2013 Preview – The SWAC

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 7th, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, SWAC
 

2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 30

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

THE EAST DIVISION.

1- Alabama State

2- Jackson State

3- Mississippi Valley State

4- Alcorn State

5- Alabama A&M

THE WEST DIVISION.

1- Southern

2- Grambling

3- Texas Southern

4- Prairie View A&M

5- Arkansas-Pine Bluff

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THE LOWDOWN.

Note to the world of the SWAC: Get ready for a swarm of angry Hornets. Alabama State is on the rise and East Division champion Jackson State, Western Division Southern and all the rest of the conference are on notice. Still, before we get to that point, it should be noted that Jackson State won the East Division by seven full games over both ASU and Alcorn State and finished with a SWAC-best 34-17 overall record. Southern went 33-16 and won the West, but lost out to a hot Prairie View team at the SWAC tourney. I’m figuring this will be th year that Alabama State gets it all together and takes the East, though Jax State and MVSU will be hot on their heels. Southern should reign in the West again, outlasting Grambling and Texas Southern. The highly underrated SWAC tournament should be a donnybrook again.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Alabama State

Under the tutelage of Mervyl Melendez, this once-dormant program is primed to burst onto the contending scene in the SWAC. And you knew when the ASU administration hired this dude, that’s what would happen. Carry on gentlemen.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Prairie View A&M.

Damn! And I write this despite the fact that Panthers head coach Waskyla Cullivan just became a follower of mine on Twitter. Sorry coach, don’t hate me. The Panthers’ 2012 Regional team suffered some pretty heavy losses in the off-season, especially on the mound, so don’t look for them to contend for the West title again.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Quintavious Drains, RHP, Jackson State

Drains seemed like he had been draining opposing SWAC batting orders for 15 years or so. It’s hard to replace a hurler who had been toeing the rubber in so many big games over the years.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Edmund Cheatham, SS, Mississippi Valley State

The main reason it’s hard to put anyone else in this spot is how steady Cheatham played for the Delta Devils last season. His average of .301 and 31 stolen bases is impressive, but pales in comparison to his meager total of just six errors as a dirtbagger. Strong work.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Jose De Leon, RHP, Southern.

This is a high quality arm here, sporting a 2.62 ERA and tossing 103Ks a year ago. He heads up the best pitching corps in the conference and is the main reason that the Jaguars are once again returning to the favorites role.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER:

- Isias Alcantar, SS, Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

The son of Abel Alcantar, the head coach at D2 power Chico State, Isias is a JC transfer from Laney College in California and will be a huge addition to a team that REALLY needs an influx of difference-makers. Alcantar is slated to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League this coming summer.

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- STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- Southern at/vs. Jackson State, May 3-4

Depending on how hyped the Alabama State team is, this two-game home-and-home between the Jags and Tigers could be a showdown of the two best teams in the SWAC, and a tournament title round preview. So, since this is the final games of the regular season, go ahead and keep the Lear Jet on the tarmac and stick around for the SWAC tourney.

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CAPSULES…

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Eastern Division:

- ALABAMA A&M (8-42, 1-28)

2012 ISR: 296

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Brandyn Crutcher (.264, 30SBs)

3B Julio Nunez (.228, 15SBs)

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NOTES:

- Interim head coach Michael Tompkins took over for Eddie McCann last January when coach McCann surprised the department by announcing his retirement due to health reasons. After being rushed into that role, Tompkins had a rough go of it, getting the Bulldogs to just eight wins. But he was also officially named the head coach during last summer and hopes to have a smoother year two in the oddly-named town of Normal.

- The Bulldogs  went 0-11 from Tax Day on last year, while also pulling off the trifecta of being dead last in hitting (.218), pitching (7.92) and defense (.945) in the SWAC.

- The all-righty, all-Freshman weekend rotation of Josh Freeman (2-9, 4.68), Allen Belue (1-8, 6.03) and Ryan Bowling (2-7, 6.36) returns intact and should reach more of a comfort zone in year two.

- The A&M Baseball Field has undergone numerous improvements in the past 12 months, including a new outfield fence, a new backstop, new netting, a new sound system and a new warning track. Good signs indeed.

