More Things Change in NAIA,
More They Stay the Same
2014 NAIA baseball season kicks off in selection locations around the
country this weekend, and it is noteworthy because of the continued
defection of a number of previously successful programs to the NCAA
Division II ranks.
among those schools that have bolted over the last two years are Lee
(Tenn.), Lubbock Christian (Texas), Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) and
Rogers State (Okla.), all of which have participated in the NAIA
World Series championship game in the last five years. Lubbock
Christian is a two-time former champion.
is not unusual for athletic programs to leave the NAIA ranks as World
Series champions through the years have included the likes of
prominent NCAA Division I colleges like East Carolina, Eastern
Michigan, Georgia Southern, Lipscomb, Kennesaw State, Sam Houston
State, San Diego State and Southern. Additionally, three-time former
NAIA champion Grand Canyon (Ariz.) is in the process of transitioning
to full D-I status.
the NAIA landscape has never undergone such upheaval as has occurred
over the last two years with the departure of upwards of 20 programs,
many of which have prominent baseball ties.
more things change, though, the more they stay the same as Idaho’s
Lewis-Clark State remains the gold standard by which NAIA baseball is
Warriors will again host the 10-team World Series, for the 14th consecutive year and 22nd time since 1984, and not
coincidentally have amassed a record 16 national titles in that
30-year period. They won on seven of eight occasions when they hosted
the series from 1984-91—with their first title coming in their
first year as host—and captured six more titles in the first eight
years after the tournament returned to Lewiston, Idaho, in 2000.
the Warriors have experienced a relative drought since winning their
last title in 2008, though they lost in the final a year ago to
two teams are expected to challenge for the NAIA title again this
year, albeit in a dwindling pool of elite-level teams, but the early
favorite to capture the 2014 championship may be Tennessee Wesleyan,
the 2011 champion.
Wesleyan (45-18) failed to even advance to the NAIA World Series a
year ago, losing out in a regional final, but return ace pitcher
Jarrod Jameson (14-0, 2.57) and five regulars in the field, including
shortstop Wes Minton (.318-7-40). And the team has been bolstered by
a number of key transfers, notably two former Maryland players,
infielder K.J. Hockaday and first baseman Tim Kiene.
ranks No. 1 on the accompanying list of Perfect Game’s top
25 prospects in the NAIA ranks, while Kiene checks in at No.
6-foot-3, 220-pound Hockaday, a 14th-round pick of the
Baltimore Orioles in 2011 after a record-setting career as a home run
hitter at a Maryland high school, starred for three summers in the
Cal Ripken Collegiate League, winning the batting title a year ago.
He was suspended midway through his sophomore season at Maryland for
a violation of team rules, and initially intended to sit out the 2014
college season while attending classes at a local junior college, but
subsequently had a change of heart and chose to transfer to Tennessee
once-promising career at Maryland was ravaged by injuries the last
two seasons, and he played in only eight games in 2013 as a junior.
If healthy this spring, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound slugger could emerge
as one of the top power threats in the NAIA ranks.
the most-closely scrutinized talent this spring will be Thomas (Ga.)
shortstop/outfielder Tyler Palmer, a one-time fourth round of the
Miami Marlins who has travelled a nomadic path since severely cutting
his hand on broken glass, and nearly bleeding to death, in a freak
accident almost three years ago, just days before he was set to sign
a $600,000 bonus contract with the Marlins out of a Georgia high
were significant doubts at the time that the 6-foot-1, 185-pound
Palmer would ever play baseball again because of the severe nerve
damage done to his hand, but he resurfaced the following spring at
Oakton (Ill.) Community College, where his array of offensive skills
were largely unimpeded but his ability to throw was severely
compromised, before sitting out last year to undergo his third
operation on his impaired hand.
though the feeling in his hand had not fully returned, Palmer spent
last summer in the Florida Collegiate League and dominated that
summer circuit like no player in league
history, leading all players in runs scored (35), hits (49), doubles
(10), homers (9), RBIs (32), stolen bases (24) and slugging (.642).
He would have won the league Triple Crown had he gotten just one more
hit. As it was, he finished second in the batting race, .354 to .350.
initially intended to attend Seminole State (Fla.) CC this spring as
a third-year sophomore, but elected during the fall to enroll at
Thomas, an NAIA school located near his Georgia home. If he can prove
to scouts that his ability to throw is no longer a drawback, he could
emerge as a significant draft pick again in June.
NAIA Top 10 Teams
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