2020 Division II College Preview

Photo: Erik Webb (Central Missouri Athletics)

Since the program’s revival in 2005, the Angelo State Rams have been one of the winningest programs in NCAA D-II baseball. Under the sole guidance of head coach Kevin Brooks, the Rams have never had a losing season and have reached the D-II Baseball Championships three times, which include back-to-back appearances in 2015 and 2016 and a trip in 2007 in just the third year of the program’s existence.

Last year the Rams finished 46-12 despite an almost entirely new roster following the 2018 season. They easily advanced to the NCAA postseason play and won the opening round of the South Central Regional despite being down 9-3 early in the final deciding game. They rallied to score an astonishing 19 runs and advanced to host Colorado Mesa in Super Regional action. The contests between the Rams and Mavs were monumental with each game being decided by a single run. In the end it was CMU who won the deciding game and advanced to Cary as the Rams were forced to watch their overjoyed opponent celebrate the win feverishly on their home field. Following that bitter defeat, the team is hungry is get back on the field and earn another trip to North Carolina.

The Rams return seven of nine starters from last year’s lineup which hit .350 as a team, slugged .539 and were relentless on the basepaths with 153 steals. ASU’s pitching staff is gluttonously overstocked as well with three of its top starters back in the rotation along with a slew of top-shelf relievers.

ASU can also claim Josh Elvir, the winner of pretty much every offense-based award presented to players in the offseason. Elvir slashed .458/.584/.989 fueled by 46 extra-base hits and 50 walks. He also stole 11 bases and only once grounded into a double play.

“With our nucleus of returning players and some quality additions,” Brooks stated, “I feel like this could be a special year for Ram Baseball.”

Brooks is not the only one with that forecast. Despite strong consideration from fellow perpetual powerhouse such as Central Missouri, Azusa Pacific, Minnesota State and reigning champion Tampa, the Angelo State Rams are this season’s top-ranked preseason team for 2020.

2020 Perfect Game NCAA Division II Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk.’19 Rk.SchoolSTRecord
18Angelo State RamsTX46-12
24Central Missouri MulesMO46-16
317Azusa Pacific CougarsCA40-15
4NRMinnesota State MavericksMN39-15
57Catawba IndiansNC47-14
61Tampa SpartansFL45-14
722Mount Olive TrojansNC31-19
83North Greenville CrusadersSC45-11
92Colorado Mesa MavericksCO53-12
1013Augustana VikingsSD43-16
119Delta State StatesmenMS42-14
125UC San Diego TritonsCA41-16
1320North Georgia NighthawksGA33-20
14NRBellarmine KnightsKY34-21
15NRGeorgia College BobcatsGA26-21
1625NYIT BearsNY37-16
17NRDixie State TrailblazersUT35-19
1811Nova Southeastern SharksFL34-17
19NRArkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils AR34-16
20NREast Stroudsburg WarriorsPA31-19
2114Ashland EaglesOH48-15
2215Illinois Springfield Prairie StarsIL41-17-1
23NRSouthern New Hampshire PenmenNH40-15
24NRNewberry WolvesSC41-16
25NRDavenport PantersMI32-18

1. Angelo State Rams
The Rams return much of last year’s lineup which batted .350, slugged .539 and stole 153 bases. They also return three of their top pitchers and added another who throws at the same upper echelon. Despite finishing with a school-record 42 wins and establishing a record 17-game winning streak, the team was unsatisfied with the season as they felt that they should have been playing in Cary. The group is very veteran-heavy, which should help propel them into the final eight this spring.

Josh Elvir was unequivocally the best player in D-II baseball last season. After batting .458 with 17 doubles, nine triples and 20 home runs, it seemed likely that someone would call his name in the MLB draft, but he wasn’t selected. Elvir, along with Nick Seginowich, give the club two monster sluggers. Seginowich batted .391 with 18 doubles and 15 home runs and would have been the top hitter on most any other team. Not only does he swing a big bat, he’s a great catch and throw guy behind the plate. In addition to that tandem, ASU returns five other players who started at least 53 games and batted no less than .317. Nicholas Novak, who was a top ranked recruit out of Minnesota, is a four-year starter at shortstop with excellent range and speed. He batted .322 with 24 stolen bases. Novak’s double-play partner is Parker Bramlett, a soft handed gold glove-winning second baseman who hit .330. Jackson Hardy earned honors for his defense as well in centerfield and batted .377 with 21 stolen bases. Justin Lee from Cochise JC and Aaron Walters, who started 20 games at Texas A&M, join the already formidable lineup. Walters was the second-rated Texas catcher coming out of high school.

The Rams’ returning rotation includes Trent Baker, Fabian Muniz and Josh Barnett. Baker was a First Team All-Lone Star Conference and All-Region who throws three pitches for strikes constantly. He made 16 starts last season and earned a 2.65 ERA with 70 strikeouts. Barnett made eight starts and finished with a 2.66 ERA and struck out 52 batters in 47 1/3 innings while issuing only 15 strikeouts. Muniz had a couple of bad outings which inflated his ERA, but he was big down the stretch. Coaches say his momentum carried into the summer and fall and he should be an invaluable asset this season. After twice earning conference pitcher of the year honors while playing for Butte College, Ben Elder will join the Angelo State staff. He had received offers from a number of D-I programs and had settled on Western Carolina but changed his mind late and will throw for ASU instead.

2. Central Missouri Mules
Erik Webb put up prolific stats last season as he batted .410 with 26 doubles, five triples and 21 home runs. His 52 extra-base hits were the second highest total of any player from a four-year school (NCAA D-I/D-II/D-III and NAIA) and easily outpace any player who is back on a college diamond this season. His 100 hits last season were ninth in all of college baseball. While he is the most accomplished hitter returning, he is only one of six everyday Mules who will be back in action. Webb will be rejoined in the outfield by Josh Schumacher, who batted .441 and reached base nearly half the time with a .492 on-base percentage. Aside from catcher, the entire infield will be welcomed back to Warrensburg. That includes shortstop Alex Madera, who hit .332 with 19 doubles, third baseman Harrison Schnurbusch who held down third  with a .313 average, second baseman Michael Sinks who batted .309 and Cole Taylor who batted .259 with 17 extra-base hits. In the offseason the already robust Mules roster added Dusty Strope who transferred from MIAA rival Missouri Western. Strope played shortstop for the Griffons and batted .311. Scott Wolverton, a transfer from D-I Morehead State will take over as the team’s catcher.

