College : : Story
Friday, January 24, 2014

Conference preview: C-USA

Kendall Rogers        


ALSO SEE: Preseason College All-Americans | College Baseball Preview index

The annual Perfect Game College Baseball preview continues with conference previews for each conference around the country. The preview is in-depth and includes predicted order of finish, a preseason all-conference squad, prospect rankings for the 2014, '15 and '16 classes, as well as team-by-team inside scoop as each prepares for the upcoming campaign.



PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH


Overall/conference won-loss records from 2013 indicated
* Projected conference automatic bid



No. Team W L W L
1 Rice* 15 9 44 20
2 Florida Atlantic 19 11 42 22
3 East Carolina 14 10 31 26
4 Tulane 11 13 30 28
5 Florida International 13 17 26 32
6 Southern Mississippi 15 9 30 27
7 Texas-San Antonio 15 11 35 25
8 Charlotte 17 7 37 23
9 Old Dominion 15 12 30 24
10 Middle Tennessee St. 11 19 28 28
11 Marshall 6 18 20 34
12 Louisiana Tech 6 21 19 37
13 Alabama-Birmingham 7 17 23 36




PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

Pos. Name Class School Stats/Notes
C Aramis Garcia Jr. FIU .321-11-51, very good overall catcher
1B Skyler Ewing Jr. Rice .226-4-23, much improved, + power potential
2B Edwin Rios So. FIU .332-9-52, very advanced bat for a sophomore
3B Zach Houchins Sr. East Carolina .317-5-42, along with 18 doubles, two triples
SS Leon Byrd So. Rice .275-1-21, finished 2013 with a bang, toolsy
OF Keenan Cook Sr. Rice .292-0-32, very athletic, had strong fall
OF Mason Robbins Jr. Southern Miss .317-2-40, 10 doubles, impressive skill set 
OF Brendon Sanger So. Florida Atlantic .347-3-28, .436 OBP, consistent hitter
DH RJ Perucki Sr. UTSA .350-12-48, 12 2B, big-time power, veteran
UT Drew Reynolds Sr. East Carolina .322-0-22 -- 2.93, 40 IP, 36K/19BB
SP Jeff Hoffman Jr. East Carolina 3.20, 109 2/3 IP, 84K/39BB, mid-90s FB, upside
SP Jordan Stephens Jr. Rice 2.43, 118 2/3 IP, 100K/31BB, came on last year
SP Austin Gomber Jr. Florida Atlantic 2.97, 106 IP, 103K/28BB, up to 93, good SL
RP Zech Lemond Jr. Rice 2.02, 75 2/3, 71K/21BB, mid-90s FB, + CB

