in Mike Mauri and Ryan Maghini, who hit .325 and .318, who both also stole nine bases last year. So if those two can get on base at a hearty pace they can help jump-start the offense.

- The Rams used primarily eight pitchers all last season and six of them return to the roster this season. The senior relief corps of Jeremy Adel and Rich Anastasi *2-3, 2.45, 4svs) combined for 10 saves and held opponents to .220 and .280 averages respectively. Staff ace Joseph Charest was a horse last year, throwing a team-high 105 innings. Chris Pike and John Porter (2-7, 6.93) also return after starting 23 games between them.

- A 13-man recruiting class comes to campus this year and includes Charles Galiano, a backstop from Dix, New York who was drafted by the Phillies in the 36th round of last June’s draft.

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- GEORGE WASHINGTON (20-35, 6-18)

2012 ISR: 253

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Owen Beightol (.309-5-20)

RHP Kenny O’Brien (5-4, 2.76, 6svs)

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NOTES:

- There was some upheaval in the coaching ranks as Steve Mrowka ends his eight-year run as head coach, having last made the A-10 Tourney field in 2005. Tom Sheridan was named interim coach for the Colonials in the summer, but then former Pittsburgh Pirate Gregg Ritchie was named the permanent coach on October 11th. Ritchie is a former Colonial All American in the mid-80s and was the Pirates hitting coach the last two seasons. Sheridan remains on the staff as an assistant.

- The starting pitching must develop better starts for the Colonials, especially to help set a better mindset for winning. Last season, GW was out-scored by 92 runs in the first four innings of games.

- Senior LHP Brian Derner could help the arms corps cause after twice being named the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s pitcher of the week last summer. He will need to continue that streak here in the spring, since at GW last year he was just 1-8, 5.80 in 12 starts.

- RHP Danny O’Donnell comes to his freshman year with a hardened pedigree, having pitched exceedingly well last summer in the Cal Ripken League, which is an NCAA sanctioned summer league in which he made the All Star Team by going 3-1 in seven starts.

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- LaSALLE (20-33, 7-17)

2012 ISR: 249

Starters Returning: 2

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Dan Klem (.301)

RHP Pat Christensen (4-3, 2.66, 9svs)

LHP Ryan Donahue (3-3, 2.91)

OF George Smith Jr. (.291-2-26)

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NOTES:

- The Explorers saw their one-year stay as a winning team end in 2012, dropping from 28-26 the year before, which was their first winning campaign since 1996.

- Even though the Explorers had to rebuild their pitching staff last season they still finished 5th in the A-10 in team ERA at 4.00 and issued just 152 walks, second-lowest in the loop.

- Pat Christensen and Ryan Donahue should have stellar seasons again, especially after spending last summer playing in the prestigious Cape Cod League. Christensen is the all-time saves leader (33) and ERA leader (2.84) in Explorer history. They’ll get a shot in the arm from junior Shawn O’Neill, a transfer from Richmond who was named the Pitcher of the Year in the Valley Summer League.

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- MASSACHUSETTS (22-22, 14-10)

2012 ISR: 212

Starters Returning: 8

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Dennis Torres, 4-4, 3.34

LHP Conor LeBlanc, 4-1, 3.37

2B Rob McLamb (.337)

OF Rich Graef (.333)

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NOTES:

- With eight returning fielders and batters in the order, the Minutemen will lean on experience and depth this season. After hitting .270 as a team last year and fielding at .960 pace, these numbers should improve in 2013.

- The top four batters in the order return with Rob McLamb, Rich Graef, OF Anthony Serino (.287, 12SBs) and 1B Dylan Begin (.284-3-18), who are solid sticks.

- The Minutemen will need rebound seasons from a few talents for the win total to continue to improve, including OF Adam Picard, who hit .286 in 2011 but just .230 last year and 2B/SS Nick Sanford going from .278 in 2011 down to .209 last year.

- Only two pitchers of note return for this spring in part-time starters LHP Conor LeBlanc and Dennis Torres, who was drafted in the 28th round by the Orioles last summer but chose to come back to UM for his senior year. New young arms will need to be cultivated.

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- RHODE ISLAND (33-25-1, 16-8)

2012 ISR: 128

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Jeff Roy (.356-2-38, 22SBs)

RHP Sean Furney (5-1, 3.33)

RHP Mike Bradstreet (3-4, 2.77, 10svs)

OF Chris Famiglietti (.277, 25SBs)

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NOTES:

- Two losses to St. Joseph’s in last year’s A-10 Tournament vexed the Rams all off-season long. They hope to use that as motivation for a better finish in 2013. The odd thing is that the Rams went 12-6 in A-10 games down the stretch, so seeing the season end with two upsets was a big surprise.

