College : : Story
Monday, January 30, 2012

2012 NCAA Division II Preview

Allan Simpson        
Photo: St. Edward's University

With Re-Tooled Tampa Showing The Way, Florida Should Continue Its D-II Dominance

The 44-year championship history of NCAA Division II baseball has largely been the domain of schools from Florida. Led by Florida Southern with nine and Tampa with five more, colleges from the Sunshine State have captured 16 national titles at the D-II level through the years.

That run of dominance is expected to continue this year as Tampa, which won back-to-back championships in 2006-07, has been installed as the No. 1 team in Perfect Game’s pre-season look at D-II baseball. Tampa will field a significantly beefed-up roster from the team that went 36-17 a year ago and was not a factor in the national-title picture.

The Spartans return four of their top six hitters, led by senior outfielder Andrew Jones (.385-6-43) and senior third baseman Eric Grabe (.379-5-35), who were 1-2 on the team in batting and homers, and have added the likes of sophomore catcher Shane Rowland, a transfer from Miami who was heralded as one of the nation’s top catching prospects out of high school.

Tampa’s pitching staff was victimized by a string of injuries in 2011, but includes several former Division I arms and should become the team’s strength.

Among the newcomers are junior lefthanders Ben O’Shea (9-2, 3.03 at Santa Fe, Fla., JC), an unsigned 10
th-round pick of the Chicago White Sox in last year’s draft, and Erik Luksis, who went 7-4, 3.68 in an all-star season for Manhattan; and former Connecticut righthander Mike Zaccardo. Moreover, former Vanderbilt righthander Sean Bierman returns after missing last season while recuperating from Tommy John surgery.

While Tampa is clearly the team to beat this spring in Florida, if not the nation, nothing is for sure when it comes to Division II baseball in that state.

West Florida, a relative upstart, was a surprise winner of the D-II World Series a year ago, in the process becoming the only championship team from Florida that was not a member of the powerful Sunshine State Conference. The Argonauts (52-9), a member of the Gulf South Conference, began their title run by dismantling SSC regular-season champion Barry in regional play on their way to running the table at the national tournament.

Two years earlier, Lynn University somewhat surprisingly emerged from the Sunshine State Conference to represent Florida in the D-II World Series, and dominated the field at the national level much like West Florida did a year ago.

Lynn was unable to sustain its success as it has gone a combined 42-60 the last two years, while West Florida may also be challenged to duplicate its magical 2011 campaign as it lost three pitchers who combined for 40 wins, including Daniel Vargas-Vila (16-1, 1.86), the nation leader in wins, along with ace closer Shane Waller (14 SV, 0.59 ERA). Most of the team’s top offensive weapons, notably outfielder Greg Pron (.423-10-69) have graduated, as well.

If those clubs lack staying power, the same cannot be said for Tampa, which historically has been one of the most-dominant teams in Division II baseball and may field one of its stronger teams ever this season. Like most D-II teams in Florida and the Sun Belt states, the Spartans open their 2012 season this weekend.

The D-II World Series returns to Cary, N.C., the home of USA Baseball’s national training center, for the fourth year. The eight-team tournament will run from May 26-June 2.

North Carolina’s Mt. Olive College is the official host school for the event, and has a solid chance of participating in the tournament again after finishing third a year ago. The Trojans may be hard pressed, though, to top some of their accomplishments of recent years that include winning a national title in 2008 and producing the top Division-II player in the 2011 draft in righthander Carter Capps.

Capps, who never lost a game in college until last year’s D-II World Series, was selected by the Seattle Mariners with a supplemental third-round pick (127
th overall). Just before signing with the Mariners at the mid-August signing deadline, Capps’ fastball was clocked at 97-98 mph.

This year’s top-ranked D-II player, St. Edward’s (Texas) righthander Stephen Johnson, has a remarkably similar profile when compared to the 6-foot-6 Capps and is expected to be selected in roughly the same position in this year’s draft. He is ranked No. 71 on Perfect Game’s master pre-draft ranking of the Top 500 Prospects.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Johnson was a relative unknown coming out of a Colorado high school—much like Capps, who was immediately red-shirted when he enrolled at Mt. Olive—and largely flew under the radar in his first two years at the D-II level in Texas.

But Johnson’s draft stock surged last summer while pitching for Santa Barbara in the California Collegiate League, where he showcased an electric arm and dominated in a relief role with a fastball that was steadily in the 94-98 mph range. A summer earlier, Capps also came of age as a prospect as a closer in the Coastal Plain League.

