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HOW THEY STACK UP
2. Southern Mississippi
3. East Carolina
5. Central Florida
C Beau Taylor, Central Florida
1B Victor Gomez, Marshall
2B Michael Ratterree, Rice
SS B.A. Vollmuth, Southern Mississippi
3B Anthony Rendon, Rice
OF Drew Martinez, Memphis
OF Michael Fuda, Rice
OF Jamal Austin, UAB
DH Corey Thompson, East Carolina
SP Todd McInnis, Southern Mississippi
SP Taylor Wall, Rice
SP Seth Maness, East Carolina
RP Collin Cargill, Southern Mississippi
Tulane: Look for the Green Wave to compete for an NCAA postseason berth this season after finishing last season at the bottom of the conference. The Green Wave has a solid offense with catcher Jeremy Schaffer and outfielder Blake Crohan leading the charge. The pitching staff also has some talented and experienced arms.
East Carolina: Let’s go ahead and say it; last season was an aberration for the Pirates. ECU fell apart in the middle of last season and never was able to fully recover. It finished last season with an 11-13 conference record. The Pirates won’t let that happen again with Seth Maness and a veteran weekend rotation leading the way.
Central Florida: Knights coach Terry Rooney quickly figured out that recruiting elite players was the only way to turn his program around. Well, he has accomplished that goal in recruiting and now the Knights are expected to reap the benefits of much improved recruiting. Look for UCF to be much better.
Rice’s pitching staff: The Owls had issues on the mound at times last season because they lacked premier arms. Taylor Wall provides some stability, but the Owls are excited about the potential of freshmen Austin Kubitza and John Simms. Both have the ability to make huge impacts.
UAB: The Blazers finished in the middle of the pack last season and had a winning record. However, accomplishing that goal this season could be difficult with several C-USA teams bringing back some important players. The Blazers need big-time campaigns from outfielder Jamal Austin and many others.
Houston: New coach Todd Whitting is an excellent recruiter, but it will take time to right the ship. The Cougars aren’t particularly loaded in the talent department and have the tough chore of replacing pitchers Jared Ray, Ty Stuckey and Eric Brooks, who will miss the season because of arm injuries. The Cougars must be patient.
Memphis: Though the Tigers finished last season with a losing record, they actually had a respectable conference record and finished third. This season, though, the Tigers have something to prove on the mound and will look to outfielder Drew Martinez and infielder Chad Zurcher to again lead what should be a productive offense.
Rice’s offense The Owls are expected to have another season to remember, but their offense has lost some steam with the departures of several talented hitters from a lineup that finished last season with a .326 average. The Owls obviously have high hopes for Anthony Rendon, while Jeremy Rathjen and Michael Fuda are expected to have productive campaigns. Michael Ratterree and others must be more consistent.
RHP Todd McInnis, Southern Mississippi: The talented right-hander is back for another season after going 6-5 with a 3.30 ERA in 95 1/3 innings last season. He also struck out 87 and walked 34 and limited teams to a .234 average. You can’t beat the experience McInnis brings to the diamond.
3B Anthony Rendon, Rice: He’s without a doubt the top position player in the country. Rendon is coming off a mammoth campaign where he batted .394 with 12 doubles, 26 homers and 85 RBIs. Interestingly, the third baseman believes he can do better. Somewhere, opposing pitchers are shivering.
Omaha caliber: Rice
Super regional caliber: None
Regional caliber: Southern Mississippi, East Carolina, Tulane, Central Florida
TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)
Prospect lists compiled by Allan Simpson
1. 3B Anthony Rendon, Rice
2. OF Ronnie Richardson, Central Florida
3. SS/3B B.A. Vollmuth, Southern Mississippi
4. OF Jeremy Rathjen, Rice
5. OF Michael Fuda, Rice
6. OF Drew Martinez, Memphis
7. RHP Shawn Armstrong, East Carolina
8. C Beau Taylor, Central Florida
9. LHP Taylor Wall, Rice
10. C Zach Wright, East Carolina
11. C Jeremy Schaffer, Tulane
12. RHP Matt Reckling, Rice
13. RHP Ryan Woolley, UAB
14. RHP Michael Wright, East Carolina
15. RHP Todd McInnis, Southern Mississippi
16. LHP Anthony Cingrani, Rice
17. RHP Danny Winkler, Central Florida
18. RHP Jared Ray, Houston
19. LHP Mike Mason, Marshall
20. RHP Seth Maness, East Carolina
TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)
Prospect lists compiled by Allan Simpson
1. SS Darnell Sweeney, Central Florida
2. 2B/SS Michael Ratterree, Rice
3. OF/3B John Wooten, East Carolina
4. C Chase Fowler, Southern Mississippi
5. RHP/OF Chase McDowell, Rice
6. LHP Tyler Joyner, East Carolina
7. RHP Dan Langfield, Memphis
8. RHP Geoff Thomas, Southern Mississippi
9. SS Garrett Cannizaro, Tulane
10. RHP Kyle McKenzie, Tulane
11. SS Brennan Middleton, Tulane
12. SS Chase Jensen, Houston
13. 3B Chris Taladay, Central Florida
14. RHP Eric Brooks, Houston
15. OF Derrick Thomas, Memphis
AROUND THE DIAMOND
• Rice star third baseman Anthony Rendon had offseason surgery on his foot, but is expected to be at full speed when the Owls begin the season against Stanford. The Owls also welcome back pitcher Andrew Benak, who could serve as a key middle reliever after being hurt last season. On negative notes, right-handed pitchers Connor Mason and Anthony Fazio will miss the season with injuries.
• Houston is battered and bruised entering the spring. The Cougars are without pitchers Jared Ray, Ty Stuckey and Eric Brooks, who are gone for the year with arm injuries. The Cougars welcome back Chase Dempsay from a shoulder injury last season, while infielder David Murphy will miss the first half of the season with a foot injury after being declared cancer free.
• East Carolina is primed to rebound on the mound after finishing last season with a 5.25 ERA. Ace pitcher Seth Maness gives the Pirates a premier arm to start the weekend, while Kevin Brandt and Brad Mincey have a wealth of experience. Brandt had a 5.21 ERA in 76 innings last season while Mincey had a 5.83 ERA in 41 2/3 innings. Don’t surprised if the Pirates return to their normal selves.
• Tulane has high hopes this season for a reason. It welcomes back some talented pitchers and hitters, but the return of closer Nick Pepitone is especially important. Pepitone has been a staple for the Green Wave pitching staff and is coming off a campaign where he recorded eight saves and had a 2.28 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. TU will win many series this spring if they have a lead when Pepitone gets the ball.
• It’s a name you probably didn’t hear much on the national stage last season, but Memphis has a rising star in junior infielder Chad Zurcher. Zurcher became the first player to hit .400 since 1994 last season when he batted .400 with 13 doubles, six homers and 41 RBIs. Zurcher and outfielder Drew Martinez must have solid campaigns for the Tigers to experience success.
Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at email@example.com