2014 College Preview: Atlantic 10

BA breaks down the Atlantic 10 Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

TOP 10 PROSPECTS, 2014-15 DRAFTS
1. James Norwood, rhp, Saint Louis
2. Chris Bates, lhp, Richmond
3. Tanner Stanley, of, Richmond (2015)
4. Tim Ponto, rhp, Saint Joseph’s
5. Brett Kennedy, rhp, Fordham (2015)
6. Bill Cullen, of, Virginia Commonwealth
7. Ty Sterner, lhp, Rhode Island
8. Vimael Machin, ss, Virginia Commonwealth
9. Lou Distasio, rhp, Rhode Island (2015)
10. Tim Caputo, ss, Rhode Island

Atlantic 10 Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Dayton (1996), Fordham (1996), George Mason (2014), George Washington (1977), La Salle (1996), Massachusetts (1977), Rhode Island (1981), Richmond (2002), St. Bonaventure (1980), Saint Joseph’s (1983), Saint Louis (2006), Virginia Commonwealth (2013).

Checking out: Butler (to Big East), Charlotte (to Conference USA), Temple (to American Athletic), Xavier (to Big East).

Conference Tournament: Seven teams, double elimination. May 21-24 at Saint Louis.

Team to Beat: Saint Louis.

Reigning Atlantic 10 co-player of the year Jr. 1B Mike Vigliarolo leads a Billikens squad heavy with experience. He’ll team with powerful So. 3B Braxton Martinez to form an imposing middle-of-the-order, while table-setting So. OF Michael Bozarth hit .302 as a freshman and looked even more impressive in the fall. Depth on the pitching staff could be a concern, but a weekend rotation featuring a senior and two juniors makes life easier. Steady Sr. RHP Clay Smith sets the tone, followed by power armed Jr. RHP James Norwood, who’s topped out at 97 mph in relief but moves into the rotation this season. It also helps that one of SLU’s closest competitors in last year’s A-10 race, Charlotte, has left the conference.

Player of the Year: Mike Vigliarolo, 1b, Saint Louis.

Vigliarolo catches eyes for his power bat and intelligent approach to the game, but teams shouldn’t underestimate his athleticism either.

Pitcher of the Year: Clay Smith, rhp, Saint Louis.

Smith may only have average fastball velocity but makes up for it with good sink and the smarts to use any of his pitches at any time.

Freshman of the Year: Dan Hetzel, of, Rhode Island.

Rhode Island will make Hetzel one of the centerpieces of its lineup as a freshman. His bat packs a powerful punch and he owns a strong arm in right field.

Shane O'Connell

Shane O’Connell (Photo by Alyson Boyer Rode)

Notable Storylines: Rhode Island split the 2013 A-10 regular-season title with Charlotte and Saint Louis, but the Rams will lean heavily on youth this time around. With four freshmen and two sophomores in the everyday lineup, URI will need production from Sr. C Shane O’Connell, who has fine bat-to-ball skills though little power, and Jr. SS Tim Caputo, a strong defender who showed well in the Cape Cod League last summer . . . A stout pitching staff will be key to Richmond’s hopes of improving on its 31-win total from 2013. R-So. RHP Jonathan de Marte gets the ball on Fridays but Sr. LHP Chris Bates, the No. 2 starter, is the better prospect, featuring a fastball up to 93 mph and a curveball that flashes solid potential . . . Newcomer George Mason will try to rebound after a lackluster final season in the CAA during which it went 18-35. The Patriots should be improved thanks to the arrival of Coastal Carolina transfer Jr. OF Luke Willis, who hit .281 a season ago and was granted a waiver to be immediately eligible. He’ll add to a veteran lineup built around Sr. 3B Blaise Fernandez and Sr. OF Tucker Tobin, the Patriots’ top power hitter.