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- ALABAMA STATE (20-36, 14-10)

2012 ISR: 262

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (13+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Joel Alvira (4-5, 3.86)

RHP T.J. Renda (4-5, 4.04)

OF Richard Amion (.288, 36SBs)

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NOTES:

- Well it didn’t take long for the Mervyl Melendez magic touch to infuse this program with some newfound bravado. The Hornets went from a 6-18 SWAC mark in 2011 to last year’s 14-10 mark. But a 3-17 finish to the season, including an 0-2 mark in SWAC tourney play, put a damper on things. So okay, we know the Hornets program still hasn’t had a winning record overall since 2000, but there were certainly a lot of strides made last year.

- Obviously, youth played a huge part in this team’s fortunes last season. For example, of the nine pitchers with 15 or more innings of work returning, eight of them were freshmen last year. The lone senior, Anthony Ricciardi (3-2, 4.95), combines with weekend returnees Joel Alvira and T.J. Renda. The three of them combined for six complete games a year ago.

- Coach Melendez always has had a soft spot for the speed game. Last year the Hornets stole a SWAC-best 132 bases. Many of the big culprits return, led by Richard Amion and his 36 thefts. Beyond him, look for Einar Muniz (.260), Waldyvan Estrada (.242), Leo Rojas (.238) and Emmanuel Marrero (.185), who – oddly so – all had exactly 12 stolen bases last season. If those guys can improve their averages and get on base more you’ll see more check marks in the win column this season.

- Baseball America lauded the Hornets recruiting class big time in the fall as the best in the SWAC. Look for immediate payoffs from middle infielder/middle hitter Branden Castro, a well put-together 6’2″ sweeper who may also have some pitching duties in his future. Another infielder-pitcher dual threat comes to campus in Dexter Price, who is a JC transfer with low-90s heat off the mound. Another pair of intriguing prospects that will come to campus will be RHP Normando Valentin and diminutive LHP Edgardo Rivera, who are both from Puerto Rico and should be heavy contributors with some off-season polishing.

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- ALCORN STATE (18-37, 14-10)

2012 ISR: 268

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 0

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Angel Rosa (.292-4-30)

INF Christian Hickman (.313)

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NOTES:

- After the SWAC title year of 2011 I know 2012 wasn’t the kind of season coach Barrett Ray was expecting from his charges. But give them some props for that 14-4 finish against SWAC teams that helped the Braves make it to the SWAC tournament on an uptick. But a grueling 12 inning loss to MVSU took the wind out of their sails and the ASU season ended a day later after Southern made a furious come-from-behind rally.

- Shortstop Angel Rosa could be the top pro prospect in the SWAC, expected to go in the 4th-to-10th round in this coming June’s amateur draft. Also, Rosa was the first-ever Braves player to take part in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer.

- Alcorn will have to venture on without the SWAC hits-leader in Eduardo Gonzalez, who hit .335. Pitching-wise, they’ll miss all three weekend starters and the top mid-week starter. A full 42 of the 55 starting assignments on the mound have left campus, meaning this Braves squad will have a lot of youthful hurlers.

- The arms staff was certainly a big problem, finishing 2nd-to-last in the SWAC with a team ERA of 7.28. They also issued more walks (309, most in the conference) than they collected strike outs (281). Yikes.

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- JACKSON STATE (34-17, 21-3)

2012 ISR: 204

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Charles Epperson (.314-4-36)

UTL Desmond Russell (.277 & 10-2, 2.34, .224OBA)

RHP Gary Mele (4-3, 3.17, 5svs, .234OBA)

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NOTES:

- The Tigers dominated the SWAC last year, at least during the regular season. They swept five weekend series during the season and winning the East Division by a full seven games. But as the season went on, Walter Payton U. ran out of gas, going 8-7 overall from Tax Day onward. That skid included a 1-2 week in the SWAC tournament, scoring just one run in the final 18 innings of play.

- Four of the top five hitters are gone, including Kendall Logan and Frank Solis, who hit .328 and .324 respectively and both had blazing speed to cause havoc on the basepaths. Another big name that has moved on is rubber-armed Quintavious Drains,, who seems like he’s been starting Friday games on the mound since the late-90s.

- Speaking of base-stealing threats, although Glenn Walker and his 35 stolen bases are gone now, look for Aneko Knowles, who hit just .280 but did have 20 stolen bases last year.