Player of the year: Aramis Garcia, c, Florida International

Pitcher of the year: Jeff Hoffman, East Carolina

Top freshman: Stephen Alemais, ss, Tulane

Top newcomer: John Clay Reeves, c, Rice




PROSPECT WATCH
Projected round drafted in ()
-Lists compiled by Allan Simpson


2014 prospects

1 Jeff Hoffman, rhp, East Carolina (Round 1)

3 Zech Lemond, rhp, Rice (1-2)

2 Aramis Garcia, c, Florida International (2-3)

4 Jordan Stephens, rhp, Rice (3-5)

5 Mason Robbins, of, Southern Mississippi (3-5)

6 Austin Gomber, lhp, Florida Atlantic (3-5)

7 Ryan Butler, rhp, Charlotte (4-6)

8 Jonathan Frebis, lhp, Middle Tennessee State (4-6)

9 Tyler Bolton, rhp, East Carolina (4-8)

10 Skyler Ewing, c, Rice (4-8)

11 David Lucroy, rhp, East Carolina (5-8)

12 Phil Maton, rhp, Louisiana Tech (5-10)

13 Brad Roney, rhp/3b, Southern Mississippi (6-10)

14 Connor Barron, ss, Southern Mississippi (6-10)

15 BreShawn Kimbell, of, Louisiana Tech (6-12)

16 Mitch Morales, ss, Florida Atlantic (6-12)

17 Michael Taylor, rhp, Marshall (8-12)

18 Randy LeBlanc, rhp, Tulane (6-15)

19 Alex Massey, rhp, Tulane (6-15)

20 Taylor Nunez, rhp, Southern Mississippi (8-15)

21 Michael Franco, rhp, Florida International (10-15)


2015 prospects

1 Ian Gibaut, rhp, Tulane (Rounds 2-4)

2 Edwin Rios, 2b/3b, Florida International (3-5)

3 Kevin McCanna, rhp/c, Rice (3-5)

4 Leon Byrd, ss, Rice (3-5)

5 Jon Duplantier, rhp, Rice (3-6)

6 Heath Slatton, rhp/of, Middle Tennessee State (6-10)

7 Garrett Brooks, of, East Carolina (6-15)

8 Jacob Winston, rhp, Southern Mississippi (8-12)

9 Luke Lowery, c, East Carolina (8-12)

10 Hunter Kopycinski, c, Rice (10-15)


2016 prospects

1 Stephen Alemais, ss, Tulane (2-4)

2 J.P. France, rhp, Tulane (4-6)

3 Cody Crouse, rhp, Florida International (4-6)

4 Sean Labsan, lhp, Florida Atlantic (4-6)

5 Bryce Harman, 1b/lhp, East Carolina (4-6)


 



CONFERENCE USA NOTEBOOK

 

• RICE: To absolutely no surprise, the Owls enter the 2014 campaign as the heavy favorite to capture the Conference USA crown. The Owls have one of the nation’s top pitching staffs once again this season, and keep an eye on junior righthander Jordan Stephens, who really has made some strides over the past year. Stephens finished 2013 on a high note and is 88-92 with an outstanding breaking ball and improved command … Reliever Zech Lemond touched 95 in every appearance during fall workouts, while talented freshman righty Jon Duplantier is an interesting arm to watch. Duplantier is 87-92 with his fastball, along with a good breaking pitch and control … In other news, Leon Byrd moves from the outfield to shortstop, with Ford Stainback shifting over to second base, while senior Michael Aquino is one of the most impressive power hitters not a lot of people know about … Last but not least, watch out for pitcher Ryan McCarthy, who developed a spiked curveball (similar to Lemond) during the offseason.


• FLORIDA ATLANTIC: Experience is always a coveted trait for any college baseball coach, and the Owls have a lot of it entering the 2014 season. They welcome back two outstanding starting pitchers in Jeremy Strawn, and of course, elite lefthander Austin Gomber, who’s a rising prospect with a fastball up to 93 and good slider, along with a good changeup … Also keep an eye on junior righty Cody Mizelle, who has a fastball into the mid-90s, as well as two-way player and freshman Sean Labsan, who showed power and a good arm during fall workouts … Meanwhile, outfielders Brendon Sanger and Tyler Rocklein makeup what could be very well be the most productive outfield in the league, while shortstop Mitch Morales is a steady shortstop with good hands and an above-average arm .. In terms of breakout players, watch for righthanded pitcher Andrew Archer, who showed good makeup during the fall.


• EAST CAROLINA: The Pirates are looking to make a huge statement on the national stage, and have the team capable of doing just that this season. ECU obviously is led by elite righthanded pitcher Jeff Hoffman, while junior Tyler Bolton also is expected to have a huge season on the mound. Keep an eye on righty David Lucroy, who displayed a fastball up to 98 during fall workouts, while two-way player Drew Reynolds is back for duties both at second base and as closer … In terms of young players, keep an eye on hard-hitting Bryce Harman. Harman was a very talented prospect out of high school, ranked No. 75 nationally with very good power potential … Last but not least, keep an eye on Hoffman, who showed strong stuff during the summer at the Cape Cod League, and should vouch for at least the No. 2 spot in the MLB draft this summer.


• TULANE: The Green Wave was expected to take a significant step forward last season, but a surprisingly weak offense and injuries held them back much of the year. With that said, the Green Wave finally is healthy and ready to take charge this season. Tulane welcomes back a very solid weekend rotation with Randy LeBlanc, Alex Massey and Tyler Mapes, with hard-throwing Ian Gibaut (up to 98) manning the closer role. LeBlanc has always had elite talent, but has never been able to stay healthy. He possesses a mid-90s fastball with a plus changeup. Meanwhile, Mapes is a mid-90s pitcher with his fastball, has a solid slider and commands the zone well … Also keep an eye on Emerson Gibbs, who had a strong fall, while in terms of youngsters, shortstop Stephen Alemais is exactly what the Green Wave needs up the middle. He’s a steady defender with a plus run and switch-hitting abilities. Alemais was ranked No. 71 out of high school, No. 1 in the State of New York.


• FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL: The Panthers were expected to make a big statement last season, but failed in that quest thanks, mainly, to injuries. Well, FIU is back in business and healthy this spring with several impressive returning players. For instance, key arms Mike Gomez (closer), Mike Ellis and Maleko Galusha are back from injuries, while talented shortstop Julius Gaines is back in business after a fracture in his back … Gomez is an 88-91 type of arm with a plus changeup and good makeup. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Mike Franco, who’s 90-94 with good command, as well as talented freshman pitcher Cody Crouse, who will be an immediate impact arm and is 89-92 with much upside from a lanky 6-foot-6, 215-pound frame … Most importantly, keep an eye on Edwin Rios and catcher Aramis Garcia. Both players are elite hitters and prospects in their respective draft classes.


