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College  | Rankings  | 1/28/2016

2016 Division II Preview

Nick Herfordt      Andrew Krause     
Photo: Millersville

2016 Perfect Game College Baseball Preview Index | @PGCollegeBall | @_eephuspitch (Nick Herfordt) |  PG College Facebook Page

Listed below are the Preseason Top 25 teams at the Division II level followed by detailed capsules of each program and the top 40 D-II prospects in regards to the MLB Draft. The rankings and the first three capsules (teams ranked 23-25) are available for free, the rest is available with a College Baseball Ticket (CBT) subscription. To learn more about the College Baseball Ticket and to sign up today please visit this link.

Typically it’s not a difficult decision to select the top preseason team in the nation. Every year there seems to be at least one club that stands above the rest. Last season selecting the Tampa Spartans as the preseason No. 1 was an absolute piece of cake. They were coming back from a record-breaking season, returned a roster full of gifted and experienced players and were motivated by falling just short of winning the title the previous spring.

It doesn’t get much easier than that. This year however, it is not that simple. Far from it.

An easy pick would be to choose Tampa once again. The Spartans are riding the wave of capturing their seventh school title and consistently have one of the best teams in D-II. Even when the leaders on the diamond graduate or get drafted, UT Head Coach Joe Urso always rolls out another roster ready to complete for the national title.

However this year it will be a tall task for the perennial powerhouse to finish No. 1. The Spartans return only two offensive starters from last season. The pitching staff is a little more stable with two established starters and the return of redshirt junior Trey Oest, but it still isn’t quite the UT staff on paper that it has been in the past. In order to stay at the top of the Sunshine State Conference standings and make the trip to Cary once again the red and black attack will have to rely on an inundation of junior college and D-I transfers. That strong dependence keeps Tampa out of the top spot – for now anyway.

Last year’s national title bridesmaid, Catawba, isn’t the preseason favorite either. While they can boast having the behemoth Will Albertson back, who was tops in the nation with a .467 average while clubbing 26 homers and collecting 91 RBI, he is only one of two returning everyday batters who hit over .300. His re-emergence on the diamond can’t single handedly overcome the loss of Cubs’ draftee Craig Brooks, who was the D-II MVP and Pitcher of the Year. The Indians should be shoo-ins to win the SAC title and advance to regional play, but labeling them as the team-to-beat is a bit of a stretch.

So then who is the preseason favorite? It’s a really, really, hard choice this year. There are a number of schools that are worthy of being No. 1, but each have an Achilles Heel that makes them vulnerable.

At one time early in the process the Colorado Mesa Mavs were penciled in for the top spot. The Mavs have been averaging well over 40 wins the past half-decade and should reach that mark once again. They have a well-rounded team stocked with some of the best players in the region, and like Tampa, they have a pipeline of JUCO and D-I transfers to pick up where departed players left off. The roster hits for an average in accord with the Colorado altitude and the pitchers put up an ERA uncharacteristically low for a club in the offense-laden RMAC. Nevertheless, the Mavs enter the season at the No. 5 spot.

St. Edward’s and Millersville also were given long, hard looks to be the top team. Both clubs won their conference titles and advanced to regional play on the backs of a quality starting lineup and phenomenal pitching. Each have made the trip to Cary within the past few seasons and a return trip to the D-II National Championship Series is a realistic, attainable goal. What makes both clubs especially formidable for this season is their experience.

SEU lost only five seniors from last year’s team and has an absolute ace in Collin Sherrod who has returned to campus despite being drafted. Millersville returns seven position players as well as their DH and can claim one of the nation’s top pitchers as well in Brandon Miller who is coming back from an all-star season in the Cape Cod League. Both teams are deserving of the No. 1 spot but are the third and fourth positioned clubs headed into the year.

Anointing Franklin Pierce as the No. 1 team is tricky. Their record last season was remarkable, going an astonishing 46-2. Replicating that record will be difficult as they’ll be without the reigning Northeast-10 Pitcher of the Year and a top presence behind the plate, but Head Coach Jayson King’s Ravens have won over 30 games every season since 2002 thanks to his ability to recruit and develop upper-echelon talent. The overwhelming reason FPU is able to accumulate their lopsided win totals is players on the field and coaching, but don’t exactly face a murderers’ row of opposition.

This season the Ravens don’t have a single series scheduled against an opponent in the top 25 – only three midweek games against SNHU are on the agenda. Playing out of New Hampshire makes it difficult to schedule non-conference games and the NE-10’s wood bat makes comparing the Ravens to other clubs cumbersome. Nevertheless, the fact that FPU’s batting average last season was .123 points
higher than opposition and their team ERA was less than a third of their opponents shows they are a force to be reckoned with.

The top team in the Perfect Game D-II preseason rankings is the St. Cloud State Huskies. SCSU Head Coach Pat Dolan’s team has finished as the runner-ups in Central Region tournament four of the last six years.  The Huskies continually have one of the top teams in the region, but haven’t won the final game that sends them to Carolina. If the Huskies are to ever take that elusive final step and advance to the D-II National Championship Tournament, this is the year.

