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Thursday, January 19, 2017

2017 NAIA Baseball Preview

Nick Herfordt         Brian Sakowski        
Photo: Keiser Athletics




2017 College Baseball Preview Index | @PGCollegeBall | @_eephuspitch (Nick Herfordt) |  @B_Sakowski_PGPG College Facebook Page

Listed below are the Preseason Top 25 teams at the NAIA level followed by detailed capsules of each program and the top 20 NAIA 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.


Final 2016 NCAA Divisions II and III and NAIA Rankings

When it comes to college baseball the NAIA is often the forgotten middle child. The players don’t suit up in the familiar uniforms of glamorous programs whose emblems are emblazoned on man cave walls, tow-hitches and hooded pullovers across the country. If quizzed many people could easily name Florida State’s team mascot or identify the color burnt orange with Texas. However NAIA programs’ appeal is often far more localized. The schools often have a direction or theological theme in their name and, aside from hardcore alumni, don’t have roaring support.

Instead of sporting their school’s gear their support is limited to a Facebook like or Twitter follow. On the other end of the spectrum NAIA colleges also lack the quaintness of being at the NCAA D-III level where the programs are the smallest of the small and the play is “pure” as scholarships are non-existent are professional aspirations are rare.

Followers of college baseball know that the NAIA provides a happy mix of the two. Just because someone plays for an NAIA school doesn’t mean they couldn’t cut it at a D-I program. There are some extremely talented players on their rosters and every year dozens of them are selected in the MLB draft.  Ben Zorbist, a three-time All Star and important part of the Chicago Cubs’ World Series success, played three seasons at unassuming Olivet Nazarene. His time there was integral into developing into the player he is today.

A player may choose to go the NAIA route because the school provides an academic environment more in line with their nonathletic aspirations. Perhaps the location suits someone better or there is a connection with a coach who’s able to give them more individualize attention. There are a number of reasons to why the NAIA may be the way to go. Scouts know this and have NAIA coaches’ names and numbers stored in their phone as travel backroads looking for new talent. That’s why there is some very, very good baseball being played on NAIA diamonds across the country.

Following are the preseason picks to be the top NAIA teams and individual performers for the upcoming season. You may not know their names or follow the teams, but baseball is baseball. Take in a game near you. You may be watching a future major leaguer.


2017 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk. 2016 School ST '16 Record
1 19 Keiser Seahawks FL 40-22
2 3 Bellevue Bruins NE 54-12
3 1 Lewis-Clark State Warriors ID 52-8
4 16 St. Thomas Bobcats FL 38-22
5 13 Missouri Baptist Spartans MO 44-14
6 9 Freed-Hardeman Lions TN 41-19
7 4 Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs TN 50-15
8 24 Northwestern Ohio Racers OH 40-14
9 15 Westmont Warriors CA 42-13
10 2 Faulkner Eagles AL 53-15
11 12 The Master's Mustangs CA 42-19
12 5 Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies GA 57-6
13 NR Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles OK 41-23
14 23 Wayland Baptist Pioneers TX 45-17
15 NR Middle Georgia State Knights GA 39-18
16 17 York Panthers NE 46-17
17 8 Tabor Bluejays KS 45-18
18 NR William Carey Crusaders MS 40-21
19 11 USC Beaufort Sand Sharks SC 44-14
20 NR Oklahoma City Stars OK 38-19
21 NR Southeastern Fire FL 34-18
22 NR Central Baptist Mustangs AL 45-16
23 NR Texas Wesleyan Rams TX 39-19
24 NR Jamestown Jimmies ND 52-11
25 NR Taylor Trojans IN 40-18-1


25. Taylor Trojans, Crossroads League
Taylor’s lineup isn’t going to knock the cover off the ball, but the pitching staff does a good job making sure their opponents don’t either. Last season Trojan hurlers limited their opposition to a .247 batting average and 3.24 ERA, both of which placed them within the top 20 in the nation. This year almost the entire staff is back for another go-round so their dainty numbers could get even more minuscule. Luke Hunter earned nine wins last season and had a 2.58 ERA while striking out 81 in 80 1/3 innings and his compadre Jordan Crabb had similar numbers to a lesser degree. The big knock against Taylor is their level of competition. They play in the Crossroads League, which isn’t exactly a murderers’ row of opposition, and their lopsided 0-2 showing in the national tournament opening round doesn’t do much to demonstrate they’re more than a regional power. Nevertheless, the Trojans have some decent non-conference matchups against the ilk of Bryan, Lindsey Wilson and Madonna, so they’ll be able to show their mettle or move over for most proven competition.

24. Jamestown Jimmies, North Star Athletic Association
Jamestown is in a similar boat as Taylor in that they compile impressive numbers, but don’t have many signature opponents on their schedule who truly test them. On paper the Jimmies look like they’re going to be good. Damn good in fact with almost every single offensive starter back on the attack including All-American slugger Landon Uetz who batted .377 with 15 home runs. Another important part of Jamestown’s winning ways will be their catcher Quinn Irey who hit a lofty.377 himself and is said to have sharpened his skills over the summer. As for pitching, big things are expected from Jerome Byndloss, one of three Jimmie recruits from Olympic College in Washington, and so far he hasn’t disappointed with three wins already under his belt thanks to fall ball. Ultimately, even if they are undefeated, how good the Jimmies really are won’t be determined until April when they welcome Bellevue into town for a four-game series.

23. Texas Wesleyan Rams, Sooner Athletic Conference
The Rams’ roster may be one of the most fundamentally sound clubs in the NAIA. The team can hit, pitch, field and run with the best of them. Offensively, Casey Moses has a freakish ability to put the bat on the ball as he only struck out four times in 188 plate appearances. That keen eye and bat control enabled him to top the team with a .372 batting average. Joining him on the Rams attack will be JUCO outfielders Kiki Menendez and Julio Ibarra, who will roam the outfield grass with holdover Alex Gudac who hit .350 with eight triples. On the mound Alex Lopez will be looking to repeat his 1.91 ERA over 61 1/3 innings, but the pitcher to really keep an eye on is Stephen Yancey who has the ability to really baffle batters. The intangible asset for Texas Wesleyan is that they feature a player named Dusty Cloud in their bullpen which is a really, really sweet handle for a hurler.


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