College | Rankings | 1/17/2019

2019 NAIA Baseball Preview

Nick Herfordt        
Photo: Ivan Torres (Benedictine Mesa Athletics)

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Listed below are the Preseason Top 25 teams at the NAIA level followed by detailed capsules of each program and the top prospects in regards to the MLB Draft. The rankings and the first three capsules (teams ranked 1-3) 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 2018 NCAA Divisions II and III and NAIA Rankings

When it comes to college baseball the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) is typically overlooked. The schools are often in tiny off-the-beaten-path towns, seemingly always having some an askew direction or some sort of religious element to their name (Northeast Nebraska Nazarene State would be a quintessential school). And aside from parents and other athletes, they don’t get much support, but that doesn’t mean that the NAIA doesn’t feature some of the best college baseball in the country.

Every year dozens of NAIA players are drafted by Major League Baseball teams looking for talent. Even more players go on to sign free agent contracts and play independent ball. While the schools and grandstands may be small, the quality of play and aspirations can be enormous.

Each year Perfect Game researches, examines, surveys and appraises the top teams and individual talents from the NAIA and presents them. Following are the preseason picks to be the top NAIA teams and individual performers for the upcoming season.

2019 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk. School ST Record
1 Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies GA 48-10
2 St. Thomas Bobcats FL 56-7
3 Southeastern Fire FL 54-7
4 Faulkner Eagles AL 53-7
5 Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles OK 53-8
6 William Jessup Warriors CA 41-17
7 Freed-Hardeman Lions TN 43-14
8 Cumberlands Patriots KY 47-11
9 Bryan Lions TN 41-17
10 Middle Georgia State Knights GA 45-18
11 Campbellsville Tigers KY 40-17
12 Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs TN 39-21
13 Lewis-Clark State Warriors ID 38-11
14 Point Park Pioneers PA 47-9
15 Mobile Rams AL 42-17
16 Bellevue Bruins NE 38-23
17 USAO Drovers OK 46-8
18 Antelope Valley Pioneers CA 46-14-1
19 Oklahoma City Stars OK 50-8
20 Webber International Warriors FL 37-24
21 Benedictine Mesa Redhawks AZ 40-18
22 Westmont Warriors CA 34-18
23 Madonna Crusaders MI 36-18
24 Taylor Trojans IN 44-16
25 Florida Memorial Lions FL 26-21

1. Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies (50-12)
Despite the program’s inception being just a scant six years ago, the Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies baseball team has already amassed a quartet of 50-win seasons, had a player selected in the MLB Draft each of the past five seasons and earned their way twice to play for the whole enchilada in Lewiston at the NAIA World Series. Last season’s trip to the finals saw the team advance to the semifinal round of the series, their deepest postseason run in school history. This season GGC is the favorite to take that final step and earn their first national title.

The bulk of the everyday roster, which finished second nationally in total hits and stolen bases, fifth in runs scored and seventh in batting average returns largely intact. The top five leading hitters in batting average all return, capped by Cam Coursey who hit .485 with nine doubles, five triples and stole 18 bases as a baby-faced freshman. The sure-handed second baseman only struck out six times in nearly 200 ABs and registered a hit in 29 of the Grizzlies last 30 games where they faced some of their most stringent competition.

While the team doesn’t have a prototypical long ball threat in the lineup, Alex Garland and Nick Barnes, who batted a collective .369 with 16 home runs will keep opposing outfields with the heels near the warning track. Brandon Frazier, the team’s third baseman the past two seasons, can have some surprising pop to go along with his .307 college batting average as well.

On the mound two of three hurlers who started at least 10 games will be back in the rotation. Gregory Loukinen, who went 7-1 with a 2.73 ERA and threw three shoutouts (one of which was the program’s first no-hitter) and Hunter Dollander who earned eight wins with a 2.97 ERA, give Head Coach Brad Stomdahl two proven accomplished starting arms. Matthew Swain, a 6’7” pitcher of Brobdingnagian proportions will be back in the bullpen. Last season he held opposing batters to a .138 batting average and stuck out 25 in 16 2/3 innings. Charlie Greenich, a transfer from Gulf State College, should give the already deep pitching staff an additional boost as the team prepares for what should be a memorable season.

2. St. Thomas Bobcats (56-9)
The Bobcats spent the duration of last season firmly entrenched in the top five of the national rankings as they established a new school record for wins in a season, added the Sun Conference regular season championship to their trophy case and advanced to the NAIA World Series for the sixth time by steamrolling through the Hattiesburg regional. Despite a list of achievements that rivaled a CVS receipt, STU was quickly sent home from Lewiston following a one run loss to host Lewis-Clark State and a setback to a determined UNOH Racer team in an epic back-and-forth contest. A number of important cogs from last year’s Herculean machine were lost following the season, but there are more than enough remaining parts and reinforcements for another extended post season run.

Head Coach Jorge Perez welcomes back Jackie Urbanez, Erick Delgado and Chris Garabedian to the lineup. Each of the trio batted at least .390 with a minimum of 18 doubles. Also back in Miami is Sergio Lopez who topped the team with 15 home runs, scored 83 times and batted in 70. Alejandro Rivero, a touted shortstop from Broward College and hulking catcher Daniel Mondejar from nearby Miami Dade CC, will make the already formable offense more imposing.

Orlando Rodriguez, who earned 14 wins, struck out 125 batters and was fourth in the nation by allowing just a measly 5.67 hits per game, returns to lead the staff. He is one of eight Bobcat pitchers back who appeared in a minimum of 10 games last season and helped the team finish in the top 10 nationally in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts. Ernesto Pino, a native Cuban who has used his love of baseball to adjust to life in the United States, joined the staff following a stint at Miami Dade. His on-the-field action has been limited the last two seasons due to injury, but has demonstrated a high ceiling of potential previously, easily throwing into the 90s.

3. Southeastern Fire (59-7)
Despite losing nearly the entire roster from the previous season, Fire head coach Adrian Dinkel amazingly assembled a team of replacements who not only earned the school’s first ever trip to the NAIA World Series, but brought home the title trophy as well. With a well-stocked roster returning to campus, Dinkel’s duty this season won’t be reconstructing the roster, but instead filling in some holes and making sure his players don’t rest on last season’s laurels.

The offense returns a wealth of familiar faces, led by Dan Valerio who topped the team in batting average (.390), home runs (17) and RBI (84) and got an invite to play in the Cape Cod League which exclusively fills its rosters with only the very best amateur players. The SEU lineup returns three other everyday players who batted over .370, including the dynamic Manuel Mesa who hit .377 and topped the team with 27 doubles and 34 stolen bases. Joining the already formidable lineup will be imposing 6-foot-6 slugger Noah Strohl, who is looking to find his home to develop his Mjölnir-esque bat, and prolific JUCO hitter Colton Onstott, who changed his mind to attend Southeastern rather than the University of New Mexico.

The Achilles heel for a second consecutive national title would appear to be the Fire’s pitching staff as the team’s throwing arms are new and unproven. The most accomplished starters from last year’s title team have moved on, leaving only Felix Dieguez (4.10 ERA, 83 Ks in 68 IP) as the only experienced starter. Canadian Bryce Fraser, who struck out 75 batters in 74 innings for Colby Community College in Kansas, is among the pitching reinforcements headed to Lakeland. Dinkel has no doubt that his pitchers are talented, but he’ll need to seem them prove it on national level before he can get too optimistic for another deep postseason run.

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