While the returning roster for the Mules pitching isn’t quite as bountiful, it remains extremely formidable and should able to match or exceed last year’s edition which had a team 3.88 ERA and struck out a batter per inning (569 Ks in 543 innings).

Mason Green is the de facto, but also deserving, ace of the staff. Last year he had 15 starts and compiled 75 innings. During those outings he only allowed 54 hits while striking out 95. His ERA on the season was 2.88. New to the team is Jordan Fowler, who was one of the top prep pitchers out of Tennessee and was a Freshman All-American and starter at Ole Miss in 2018. Fowler couldn’t quite regain his groove last season and coaches believe he’ll find it a UCM. Despite that tandem’s impending dominance, the top pro prospect on the staff may be Johnathan Sprinkle. Sprinkle closed out games for the Mules last season and appeared in 24 games with 10 saves. He threw 40 1/3 innings on the season in which he only allowed 23 hits while striking out 67. Coby Seiz was nearly as dominating out of the bullpen. He made 21 appearances in relief last year in which he totaled 31 2/3 innings with 49 strikeouts.

3. Azusa Pacific Cougars
The Cougars return three players who hit double-digit home runs and batted no less than .315. The biggest bat of the three is swung by third baseman Osvaldo Tovalin, who topped the team with a .396 batting average and hit 17 doubles and 19 home runs. Griffen Herrera and Tido Robles combined to add another 22 home runs while batting .364 and .318 respectively.  Other contributors include Kim Joseph and Will Stroud who showed promise in limited action last season. The duo batted .341 and .326. Travis Aversa, an infielder from Long Beach City College will help solidify the infield. He batted .320 last season for the Vikings and has tremendous range.

Nick Estrella and AJ Woodall both were on the cusp of throwing 100 innings last season and had 3.30 and 3.57 ERAs with solid strikeout-to-walk ratios. Estrella is extremely athletic and split time between the mound and the infield in years prior. Woodall previously pitched at UC Santa Barbara. Declan Kearney brings additional experience to the mound as he threw 67 innings last season in which he finished with a 3.22 ERA. Tripp Aversa has been rock solid out of the bullpen the past two seasons. Last year he appeared in 19 games and struck out 33 batters in 39 2/3 innings while only issuing five walks. Joe Wills threw for Cal State Fullerton for a pair of seasons and started seven games as a freshman for the Titans. He’ll be looking to finish his college career strong with the Cougars.

4. Minnesota State Mavericks
The Mavericks had a rollercoaster season last year in which they were in and out of the national rankings multiple times. Their season ended on an exponential downswing as they lost five of six with dual quick exits in both the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and Central Region tournaments. Nevertheless, the team looks extremely solid this season and reeks of the same awesomeness which saw them advance to Cary four times in five years at the beginning of past decade.

Every pitcher who started a game last season is back in 2020. Cam Kline, Jimmy Larson and John Ludwig all put up outstanding numbers on the mound. Kline stuck out 112 batters in just 80 innings while issuing only 16 walks. Those gaudy numbers, combined with a 2.48 ERA would made him an easy All-American selection alone, but he also led the team with a .386 batting average and hit six home runs. Larson put up similar stats as he earned a 2.43 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 77 and 2/3 innings pitched. Ludwig struck out 56 in 46 1/3 innings and had a 1.94 ERA. With a mid-90s fastball and plus slider he could be a draft selection following the season.

Along with Kline, the Mavs’ lineup returns six other players who had at least 100 at bats in 2019. Of that half dozen, four batted at least .300, and three of them hit upwards of .345. Nick Altermatt and Teddy Peterson are the most accomplished of the group. Altermatt was the NSIC Freshman of the Year as he batted a team-leading .372 and started all 54 games as shortstop. Peterson was his double-play partner at second base as also started every game. He hit .345 with 19 extra base hits. Ty Buck, who led the team in home runs and total bases while hitting .349 also returns. The Mavs will be without their primary run producer from last year but have a trio of D-I upperclassmen transfers who should fill the void. Sebastian Holte-Mancera hit .250 at Maryland last spring, Ben Livorsi led Saint Louis in home runs and walks and Joey Werner batted .301 at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

5. Catawba Indians
Hunter Shepherd was the South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017 and has lived up to that billing while playing for the Indians. Last season he topped the team in batting average at .358 and home runs with 12. He slashed an impressive-all-around .358/.447/.609 as the club’s first baseman. On the mound, Shepherd also impressive in the team’s rotation. He pitched 79 innings, had a 3.76 ERA and only walked 16 batters with 70 strikeouts. Jackson Raper, a senior third baseman who lead the team with 87 hits in 2018, continued to dominate the plate as he hit .352 with 20 doubles and eight home runs. Raper’s neighbor in the infield is shortstop Jeremy Simpson who only had 10 errors on the season and batted .295 with seven home runs.

In addition to Shepherd, the Indians retained seniors Bryan Ketchie and Sawyer Strickland from last year’s rotation. Ketchie made 17 starts, threw four complete games and 103 2/3 innings. During those outings he struck out 73 batters and walked 17. His ERA on the year was 3.47. Strickland had a 3.72 ERA and struck out 70 with 20 walks over 87 innings.  Greg Brown and DJ Laxton are another pair of experienced and talented returners who’ll help Catawba make another run to Cary. Brown pitched 50 innings with six spot starts and had a 3.42 ERA. Laxton stuck out 46 batters in 33 innings over 27 appearances.

6. Tampa Spartans
When evaluating the Spartans the question is typically not who is coming back, but who is coming in. Their annual reformation once again has a wealth of players coming to Tampa with the hopes of developing their baseball prowess and getting noticed by scouts. The annual influx of talent will make a repeat title a real possibility for the perennial power.

