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College  | Rankings  | 1/22/2015

2015 NAIA Baseball Preview

Nick Herfordt     
Photo: Missouri Baptist

Perfect Game will be providing weekly ranking updates of the top 25 NAIA teams during the 2015 season. Be sure to follow Perfect Game's College Baseball Twitter handle as well as Nick Herfordt in addition to liking PG's College Baseball Facebook page for updates throughout the season.

2015 Perfect Game College Baseball Preview Index

It would be easily to anoint Cumberland as the preseason favorite to capture the NAIA title once again in 2015. The Bulldogs have a Hall of Fame head coach, are the reigning national champions and have already captured the crown three times in school history, including twice in the last four years. Last year’s CU club was a resilient, scrappy bunch which five times was faced with a win-or-go-home scenario and prevailed each time.

Nonetheless, it would be rash to peg them as the top them headed into the spring. Last year’s edition of the Bulldogs was the last team standing fueled by an extraordinary late-season surge with a senior-laden squad that now needs to replace 16 players from last season’s club, including almost the entire starting lineup. With that being said, it opens the door wide open for someone to dethrone the Bulldogs as the top dog in the NAIA.

Unlike the NCAA Division I level where a clear-cut preseason favorite has been established, this year’s NAIA race to Lewiston should be a week-to-week battle for the top rankings both within conferences and nationally. There are many teams with high quality pitching and several schools with a lineup full of thunderous bats, yet few teams seem to be bringing back a stocked roster with a top-shelf mix of both.

Because of that, selecting and positioning the teams for Perfect Game's preseason ranking of the Top 25 NAIA teams was a daunting task. Even more difficult was choosing which club would be given the title of the preseason top team.

To select the preseason No. 1 team and complete the preseason Top 25, dozens of teams were evaluated and considered. To make the decision reams of paper were scribbled upon, countless highlighters met their demise and immeasurable hours were spent trying to figure out what the aforementioned illegible scrawls on the notes said. Each club was scrutinized inside out, upside-down and sideways until the top team was chosen and the rest of the clubs were put into position.

Choosing the top team was the most arduous task. Cumberland was removed from consideration as the top team without much deliberation. Too many cogs were going to be absent from the machine that won it all last season. CU wasn’t completely put out of the equation, however. The Bulldogs still have a pair of experienced starting arms, including ace Jake Collier, which will always give them a chance to compete. Plus, a program like Cumberland doesn’t rebuild, they reload, and after they go through some growing pains, they could easily challenge for a title once again.

With CU out of the picture the next thought goes to Lewis-Clark State. The Warriors have been the longtime bullies of the division, having won 16 of the last 28 titles, but much like Cumberland, Lewis-Clark State also had a senior exodus. They will be without a ton of experienced and valuable talent that makes selecting them for the top position a risky proposition at best. One could re-read the last sentence from the previous paragraph and substitute “Lewis-Clark State” for “Cumberland.”

Oklahoma Baptist and Faulkner were both ranked No. 1 at one point during the 2014 season and were given extra long looks at being the top team for 2015.

The Bison were a near unanimous choice as the top team headed into the postseason last year and have a wealth of talent headed back to the field. Unfortunately some of the few bats and arms that are missing were some of their best players statistically. The same can be said for the Eagles. Tons of talent will be between the chalky lines but a couple of key absent players here and there leaves too many question marks for the 2013 NAIA champions.

After tirelessly searching through stats and rosters like
Juan Ponce de León seeking the Fountain of Youth, or an angry grandfather trying to find the lost TV remote, a top team was finally discovered. A club with the proper combination of returning top talent in the lineup, in the field, on the basepaths, on the mound and in the bullpen which makes them the 2015 team to beat in the NAIA.

The 2015 preseason top team is the Missouri Baptist Spartans.

Coach Eddie Uschold has had MBU on the cusp of greatness for a while, especially the past couple of years. In 2012, the Spartans were one strike away from advancing to the NAIA World Series for the first time but were usurped by a late Lee Flames’ rally. The club finally made it to Idaho in 2013 and finished the season fifth in the nation.

Last year the Spartans made their way up the rankings to the third spot midseason but were eliminated in the postseason after dropping their final two games to Cumberland, the eventual national champion. This could be Missouri Baptist’s year.

The Spartans are lead by a pair of All-Americans in Orlando Olivera and Brandon Zywicki. Olivera was in the top 10 of most major hitting categories last season and was a First-Team All-American. He hit .445 with 11 homers and slugged .683. He also topped in the NAIA in hits per game. Zywicki was eighth in the nation with eleven wins and finished the season with a 3.05 ERA. He went the distance in five of his 16 starts and recorded 66 strikeouts in 97.1 innings pitched.

They’ll be joined by a robust roster of returners which includes four regular batters who hit .290 or above and a pair of starting pitchers who went a combined 18-2. Add in an experienced closer, a solid middle relief staff and some talented transfers and freshmen and Coach Uschold will have himself a championship stew cooking.

2015 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk. School Mascot 2014 Record (Conf.)
1 Missouri Baptist Spartans 47-14 (22-5)
2 Oklahoma Baptist Bison 56-9 (22-4)
3 LSU Shreveport Pilots 45-18 (19-5)
4 Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles 58-8 (23-1)
5 Faulkner (Ala.) Eagles 50-16 (22-8)
6 Georgetown (Ky.) Tigers 46-11 (23-3)
7 Doane (Neb.) Tigers 42-11 (20-0)
8 Southeastern (Fla.) Fire 46-16 (20-7)
9 Belhaven (Miss.) Blazers 42-21 (17-13)
10 Brewton-Parker (Ga.) Barons 32-13 (19-7)
11 Embry-Riddle (Fla.) Eagles 40-21 (22-5)
12 Lewis-Clark State (Id.)
47-9 (24-4)
13 Davenport (Mich.)
42-17 (24-6)
14 Judson (Ill.)
42-19 (22-5)
15 Cumberland (Tenn.)
49-20 (17-9)
16 Point Park (Pa.)
40-18 (16-4)
17 Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies
53-13 (8-1)
18 British Columbia
35-13 (20-8)
19 Tabor (Kan.) Bluejays
51-13 (24-4)
20 The Master's (Calif.) Mustangs 37-18 (23-13)
21 Northwestern Ohio Racers
34-16 (22-6)
22 Concordia (Calif.)
Eagles 34-17 (21-15)
23 Jamestown (N.D.)
Jimmies 36-10 (14-4)
24 Bellevue (Neb.)
Bruins 40-17 (18-6)
25 Mount Vernon Nazarene (Ohio) Cougars 44-12 (31-5)

2015 NAIA Top 20 Prospects

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