- There are always a good collection of speed merchants on the Rams after they finished second in the A-10 in stolen bases behind Dayton with 122 thefts last season. Jeff Roy and Chris Famiglietti have great speed in both the meadow and on the basepaths. They’ll get help from Kevin Stenhouse and Tim Caputo, who both hit .303 and had 13 stolen bases each last season.

- All seven returning pitchers had an ERA of 4.50 or better from a unit that had a 4.22 team ERA. There aren’t a lot of big punchout-type hurlers in the arm corps, but they induce a lot of ground balls and rely on the solid gloves behind them. But weekend starters Nick Narodowy and Chris Pickering will be sorely missed.

- Okay that opening schedule is ridiculous. The Rams just can’t go on the road to Florida State and Ole Miss on consecutive weekends to start the season and expect a lot of success. Hopefully, coach Jim Foster doesn’t lose his team from these roadies and can pull some Ws in the weeks after that against more-sane competition like Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Ohio, Winthrop, East Tennessee State and Hofstra. Good luck guys.

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- RICHMOND (30-26, 14-10)

2012 ISR: 200

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Zak Sterling (7-1, 2.57)

RHP Andrew Brockett (3-8, 3.79, 6svs)

RHP Andrew Blum (6-4, 4.06)

RHP/1B Jacob Mayers (6-3, 4.43, 82Ks and .339-10-48)

SS Mike Small (.296)

OF Matt Zink (.295)

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NOTES:

- Look out for the Spiders in 2013 as they could have the best pitching corps in the conference, especially with the return of Zak Sterling, who tied for the A-10 lead in most wins, and also strikeout specialist King Jacob Mayers, who is also one of the best power sticks in the conference. But the even bigger news is the return of two big-time arms in LHP Chris Bates (1-2, 5.10 in 2011 and a 15th round draft pick out of high school) and RHP Jonathan de Marte, who was the 2-time New York Player of the Year in high school. Both redshirted in 2012 with arm injuries, but are ready to make an impact this year.

- The Spider arms earned a conference-best 396 punchouts last season to go along with the staff ERA of 4.66. If newcomer arms like RHP Peter Bayer and LHP Ryan Donnelly live up to billing, UR could have the best staff in the conference. The coaches are hyped to have RHP Andrew Brockett return after he made 26 appearances last season and appears ready for a breakout year. Brockett was the arm the Spiders turned to to get the much-needed win over Fordham on the final day of the regular season, catapulting them into the A-10 Tournament.

- The defense will be anchored by SS Mike Small and double-play partner Adam Forrer (.264-4-23) at 2nd and Jacob Mayers at 1st. The catcher position will be a huge key to the season. If frosh Michael Levine, a high school All American, or fellow freshman Aaron Newman can adapt to D1 ball quickly, it’ll be a huge boon to the defense.

- Another big help for the Spiders is the fact that they’ll play 33 home games at picturesque Pitt Field this year, including 12 of 14 games at home between April 12th and May 5th. We’ll see if that helps RU reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.

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- ST. BONAVENTURE (23-25, 10-14)

2012 ISR: 234

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

SS/RHP Billy Urban. (.340 and 2-1, 5.48)

2B/RHP Jason Radwan (.337 and 4-4, 5.35, 3svs)

LHP Eddie Gray (4-3, 4.04)

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NOTES:

- The Bonnies finished in the A-10 basement in 2010, but have now posted a 23-25 mark in conference play since then, elevating them to more of a middle-of-the-pack status. Now, the question is, is this the time for another step up? We’ll see.

- Might not be an easy go of things this season with lots of pitching to replace from last season. But one thing the Bonnies DO have going for them this year is two of the better dual-threat players in the conference in the senior double-play combo of Billy Urban and Jason Radwan, who also had 32 appearances on the mound last season. They’ll also have fellow senior Eric Jutca (.309 in 33 starts) to fill in when they’re on the mound.

- With only Eddie Gray and Asa Johnson (3-3, 5.47 in 9starts) returning with starting experience on the mound, the Bonnies are glad to get RHP Andrew Revello and RHP Robert Nalepa back after a year on the shelf. Revello was 1-5, 4.83 in 7starts in 2011 before missing most of last season. Nalepa has gone 6-4, 5.50 in 28 career appearances and eight starts prior to missing last year as well.

- Look for incoming JC transfer Joel Rosencrance to make an immediate impact for SBU. Like Urban and Radwan above, he could fill in at 3B/DH and on the mound as well, intimidating opponents with a 6’5, 230 pound frame.