Three players who appeared in 50 games will return to the lineup. Nick Derr will hit in the middle of the lineup after batting .298 with 20 extra base hits last season. Tampa native Drew Ehrhard is penciled in to play second base where he has gold glove ability. He has batted .324 in two seasons at UT. The other experienced player is Sam Freitas who hit .310.

Luke McDonald, a standout defensive catcher who can swing the bat as well, excelled in limited action last season. Newcomers to the lineup include Christian Flint and Jose Cadenas. Flint performed well at Florida, but didn’t receive regular playing time. Cadenas is a speedster who stole 35 bases at Hillsborough CC.

Bo Weiss, the son of former MLB All Star and Rookie of the Year Walt Weiss, was a top-100 prospect coming out of high school. He was drafted by the Yankees, but instead went to North Carolina where he got lost in the Heels’ deep staff. He appeared in a half dozen games last seasons at UT and should factor heavily into their success this year. The pitcher with the most experience returning is Jacinto Arredondo. He made 21 appearances last season and stuck out 47 in 44 1/3. He is expected to be the team’s closer. Nik Constantakos pitched two seasons at Charleston Southern. During his time with the Bucs he made 18 starts and struck out 98 in 88 innings. This past summer in the South Florida Collegiate League he fanned 66 in 36 innings and had a 1.75 ERA. Another addition to the staff is Michael Paul from Santa Fe College. Paul led his team with a 1.99 ERA and held opposition to a .201 batting average.

7. Mount Olive Trojans
The Trojans return seven position players to retain a roster which will be one of the best in D-II baseball. Joe Mason, JT Stone and Gunnar Tolston provide pop in the heart of the order. Mason was an All-American last season as he hit .388 with 15 doubles, 12 home runs and 10 stolen bases. He continued his torrid hitting over the summer as he batted .306 with eight home runs for the Green Bay Booyah in the Northwoods League. Stone was nearly as formidable at the plate as he batted .347 with 22 extra base hits. Tolston was second on the team with 11 home runs. Junior Snow, who started 31 games, primarily at second base, will also be back. He hit .320 last season. The offense should get a boost from Dusty Baker who played last season at East Carolina. Baker spent three seasons with the Pirates and batted .251 in 157 games.

UMO returns their top three starting pitchers as well as 10 other hurlers who saw action on the mound last spring. Reed Parris and Caleb Bishop each made 15 starts and both threw over 70 innings. Parris’ 3.64 ERA was tops among the Trojan regular starters and he struck out 83 batters to earn All-Conference honors as a freshman.  Bishop, a sophomore, had a 4.33 ERA and threw a pair of complete games. Caleb Irwin started eight games, struck out 46 batters in 50 innings and had a 4.32 ERA.

Will Abbott, a transfer from Florence Darlington Tech CC, may have the highest ceiling of any pitcher on the staff. A tall, powerful thrower, Abbott pitched at The Citadel as a freshman and amassed 65 1/3 innings with 58 strikeouts. He fanned 75 in 60 innings in 12 appearances at Flo-Dar Tech. Trent Joiner and Julian Blackburn are another two incoming recruits who initially were on D-I rosters. Joiner saw action at the College of Charleston and Blackburn pitched at Campbell.

8. North Greenville Crusaders
NGU spent the overwhelming bulk of last season as the top-ranked team in D-II but lost a heart-breaking game three in Super Regional play to have their goal of a national title come up short. The Crusaders return several players from last year’s potent squad but lost quite a bit in the offseason as well which will make another extended postseason run a bit arduous.

John Michael Faile was one of the top players at the D-II level last season as a freshman catcher. He batted .391 and slugged 18 home runs. He’ll be back behind the plate and rejoined in the lineup by Jeremy Whitehead and Lex Tutuen. Whitehead, a second baseman, batted .367 with nine doubles, seven triples and 17 stolen bases. He had played previously at East Carolina and was regarded as a top-five outfielder out of North Carolina. It is anticipated that he’ll be selected in the amateur draft this June. Tuten hit .295 and played third base when he wasn’t spelling Faile behind the plate. Michael Neustifter was expected to be the team’s top hitter last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, however, he was injured a few games into the season.

Additions to the roster include Jordan Holladay, a heralded third baseman who played in 28 games at South Carolina last season, and Doug Angeli, who hit .288 in 44 games at UNC Wilmington. Ethan Stringer, who was a top-three prep outfielder out of Kentucky and batted .250 over two seasons at Louisville, also joins the team.

The additions pf Christian Ryder, a tall, powerful pitcher who spent the last three seasons at Georgia, and Logan Chapman, who threw at South Carolina, are monumental for the NGU pitching staff which lost their two top pitchers from last season. Ryder struggled to earn playing time at UGA and Chapman was unable to build upon a successful freshman season due to injury. Like Neustifter on offense, Ryan Kirk was expected to put up big numbers before being sidelined by injury. He is back and healthy for 2020. 6-foot-7 Grayson Hickert, who appeared in 18 games out of the bullpen and had a 1.35 ERA in 20 innings, provides experience for late innings. Interestingly he initially started his college athletic career playing basketball at Wofford.

9. Colorado Mesa Mavericks
The perennial powerhouse Mavericks are once again on the short list of teams likely to advance to Cary. The CMU crew batted .326 with 82 home runs last season and both those numbers should be eclipsed this spring with a loaded lineup which returns six regulars who started at least 36 games – four of which batted no less than .325. Spencer Bramwell and Caleb Farmer both received a lot of interest from MLB scouts when the Mavs were in Cary last season – and for good reason. Bramwell hit .371 while handling duties behind the plate and earned 15 doubles and seven home runs. Farmer, who was a highly-ranked shortstop in high school, now plays third base for CMU. He has hit .347 in his two seasons in Grand Junction.  Another imposing bat will be wielded by Jordan Stubbings, a meaty first baseman who has batted .359 with 24 home runs over the past two seasons.

The pitching staff suffered some casualties as three hurlers who started a total of 33 games graduated.