Johnson was used as a starter last year for St. Edward’s, going 7-5, 3.56 with 35 walks and a team-high 65 strikeouts in 78 innings, and will move to his more-natural role as a closer role this spring. He still needs to continue developing his breaking stuff and refining his changeup, but should emerge as one of the hardest throwers in the 2012 college draft class.

Scouts will get an early opportunity look at Johnson and many of the other top prospects in the D-II ranks over the next 2-3 weeks, especially those playing for traditional Sun Belt schools, as the more powerful Division I ranks won’t kick off their 2012 season until Feb. 17, the uniform starting day for D-I teams.

NCAA Division II Top 10 Teams

RK School ST 2011 Record Top Prospect (Previous College)
1 Tampa FL 36-17 Ben O'Shea, lhp (Santa Fe, Fla., CC)
2 Grand Valley State MI 52-5 Steve Anderson, of
3 Francis Marion SC 41-16 Buddy Sosnoskie, of (Virginia Tech)
4 Central Missouri MO 49-10 Bret Schwartz, ss
5 Mt. Olive NC 47-10 Jake Rogers, of (St. Petersburg, Fla., CC)
6 Dixie State UT 32-15 Garrett Nash, of (Oregon State)
7 Franklian Pierce NH 40-14 Ryan Thompson, rhp (Connecticut)
8 Delta State MS 30-19 Aaron Newcomb, rhp (Olney Central, Ill., CC)
9 Mercyhurst PA 41-12 Ben Rawding, lhp
10 Le Moyne NY 23-30 Derek Zielinski, rhp