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- MISSISSIPPI VALLEY STATE (17-39, 10-14)

2012 ISR: 278

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 0

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Edmund Cheatham (.301, 31SBs, just 6Es)

RHP/DH Trey Lacy (2-9, 7.18 & .250)

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NOTES:

- The Devils hope to avoid last year’s dragging start which saw them limp out to a 4-13 record, including an odd three-game sweep at D2-level West Florida. But to their credit, Valley went out and cranked three straight wins in the SWAC tournament, taking down Southern, Alcorn State and Southern again all by one or two runs. They finally got derailed by Prairie View in Game 15 of the tourney. Yep, one game from making the NCAA tournament.

- The Delta Devils used only six pitchers all last season. Yes, six. Three of them remain for this season in weekend startersRHP Kameron Stady (2-10, 4.98, 3CGs), RHP Trey Lacy (2-9, 7.18) and RHP David Lostra (3-9, 8.60). Relief ace Cody Parker will be missed the most after making 41 appearances last season with three saves and 3-0 record.

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Western Division:

- ARKANSAS-PINE BLUFF (8-38, 6-18)

2012 ISR: 284

Starters Returning: 3

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

INF Tyler Hill (.283)

SS Isias Alcantar (JC transfer)

P Redmond Floyd (1-3, 3.69)

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NOTES:

- Things got a little bit worse last season for the Lions in 2012 and unfortunately it looks like they’ll have even less experience coming back to the roster this spring. But then again, look at the bright side, maybe a heavy infusion of fresh blood is what this program needs.

- Speaking of newbies, incoming glove man Isias Alcantar is expected to make an immediate impact after being named a JC All American at Laney College in California. He’s a steady defender and could be a force on the basepaths too. Look for Alcantar to be a firestarter at the top of the batting order as well.

- Other newbies to keep an eye on will be the battery of RHP Mikey Ramirez and C Mike Wieland. Third-year head coach Carlos Jones thinks both of these guys could play up to All-SWAC levels. Also, RHP Jim Pfloeger could grab a weekend spot as he is also expected to play in the Cape Cod League this coming summer.

- The Lions will play 25 games at the Torii Hunter Baseball Center and will also have games with NCAA participants Oklahoma, Ole Miss, TCU and Samford, so they’ll need their cleats laced up tight from pitch number one in 2013.

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- GRAMBLING STATE (22-26, 13-11)

2012 ISR: 238

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

INF Elias Todman (.344-2-43)

C Jose Longoria (.331)

OF Darren Farmer (.314-6-39)

RHP Richard Bautista (5-2, 3.65, 3CGs)

RHP Zach Moreau (2-2, 5.29, 3svs)

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NOTES:

- Oddly, the Tigers had nearly the exact same record in 2012 as they did in 2011, except they were one win shy overall and in SWAC play (they were 23-26/14-11 the year before). So I guess you can say there is some consistency in the process for youthful head coach James Cooper.

- After a solid start, GSU started to run out of gas, going just 8-15 in the months of April and May combined. Hopefully they can keep focus from beginning to end this time around.

- They’ll have to play without .410 hitter Troy Brown, who led the team in average, doubles and triples last season, along with Carlos Wolfe, who hit .321, had an amazing 49 walks and stole 29 bases.  But they will have Elias Todman, Jose Longoria and Darren Farmer, all three seniors and versatile with the bat.

- Even though they’ll return weekend starters Richard Bautista and Joel Deleon, keep an eye on soundly-built 6’5″ Frank Rivers, who only made eight appearances last year but had an ERA of 1.69 and held opposing batters to a .176 average.

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- PRAIRIE VIEW A&M (28-25, 15-8)

2012 ISR: 222

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

INF Dominique Harris (.315-2-31)

INF Brad Benes (.306)

RHP Stef Hernandez (6-4, 4.00, .232OBA)

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NOTES:

- It’s amazing to think what a transition this program has made. Granted it was a long time ago, but I remember going to a PV game at Louisiana in the late 90s and the Panther players didn’t even have matching uniforms. Now, they’ve gone to the NCAA tournament in three times in the last seven years, including last years’ SWAC title run. And that was quite an unlikely run at that, since the Panthers entered the SWAC soiree on a 6-12 tailspin. But they got on a 4-1 streak in Baton Rouge, coming from the loser’s bracket to beat MVSU 7-4 for the title.