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- ST. JOSEPH’S (25-32, 13-10)

2012 ISR: 224

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Kyle Mullen (6-4, 3.07, 90Ks, 3CGs)

RHP Kevin Burum (0-2, 2.40, 4svs)

RHP Daniel Thorpe (3-2, 2.36, .238OBA)

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NOTES:

- In this space last pre-season I glossed on about how coach Fritz Hamburg had steadily improved the Hawks win totals and their team ERA. Well he did it again in 2012, getting 25 wins and the ERA sitting at a 2nd-best 3.51 in the A-10 ranks. And considering SJU had just three pitchers with any significant experience coming back, that’s pretty impressive. Got an encore for us coach Fritz? Let’s hope so. Ace Kyle Mullen is the league’s strikeout leader returning after posting 90 punchouts last season.

- But let’s not overlook the defense either, sweeping at a stellar .969 percentage, like the pitching that is good for 2nd in the A-10. SS/2B Stefan Kancylarz (.265) and senior INF Quinn Renner (.202) will be big keys to that facet of the game again in 2013.

- The Hawks really need senior OF Greg Kumpel to return to his sophomore form, where he hit .384. Last year, in a season which saw the best Hawk average reach just .268, Kumpel slumped to .226 at the dish. Fellow OFer Ryan Pater (.265, 11SBs) helps supply some speed and a good glove to the meadow.

- St. Joseph’s got to play all their home games last year on the all-new Smithson Field and also featured an all-new clubhouse. It was the first time since 1958 that the Hawks had an on-campus baseball facility. The uber-modern field turf surface made for plenty of practices and games to be available, where the off-campus Campbell Field wouldn’t have dried well enough for play.

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- ST. LOUIS (41-18, 17-7)

2012 ISR: 119

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

2B Mike Levine (.281)

SS Alec Sole (.271, 10SBs)

C/3B Grant Nelson (.314-2-34)

OF Alex Kelly (.326-8-41)

RHP Clay Smith (7-2, 2.64)

RHP Alex Alemann (7-2, 2.84)

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NOTES:

- You kiddin’ me? You KIDDIN’ me?! An A-10 co-championship and 41 wins for the Billikins? Niiiiice. The 2012 season was a quantum leap for the Big Blue of SLU. Pitching and defense, pitching and defense, pitching and defense… that’s the culprits in last year’s success. The Billikins led the conference in both at 3.06 team ERA (with a conference-low 138 walks) and a .972 percentage defensively.

- Of course, the Billikens went cold at the wrong time, losing twice to Richmond at the A-10 tournament and having to watch Dayton, their co-champions, go play in the NCAA tournament. Arrrrgh!

- But getting back to that defense, the good news has to be the fact that the steady play of all four infield positions return, led by the double-play combo of Alec Sole and Mike Levine. 1Bman Mike Vigliarolo (.278-4-33) is also back, as is 3B Grant Nelson, though as noted above he might be making the transition to catcher this spring. Keep a watch for incoming frosh Braxton Martinez (sounds like a combination of great dual-threat QBs from Ohio State and Nebraska), who at 6’3″, 220 pounds, is a physical presence who could excel at the hot corner. Either way, the defense has the potential to be a big positive again at SLU.

- The Friday-Saturday pitchers are set with righties Clay Smith and Alex Alemann. The Sunday role was split between LHP Damian Rivera (4-5, 6.00) and RHP Nick Bates (6-1, 3.02) last season, but was wrought with inconsistency. Soph RHP James Norwood (3-3, 2.33) could also factor into the Sunday slot. So there’s plenty of experience available. If they can all step up a plateau here in 2013, SLU could be a tough out for anybody on any weekend.

- If the 2012 summer tells us anything, keep an eye on a couple of key players for the Billikens. OF Danny Brennan and the previously mentioned 1B Mike Vigliarolo, both lit up the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, hitting .310 and .316 respectively for Glen Falls. Brennan is a capable outfielder who hit .282, making 26 starts but also played in 56 games overall.

- Ace reliever Travis Parker ended last season earning 2nd team All American honors for the Billikens. He’ll be a big void to fill after making 27 appearances, getting 12 saves and not allowing an earned run all season. Wow. The only other hole in the lineup will be finding a new catcher

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- TEMPLE (19-34, 7-17)

2012 ISR: 274

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Patrick Peterson (3-4, 3.51, .226OBA)

RHP Steve Visnic (3-1, 2.68, 2svs)

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NOTES:

- It was kind of a case of near-misses for the Owls in 2012. They lost 13 one-run games and had some hard luck moments throughout the season. More about that below, but suffice to say,

- It’s as obvious as the lack of hair on my head, the big problem for the Cherry & White was the pitching. The staff finished dead-last in the conference with a 5.76 team ERA. The disappointing thing was that the Owls actually had all three weekend starters returning and three key relievers coming back in 2012 before faltering like they did. They’ll need some patchwork done on the mound if that is to avoid being a sticking point.