Two seasoned starters remain so the cupboard is far from bare. Andrew Morris and Trevin Reynolds each made nine starts and totaled 131 innings between them. Their 3.88 and 3.96 ERAs would be much smaller if they pitched anywhere than in the thin-aired Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. Ryan Day, a transfer from Blinn JC and freshman Jared Ure are anticipated to provide strong innings. Day pitched magnificently for the Buccaneers, logging 66 innings with 81 strikeouts while only allowing 45 hits and issuing 17 walks. His ERA was a thin 2.05. The 6-foot-6 Ure was graded as one of the top prep pitchers in Colorado. He had a 1.09 ERA as a high school senior and also led his team with a .393 batting average.

10. Augustana Vikings
The Vikings have an extremely experienced team which still has five position starters on the roster from the team that won the national title in 2018.

Center fielder Riley Johnson will be a four-year starter on the club and is a talent at the plate, on defense, and on the bases. Last season he topped the team in total bases thanks to his .395 batting average, 15 doubles, four triples and six home runs. He also added 26 stolen bases. Jordan Barth, who can play both corners of the infield, missed a good chunk of the season due to a wrist injury, but still put up enough impressive numbers to earn All-American status. He led the team in hitting at .422 and home runs with nine. Will Olson is the team’s catcher who not only handles the annually elite pitching staff but contributes mightily on offense. He batted .349 with eight home runs. The left-side infield defense may be the best in the nation. The athletic Sam Baier is a four-year starter at shortstop and Ryan Nickel only had a single error at third base. Nickel also batted .341 and hit 21 doubles.

Max Steffens is the next big thing to be churned out of the Augustana pitching machine. He made 15 starts last season and established a school record for innings pitched at 97 1/3 as he threw seven complete games. During those outings he only allowed 87 hits and issued a scant 10 walks and had a 2.77 ERA. Tanner Brown gained momentum during the season and was the team’s best pitcher at the end of the year. He finished with a 3.30 ERA and struck out 84 in 71 innings. Coaches expect Brown, as well as Evan Furst, to continue to develop and become integral members of the staff. Seth Miller excelled as a freshman and threw 76 innings with a 3.20 ERA in 12 starts. The Vikings have an imposing pitcher to close out games. Thomas Bruss stands at 6-foot-8 with a full frame and throws 95 mph heat. He K’d 42 in 36 2/3 innings last season. Jed Schmidt was injured last year but was in the regular rotation when Auggie took home the title.

11. Delta State Statesmen
The DSU staff will have an experienced ace back on the mound in Hunter Riggins. Riggins, who had been rated one of the top prep pitchers in Mississippi, made 16 starts last season and threw 110 innings and four complete games. He totaled 82 strikeouts and finished the season with a tidy 1.88 ERA. He is one of four pitchers who appeared in at least ten games returning to the staff; however, the other three combined to only total 62 2/3 innings. Nevertheless, a slew of talented and capable arms have arrived on campus as reinforcements.

Tanner Propst only saw action in a handful of games at LA Tech, but now that he’s transferred to DSU and worked with the Statemen staff, he could be masterful. After adjusting his arm angle he’s been throwing upwards of 94 mph and is penciled in to be the team’s closer.  Wesley Grantham, who pitched at East Mississippi CC and had a 3.48 ERA and 57 Ks in 51 2/3 innings will fill a starting pitching role, as well Jackson Rutledge (no, not the one who was drafted in the first round last season), a transfer from Northeast Texas CC. He threw 41 2/3 innings and fanned 46 with a 4.54 ERA for the Eagles.

Remember the name Myles Christian, you’ll be hearing it again in June during the MLB draft. Christian has tremendous potential to put up gargantuan numbers. He was highly-touted in high school, drafted by the Mariners in the 18th round and committed to Middle Tennessee State where he played two seasons. He impressively led the Blue Raiders in both home runs (13) and stolen bases (15) last season, but only batted .239. If he can develop his contact to be in the neighborhood of his tremendous raw power, he’ could a number of offensive number categories nationally.

Even without Christian, DSU already had a potent bat in the lineup. Jacob Barlow has tremendous hitting ability and power for a second baseman. He was the most formidable of sluggers on the roster last season as he hit .322 with 13 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs to amass 124 total bases and a .588 slugging percentage. He’ll be a shoo-in All-American if he puts up similar numbers this season. Other experienced hitters coming back include shortstop Derek Sargent who hit 17 doubles and eight home runs, CJ Estave who batted .324 and Hayden White who hit .302. Chase Hamilton, the team’s everyday shortstop who batted .308 and only made four errors in 234 chances in the field and Haydn McGeary who homered 11 times in only 147 bats and hit .347 also return.

12. UC San Diego Tritons
The Tritons are one of two teams in the Perfect Game Top 25 who are in their last season playing at the D-II level. They will become a full D-I in the Big West Conference next year.

Brandon Weed earned a number of accolades last season as he pitched 87 1/3 innings with a 3.30 ERA, 60 strikeouts and only 14 walks. He was named the CCAA’s Most Valuable Pitcher as well as the ABCA/Rawlings West Region Pitcher of the Year. Weed, along with Luke Mattson and Noah Conlon give the team three experienced pitchers who started at least 10 games. Mattson’s numbers nearly mirrored Weed’s as he finished the year with a 3.41 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. Conlon returned from injury to make 11 starts and throw a total of 48 1/3 innings.

Lonnie Morris was very highly-regarded coming out of high school. Last season he only had a sprinkling of relief appearances, but when he did pitch, he impressed. He totaled 10 2/3 innings of relief work, struck out 12 and didn’t allow a single earned run. Zach Tresemer too showed signs of brilliance in limited action. As a freshman he pitched at Delta College and had a 2.33 ERA and 23 Ks in 19 1/3 innings. In seven appearances for UCSD last season he totaled 14 1/3 and had a 2.51 ERA.

Shane Whitcomb and Blake Baumgartner were two of the CCAA’s top hitters last season. Whitecomb was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player after batting .314 with 25 doubles and 11 home runs as the Triton’s shortstop. Baumgartner started all 57 games last season at first base and led the team in each of the three slash categories at .330/.457/.601. He also played near flawless defense as he only had four errors on 471 chances. Aaron Kim also put up double-digit home run totals and slashed .241/.381/.532. Logan White had been named the top prep catcher out of California and was drafted by the Dodgers. After redshirting at Coastal Carolina, he played sparingly last season at UCSD. If he is healthy and playing to potential, his presence could be massive for the team.