- A few high-brow stars have moved on from last year including staff ace Derrick Mitchell and the best reliever in the SWAC in Daniel Castillo. Sunday starter Michael Listi is also gone along with three key relievers. So some new blood will need to be cultivated right away for PV to stay at contender status.

- The top two hitters come back in Dominique Harris and Brad Benes, who will be leaning posts for the offense.

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- SOUTHERN (33-16, 17-7)

2012 ISR: 179

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Jose De Leon (8-3, 2.62, 103Ks)

LHP Jesse Holliday (7-3, 3.09)

LHP John Thigpen (1-2, 3.05, 2svs)

RHP Josh Powell (1-1, 3.93, 8svs)

INF Derrick Hopkins (.344-5-30)

OF Stephen Wallace (.340-7-38)

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NOTES:

- it could be argued that the Jags played the best baseball in the SWAC for most of last season – including an 18-1 finish to the regular season and a two-game sweep of Jackson State. But in the end, the Jags couldn’t win the SWAC tourney title on their home field, dropping a pair of upsets to Mississippi Valley to end their season before the Big Dance.

- The Jaguars have the best pitching returning in the SWAC, including the vaunted “J Brigade”. They feature the top two weekend starters in Jose De Leon and Jesse Holliday and two of the best relievers in the conference in Josh Powell and John Thigpen. The four of them held their opposing hitters to averages of .191, .221, .274 and .240 respectively. That’s strong stuff there.

- The offense will have some holes to fill but having the top two hitters on the stat sheet back in Derrick Hopkins and Stephen Wallace is a great pair of bats to build around.

- Southern’s roster now contains six players from Puerto Rico, four from California and four from Texas. FYI, there are only four players from Louisiana on their roster as of mid-January.

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- TEXAS SOUTHERN (26-28, 8-15)

2012 ISR: 252

Starters Returning: 3

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Abel Flores (2-6, 4.29, 3svs, .218OBA)

RHP Robert Pearson (4-1, 4.00, 1sv, .227OBA)

RHP Frank Cruz (4-2, 4.34, .250OBA)

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NOTES:

- Like Southern above, it’s all about pitching for the Tigers as most of the flingers who took the mound a year ago return for this year. It’s actually a little difficult to nail down which pitchers are considered weekend starters as it was a grab bag of pitchers all year long in this interchangeable arms corps. Nine different pitchers had four or more starting assignments last year and 49 of the 53 starts are back this year.

- There is no more valuable player than RHP Abel Flores, who is on pace to set the program record setter for appearances (56 so far), games started (23), innings pitched (195) and batters faced (888).

- TSU was a very deep team last season with a lot of different combinations used during the season on the mound and in the field as well. A total of 15 players had 50 or more at-bats and 20 or more starts. Seven Tiger batters hit .300+ last year, but only one of them returns in part-timer Jagjit Gordaya, who hit .325 in 23 starts and 83 at-bats.

- Once again, the Tigers will be somewhat of a “home team” for the Urban Invitational, which will be played at Minute Maid Park in the second weekend of the season. According to what I’ve been told it looks like the MLB Network will televise the games once again, which is great to see. Head coach Michael Robertson says, “It is a tremendous opportunity for us to showcase our program on a national stage and in a major league venue.”

 

COMMENTS:

February 9, 2013 at 12:53 am
Carrol L. says:

Eric,

I think that you are “spot on” with Alabama State in the East Division with Melendez’s great recruiting. J-Stank…..sorry, Freudian slip….J-State will fall off a bit due the “Q” leaving a big hole in the starting rotation (unless some unknown kid jumps up big time). Barrett Rey’s squad will be much improved this season.

Personally I believe you are giving too much credit to Grambling. I see Prairie View vying for 2nd place along with Texas Southern (if their pitching can go the distance). Even though I bleed Columbia Blue/Gold, objectively speaking Southern has the best pitching staff…..BY FAR. So, if our kids can stay focused, play solid defense and not lead the league in runners stranded on base (again), we should dominate the SWAC as is customary. This is why SWAC stands for Southern Wins Another Championship!!!,