2020 NAIA Baseball Preview

Photo: Josh Sears (Freed-Hardeman Athletics)

The last decade has seen the Freed-Hardeman baseball team establish and maintain tremendous success, especially the past two seasons. In 2018 the Lions complied a 47-16 record and advanced to the NAIA World Series where they won four games and finished the season as the national runner-up. Their unprecedented accomplishment was even more incredible considering the team started the season with an inconspicuous 10-9 record.

Last season the Lions roared once more, again reaching the 47-win plateau and making a repeat trip to Lewiston. While they were eliminated early from the finals, their body of work – which included winning the AMC regular season and tournament titles – cemented themselves as one of the NAIA’s premier baseball programs.

The architect of the team’s winning ways is Johnathan Estes, who is now in his 11th year coaching at his alma mater. He has guided the team to a 371-201-1 record and national tournament appearances four of the past five years, an amazing accomplishment for a program situated in Henderson, Tenn., a tiny off-the-beaten-path town with a population which barely reaches 6,000. When students come to FHU to play baseball they aren’t coming to town for a vibrant social scene or entertainment options, they want to play for Coach Estes.

This season Estes’ army is the favorite to reach Lewiston for the third consecutive season and take home the title. The lineup is filled with multiple All Conference and All-American candidates, led by future professional hitter Josh Sears, the irreplaceable Bryce Lester and a cache of talented starting pitchers. They are an experienced, motivated group which will not be defeated easily.

The Lions are Perfect Game’s pick to win it all this season, but from reading the rest of the Top 25 capsules below an FHU title is not a foregone conclusion. There are a slew of talented teams capable of winning the title and each will be ready to pounce and claim the championship for themselves. Each of these schools, as well as a number of other worthy contenders, have what it takes to be this season’s NAIA baseball champion.

2020 Perfect Game NAIA Preseason Top 25 Teams

Rk.SchoolST’19 Rk.Record
1Freed-Hardeman LionsTN747-17
2St. Thomas BobcatsFL249-15
3Southeastern FireFL453-12
4USAO DroversOK349-12
5Oklahoma City StarsOK1346-14
6Faulkner EaglesAL649-12
7Texas Wesleyan RamsTX1446-15
8LSU Shreveport PilotsLA1647-13
9Georgetown TigersKY2046-16
10Tennessee Wesleyan BulldogsTN156-10
11Bellevue BruinsNE1148-16
12Campbellsville TigersKYNR32-20
13Bryan LionsTN1836-17
14Arizona Christian FirestormAZNR39-21
15Georgia Gwinnett GrizzliesGA548-13
16Cumberlands PatriotsKY946-10
17Oklahoma Wesleyan EaglesOK845-11
18Central Methodist EaglesMO2535-16
19Benedicine MesaAZ1544-13
20Concordia CardinalsMINR39-20
21Madonna CrusadersMI2237-22
22Lyon ScotsARNR40-22
23Indiana Southeast GrenadiersINNR37-20
24Concordia BulldogsNENR33-20
25Taylor TrojansINNR38-18

1. Freed-Hardeman Lions (47-17)
Last season the Lions won 47 games for the second year in a row and won the American Midwest Conference regular season and tournament titles. They host the NAIA Opening Round and advanced to Lewiston where they won their opening game before dropping their next two.

Returning two-time First Team All-American Josh Sears, a super-sized slugging first baseman who has homered 21 times in each of the past two seasons while bating a lofty .369/.460/.728 leads the Lions’ offense. After another dominating regular season at the plate, he continued to flourish over the summer where he was an All-Star with the Battle Creek Bombers in the Northwoods League. He should easily place in the top-five nationally in home runs and slugging percentage. Backing Sears in the order and playing on the opposite side of the diamond at third will be Will McCall. McCall reportedly upped his game in the fall after an impressive freshman season in which he was second on the team with nine home runs and batted .291. The team will once again be solid at the ever-important shortstop position with Bryce Lester, a four-year starter who’ll be looking to end his career on a high note. Lester, the Lions’ on-field and in-dugout catalyst, has batted .337 while playing at FHU. His career on-base percentage is a lofty .478 and he provides solid defense.

Alex Huey, Jacob Sawyers and Austin Steel provide Head Coach Jonathan Estes with a trio of established starting pitchers who combined to throw 299 innings, 15 complete games and receive credit for nearly 70 percent of the team’s win last season.

Huey topped the team in wins and had a 2.88 ERA as a freshman. On the heels of an outstanding fall he should easily fulfill his Preseason All-American status. Sawyers is a polished pitcher with three plus pitches, a draftable arm and is highly regarded by his teammates. Steel has a propensity to shine in big games, put up identical 3.49 ERAs his first two seasons and finished in the top-five nationally in walks allowed per nine innings last season as he issued a paltry 14 in over 100 IP with 88 Ks. Joining them in the rotation will be Connor Creasy, a redshirt last season, who threw 51 innings in 2018.

Landon Sewell, last season’s American Midwest Conference First Team closer who earned 10 saves and only allowed earned runs in five of his 24 appearances, will be back in the bullpen once again.

2. St. Thomas Bobcats (49-15)
The Bobcats started 2019 as the No. 2 team in the Perfect Game NAIA rankings, the same position they finished the season. Despite dropping both games in The Sun Conference Tournament, STU rebounded by sweeping the Miami Garden’s Bracket to advance to the NAIA World Series for the third time in the past five seasons and seventh in school history. In Idaho the team won four games, but were twice stymied by Tennessee Wesleyan to finish as the national runner-up.

St. Thomas has retooled after a mass exodus of seniors; however, Head Coach Jorge Perez’s Bobcats are one of the few teams who are able to seamlessly rebuild and reload every year. They added a cache of D-I transfers who are hungry for playing time and prove to their former teams that given the opportunity to play every day, they could have been invaluable contributors.

Robert Touron had a fastball in the 99th percentile of his national class coming out of high school, reaching a breezy 93 mph. He was named the No. 7 right-handed pitcher in Florida and 45th overall in the country. He was drafted by the Reds but didn’t sign. After initially intending to play at Miami, he is now with STU and will anchor their rotation. Despite Touron’s noted fastball, ASA College Miami transfer Merfy Andrew likely has the most explosive heater on the team. He fanned 46 batters in only 26 1/3 innings for the Silver Storm while only allowing 14 hits last year (although admittedly he has also had a propensity to give up runs in bunches on occasion as well).  Established and provens arms include Chris Coipel who made 13 starts last season and Jason Graña who served as the team’s bullpen ace.  Graña appeared in 27 games and earned 10 saves.

Offensively, Avondre Hendricks was in a similar situation as Touron. He has been earning accolades for his baseball prowess for years and was one of the top high school outfielders coming out of Florida, but like Touron, he went on a bit of a baseball walkabout. He is rejoining competitive baseball this spring with the Bobcats. He’ll join returnees Daniel Mondejar, Alejandro Rivero and Joey Thompson in the lineup. Rivero was one of the sluggiest St. Thomas players last season with a .306/.400/.555 slash line fueled by 15 home runs. His athletic performance and ability has turned the heads of a number of professional scouts. Mondejar and Thompson batted .305 and .331 respectively with Mondejar providing invaluable innings behind the plate and Thompson split time between left and center field. Another player to watch is the diminutive 5-foot-4 Kobe Lopez. He failed to find his stroke at Florida International, but had enough glove savvy to find his way on to the field in over 100 games. He also gives the team a boost of crucial speed.

