*2011 automatic qualifier. 2011 NCAA regional participants in bold (2011 records listed; 2012 national rankings in parentheses)
|HOW THEY’LL FINISH|
|Projected NCAA Teams (1): Charlotte.|
|Conference Schedule: 24 games, begins March 23.|
|Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 23-26 at Fordham.|
|Player of the Year: Mike LeBel, ss/rhp, Rhode Island.|
|Pitcher of the Year: Andrew Smith, rhp, Charlotte.|
|TOP PROSPECTS, 2012-13 DRAFTS|
|1. Tyler Barnette, rhp, Charlotte (2013)|
|2. Mike LeBel, ss/rhp, Rhode Island|
|3. Chris Pickering, lhp, Rhode Island|
|4. Adam McConnell, ss/3b, Richmond|
|5. Andrew Smith, rhp, Charlotte|
|1. Alex Pracher, rhp, St. Joseph’s (Tr.—Stanford)|
|2. Shaun McGrath, rhp, Rhode Island (HS—Everett, Mass.)|
|3. Tim Ponto, rhp, St. Joseph’s (HS—Pottstown, Pa.)|
• Charlotte won the conference regular season and tournament titles last season, and the 49ers are an overwhelming choice to repeat with the return of the entire weekend rotation as well as several key offensive players. The defending A-10 pitcher of the year, fifth-year Sr. RHP Andrew Smith, will be the Friday starter again after going 10-4, 1.81 last year with 92 strikeouts in 109 innings. RHP Tyler Barnette, who was the conference rookie of the year after going 9-2, 2.29, is behind him, and Jr. RHP Corey Roberts rounds out the league’s best rotation. The lineup lost several key contributors but has plenty of experience to plug in, with eight upperclassmen projected to be in the everyday lineup. The centerpiece will be all-conference Sr. C Ross Steedley (.342/.380/.449), who calls his own games.
• Since arriving at Rhode Island in 2005, Jim Foster has built the Rams into one of the A-10’s best programs, and he says this is the strongest roster from top to bottom since he arrived. Foster has a knack for identifying raw Northeast talent and developing it, and the Rams brought in a strong freshman class, including SS Tim Caputo, who has good hands and actions, enough arm to play shortstop, good speed and the ability to hit for average; and RHP Shaun McGrath, who touches the low 90s. Neither one will be counted on right away on a veteran squad, however. The Rams’ top player should be Sr. SS/RHP Mike LeBel, who is the school’s career home run leaders and played in the Cape Cod League last summer. He has touched 93 mph off the mound and can hit for power and average. He’ll be the starting shortstop and bat third while also serving as closer. The starting pitching is experienced, with fifth-year Sr. LHP Chris Pickering (4-3, 4.11) fronting the rotation. The biggest questions are in the bullpen behind LeBel, and the Rams are also still dealing with the death of RHP Joe Ciancola, who died after a conditioning workout in October.
• St. Joseph’s is on the rise under third-year coach Fritz Hamburg, a former Baseball America Assistant Coach of the Year at Army, and the talent level continues to improve for the Hawks. The most intriguing addition this year might be RHP Alex Pracher, who was Stanford’s closer in 2010, going 6-4, 3.15 with four saves. Pracher did not pitch last year, graduated from Stanford and is a master’s student at St. Joe’s, and he’ll step right into the weekend rotation. He works in the 88-90 mph range and touches 92, though he’s still ironing out his command and regaining his velocity. But the most important development for the program is the construction of a new ballpark, scheduled for completion just before the season opened, that will bring baseball back to the St. Joe’s campus for the first time in more than 50 years.
• Fordham has the oldest and winningest program in NCAA history, with 4,074 all-time wins, but the program had slipped from the top of the A-10 in recent years and missed the conference tournament last season, leading to the resignation of coach Nick Restaino after seven seasons. The Rams called on Manhattan coach Kevin Leighton to take the helm, after he built the Jaspers into one of the best programs in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in his six seasons there, including the school’s first two regional appearances. Temple also hired a new coach, going to conference rival Richmond to hire assistant Ryan Wheeler to take over from Rob Valli, who resigned after six seasons.