A number of exciting transfers will help fill out the lineup. Evertt Lau batted .250 last season at Auburn. He played in 19 games and made eight starts for the Tigers who advanced to the DI College World Series. Jo Bynum from Santa Rosa Junior College and Anthony Lucchetti from Delta College should also earn significant at-bats.

13. North Georgia Nighthawks
Andres Perez missed last season but was a prolific masher in 2018 when he batted .330 and hit 23 home runs. Perez has a very high baseball IQ as his father Eddie was the personal catcher for Greg Maddux and was named the MVP for the 1999 National League Championship Series. Perez will rejoin the lineup and form a two-man wrecking crew with Crews Taylor. Taylor led UNG in both batting and home runs last season, finishing the year at .319 with 10 homers.

Four other players are back who started at least 51 games. The left side of the infield retains third baseman Nick Clarno and shortstop William Mapes. While neither blistered the ball at the plate, both were solid on defense. Catcher Bill Leroy batted .305 and has an invaluable and contagious personality which keeps the team loose. New to the team is Will Hardigree who is skilled behind the plate and has plenty of raw bat speed. He previously attended USC-Upstate.

The returns of Steven Bower and Parker Morrison give the team a pair of established aces. Bower was the top pitcher in the rotation last season as he threw 89 innings and ended the season with a 3.34 ERA and 85 strikeouts. His numbers are particularly impressive considering he throws in the offensively charged Peach Belt Conference. Morrison struck out 81 batters in 53 innings out of the bullpen and had a 3.40 ERA. Cody Collett excelled as a freshman last season as he appeared in 24 games and had a team low 3.16 ERA and held opposition to a .231 batting average. Additions to the staff included Maddex Richardson and Jay Pendley. Richardson made 31 appearances at Western Kentucky over the past two seasons but was battered quite a bit after an inspiring freshman season. Pendley should earn a number of innings after excelling at Gordon State JC.

14. Bellarmine Knights
At the beginning of April last season the Knights were suffering though a season which was not living up to expectations. They had been voted to be the favorite to take home the Great Lakes Valley Conference title but were merely 19-16 with a 10-10 conference record. While results picked up at the close of the regular season, they were still far from playing up to their expectation. It took a sweep over Illinois Springfield the last weekend of the season to clinch a post in the conference postseason tournament. The Knights ended up sweeping their way to earn their fourth GLVC title and first since 2013.

The offense looks strong with All-Americans Matt Higgins and Chris Gambert leading the attack. Higgins swings a draftable bat and hit .419 with 13 home runs last season. Head Coach Larry Owens claims Higgins, “could hit on any college team in the country regardless of the level.” Gambert is the team’s primary catcher. He batted .391 and led the team with a .745 slugging percentage thanks to his 15 doubles and 16 home runs.

Starting shortstop Clayton Mehlbauer has mild pro interest and could be a senior sign next year. Last season he hit .326. Jacob Mulcahy was the top-rated Kentucky third baseman from his high school class. If he can overcome injuries, he has the ability to put up big numbers. Josh Finerty, who took off last season to study for the MCAT, was an All-GLVC selection in 2018. He’ll be back this spring before going to medical school.

Brandon Pfaadt will be the team’s No. 1 starting pitcher following an exceptional summer throwing in Cape Cod. Pfaadt pitched 32 innings and only allowed 19 hits with 34 strikeouts for the Wareham Gatemen. Last season he appeared in 22 games with two starts and threw a total of 38 innings in which he fanned 50 and only walked 14. The number two starter on the staff is Shane Barringer. Barringer pitched two seasons at Sienna but his performances were, in a word, bad. Last season at Bellarmire he was able to work on his command and has been consistently getting better. Last season he made five starts, appeared in 18 games and threw a total of 42 2/3 innings. His ERA was a respectable 4.43. Jacob Nagel and Deylen Miley will round out the rotation and reportedly are much improved from last season. Anthony Ethington gives the team a reliable arm in the bullpen. He appeared in 21 games last season, totaling 46 2/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

15. Georgia College Bobcats
Second baseman Cal Gentry and catcher Austin Holloway were two of the top hitters in the Peach Belt last season. Gentry, who is, “as pure a hitter as you can find in college baseball”, according to head coach Jason Eller, led the league in batting at .413. It was his second time capping the club and the league as he batted .442 as a freshman. Holloway hit .388 and didn’t have a single error attributed to him. Additionally, he only allowed a pair of passed balls and impressively threw out 19 of 42 would-be base stealers.

Center fielder Cam Hill batted .349 as a freshman. Cash Young is invaluable on defense and played each infield position (aside from catcher) at least six times. At the plate he improved his batting average to .264 after batting below the Mendoza line as a freshman.  Sam Sly, who hit .386 at Gordon State College is one of the top incoming transfers.

The Bobcats used 11 different players to start games last season and Kyle King was one of the most effective. He fanned 59 in 59 2/3 and had a 4.07 ERA. Chris Rolick has a high ceiling and appeared in 23 games last season with three spot starts. He struck out 34 in 36 1/3 innings and had a 4.46 ERA with four wins and four saves. Bryce Bowen appeared in 17 games and threw 32 1/3 innings in which he held opposition to a .202 batting average and struck out 42 batters. Jacob Hester, who had signed with Mercer out of high school, showed signs of promise in limited action on the mound.

How well GCSU ultimately performs will depend heavily on an arsenal of pitching transfers.

Connor Darling earned high praise coming out of high school and pitched two seasons at the University Tennessee, failed to earn much mound time. Aidan McAllister is a tall lefty who pitched effectively at Georgia Southern last season. He appeared in 16 games and had a respectable 4.38 ERA. Garrett Houston excelled at Gordon State as he struck out 50 in 32 2/3 innings and had a 1.93 ERA. Redshirt sophomore Matt Blair made six appearances at Mercer last season and has joined the Bobcats as well.