3. Southeastern Fire (53-12)
The Fire flirted with winning back-to-back national titles as they advanced to Lewiston after sweeping through the NAIA Opening Round, but were usurped by conference-mate St. Thomas and USAO to go 2-2 in Idaho to have their season come to a close.

Only three everyday players will be back on the diamond who’ve previously played in the black and red, but as Head Coach Adrian Dinkel demonstrated in 2018 when they won title with a primarily neophyte team, he’s able to rebuild quickly.

Abdel Guadalupe batted a good, but not great .286 last season; however it is of note that 37 of his 59 hits went for extra bases to pump his slugging percentage to a lofty .631. Another welcome returner is Colton Onstoff. The Nebraska native from a tiny town with a population of 320 hit .357 as the team’s primary catcher. First baseman Nick Bottari missed last season but hit .385 with 11 home runs to earn First Team All-The Sun Conference honors in 2018. The rest of the lineup will consist of another slew of talented transfers. Zach Cornell, a two-time All American at Middle Georgia State, has taken his talents to Lakeland. Cornell batted .404 as a sophomore and .421 last season with 16 doubles and 12 home runs. Nolan Machibroda was masterful at the College of Central Florida where he hit .369 and was First Team All-State. The team also has seven position players joining the club after starting their college careers on NCAA DI campuses. The most promising contributors of the group include second baseman Sam Faith who appeared in 35 games which included 13 starts at Missouri State, Troy Black, who earned a Gold Glove while playing at Faulkner (he initially signed with Kentucky) and Blake Buckman who played in 85 games over the past two seasons at UL Monroe. Also keep an eye out for Cristian Martin who hit .363/.450/.531 at Dyersburg State JC.

There were some major casualties due to graduation on the pitching staff, but much like the lineup, there is a major influx of transfers who’ll be ready for the first pitch.

Juan Cabrera was drafted by the Yankees out of high school and was named to the National Junior College Athletic Association National Baseball Team in 2018. He dominated for the Cochise College Apaches before moving on to New Mexico State. Al Pesto had been penciled in to help Duke advance to Omaha, but he has struggled to remain healthy. In 2016 he had a 1.83 ERA in 19 2/3 innings for the Blue Devils. He’s looking to resurrect his career in Florida. Brenden Heiss made six starts and appeared in 15 games at Florida Gulf Coast last season with 30 K’s in 24 2/3 innings. Despite all these impressive names and numbers, Brayan Garcia Diaz may have the highest ceiling of any SEU hurler. He excelled at New Mexico Junior College where he K’d 39 in 38 2/3 innings last season with a 3.49 ERA. He has a mid-90’s fastball and was listed among the Top-100 junior college prospects last spring. Of the familiar faces, Jayden Hartle provides the most experience. He made 11 starts last season and K’d 74 in 62 2/3 innings.

4. Science and Arts Drovers (49-12)
The Drovers finished last season tops in the nation in both ERA and strikeouts. They weren’t too shabby in opposing batting average as well, ending the year with a staggering .196 stat, which was second in the nation. The offense was nearly as dominating as they batted .338 as a team and slugged at a .529 clip which put them in the NAIA’s top-10.

Their amplified roster earned them 22 consecutive wins headed into the NAIA postseason last season. After sweeping their way to Lewison, they went 3-2 with wins over reigning champion Southeastern and eventual title holder Tennessee Wesleyan to finish third.

Colton Williams and Matt Merrill are simply two of the most dominating pitchers in all of organized baseball. Their mere presence alone makes the Drovers a top-10 team regardless of the rest of the roster. Williams threw 108 2/3 innings last season and stuck out 136 batters which topped the NAIA. He was second-overall nationally in ERA at 1.30 and held opposing batters to a .186 batting average. Merrill’s 129 strikeouts were the second most in the division. He had a 2.50 ERA and only allowed 43 hits in 86 1/3 innings for a .152 opposition batting average. That duo will be rejoined by Jean Muntaner who’d be a shoo-in ace on almost any other pitching staff. Muntaner made 16 starts, threw 94 1/3 innings and only allowed 71 hits with 98 strikeouts with a 2.86 ERA on the season. Not that the team needs it, but they’ll be adding another potential ace this season. Adam Moraga excelled at Pima CC and threw 73 innings and fanned 65. He was rated one of the top right-handed pitchers in high school.

Luis Pelayo, the team’s top hitter from last season returns to do more damage to opposing pitcher’s ERAs. Last season he batted .393 with 15 doubles, five triples, and eight home runs to amass a .637 slugging percentage. With Pelayo, Ian Laureano and Cristian Laboy comprised the USAO outfield and the trio will be back together once again. Laureano batted .364 and led the team with 23 stolen bases. Laboy batted .287 and was second on the club with 12 home runs. The overwhelming bulk of last year’s everyday lineup won’t be back in Chickasaw, but there are a slew of capable reinforcements on the way. Joey Pena hit .385 with 21 home runs over two seasons at Northern Oklahoma College-Tonkawa. He played both corners of the infield as well as catcher. Other additions include Gus Wilson who batted .321 playing at Galveston College as a shortstop and Soterio “Junior” Ramirez, a skyscraping 6-foot-7 Dominican first baseman who batted .322 with 10 home runs and may be the tallest object in Chickasha when the Drovers are playing at home.

5. Oklahoma City Stars (46-14)
The Stars are consistently among the top teams in the NAIA and 2020 will be no exception. OCU will field a lineup which likely is the most eruptive in the NAIA. It was not uncommon for the Stars to amass double-digit run totals last season and this year’s troupe is even more prolific.

Tyler Williams, who was rated the top talent coming out of Arizona in his prep class, played his first two collegiate seasons at Arizona State. He has big time bat speed and strength and frequently put both to use last season as he hit .408 with 19 home runs swinging for the Stars. His .851 slugging percentage was fourth in the nation. He brandishes only one of several big time bats returning to the lineup. Peyton Crispin will play across from Williams in the outfield. He hit .401 last year with 18 doubles. Third baseman Bryson Lierle also swings a punitive bat. He slashed .325/.407/.537 and only had six errors in 256 chances for a .977 fielding percentage. The Stars also welcome back their catching tandem of Dylan Taylor and John Anthon.

Hulking first baseman Dalton Reed was a junior college All-American but couldn’t quite find his groove at Kentucky. He’ll be gearing up in OKC this spring and will be a big factor both at the plate and on defense. Second baseman Gunner Halter hit .287 at Mississippi State last season but will play for the Stars in 2020. He has bounced around quite a bit as Oklahoma City will be the fourth roster he’s played on collegiately, but he remains a hot prospect commodity. Halter, who has been drafted twice as a pitcher, will likely see action as a reliver as well. Oklahoma State transfer Cross Factor is penciled in to be the team’s centerfielder. He hit .374 with nine home runs at Cowley County CC in 2018.