• SOUTHERN MISS: Scott Berry’s crew always has an impressive stockpile of talent, but the 2014 campaign presents an interesting challenge for USM with the departures of talented pitchers such as someone like Andrew Pierce leading the charge. With that said, two-way player Bradley Roney is a very quality arm out of the bullpen … More importantly, a lot of USM’s success hinges on Mason Robbins and Connor Barron. Robbins has proven himself to be a contributor at this level, but Barron, who’s a good prospect, still needs to show what he’s made of at this level. Barron, for instance, hit .198 with just one extra-base hit in 86 at bats last season. That must change.


• UTSA: The Roadrunners raised plenty of eyebrows last June when it made quite an impressive showing in the Corvallis Regional. Now, they hope to take a step forward and yet another new conference after playing in the Western Athletic Conference last season. UTSA has the tough chore of replacing departed contributors Riley Good and Daniel Rockett, but welcome back one of the nation’s elite hitters in RJ Perucki, who hit .350 with 12 homers and 48 RBIs last season. UTSA also has a nice pitching staff returning this season, particularly a good bullpen with the return of Matt Sims and Wes Cox, who totaled 100 innings last year.


• CHARLOTTE: The 49ers arrive to Conference USA from the Atlantic 10 Conference, where they put together a solid 2013 campaign. Charlotte should compete well in C-USA this season with a pair of very impressive starting pitchers in Ryan Butler and Brock Hudgens, both veteran righthanders. Butler is 90-95 with his fastball with good feel for a changeup and breaking ball, while Hudgens, a senior, is 88-92 with good pitchability … Keep an eye on junior speedster Mikal Hill, while freshman Matt Creech is another plus runner in the program … While Charlotte gets back Corbin Shrive from Tommy John surgery this spring, it will be without Sean Geoghegan and Adam Huffman due to TJ surgery this spring. 


• MIDDLE TENNESSEE: The Blue Raiders were expected to compete for a postseason appearance last season, but that didn’t happen. Now, MTSU hopes to surprise a bit with the return of talented lefthanded pitcher Johnathan Frebis, who’s 89-93 with his fastball, along with improved off speed pitches … Keep an eye on intriguing lefty Brandon Zajac, who’s 87-92 with his FB, while senior Zac Curtis returns with an 88-92 fastball and good curveball … Heath Slaton, who sits 90-93 with good off speed stuff and command is back, too, while keep an eye on freshman two-way player Caleb Smith. Smith is 88-92 on the bump with a plus slider. He also is a good athlete who can play center field. Injury-wise, Jonathan Sisco returns from injury, while freshman lefty Benji Cash will miss the year because of TJ surgery.


• MARSHALL: After not such a great 2013 campaign, the Thundering Herd hopes to surprise some folks this spring. The Thundering Herd expects a big year from Cory Garratazu, who had a very good fall at the plate, while juniors Andrew Dundon and TJ Diffenderfer, a transfer, also showed well in the fall. Dundon has good hands and a decent arm, but needs to work on his power production, while Diffenderfer has much upside. Lastly, keep an eye on pitchers Michael Taylor and Josh King. Taylor has the best arm on the team with a fastball 90-94, while King is more polished with an 88-94 fastball and very adequate secondary offerings.


• LOUISIANA TECH: Not much is expected from the Bulldogs this season, but they have at least two game-changers who could help turn the tide. Righthanded pitcher Phil Maton is a very quality arm for the Bulldogs, tallying a 2.70 ERA in 96 2/3 innings last season, along with 89 strikeouts and 30 walks, while outfielder Bre’shon Kimbell is someone to watch. Kimbell is a good athlete and prospect, but needs to be much more consistent at the plate. He hit just .259 with three homers and 24 RBIs last season.


• UAB: Brian Shoop’s club didn’t have a good 2013 campaign, and lost some key contributors from that club. However, they still hope to take a step forward this season with the return of at least some key cogs, particularly seniors. They’ll need Ryan Prinzing and Ivan De Jesus to have productive campaigns. Prinzing hit .335 with three homers and 32 RBIs last season, while De Jesus, who used to be a heralded prospect, hit just .271 with two homers and 25 RBIs, in addition to 10 stolen bases.


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