NCAA Division II Top 50 Prospects

RK Player POS. YR B-T HT WT School Hometown ST Last Drafted Previous School
1 Stephen Johnson RHP JR R-R 6-4 205 St. Edward's (Texas) Boulder CO Never drafted  
2 Mark Sappington RHP JR R-R 6-4 220 Rockhurst (Mo.) Peculiar MO Never drafted  
3 Ben O'Shea LHP JR R-L 6-5 250 Tampa Reading MA White Sox '11 (10) Santa Fe (Fla.) CC
4 Zeb Sneed RHP JR R-R 6-5 195 Northwest Nazarene (Idaho) Twin Falls ID Never drafted  
5 Brady Wager RHP JR R-R 6-3 205 Grand Canyon (Ariz.) Globe AZ Devil Rays '09 (27)  
6 Ryan Thompson RHP JR R-R 6-3 200 Franklin Pierce (N.H.) Fort McMurray AB Yankees '11 (36) Connecticut
7 Steve Anderson OF SR R-R 6-2 195 Grand Valley State (Mich.) Northville MI Never drafted  
8 Jeff Popick OF SR R-R 6-4 210 Colorado Mesa Lakewood CO Never drafted  
9 Joe Wendle 2B SR L-R 6-1 185 West Chester (Pa.) Lincoln University PA Never drafted  
10 Kamm Washington OF JR L-L 5-11 180 Lynn (Fla.) Boynton Beach FL Never drafted Florida
11 Cody Stiles RHP/OF JR R-R 6-2 180 Nova Southeastern (Fla.) Coral Springs FL Yankees '09 (39) North Carolina
12 Cody Kulp OF SR R-R 6-2 205 Shippensburg (Pa.) Boyertown PA Never drafted  
13 *Shane Rowland C SO L-R 5-10 190 Tampa Tampa FL Red Sox '10 (36) Miami (Fla.)
14 Bill Gerstenslager 1B/RHP SR L-R 6-6 215 South Carolina-Aiken Erie PA Never drafted Mercyhurst (Pa.)
15 Ben Rawding LHP JR R-L 6-4 220 Mercyhurst (Pa.) Beaver Falls PA Never drafted  
16 Mike Snyder 3B SR R-R 6-4 230 Florida Southern Centreville VA Never drafted Mississippi
17 Karsten Strieby 1B JR R-R 6-7 225 Georgia College Brier WA Cubs '10 (30) Arizona Western JC
18 Mike Nastold RHP JR R-R 6-4 210 Northern Kentucky Cincinnati OH Phillies '11 (37) Louisville
19 Derek Zielinski RHP JR R-R 6-3 185 LeMoyne (N.Y.) Schenectady NY Never drafted  
20 Shayne Houck 3B/OF SR R-R 6-1 205 Kutztown (Pa.) Barto PA Never drafted  
21 Sean Bierman LHP Sr. L-L 6-1 200 Tampa Kinnelon NJ Reds ’07 (42) Vanderbilt
22 Zach Taylor OF JR L-L 6-3 220 Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) Statesboro GA Pirates '09 (31) Santa Fe (Fla.) CC
23 Kyle Grana RHP JR R-R 6-3 245 Bellarmine (Ky.) Wildwood MO Never drafted Allen County (Kan.) CC
24 Eric Luksis LHP JR R-L 6-2 185 Tampa Fishkill NY Never drafted Manhattan
25 Eric Grabe 3B/RHP SR R-R 5-11 195 Tampa Ocala FL Never drafted Polk State (Fla.) JC
26 Michael Anarumo LHP SR L-L 6-5 200 LeMoyne (N.Y.) Levittown NY Athletics '10 (21)  
27 Ethan Bader RHP SO R-R 6-7 225 Armstrong Atlantic State (Ga.) Jacksonville FL Never drafted Lake Sumter (Fla.) JC
28 James Wharton 1B JR R-R 6-3 210 Cal State Los Angeles Reseda CA Never drafted Los Angeles Pierce JC
29 Ryan Porter 1B SR L-L 6-4 230 Rockhurst (Mo.) Kansas City MO Never drafted Pima (Ariz.) CC
30 *Lou Trivino RHP SO R-R 6-5 225 Slippery Rock (Pa.) Greenlane PA Never drafted
31 Josh Pond RHP SR R-R 6-6 245 Cal State San Bernardino San Diego CA Padres '11 (39) Scottsdale (Ariz.) CC
32 Jake Rogers 3B/OF SR L-R 6-5 215 Mt. Olive (N.C.) Clearwater FL Cubs '10 (44) St. Petersburg (Fla.) CC
33 *Garret Levsen RHP SO R-R 6-3 180 Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) Sonora CA Pirates '10 (29)
34 Kevin Bosson RHP JR R-R 6-3 170 Cal Poly Pomona Claremont CA Never drafted  
35 Kye Winter RHP JR R-R 6-2 190 Augustana (S.D.) Willow Lake SD Never drafted  
36 Buddy Sosnoskie OF/LHP SR R-R 5-11 190 Francis Marion (S.C.) Front Royal VA Royals '10 (25) Virginia Tech
37 Dodson McPherson OF SR L-L 6-2 200 Wingate (N.C.) Graham NC Never drafted  
38 *Alex Haines LHP SO L-L 6-4 215 Seton Hill (Pa.) Greensburg PA Never drafted  
39 Ricky Claudio OF/RHP JR L-R 6-3 215 St. Thomas (Fla.) Brandon FL Twins '09 (34) Santa Fe (Fla.) CC
40 Jordan Jankowski C/RHP SR R-R 6-1 200 Catawba (N.C.) McMurray PA Astros ’08 (34) Miami (Ohio)
41 Garrett Nash OF JR B-R 5-11 180 Dixie State (Utah) Draper UT Diamondbacks '10 (39) Oregon State
42 Geno Escalante C JR R-R 5-11 200 Mt. Olive (N.C.) Fairfield CA Brewers '09 (28) Chipola (Fla.) JC
43 Bret Schwarz SS SR L-R 5-11 170 Central Missouri Blue Springs MO Never drafted  
44 Matt Marra 3B SR R-R 6-1 195 LeMoyne (N.Y.) Brewerton NY Never drafted  
45 Gabriel Asakura RHP SR R-R 6-2 190 Cal State Los Angeles Sao Paulo BZ Never drafted West Los Angeles JC
46 Ben McKinney RHP/OF JR R-R 6-1 180 Carson-Newman (Tenn.) Johnson City TN Never drafted Georgia Tech
47 Addison Dunn RHP SO R-R 6-1 205 Francis Marion (S.C.) Warren PA Cubs '09 (45) Kent State
48 Jaden Dillon RHP SR R-R 5-11 180 Texas A&M-Kingsville Bridge City TX Never drafted McNeese State
49 Aaron Newcomb RHP SR R-R 6-3 195 Delta State (Miss.) Centralia IL Never drafted Olney Central (Ill.) JC
50 Taylor Christian RHP JR R-R 6-5 200 Tarleton State (Texas) Southlake TX Mets '10 (41) Weatherford (Texas) JC

* Not eligible for the 2012 draft

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