16. New York Institute of Technology Bears
The Bears were a horrendous 5-36-1 in 2017, their final season playing at the NCAA D-I level before moving the program to D-II to match the rest of the school’s athletic programs. Typically, the move would require a two-year transition period, but the school was granted immediate eligibility for the postseason. Their first season in D-II, the appeal appeared to be waste of paperwork as the Bears finished 13-25-1. However last season the team had an incredible turnaround under first-year head coach Frank Catalanotto as they finished 37-16 and won the East Region to advance to the DII Baseball Championships.

Few, if any, teams return as many experienced players in 2020 than NYIT. Almost the entire roster both in the everyday lineup as well as on the mound return for another run to Cary. All-American EJ Cumbo batted a fifth-in-the-nation .437 with seven home runs and 23 stolen bases last year and was named the East Coast Conference Player of the Year despite only being a freshman. John LaRocca, who had started his college career at Monmouth, batted .362 with 20 extra base hits and had 15 stolen bases while providing stellar defense in centerfield. Shortstop Ben McNeill batted .304 and led the team with 16 doubles and six triples. Ryan Kuskowski hit .343 with good pop behind the plate.

Last year’s ace DJ Masuck threw 99 1/3 innings and held opposition to a 3.26 ERA. He’ll be back along with Chris Mott and Joe Murphy who each started at least 11 games, combined to throw over 132 innings and averaged over a strikeout per inning.

The already deep pitching staff will be solidified by a pair of transfers DI transfers. Both Bobby Vath and Andrew Imperatore were highly rated prep prospects coming out of the state of New York. Vath went to attend Rhode Island and Imperatore signed with Rider. After Vath went unused for the Rams and Imperatore failed to find his groove with the Broncs, the pair has returned to their home state and are now on the Bears’ roster.

17. Dixie State Trailblazers
Jake Engel earned All American honors after batting.385 with 14 home runs in his first full season in the lineup. He is one of six players back who started a minimum of 40 games last season for a team that batted .325 and stole 87 bases. Third baseman Tyson Fisher was named the RMAC Freshman of the Year after batting .363 with 27 extra base hits and 11 stolen bases. Outfielder Lane Pritchard and second baseman Tyler Hollow also were named to All-RMAC squads after batting .358 and .360 respectively. Catcher Cade Spurlin had the stats to earn All-RMAC honors as he batted .389 with 23 extra-base hits, but the conference was particularly deep at the position.

Brayden Bonner was excelling in a relief role last year before he was moved into the rotation. He appeared in 22 games with four starts and totaled 35 2/3 innings with 41 strikeouts and eight walks. Preston Hannay and Jack Gonzales each started 13 games and pitched 58 innings. Their ERAs were a little robust, even for the RMAC; nonetheless, their experience can’t be overlooked.

Transfer Justin Dunham threw 73 2/3 innings which included a no-hitter and had a 2.08 ERA at Irvine River CC. Hayden Hendricks, who had a 1.72 ERA in 68 innings at Paradise Valley CC. Each should give the staff a boost.

18. Nova Southeastern Sharks
For the first time in nearly a decade with a new coach, someone other than Greg Brown will be the head coach at Nova Southeastern. Brown cemented the Sharks as a perennial powerhouse and led the team to the 2016 national title. With Brown’s departure to the Tampa Rays organization, Laz Gutierrez takes over the reins in his first collegiate head coaching job. While Gutierrez hasn’t coached at the college level before, he does have experience in player development, scouting, and was most recently the Mental Skills Coordinator with the Boston Red Sox.

The Sharks pitching should be especially potent. J.P. Williams pitched exclusively in a relief role last season, appearing in 18 out of the bullpen, but may take up a starting role. While on the mound he fanned 43 with only 11 walks in 37 2/3 innings. Jeremy Cook spent the last two seasons pitching for the Miami Hurricanes where he made 37 appearances in relief with a 4.78 ERA over 32 innings. He should have a much more prominent role at NSU. Sophomore Duncan Pastore had a stunning freshman season as appeared in 13 games with eight starts. Held opposition to a 2.51 ERA and a .211 batting average. When not pitching, Pastore played the field, picking up time playing both the corners of the infield as well as the outfield. He was one of the leadings hitters on the team has be batted .344 with 12 stolen bases.

Including Pastore, the team returns five regular batters who batted a minimum of .340. The most significant bats back belong to Andrew Labosky and Bryan Diaz. Labosky batted a team leading .360 with 15 extra base hits and Diaz finished with a .348 average. The other two regular returning are Daniel Irisarri and Nathan Chevalier. In additional to be excellent hitters the two supplied solid defense at second base and center field.

After a promising freshman season in which he hit .262 with 10 home runs at Florida International, Adan Fernandez lost his swing as a sophomore. He has joined the Sharks to jumpstart his career. Ray Sanchez, a transfer from just up the turnpike at Palm Beach State, is expected to hit in the middle of the order. Coaches believe he will be a consistent threat in the middle of the order and brings a wealth of experience as he played in 94 games over the past two seasons.

19. Arkansas-Monticello Bollweevils
The Great American Conference champion return five everyday players on offense, capped by hulking 6-foot-5 third baseman Jordan Johnson, who slashed .320/.424/.550. Johnson was named to the GAC All-Defense team. David Reyna, Andrew Piraino and Cade Thompson are all invaluable members of the offense as well. Reyna topped the team in batting at .393 and added 19 stolen bases. Piraino served as the club’s catcher and hit .359. Thompson batted .378 and was the GAC Freshman of the Year. Hudson Hawkins spent the past two seasons at Louisiana Tech, but redshirted in 2018 and didn’t see any action last season. He was a masher at Seminole State College prior to that where he hit .372 with 15 home runs.

Matt Lundh was the GAC Pitcher of the Year after earning a 3.39 ERA in 71 2/3 innings on the mound. He struck out 85 and only allowed 66 walks and 32 strikeouts. Hunter Huckabee and Connor Wilkerson provide another pair of experienced arms. They two combined to start 22 games with Huckabee topping the team with 73 1/3 innings. Huckabee also threw a pair of complete games and stuck out 61 with only 26 walks.

Ojani Chacon will be a familiar presence in the bullpen. Last season he appeared in a team leading nineteen games and pitched 49 1/3 innings. He had a 3.83 ERA and struck out 41.