The pitching rotation has a very high ceiling but is low on experience and consistency. Tanner Schoeninger and Tanner Sparks both fit the mold of being high caliber pitchers, but neither has achieved regularly on a college mound quite yet. Schoeninger made 11 appearances at Northeastern JC in Colorado last season. During those outings he had a 6.80 ERA. Sparks made three appearances as a redshirt freshman at Oklahoma State. In his two innings total of work he walked six and had an ERA of 13.50. Aaron McGeorge is a third pitcher who has yet to hit his potential. He appeared in 13 games as a reliever at Kentucky in 2018 in which he allowed 23 hits with a 10.38 ERA in 13 innings. Depsite their previously soft statistics, OCU coaches believe all three will be invaluable members of the rotation. Brandon Goldston and Jake Patterson are experienced starters, but both had rather robust ERAs themselves last season. Goldston made 14 starts and threw 72 innings last season for the Stars. While on the mound he had a 4.88 ERA and allowed 81 hits with a scant 18 walks and 65 strikeouts. Patterson also started 14 games. In his appearances he allowed 83 hits in 65 2/3 innings and finished with a 6.03 ERA. The aforementioned Halter, along with Kolin Marley, who pitched 27 innings last season at OCU and only allowed 15 hits while striking out 32, are best bullpen bets.

6. Faulkner Eagles (49-12)
While the Eagles are consistently rebuilt with an influx of top-shelf talent, replacing last year’s bunch will be a tall task even for renowned head coach Pat McCarthy. The Eagles were fourth overall in runs scored per game last season as they crossed the plate just over nine times per contest while en route to yet another appearance at the NAIA World Series. The bulk of the most prolific performers graduated, leaving Hagen Holmsted, who batted .345 with three home runs, the most experienced and accomplished hitter. Other noteworthy players returning to the team include John Michael Mathews who batted only .288 but walked 42 times to amass a .422 on base percentage, and catcher Jonathan Villa who hit .340.

The new recruits include a trio that will make up the middle of the defense. Shann Ross is a highly-touted shortstop from Clarendon CC with a good glove and strong arm. He’ll be looked upon to propel the offense as well. Last season he hit .368 with nine home runs. His infield neighbor will be Eriq White who batted .306 and played second base at Alabama State. Speedy center fielder Isaac Phillips, who hit .317 with 13 stolen bases at NCAA DII West Florida completes the newcomer trio.

Antonio Frias will step up to be the staff ace after earning a 2.95 ERA and striking out 109 batters in 82 1/3 innings last season. He only allowed 50 hits to opposition which translated to a pint-sized .172 batting average and 5.47 hits per nine innings. Both of those numbers were sixth in the nation. Aubrey Davis, who threw brilliantly out of the bullpen at Wallace Dothan CC, and Jean Alverado from Hillsborough Community College, will round out the rotation. Davis is a lefty who threw 23 innings and only allowed 12 hits with 34 strikeouts for the Govs. Alverado is seen as a pitcher with a high ceiling who will develop rapidly in the Faulkner well-oiled Faulkner machine.

7. Texas Wesleyan Rams (46-16)
The Rams won 46 games last season largely due to a top-shelf pitching staff that was third in that nation in strikeouts, held opposition to a .239 batting average and had a 4.07 ERA. Head coach Bobby Garza’s team advanced deep into the NAIA Opening Round, but couldn’t get past a determined Freed-Hardeman club who ended their season short of their Lewiston aspirations.

The Rams return a wealth of talent behind the plate with Michael Davila and Tanner Amaral. Davila topped the team in total bases last season and batted .348. Amaral batted .316 with 14 doubles and five home runs. Another welcome returnee of note is Brayden Bahnsen. The fleet footed center fielder was second on the team with a .331 average, had eight doubles, six triples and 11 stolen bases. The established bats will be joined by a pair of transfer with big upsides. Kevin Santiago is a nimble shortstop who flirted with batting .400 at Kansas City CC. Garza remarked that he is very advanced at the plate and, “plays older than his age.” Marcos Sanchez batted .387 over two seasons at Southeastern CC with both speed and pop. The Rams will also provide some tough outs with Kaden Brown (.502 OBP) and Joaquin Ballesteros (.456 OBP).

Jesse Ramirez fanned 75 batters in 53 1/3 innings last season and held opposition to a measly .151 batting average. His damage was done over 19 games which included five starts. He’ll be back on campus and joined by two additions to the team who could be even more menacing to opposition. Gabriel Sequeira started his college career at Sam Houston St. where he put up promising numbers in 2018 for the Bearkats. He threw 58 1/3 innings with 51 strikeouts and only 19 walks with a 3.70 ERA. Dustin Schorie is a beast of a physical specimen and could develop into a real difference maker. He had 42 strikeouts in only 27 ½ innings at Mesa CC last season; however, he has been roughed up a bit while throwing for the Thunderbirds. In his two seasons in Mesa he had a 6.28 cumulative ERA. Tony Oreb was a former water polo player goalkeeper at Palomar College in California.  He has decided to turn his attention back baseball and could be a breakout success as he throws in the low-90s.

8. LSU Shreveport Pilots (47-13)
The Pilots are a mighty bunch who finished 2019 in the top-three nationally in slugging percentage as they compiled 152 doubles and 94 home runs in 60 games. They also approached the century mark in stolen bases which helped the team to average over nine runs per game. The Pilots were especially dominant at home where they only lost three of 30 games.

Payton Robertson is one of the most electric players in NAIA after joining the team from Lamar. He made an immediate impact and was named the Red River Athletic Conference Player of the Year after batting .387 with 28 extra-base hits and 37 stolen bases as the team’s third baseman. New head coach Brad Neffendorf not only has Robertson returning, but four other players who not only started 40 games, but each batted upwards of .311. Two of the veterans, Taylor Fajardo and Ryne Ray, not only were apt when it came to hitting for average, they each had double-digit home run totals and were First-Team RRAC selections. Adding to the everyday lineup will be Bakari Gayle, a potential breakout star who batted .320 two seasons ago at NCAA DII Augusta. Cain Castille, a transfer from McNeese State, will handle the staff behind the plate while adding another threat in the lineup. Austin McNicholas, last season’s conference Newcomer of the Year, who slashed .361/.440/.529, is the team’s shortstop.

Four established starters will be back to give the club incredible depth. Each of them put up solid numbers last season, especially considering they pitch in the offensively charged RRAC. The most dominating of the group was Luisdiego Quintana who held opposition to a .206 batting average and stuck out 74 batters in 66 1/3 innings. There are several incoming players joining the staff who could be impact players as well. Kevin Miranda struck out 71 batters with only 13 walks at Clarendon Community College. Victor Silverio, who struck out 73 in 57 innings at Vernon College and Nathan Arroyo who K’d 50 in 29 1/3, could also be detrimental to opposition’s box scores.

9. Georgetown College Tigers (45-15)
The Tigers tallied the most regular season wins in program history last season, primarily on the back of a pitching staff which finished in the top-five in both ERA and opposing batting average. Their hurlers also amassed 422 strikeouts which put them in the top-25 of the category. Usually when a team complies those kinds of numbers it is usually due to a senior-laden staff reaching the pinnacle of their prowess; however, the majority of the Tiger’s talent were underclassmen and will be back this spring looking to improve their already stalwart numbers.

