BA breaks down the Missouri Valley Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS, 2014 DRAFT|
|1. Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville|
|2. Casey Gillaspie, 1b, Wichita State|
|3. Sam Coonrod, rhp, Southern Illinois|
|4. Dan Savas, rhp, Illinois State|
|5. Max Murphy, of, Bradley|
|6. Cy Sneed, rhp, Dallas Baptist|
|7. Chase Simpson, 3b, Wichita State|
|8. Tyler Baker, c, Wichita State|
|9. Jeremy Rhoades, rhp, Illinois State|
|10. Paul Voelker, rhp, Dallas Baptist|
|TOP 5 PROSPECTS, 2015 DRAFT|
|1. Joseph Shaw, rhp, Dallas Baptist|
|2. Drew Smith, rhp, Dallas Baptist|
|3. Tate Matheny, of, Missouri State|
|4. Cory Taylor, rhp, Dallas Baptist|
|5. Brent Stong, lhp, Bradley|
Missouri Valley Conference
Baseball Members (First Year): Bradley (1955), Dallas Baptist (2014), Evansville (1994), Illinois State (1980), Indiana State (1976), Missouri State (1990), Southern Illinois (1974), Wichita State (1945).
Checking out: None.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 20-24 at Indiana State.
Team to Beat: Wichita State.
The Shockers won 39 games last year, finished a game out of first in the MVC standings and won the conference tournament, but it wasn't enough to save long-time coach Gene Stephenson's job. Former Arkansas assistant Todd Butler takes over the head job and inherits a veteran team with real offensive firepower. First-team preseason All-American Casey Gillaspie and Jr. 3B Chase Simpson are switch-hitters who both have real power from both sides of the plate. Jr. C Tyler Baker has good feel to hit from the left side, and Sr. OFs Micah Green and Garrett Bayliff are high-energy catalysts with good speed. The pitching staff is built around five talented righties who can run their fastballs into the low 90s.
Player of the Year: Casey Gillaspie, 1b, Wichita State.During a standout summer in the Cape Cod League, the switch-hitting Gillaspie solidified his standing as one of the nation's premier sluggers.
Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville.Another Cape League all-star, the loose-framed Freeland can reach 94 and eats up lefties with a good slider; he looks ready to become a big star as a junior.
Freshman of the Year: Sam Tewes, rhp, Wichita State.The top draft prospect in the state of Nebraska last year, Tewes has a projectable 6-foot-5 frame and feel for pitching with a fastball that reaches 91 and a good curve.
Notable Storylines: Defending MVC regular-season champion Illinois State should be Wichita's strongest competition again this year thanks to a talented pitching staff bookended by Jr. RHPs Dan Savas (10-0, 1.79) and Jeremy Rhoades (2-1, 1.54, 6 SV). Savas, a Cape League all-star last year, has a durable 6-foot-5 frame, a fastball that reaches 93 and a swing-and-miss slider. Rhoades can reach 95 in relief and has a wipeout power curve. Veterans Mike Hollenbeck and Brock Stewart lead a depleted lineup that will count on a few juco transfers to plug holes . . . Dallas Baptist went 41-19 as a D-I independent that played a full MVC schedule in 2012, then spent last year in the Western Athletic Conference and struggled. Now DBU enters the Valley as a full member, and it has the pitching to compete. Jr. RHP Cy Sneed, a proven workhorse with feel for three solid pitches, has been the staff ace since the start of his college career, and Texas transfer Josh Urban gives the Patriots a second low-90s arm in the rotation. The bullpen has two big guns in So. RHP Joseph Shaw (who sits at 92-94) and Sr. RHP Paul Voelker (who touched 95-96 in the Northwoods League, where he ranked as the No. 4 prospect) . . . Indiana State also has a new coach this year, as former Sycamore Mitch Hannahs takes over for Rick Heller, who went to Iowa. Hannahs' son, Derek Hannahs, hit .309 in a part-time role last year to lead the team, and he is back as a fourth-year junior this spring. But departed ace Sean Manaea (a first-round pick) left big shoes to fill.