Erik Key, a transfer from Lamar, will help complete the staff. He made 10 appearances and one start for the Cardinals last season. Coaches believe River Hunt, a transfer from Three Rivers CC, could provide superlative innings as well.

20. East Stroudsburg Warriors
The Warriors finished 2019 campaign with a 31-19 overall record, their best since winning a school-record 38 games in 2016. They’re the preseason pick to top an extremely competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Anthony Torreullas and Brock Kauffman are the top two returning hitters from last year’s club. Torreullas batted .321 with 19 doubles and six home runs. He led the team in total bases and added 14 stolen bases. Torreullas is also invaluable on defense as he can play several of positions with ease. Kauffman, who regularly  holds down third base for the Warriors, has hit .316 his first two seasons at ESU. Logan Stirr, Brainy Rojas and Joey Paolini are three other contributors back on offense. Stiff batted .299 and played error-free first base. Rojas hit .281 and stole 29 bases and Paolini led the team with seven home runs who will be playing his fourth season for the Warriors.

What gives the Warriors the edge in the PSAC is their deep and experienced pitching staff. Each pitcher who threw at least 20 innings last season will be back on the mound. That includes Joe Baran who struck out 25 batters with only three walks in 27 innings and had a 2.67 ERA, Cam Voss who topped the team with 52 1/3 innings and struck out 80 batters and Nate Fiala who earned a 2.89 ERA and held opposition to a .190 batting average. Each of them were starters last season. CJ Gonzales and Justin Guidos both excelled in relief roles in 2019. Gonzales struck out 39 batters in 29 innings and held opposition to a .178 average and Guidos made 23 appearances in which he earned a 3.18 ERA.

21. Ashland Eagles
Carson Mittermaier, the team’s leading hitter from last season returns for his fourth year for the Eagles. The .326 college career hitter tied for the team lead with 11 home runs last season. For his efforts he was named the First Team All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Designated Hitter. Austin Eifrid and Michael Rogers were also awarded First Team All-GLIAC honors. Eifrid is the team’s shortstop and topped the team with a .356 batting average. He continued his torrid hitting over the summer where he was an All Star in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League and batted .336. Rogers hit .289 with 13 doubles and 11 home runs. Micah Allen and Dillan Smith were also a big part of the team’s success last season. Allen hit .353 and Smith batted .323.

If the Eagles are to return to Cary, starting pitcher Chance Hitchcock will be one of the primary reasons. He pitched 99 2/3 innings last season and struck out 102 batters while he threw four complete games. Like Mittermaier on offense, Hitchcock has been a big performer since his first day on campus. Josh Smith provides experience in the bullpen. He appeared in a 28 games last season and threw 40 innings in which he had a 4.05 ERA. Perry Bewley can put up some big numbers if he is able to be more consistent. He impressively struck out 75 batters in only 55 2/3 innings last season, but also had a couple of outings in which he was battered around quite a bit to inflate his ERA. After that trio the level of experience drops off quite a bit which will put some pressure on younger players and transfers to develop quickly to continue the team’s winning ways.

22. Illinois Springfield Prairie Stars
UIS returns six everyday players from last year’s team which narrowly missed on advancing to the D-II Baseball Championship as they lost to Ashland in the bottom of the ninth in Super Regional play. Chris Monroe may be the best hitter in the GLVC. He batted .357 during the regular season and went on to have a magnificent summer playing for the Lafayette Aviators over the summer. Ruben Markham, Austin Alderman and Brandon Bannon each batted over .325 and started at least 42 games. Bannon and Nick Mayerhofer provide solid defense in the middle of the infield.

Adding to the embarrassment of offensive riches will be Bobby Barnard who was on the Western Carolina roster last season and Zion Pettigrew from Iowa. Pettigrew was the top-rated shortstop out of Illinois in high school.

The Stars’ pitching staff will be without their four primary starters from last season, but the rest of the staff remains largely intact. 6-foot-5 Jordan Miekl was the Prospect League’s number two-rated prospect. His initial commitment was to pitching at Louisiana-Monroe but has decided to play closer to home. Miekl and his 97 mph fastball are penciled in to be the team’s number one starter. Cameron Zunkel and Colton Hale were each contributing arms to the team that won 47 games in 2018, but missed last season. Their returned presence will be welcome as they appeared in a total of 40 games and each struck out over a batter per inning when they were last healthy.

Transfers Christian Stelling and Even Snyder will round out the staff. Snelling struck out 32 batters in 18 innings at Jefferson (MO) JC. Snyder is a senior who is returning to his home after spending last year at Western Kentucky.

23. Southern New Hampshire Penmen
As with every season the crux of SNHU’s prospects lays with its pitching staff. There is no reason to believe that this year’s edition of the team will differ much from last year’s club which finished with a 2.71 ERA and propelled the club to 40 wins for the fourth year in a row.

Wesley Tobin and Endy Morales combined to start 23 games and throw 167 1/3 innings. During those outings they earned 2.67 and 3.14 ERAs, five complete games and struck out 156 batters. Jeffrey Praml put up the most impressive number on the team during the regular season as the club’s bullpen ace. He struck out 57 batters in 36 2/3 innings while allowing only 17 hits and seven walks. His season ERA was 0.98, opposition batted a teeny tiny .140 against him and only a single inherited runner scored with him on the mound. Over the summer he pitched in the Cape Cod League for the Orleans Firebirds. Nick Artymowicz has shown signs of blistering dominance on the mound. He missed last season due to surgery, but has been recorded throwing up to 97 mph. In 2018 he struck out 22 batters in 14 1/3 innings (although he also gave up a disproportionate 22 hits).

Oluwasayo Kintunde was one of the top prep pitchers in Maryland and initially stayed in-state to pitch at Towson where he joined the weekend rotation and struck out 39 batters in 35 innings. If he can gain better control of his pitches, he’ll put up sensational numbers for the Penmen.

As with any team playing in the Northeast 10, the offensive numbers are far from prolific; however, the roster is loaded with speed (they stole 98 bases last spring) which should propel them around the bases. Tom Blandini and Sam Henrie are the clubs’ most talented hitters. Both batted near .300 and had 15 extra base hits with double digit steals. Blandini batted leadoff for SNHU last season, just as he did for the New Bedford Bay Sox in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. During his three seasons so far in Manchester he has walked 56 times while striking out only 42 times. Blandini was also on the Bay Sox roster and hit .303.