Kyle Fieger and Andrew Martinez combined to compile a 17-1 record last season and had diminutive 2.50 and 2.62 ERAs, respectively. Neither pitcher dominated opposition with jaw dropping strikeout totals or a sub 1.00 WHIP, but both quelled opposition the entire season and kept games from getting out of hand. Another returnee who head coach Micah Baumfeld is particularly keen on is senior Keon Taylor. Last season Taylor threw exclusively out of the bullpen, seeing action in a team leading 25 games. In those outings he fanned 50 and had a 2.75 ERA. New to the team is Isaac Olson, who pitched three seasons at the University of Cincinnati. The 6-foot-6 hurler never quite settled in with the Bearcats and will looking to fulfill the prophecies that labeled him one of the top prep pitchers coming out of Missouri. Cameron Allison has a similar story. The 6-foot-5 lefty was rated as one of the top pitchers out of high school in Georgia, however, he rarely received innings at Louisiana Monroe. He too will be competing for innings on the stocked Tiger staff. Brian Torres and Tom Taplin add to the wealth of riches in the pitching department as they combined to start 19 games last season and accounted for over 100 innings between them.

The offense looks to be in good form as well. Ryan Gaynor, the team’s leading offensive threat from last season returns, as will seven other players who accumulated at least 100 ABs. Gaynor, who finished 2019 with a .503 on-base percentage, will be back in the lineup with Shota Usuda, the club’s second baseman and leading slugger. Pinch-running specialist Joseph Wall, who stole 35 bases despite only having 68 at-bats is also back on the roster. JJ Duarte, a catcher from LA Harbor College, has the make-up to be an all-conference selection behind the plate.

10. Tennessee Wesleyan Bulldogs (56-10)
The 2019 NAIA champions finished last season with a 56-10 record which established a program record for wins. The Bulldogs also won their 16th Appalachian Athletic Conference Regular-Season Championship in the past 18 seasons and the AAC Tournament for the 12th time in program history, their 19th consecutive AAC regular-season or tournament title. After rebounding form an early loss in the NAIA Opening Round, Head Coach Billy Berry guided his club to the school’s fifth appearance at the NAIA World Series and the team won their second national championship in program history.

Bryce Giles missed some of the Bulldogs’ early season action due to injury but returned to hit .387 with 43 walks to finish with a phenomenal .545 on-base percentage and top the team with 23 stolen bases. As TWU took home the national title, Giles was not only awarded the World Series MVP, but the Charles Berry Hustle Award as well. He is one of six position players returning in 2020. Other Bulldogs back include catcher Shamoy Christopher, who excelled playing for the Wilson Tobs of the Coastal Plain League over the summer where he batted .300 and led the team in home runs despite playing in only half the games.  Dan Fry, who hit .361 with 10 doubles, nine triples and eight home runs and Anthony Williams, a versatile fielder who can fill in anywhere in the infield while batting .324, are also major cogs back in the TWU win machine.

De’Andres Pitts, who has been a college journeyman, will be looking to find a home in Athens this spring. He split games at third and shortstop last season at DI Longwood last season.  Tucker Mendenhall, who hit .359 at Cleveland State CC and led his team in runs and stolen bases, will also be looking to make his way into the lineup.

Pitching is a big question mark for the champs this season as they lost all but one of their established starters from last season to graduation. Only three hurlers who threw 10 innings are back on campus. Raw numbers wise, pitchers who generated just under three-quarters of innings pitched last season won’t be back. Luckily for Berry, one of the returners is Irving Martin who stuck out 96 batters in 80 2/3 innings last season. He also earned an 11-2 record, threw a pair of complete games and had a 3.90 ERA. Gavin Roberson, who appeared in 25 games last season with a pair of spot starts, is the other significant arm returning. The rest of the pitching roster will be refilled primarily with junior college pitchers.

Kobe Foster, a transfer from Motlow State Community College, looks to be the ace of the staff. Last season for the MC Bucks, Foster fanned 102 in 75 1/3 innings while only allowing 38 hits – meaning the opposing batters were nearly three times as likely to strike out against him than earn a hit. His ERA for the season was an infinitesimal 1.19. Chris Koeiman pitched spectacularly at Arizona Western College going 12-2 with seven complete games, a 1.44 ERA and only allowed 72 hits in 94 innings. Yavapia College export Tyler Smith is another transfer from the 48th State. He stuck out nearly a batter an inning and went the distance in four of his six starts last spring for the Roughriders. Landon Walker from Chattanooga State CC who has been considered a potential draft prospect, also joins the staff.

11. Bellevue Bruins (48-16)
In early March of last season the Bruins did not look anything like a team that would advance to the NAIA World Series. Early in the month they were an abysmal 7-13 and lost six of eight games during a Florida trip. Nevertheless, Head Coach Duane Monlux responded with an astounding second half of the season in which they won 26 games straight (and 39 of 40 overall) to earn their 14th trip to Lewiston. The Bruins ended the season in the top-10 nationally in runs, hits, batting average and slugging percentage.

This season there are a number of holes to fill in the lineup as their top three hitters from last season moved on. This void includes JT Patterson who finished in the top-five nationally in home runs, total bases and RBI. The right side of the diamond will look familiar as first baseman Riley Baasch, second baseman Cody Banks and right fielder Tommy Hansen will all be back in uniform. Each of the trio batted over .325 and got on base at least 42 percent of the time. Baasch is the sluggingiest of the three as he had 18 doubles and 11 home runs last season. Outfielder Andrew Ishii, who hit .347/.438/.517 in two seasons at Chemeketa CC in Oregon, is expected to contribute immediately. He is a multiple tool player who hits for average, power and speed.

On the mound, Jarrett Poh didn’t dominate opposing batters, but he got outs – which is exactly what a pitcher is supposed to do. While his 69 Ks in 83 weren’t jaw dropping, his 2.06 ERA, .211 opposing batting average and 2.06 ERA were certainly spectacular.  He’ll be back on the mound along with Colton Walker who threw 74 1/3 innings over 16 games which included 11 starts and had a 3.87 ERA. Derek Browne was solid out of the bullpen in his first season after transferring from Clarke College. He appeared in 17 games, threw 36 1/3 innings and had a 3.22 ERA. The staff is to receive a much need boost from Corey Jackson, a much-ballyhooed prospect from UNC Greensboro. Jackson appeared in 31 games at UNCG last season. In 57 2/3 innings he stuck out 70 batters and held opposition to a meager .230 batting average.

12. Campbellsville Tigers (32-20)
The Tigers have been habitually playing great baseball, but frustratingly finished four of the past five seasons as runners-up in the NAIA Opening Round. With an experienced and talented roster, long time head coach Beauford Sanders’ crew is on the short-short list of teams who look destined to advance to Lewiston.