- There is some hope coming back to the arms corps as LHP Patrick Peterson and RHP Eric Peterson (1-1, 5.29) are entering their sophomore years after having a great summer in the Valley League, where they were named the No. 4 and No. 5 pro prospects by Baseball America.

- All three weekend starters return in Patrick Peterson – mentioned above – along with RHP Matt Hockenberry (5-4, 6.07) and LHP Dan Moller (1-7, 8.89). They’ll also have stud reliever Steve Visnic and a pair of sophomores in RHPs Adam Dian (1-1, 4.46) and the aforementioned Eric Peterson. So there is depth and quality in the Owls arms corps this year.

- As hinted at above, this was one team that had nearly no clutch factor. One indication is that the Owls hit into 42 double plays last season while turning only 22 twin-killings defensively themselves. I’m beseeching each and every Owl player to wear a lucky rabbit’s foot in their pockets for each game this season. Not that I believe in hokey stuff like that but it can’t hurt, right?

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- VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH (34-25, 15-15 in CAA)

2012 ISR: 138

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 0

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Bill Cullen (.347-5-40, 11SBs)

INF Joey Cujas (.390-3-49)

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NOTES:

- The Rams will move from the Colonial to the A-10 for 2013. In general, the CAA is a tougher conference than the Atlantic 10 in nearly every baseball season. So this could be a move to becoming more of a steady contender for VCU.

- The good part is that the Rams did make a move to getting back to big dog status in 2012, improving from 22 wins in 2011 to 34 last year. They also improved their ISR ranking from 223 up to 138. Well done.

- The other good news is how well-stocked the Rams are in the batting order and in the field. It turns out that the top five hitters all return, led by Joey Cujas and Bill Cullen, who also led the team with 27 and 24 walks respectively. They’re joined by C Chris Ayers (.302-2-37), OF Taylor Buran (.297-4-22) and the middle infield double-play combo of Vimael Machin (.291-2-27) and Jordan Weymouth (.276-2-31)

- Speaking of, Ayers, Machin and Weymouth helped lead the Rams had a top-flite defense a year ago, with a .975 fielding percentage. Look for more of the same this season. A pair of seniors will help out in the return of redshirt senior 1B Brent Mikionis, who is a career .287-20-107 hitter and transfer Cody Yount, who played three seasons at Pepperdine, could help out at 1st base or DH.

- And now the bad news: the cupboard is nearly bare in the experienced pitcher department. Ryan Ferrer (4-3, 3.67) and Heath Dwyer (3-4, 4.55), both lefties, combined for 24 starts last season and held their opposing batters to .247 and .254 averages respectively.

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- XAVIER (28-28, 13-11)

2012 ISR: 186

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Mark Elwell (.329, 12SBs)

LHP Alex Westrick (3-2, 1.57)

RHP Vinnie Nittoli (4-5, 3.94)

INF Patrick Paligraf (.282)

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NOTES:

- Other than a big upset in the opening weekend over North Carolina, a rather crappy 2-11 start to last season put a sour note on the psyche of the Musketeers in 2012. Let’s do what we can to avoid that this time around guys.

- The bullpen will lose anchor Seth Willoughby and his 12 saves and 25 appearances last season. But a pair of wicked sophs will help fill the void in RHP Adam Hall (1-1, 2.70, 2svs) and RHP Alex Vice (5-3, 3.00, 2svs), who should be more comfy in their second-year roles. Also look for RHP Scott Klever (4-4, 3.58), who accounted for six starts and 15 appearances in all.

- Keep in mind that this pitching staff, which returns all weekend starters, had a team ERA of 3.87. That should keep them in a lot of games this coming spring.

- XU was outscored by 38 runs in the first four innings of last season’s games, so getting out to quicker starts at the dish will be of paramount importance for 2013.

- The other albatross around the Musketeer necks was the offense hitting just .266 and nine home runs.

 

COMMENTS:

February 6, 2013 at 6:43 am

This league needs three divisions, plus a wild card.


February 6, 2013 at 2:45 pm
Frank says:

Totally agree with you on Xavier. Rotation is solid, but have to find a closer. Offense should be better this year.