SCSU won the 2015 Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference regular season championship, besting longtime rival and D-II stalwart Minnesota State, with a 31-3 NSIC record and finished the year with a school record 54 wins with only five losses.  Their offseason casualties were kept to an absolute minimum and the bulk of their 2016 production will come from senior players who’ve been entrenched at their position for multiple seasons.

From last year’s regular lineup, seven will be back in uniform – two of which, third baseman Zak Hoffman and shortstop Kyle Lieser, were recently named NCBWA DII All-Central Regional Team preseason picks. The Husky pitching staff is also in great shape for 2016 as well. Sheldon Miks had a 1.15 ERA with 10 wins as a freshman and will be the yin to the yang of three-time All-American Reese Gregory. Last season Gregory, en route to winning the Daktronics Division II Pitcher of the Year, went 13-0 with a 1.49 ERA and amassed 92 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 84 2/3 innings on the hill. He also added six saves and batted a robust .339 as the team’s regular designated hitter.

Another unheralded pitcher back for SCSU is sophomore, Kevin Bolder. In his college debut season Bolder made 16 appearances which included a pair of spot starts. In those opportunities he struck out 35 batters with only nine walks. His continued develop from being one of the top lefthanded hurlers out of Wisconsin could be the pièce de résistance for the Cary-or-bust Huskies.

2016 Perfect Game Division II Preseason Top 25 Teams

RK School ST Record '15 RK
1 St. Cloud State Huskies MN 54-5 6
2 Franklin Pierce Ravens NH 48-4 9
3 Millersville Marauders PA 45-11 11
4 St. Edward's Hilltoppers TX 40-13 18
5 Colorado Mesa Mavericks CO 47-9 5
6 Tampa Spartans FL 43-13 1
7 Quincy Hawks IL 40-17 NR
8 Missouri Southern St. Lions MO 40-14 NR
9 Minnesota State Mavericks MN 43-9 12
10 West Florida Argos FL 30-18 NR
11 Florida Tech Panthers FL 38-13 19
12 Cal Poly Pomona Broncos CA 46-17 3
13 Mercyhurst Lakers PA 40-11 4
14 Cal Baptist Lancers CA 31-22 NR
15 Southern Arkansas Muleriders AR 40-18 NR
16 Nova Southeastern Sharks FL 39-13 8
17 West Alabama Tigers AL 42-11 7
18 Columbus St. Cougars GA 35-14 14
19 St. Leo Lions FL 36-13 NR
20 Ashland Eagles OH 38-19 NR
21 Catawba Indians NC 47-15 2
22 Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles IN 28-21 NR
23 Southern New Hampshire Penmen NH 31-14 NR
24 Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs MN 35-16 NR
25* Lee Flames TN 39-19 NR
25* East Stroudsburg Warriors PA 31-19 NR

25.* East Stroudsburg Warriors, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference
Last season the Warriors batted .337 as a team, 12 best in the nation, and averaged a lofty 7.5 runs per game. However, their pitching staff had trouble keeping opposition off the bases, allowing a beefy 5.43 earned runs per game. Despite their inflated numbers the ESU staff has a number of strong arms which will make the Warriors a formidable opponent even if they develop to only a fraction of their total potential. Almost every player who put in quality innings in either the batter’s box and on the mound, including Ian Allen, who excelled at both, returns for this spring.

25.* Lee Flames, Gulf South Conference
After starting the season with a 20-15 record the Flames caught fire and finished at 39-19-1 which included a second place finish at the NCCAA World Series. In their first year of full NCAA compliance Lee should contend for the top of the GSC standings. Trenton Hill who had a 2.82 ERA in 83 innings with 97 strikeouts on the mound – and also batted .305 as a part of the team’s outfield – and former Michigan State standout Justin Alleman give Lee one of the nation’s top pitching tandems.

24. Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference
Minnesota State and St. Cloud State are the perennial favorites of the NSIC, but don’t overlook UMD.  The everyday lineup, which established a team record .970 fielding percentage last season, includes four returning batters who hit at least .380 and compiled a combined 452 bases, led by senior Alex Wojciechowski who topped the team with a .417 batting average and 12 home runs. The team also has the bulk of their pitching staff back on campus which will give them depth and experience as they look to advance to postseason play.

23. Southern New Hampshire Penmen, Northeast-10 Conference
The Penmen should have little trouble earning their fifth consecutive regional appearance with another roster full of highfalutin hard-throwing pitchers. The Penmen’s 2015 ace Alex Person, who went 8-1 with a 1.26 ERA, and the much improved pro prospect Justin Valdespina, will spearhead a staff that should best last season’s second-ranked 2.50 team ERA. Head coach Scott Loiseau, who transformed the team from single-digit win totals to a spot in the D-II National Championships, will be back in the dugout after a year as an assistant coach at Oklahoma.

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