Adibel Morales, Tommy Sepulveda, and Cale Thompson provide strong core for a very good recruiting class to build around. Morales batted .323 last season and finished with a slugging percentage just below .600. Neither Sepulveda nor Thompson, knocked the cover off the ball as they only had 10 extra base hits between them, but each batted upwards of .336 and provided solid defense in the critical middle infield positions. They will be joined in the lineup by burly outfielder Tyler Cox who crushed the ball at Maple Woods CC, but couldn’t find a role last season at Eastern Tennessee St. Jorge Ortiz, another physical beast who played at Coffeyville CC, will also keep outfielders close to the fence. He batted .350 and .337 in his two seasons with the Red Ravens. Coaches are very keen on Eddy Arteaga, a catcher from Broward CC and see him supplying power in the middle of the lineup.

Gage O’Brien and Jesse Davis both excelled out of the bullpen last season. Together they threw 84 1/3 innings with 114 strikeouts and 1.73 and 2.74 ERAs respectively.  Both are looking to join the rotation this spring and can bring the heat with reported fastballs in the upper-90s. The likely ace of the staff will be new acquisition Alex Salazar from Riverside CC. The Ohmi, Japan native threw 81 innings last summer, striking out 90 and held opposition to two runs per nine innings.  Salazar has been reported to throw 200-pitch bullpens up to four times a week and loves to mix finesse and strategy to keep hitters off balance. Stephen Streltzoff and Steven Butts, a pair of left-handed pitchers who formerly threw at Arizona Christian, have also joined the team.

Assistant coach Brett Neffendorf likes the cut of this team’s jib, “This will be a much more complete lineup offensively with more middle order bats and a much more athletic team,” he remarked. “Probably the deepest pitching staff we have ever had.”

13. Bryan Lions (36-17)
The Lions had another incredible season last spring but the wheels fell off as the year came to a close. Bryan was bounced prematurely from the Appalachian Athletic Conference tournament and suffered a pair of one-run losses in their two games in the NAIA Opening Round. It was the third year in a row a previously imposing Lions’ club faltered in the national tournament. Head coach Clint McAuley hopes that this year’s team has the moxie to make it to the next level – they certainly have the talent.

Wade Weinburger had monster seasons as a freshman and sophomore, batting a combined .342 with 40 home runs. Unfortuntely, his offense was much more subdued last year when he slashed a much less astounding .289/.404/.505 -his slugging percentage was nearly 250 points lower than his freshman season. If he is able to return to form he unquestionably has the skills to be one of the best players in the country. He will be back along with fellow fifth-year senior Tyler Scott, who batted .307 with steady defense at second base. David Scoggins, like Weinburger, has the ability to crush the ball in the middle of the lineup. He has averaged .312 his first two seasons with the Lions. His power numbers dipped last season, dropping from 13 home runs to five, but that’s believed to be an aberration rather than a path. Destine Udombon is a flash in the outfield. If he is able to consistently get on base (which he should as batted .317 with a .421 on-base percentage in limited appearances last season) he could top the nation in stolen bases. Last year he stole 22 despite making only 22 starts. Zach Scheid, a transfer from Brescia, will be penciled into the middle of the lineup and tasked with driving in runs. He hit .370/.460/.563 last year despite playing on the feeble Bearcats.

The pitching staff is deep but suffers from a dangerous combination of youth and inexperience. Joseph Cuomo is the top returning starting pitcher and threw well last season. He made a dozen starts, totaled 72 2/3 innings and struck out 80 batters with only 27 walks. Against eventual national champion Tennessee Wesleyan he struck out 10 batters and only allowed two runs in seven innings. Jacob Hallmark, a transfer from Calhoun CC, should be the other top starting pitcher. Hallmark’s numbers at Calhoun CC were a bit robust, but coaches stated he had a good fall and should be able to get outs. Tyler Burke could also be another pitcher who makes an immediate impact. He put together solid stats, striking out 41 in 39 2/3 innings while only allowing 33 hits, but had trouble with control as he walked 36. Closer Dalton Ross was masterful the first two-thirds of the season when he allowed only four earned runs in 17 appearances against some very good clubs, but he gave up 22 in his final nine outings despite throwing against significantly less-imposing opposition.

14. Arizona Christian Firestorm (39-21)
Under new head coach Joe McDonald the Firestorm won 39 games, a monster improvement from the previous season when they went 22-31, and earned at at-large berth to the NAIA Opening Round. The appearance was the school’s first since 2012 and just their second overall since program’s inception in 2011. For a school that historically finished in the bottom half of the conference standings and well below the .500 mark, it was a tremendous success. Regardless, the team won’t be resting on those laurels anytime soon. With an experienced and energized roster the team will be looking to take another step in 2020.

The Firestorm lost only two everyday hitters from a lineup that batted .323 and scored well over seven runs per game. Three players who were named to the All-Golden State Conference Team return, led by sparkplug centerfielder and lead-off man Brent Smith who hit .419 with 24 stolen bases. Robert Bostedt and Justin Burkey are the other two returnees. Bostedt batted .360 and topped the team in slugging thanks in large part to his 19 doubles and four triples. Burkey batted .303 with 15 doubles. Also back in action will be the team’s shortstop, Michael Diffley, who lead the team in total bases and slashed .333/.451/.529. Ramon Miranda, an infielder from Arizona Western JC where he batted .377 last season, adds to the already bountiful lineup.

Brett Aker and Trevor McGee each started 16 games last season and threw admirably. The duo totaled 191 1/3 innings and had ERAs of 4.52 and 4.60 respectively. Neither pitcher was overpowering, as both allowed well over a hit per inning and neither dominated opposition with ghastly strikeout numbers; however, they also pitched in conference with offense outbursts are much more the norm rather than the exception. Sergio Hegurtty, a transfer from Phoenix College, did generate eye catching numbers last season. In 72 2/3 innings he only allowed 52 hits, struck out 71 and had a 2.11 ERA and will be a welcome addition to the club.  Cam Sharp is the Firestorm’s established reliever. He appeared in 32 games last season, fired off 45 1/3 innings with 52 strikeouts and only 18 walks.

15. Georgia Gwinnett Grizzlies (48-13)
The Grizzlies have routinely reached the 50-win mark since the program was established in 2013 and have quickly become one of NAIA’s most imposing programs. Despite this, aside from their inaugural season, 2020 could be one of their most trying trials. Not only did GGC lose a number of important players who performed both in the batter’s box and on the mound, but they had a change in coaching with Brad Stromdahl stepping down. It is now Jeremy Sheetinger’s responsibility to continue GGC’s winning ways.

The offense returns only three key position players from last year’s team which finished fourth at the NAIA World Series. Gabe Austin, who was second on the team in batting average last season at .367 will be back as the team’s catcher. Nick Barnes batted .277 and lead the team with a dozen home runs. His 36 walks pushed his on base percentage to a respectable .394. The other everyday player, Cord Johnson, batted .360 with 10 doubles. In addition to that trio, Livingston Morris has the potential to be a big-time player. He is an athletic 6-foot-4 outfielder with quick hands, strength and speed. He batted .313 in limited action last season, hitting five double, three triples and a pair of home runs in 80 ABs. Gabe Howell, who was a top high school shortstop and had been previously drafted by the Braves, will be the team’s shortstop. Howell impressively slashed .325/.452/.616 at fellow NAIA school Bryan last spring.