Marcus Chavez was a catcher at Michigan his freshman year. He missed last season due to injury but is expected to add an impact bat this spring.

24. Newberry Wolves
The Wolves completed a historic season last spring as they earned a school-record 41 wins, won the South Atlantic Conference title and played in the NCAA Baseball Championship for the first time in school history. This year they are hoping to take the next step in becoming one of D-II baseball’s elite.

Tomas Sorcia Jr. and Josh Bookbinder provide the team with a pair of proven starters. Sorcia nearly totaled 70 innings and had a 4.98 ERA. Bookbinder, the SAC Freshman of the Year, led the team with 93 innings, threw six complete games and had a 3.68 ERA. Quinton Driggers was phenomenal out of the bullpen last season. He held opposition to a .145 batting average as he only allowed 37 hits in 77 innings. Additionally, he had a fourth in the nation 1.40 ERA and struck out 94 batters to become just the second player in school history to earn All American honors.

Alex Sanchez, who struck out 59 in 49 2/3 innings at USC Sumter, and Nick Ruhl who formerly pitched at Delaware State, should provide quality added depth.

The team will be without Danton Hyman who was not only a huge contributor not just on the diamond, but in the locker room as well. Zane Tarrance, Nick Butler, Dalton Lansdowne and Colin Allman all appeared in at least 40 games last season and each provide quality hitting and speed. Butler was the most prolific of the bunch as he was second on the team in doubles and triples. None of the crew provides much power. The team as a whole only hit 11 home runs and only a single player last season had more than one. What the team lacks in power they make up for in speed and exceptional defense.

25. Davenport Panthers
The transition from the NAIA to D-II has done little to affect the Panther’s winning ways. Since joining the NCAA, DU has put up 33- and 32-win seasons. Last year’s edition of the club established school records in slugging at .507 and home runs with 52. With a well-stocked offensive roster each of those marks are likely to fall again, and perhaps a few more as well.

Third baseman Jacob Buchberger seemed destined for pro ball at the end of the season, but surprisingly didn’t have his name called in the amateur draft. He had tied the school record with a .429 average and amassed 23 extra base hits, 21 stolen bases and only struck out 13 times in 182 at bats. He also took to the mound on eight occasions and stymied opposition with a 1.42 ERA. He’ll be back for his senior season along with Travis Harvey and Nolan Bryant, who were each named First Team All Great Lakes Intercollegiate Conference. Harvey batted .391 and lead the team with eight triples and 10 home runs and Bryant batted .311 with 18 doubles and eight home runs while holding down second base. Noah Marcoux and Kamrin Markwardt are likely to earn All GLIAC honors this season. Marcoux batted .313 and led the team with 11 home runs and Markwardt hit .342 as the team’s catcher.

The Panther’s pitching isn’t as solid as the offense headed into the season. James Rogers is the best bet to lead the staff. Last season he made eight starts and threw 56 2/3 innings. While on the mound he fanned 49 and had a 3.81 ERA. The Panthers return three other pitchers who started at least six games, but each of them had ERAs upwards of 5.50. Pete Zeimis was consistent out of the bullpen and totaled 33 innings of work in 17 appearances. He held opposition to a 1.64 ERA and held opposition to a .227 batting average.

Derrick Edington, a transfer from Kellogg CC, could help batten down the staff. He struck out 68 in 61 1/3 while allowing only 49 hits with a 2.64 ERA. Another newcomer, Ricky Clark had a 1.90 ERA in 52 innings at Ivy Tech CC.

2020 NCAA Division II Top 30 Prospects

1Braxton RoxbyRHPR-R6-3215Pitt-JohnstownWindberPA
2Jacob Teter1BL-L6-6225Florida SouthernMelbourneFL
3Brandon PfaadtRHPR-R6-4220BellarmineLouisvilleKY
4Drew Ehrhard2BR-R5-11190TampaTampaFL
5Chad PatrickRHPR-R6-2190Purdue-NorthwestHebronIN
6Logan WorkmanRHPR-R6-4200Lee UniversitySoddy DaisyTN
7Patrick MontverdeLHPL-L6-2190Seton HillPittsburghPA
8Fraser EllardLHPR-L6-4220LanderRoswellGA
9Grant JebbiaRHPR-R6-3205DavenportNew BostonMI
10Steven BowerLHPR-L6-3230North GeorgiaLawrencevilleGA
11Luke LeiseringCS-R6-4196USC-AikenGoldenCO
12Logan ChapmanRHPR-R6-3190North GreenvilleEasleySC
13Luke AndersonRHPR-R6-2205Central OklahomaPrairie VillageKS
14Tyson FisherOF/3BR-R6-4220Dixie StateSt. GeorgeUT
15Nick Derr3BR-R6-0190TampaLakewood RanchFL
16Caleb CanterRHPR-R6-5200WalshCincinnatiOH
17Brennan CoxLHPR-L6-0215Wayne StateTaylorMI
18Adan FernandezOFR-R6-3217Nova SoutheasternMiramarFL
19Davis AgleRHPR-R6-3180LanderDuncanSC
20Jake OwensOFR-R6-2205TampaShawneeKS
21Myles ChristianOFL-R6-2180Delta StateOlive BranchMS
22Bo WeissRHPR-R6-3185TampaCastle RockCO
23Marshall ThompsonRHPR-R6-3210LanderJulietteGA
24Jacob LipetzkyRHPR-R6-6200Oklahoma BaptistBrownstownMI
25Parker MorrisonRHPR-R6-0200North GeorgiaCummingGA
26Brock GilliamRHPR-R6-1190WashburnBasehorKS
27Quinton DriggersLHPL-L6-0185NewberryPelionSC
28Dylan HallRHPR-R6-5225Central OklahomaStaffordVA
29Roury GlantonOFR-R6-0245LanderCarroltonGA
30Jack ElliottRHP/IFL-R6-2190MercyhurstWilloughby HillsOH

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