Interestingly GGC’s top three starting pitchers are all named Hunter. Hunter Peck sat out last season due to injury. If healthy he should lead the staff and has the potential to be selected in the MLB draft. In 2018 he made 15 starts and totaled 83 innings in which he struck out 85 and only walked 27. Hunter Caudelle appeared in 14 games with eight starts last season. He held opposing batters to a .214 batting average over 62 2/3 innings and had a 2.44 ERA. Hunter Dollander struck out 42 batters in 43 innings, but also allowed 55 hits in 43 innings. Sheetinger believes that the trio can be as good as any in country. Rhian Mann, a transfer from Kennesaw State, will be looking to take over the bullpen role. Mann has an extensive repertoire of pitches but will have to master them more consistently to be the shut-down closer the Grizzlies need. While pitching for the Owls, Mann had a lofty 9.67 ERA over 22 appearances. Matt Hunt, who recorded 50 strikeouts in 40 innings at Coffeyville CC (but also suffered from a bloated ERA of 5.67) is also expected to step up in later innings.

16. University of the Cumberlands Patriots (46-10)
It is going to be very hard for the Patriots to replicate last season’s success when they won 46 games and finished just short of advancing to the NAIA World Series. The offense was a juggernaut last season, ending the year tops in the league in both home runs per game and slugging percentage. They also finished the year in the top ten in team batting average at .332; however a good chunck of those numbers were generated by senior sluggers who are no longer on the team.

Fortunately, the Pats can still count on outfielder Bryan Leef to get on base and drive in runs in the heart of the order. Last season the Yorba Linda, California native batted .393 with 20 home runs and finished in the top-three nationally in slugging percentage. Not only is he one of the top hitters in the NAIA, but he’s savvy on the basepaths as well as he was 16 for 17 in stolen bases. He’ll be rejoined by a trio of everyday infield starters. Kevin Rolon and Pedro Nazzario make up the middle of the infield as shortstop and second base respectively, and Jose Rojas is the team’s primary third baseman. Rolon batted .360 last season and added six home runs. Nazzario batted .338 and added 17 extra-base hits. Rojas topped the team in batting at .451 and only struck out five times in 144 at bats. Adding to the Pats’ firepower will be Alex Dominguez who rejoins the roster after hitting .349 in 2018.

It wasn’t just the offense that dominated last season, but the pitching staff as well. The Patriots were 13th nationally in opposing batting average and finished with a strong 3.93 ERA. Each of their three top starting pitchers all graduated leaving the staff a bit thin headed into the season. In regard to pitchers returning, there is potential. Colton Easterwood appeared in 12 games last season and made four starts. He threw 45 1/3 innings and struck out 48 batters. Moise Carrasco had a 3.38 ERA in 32 innings and Tyler Morris made six starts. Garrett Vathroder didn’t pitch last season, but struck out 36 batters in 22 innings in 2018 and held opposition to a .197 batting average.

Bryan Juarez, a transfer from West Los Angeles CC, and Geraldo Soriano from Dyersburg State, will make up for some of the lost innings. Last season Juarez threw 65 2/3 innings with 55 K’s and a 4.80. Soriano amassed 43 /23 innings with 44 strikeouts with a 4.74 ERA.

17. Oklahoma Wesleyan Eagles (45-11)
The Eagles were one of NAIA’s winningest teams last season as they led the nation in runs, were fourth in slugging percentage and 15th in total hits. They muscled their way to Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference regular and tournament titles but were eliminated from the postseason by Freed-Hardeman for the second year in a row.

The Eagles prolific offense has had their wings clipped this season as returning players accounted for only just over 30 percent of at-bats from last season. Drenis Ozuna not only batted a lofty .437, but also hit 22 home runs and walked 37 times to amass an .844 slugging percentage and .544 on base percentage. Unfortunately, he is one of only two players returning to the diamond who had at least 100 at-bats last season. The other is Danny Perez who hit .299 with 10 home runs. Reinforcements are coming from transfers Cody Muncy, Easton Elliott and Nate Richardson. The Thor-esque Muncy played two seasons at Eastern Oklahoma State. He was the team’s starting first baseman and hit .338/.448/.718 with the Mountaineers, clubbing 13 home runs each spring. Easton Elliott spent the last two seasons playing at Southeastern Oklahoma where he was an integral part of the offense. He led the team in home runs in 2018 and was batting .281 last spring before his season was cut short in two weeks into the campaign. Richardson previously played at Carl Albert College and batted .390 with 24 stolen bases; however, that was back in 2017. Nevertheless, head coach Kelley says that Richardson, “may be the fastest athlete I’ve coached in 30 years.”

Back on the mound will be Mike Anderson who led the team with 106 1/3 innings. He threw nine complete games, accumulated 80 strikeouts and had a 3.39 ERA despite throwing half his games in OKWU’s home field which is favorable to batters. Alas, like Ozuna and the offense, he is the lone major contributor returning to the roster.

Cade Warren was highly touted two-way prospect coming out of high school where he was the top ranked prep player in Montana. He committed and attended Oregon State but didn’t see any action with the Beavers. Another former DI pitcher looking to finally put his talents to good use is Crosby Bringhurst. Initially a Kentucky signee who was named the second-best player overall coming out of Utah in his class, Bringhurst will be looking to make an immediate impact after being shelfed from competitive play the past two seasons.

18. Central Methodist Eagles (35-16)
The Eagles offense will be extremely competitive as the lineup which placed in the top-25 in both batting average, slugging percentage and fielding percentage is highly intact from last season. Logan Haring, Sergio Macias and Adrian Martinez each earned All Heart of America Athletic Conference last season. Haring was named the conference’s top first baseman after batting .345 with 19 extra base hits and a .460 on base percentage. Macias hit .304 with nine home runs as the team’s everyday third baseman and also appeared in a dozen games on the mound. Martinez batted .333 and topped the team in slugging at .583. Devon Garcia is joining the club after being on an NCAA DI roster. He formerly was on the roster of the Ohio Bobcats. In 2018 he played in 52 games and batted .236.

The reigning HAAC Pitcher of the Year Mason Schwellenbach will be back on the mound which is a very, very good thing for CMU. Last season he struck out 107 batters in 73 innings with a 2.47 ERA while only walking 13 batters. In addition to his pitching ability, he was a significant part of the everyday lineup, as he played third base and batted .290/.365/.583. With another similar season this year he could join his older brother Jordan (who is an Eagles’ assistant coach) in being an MLB draft selection. Unfortunately, there is a deep drop off in experienced talent after Schwellenbach. Only three other pitchers who started a game last season return – and two of them had ERAs of 5.93 and 10.00. Tyler Robbins, who struck out 36 batters in 28 innings as the team’s primary closer and Cody Malan, who had a 3.94 ERA in 16 innings over 11 appearances, are two of the most promising arms returners who could elevate their games in 2020.  CMU will welcome a pair of JUCO hurlers to juice up the staff. Nick Merkel, a transfer from Spokane CC will likely start, and Beau Atkins, a 6-foot-7 hurler from Lincoln Land CC in Illinois may join the rotation or provide invaluable relief.

Adding additional depth to the team in multiple facets will be Kenny Otero. He spent time both in the outfield and on the mound for DI Abilene Christian last season. He’ll be looked upon to pick up much of the pitching slack and is penciled in to be the team’s opening day starter.

19. Benedictine Mesa Redhawks (44-13)
The Redhawks had a breakout season last spring as they spent the entire season in the Perfect Game Top 25. They’re back in the rankings this year as they retain a number of players on offense and the mound that made last spring such a spectacular success.

Keegan McHood elevates a pitching staff that already returns three starting pitchers who made at least eight starts and threw over 40 innings. McHood spent 2019 pitching at Parkland JC where he appeared in 12 games and threw a complete game in five of his eight starts. He threw 50 2/3 innings in which he had a 3.02 ERA and struck out 71 batters. The returning arms belong to Gehrig Parks, Aaron Vernon and Austin Cannedy. Parks had a 3.43 ERA in 65 2/3 innings, Parks totaled 77 innings with a 4.44 ERA and Cannedy fanned 57 in 44 2/3 while issuing only 10 walks.

The Redhawk offense is led by the electric Jeremy Williams who batted .367 with 35 walks to push his on-base percentage to .494. The nimble centerfielder also had four triples and 33 stolen bases. Michael Avilucea and Travis Hunt are other players back who will help Benedictine Mesa win games. Avilucea was the team’s second baseman and batted .350 with 13 doubles, four triples and five home runs. Hunt is a senior who has earned a .311 batting average for the Redhawks. He missed a big chunk of last season but could be a top hitter on the team if he stays healthy. He slugged .617 and .575 his first two seasons and even added double digit stolen bases. Julio Seperich, an infielder from McCook CC where he batted .300 in limited play, adds depth and speed to the infield. Gianny Galvez, a transfer from ASA Miami, will play on both corners of the infield.

20. Concordia Michigan Cardinals (39-20)
Grant Steinborn was the team’s most effective pitcher last season and will be back on the mound along with six other pitchers who threw a minimum of 30 innings. In addition to Steinborn, who had a 2.63 ERA, the Cardinals return closer Tyson Kleinfelter who held opposition to a .178 batting average in 17 appearances and Billy Blair who had a 2.58 ERA in 45 1/3 innings with 44 strikeouts. Timothy Pomaville, a 6-foot-5 hurler who appeared in nine games and Gabriel Guevara, who appeared in six games with a pair of spot stats, are a pair of young future aces.

Vann Acker and Chris Lowe are the top returnees from last season and make up the middle of the infield. Lowe batted .349 and was the team’s shortstop and Acker stole 24 bases with sneaky pop. Victor Diaz, who primarily played third for the club from ’16-’18 but missed last season, will return to the roster. He has batted .303 in three seasons for CU. Adam Purdy played previously at Notre Dame College, and Cal Syrjala went to Grand Rapids CC. They are a pair of transfers who have the impossible task of attempting to make up for the loss of Blaine Milheim who was one of the game’s top overall players last season. Purdy was a consistent, but unassuming, three-year starter at Notre Dame, while Syrjala batted .328 and led his team in slugging percentage and stolen bases.

21. Madonna Crusaders (37-22)
Nearly the entire everyday lineup from a Madonna team that played deep into the WHAC and NAIA Opening Round tournaments returns in 2020. With over 80 percent of their plate appearances and nearly 75 percent of innings pitched returning, the experienced roster will be looking to build on last season’s shortcomings and take the next step for a memorable season.

Frank Lucska raised his batting average over 100 points to finish last season at .407. With 48 walks and 13 doubles he finished the season with .528 and .560 on-base and slugging percentages.  He’ll be rejoined by five other everyday players who started at least 49 games last season. Those players include shortstop Gordon Ferguson who topped the team in extra base hits, second baseman Adrian Reed who led all NAIA fielders in total assists and Noah Renaud, a speedy dynamic outfielder who hit .321 last season.

Victor Mencotti started 14 games last season, totaling 81 1/3 inning with 89 strikeouts. Donovan Thacker, Daniel Gore and Ross Rickel provide head coach Ted Falkner with an additional trio of experienced starters. Thacker made eight starts with an even 3.00 ERA. Gore was on the mound for 63 1/3 innings with a 4.26 ERA, and Rickel excelled both as a starter and relief, earning a 3.42 ERA in a score of appearances. John Beuckeleare, who appeared in 28 games with 10 saves, returns as the closer. John Beuckeleare led the team in ERA at 2.51 out of the bullpen. In 46 2/3 innings over 28 appearances he struck out 52 batters and earned 10 saves.

The top pitcher of the team may be Dion Henderson. The Detroit native spent the last three seasons on the TCU roster but only made a single appearance. The lefty had previously been selected in the MLB draft and was one of the top prospects coming out of the state of Michigan in high school as he was a three-time Perfect Game Underclass All-American.

22. Lyon Scots (40-22)
The Scots didn’t blow competition away with an unrelenting lineup or impeccable pitching last season, but what they did do is score runs and win games. They’ll do more of the same in 2020.

Kylan Barnett and Alan West are a pair of classic hitters who get on base and create runs. Barnett batted .362 and added 18 doubles and eight home runs. Those numbers and his athletic ability make him a possible late round draft pick in this spring’s draft. West topped the team in batting average, hitting .418 which put in the top-20 nationally. Jake Michener is another player whose returned presence in the lineup is a welcome one. He batted .341 last season and took over the role as the team’s leadoff hitter halfway through the season. Victor Alvarez, who previously played at top JCC school Wabash Valley, should wield an impact bat at the head of the lineup.

The Scots’ staff is extremely deep and experienced. Marcelo Terrazas and Ryan Porras each stared 15 games last season and Brock Beacham made six spot starts and totaled 66 2/3 innings. While none of the trio put up stopper type numbers, each has proven to be effective with the ability to pitch deep into games. Terrazas was particularly resilient as he threw seven complete games and totaled 101 innings on the mound last season. During those outings he impressively issued only 15 walks. Lex Meinderts, a native of Rotterdam, Netherlands, was a JUCO All Star and represented the Vernon College Chaps as a relief pitcher.

23. IU Southeast Grenadiers (37-20)
The Grenadiers had strong offense led by leadoff hitter Clay Woeste and cleanup hitting catcher Brody Tanksley. Woeste primarily played second base last season and batted .360 with an on base percentage of .456. With speed and stealth he successfully swiped 34 bases without getting caught. Tanksley batted .337 and threw out 15 potential base stealers from behind the plate.

Coaches are confident that a pair of transfers will push the team into the upper-echelon of competitiveness. Jake Scott has a power bat and will anchor the middle of the lineup. He appeared in 39 games at NCAA DI’s Houston Baptist where he hit .276 with four home runs in 2018. Another transfer outfielder, Marco Romero, put up big numbers for 2018 NJCAA DIII National Champion Oakton CC. Romero batted .358 last season with 26 stolen bases as a freshman and .401 last season.

Hunter Kloke, who pitched for conference rival Brescia in 2017 and 2018, joins the staff with much ballyhoo. In 2018 he pitched 70 innings and struck out 68 batters with three complete games. He was named to the Northwoods League All-Star team over the summer where he continued to K a batter per inning. He received an invitation to pitch next summer in the Cape Cod League. He’ll join Chas Adams in the rotation. Adams was the team’s best statistical pitching performer last season as he threw 74 1/3 innings and only allowed 44 hits. Those number compute to a .169 opposing batting average which was fourth in the nation. Trevor Reynolds, who made six starts and Brenden Bube who appeared in 15 games and totaled 31 2/3 innings on the mound will also be back.

24. Concordia-Nebraska Bulldogs (33-20)
Coming off their second regular season Great Plains Athletic Conference title in three years, the Bulldogs are the favorite to capture that crown once again. However, in 2020 Concordia may be more of a threat on the national stage than it ever has been before.

Jason Munsch had a superb junior season, striking out 106 batters in only 66 1/3 innings and held opposition to a .185 batting average. Fellow senior pitcher Jake Fosgett was nearly as impressive, fanning 85 in 55 1/3. The duo had 2.44 and 3.09 ERAs, respectively. They’ll be joined by redshirt junior Nick Little who sat out last season but was the team’s top starting pitcher in 2017 and 2018. In his last full season on the mound he went the distance in eight of 12 starts, had a 2.36 ERA and struck out nearly a batter an inning.

Offensively, Thomas Sautel batted .371 and slugged .522 in 2018 but missed last season. He’ll be back in the lineup with Wade Council who had the highest slugging percentage on the roster last season at .548 as he hit .339 with 15 doubles. New to the everyday nine will be Ryan Moormeier, a tall slugging first baseman who was an all-out masher at Bismark State College. He slashed .480/.565/.843, topping the Mystics in nearly every offensive category including stolen bases with 13. The athletic freshman Jay Adams, who played high school ball at nearby Waverly, Nebraska, should make an immediate impact at shortstop and was a no-brainer All-State selection.

25. Taylor Trojans (38-18)
Almost every pitcher from a staff which finished among the national leaders in ERA the past two seasons returns. Out of their 444 innings thrown last season, hurlers who accounted for 88 percent of those outs are back – which is an absolutely crazy insane number. Furthermore, in addition to just not allowing opposition to cross the plate, Trojan pitchers kept competition from even getting on base. They held opposition to a wee .209 batting average, a drop from their already impressive .229 mark the year before.

Luke Shively put up the most formidable stats of the starting pitchers last season. He appeared in 15 games with 13 starts. While on the mound he totaled 60 1/3 innings and only allowed 40 hits with 61 strikeouts. Justin Pettit, Luke Carlson and Drake Gongwer put up good numbers as well. Pettit held opposition to a .219 batting average in 51 2/3 innings in his first full season on the mound, Carlson limited batters to a .184 average as a freshman and Gongwer threw a no-hitter and fanned 49 batters and in 49 1/3 innings. The team also has a pair of bullpen aces in Mitch Ubelhor and Cy Stanley. Ubelhor had a 1.08 ERA as the team’s closer and fanned 54 in 33 1/3 innings. Stanley made 19 appearances, which included a pair of spot starts, and only allowed 25 hits in 38 innings. It should be noted however that the Taylor pitching staff’s exaggerated opposing batting averages are not as quite as masterful as they appear. Many of the pitchers have a much higher than anticipated walk rate which inflates their WHIP. Nevertheless, their pitching is pretty gosh darn good.

Offensively the club doesn’t have much clout. As a team they batted .260 and hit 27 home runs as a team which factored into a lean .371 slugging percentage. Nick Rusche and TJ Bass are the offensive leaders of the club. Rusche led the team with a .309 batting average and had 34 walks which pushed his on base percentage to .422. Bass was the team’s leading long ball threat with five home runs. He also had a respectable .290 batting average which was second on the team. Ben Kalbaugh, the team’s regular catcher, will also be back to handle the staff.

2020 NAIA Top 40 Prospects

1Brayan GarciaRHPR-R6-4210SoutheasternWaltonNY
2Tyler WilliamsOFR-R6-3235Oklahoma CityPeoriaAZ
3Al PestoRHPR-R6-3210SoutheasternSavannahGA
4Gabe HowellSSR-R6-2189Georgia GwinnettSummervilleGA
5Dillon Plew3B/2BL-R6-3195Lewis-Clark StateKennewickWA
6Gunner HalterSSR-R6-3180Oklahoma CityOverland ParkKS
7Bakari GayleOFR-R6-4170LSU-ShreveportAtlantaGA
8Merfy AndrewRHPR-R6-1195St. ThomasBonaoDR
9Dailin LeeOFL-L5-9185Hope InternationalSanta AnaCA
10Dion HendersonLHPL-L6-4190MadonnaDetroitMI
11Colton WilliamsLHPL-L6-5220Science & ArtsMagnoliaTX
12Heath OliveRHPR-R6-3215FaulknerBirminghamAL
13Brenden HeissRHPR-R6-0200SoutheasternChicagoIL
14Livingston MorrisOFR-R6-4245Georgia GwinnettWoodstockGA
15Ryan JungbauerRHPR-R6-6220Northwestern OhioWaterfordWI
16Cameron AllisonLHPL-L6-5185Georgetown CollegeMariettaGA
17Zach CornellOFL-L6-2225SoutheasternCartersvilleGA
18William AguilarSSR-R6-0195Hope InternationalLos AngelesCA
19Joshua SieglitzRHPR-R6-3165Missouri BaptistPeoriaAZ
20Robert TouronRHPR-R6-0175St. ThomasMiamiFL
21Mason SchwellenbachRHPR-R6-1185Central MethodistSaginawMI
22Jacob SawyersRHPR-R6-2191Freed-HardemanMunfordTN
23Matt LesterLHPL-L6-2195VanguardSalemOR
24Bailey ReidRHPR-R6-2205WestmontPalos VerdesCA
25Matt MerrillRHPR-R6-4210Science & ArtsTulsaOK
26Joshua Sears1BR-R6-4299Freed-HardemanHuntsvilleAL
27Cristian MartinOFR-R5-11190SoutheasternKendallFL
28Jonathan VillaCL-R5-10195FaulknerEnsenedaMX
29Dalton Reed1BL-L6-4240Oklahoma CityRoffOK
30Payton RobertsonSSR-R5-7170LSU-ShreveportOrangeTX
31Cory DawsonLHPL-L6-0190WestmontRancho Santa MargaritaCA
32Shane MartinezRHPR-R6-0175Hope InternationalRiversideCA
33Shawn RossSSR-R6-2195FaulknerFajardoPR
34Anders Green3BS-R6-1200William JessupSilvertonOR
35Kobe Lopez2B/SSR-R5-7160St. ThomasOrlandoFL
36Antonio FriasLHPL-L5-9185FaulknerPanama CityPN
37Aaron McGeorgeRHPR-R5-11170Oklahoma CityLexingtonKY
38Alex BrinkmanRHPR-R6-3220Northwestern OhioAnnaOH
39Michael DiffleySSR-R6-0175Arizona ChristianChula VistaCA
40Matthew HessRHPR-R6-7235Missouri BaptistScottsdaleAZ

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