2014 College Preview: NEC

BA breaks down the Northeast 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. Kyle Wilcox, rhp, Bryant (2015)
2. Nolan Long, rhp, Wagner (2015)
3. A.J. Zarozny, of, Bryant (2015)
4. Kevin McAvoy, rhp, Bryant
5. Brendan Butler, rhp, Fairleigh Dickinson
6. John Ziznewski, ss, LIU-Brooklyn
7. Carl Anderson, of, Bryant
8. Craig Schlitter, rhp, Bryant
9. Pete Leonello, of, LIU-Brooklyn
10. J.P. Sportman, of, Central Connecticut State

Northeast Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Bryant (2010), Central Connecticut State (1999), Fairleigh Dickinson (1981), Long Island (1981), Mount St. Mary’s (1989), Sacred Heart (2000), Wagner (1981).

Checking out: Monmouth (to MAAC), Quinnipiac (to MAAC).

Conference tournament: Four teams, double-elimination. May 22-25 at Norwich, Conn.

Team to Beat: Bryant.

Led by a deep, experienced pitching staff, the Bulldogs have a chance to be even better than they were a year ago, when they won 45 games, including a win against Arkansas in regionals. All four projected weekend starters—RHPs Craig Schlitter, Kevin McAvoy, Kyle Wilcox and Vaughn Hayward—work in the low 90s, and Wilcox hit 97 in the New England Collegiate League all-star game last summer. Hayward has also reached the mid-90s. Jr. OFs Carl Anderson and Jordan Mountford have solid tools across the board, and Sr. OF A.J. Zarozny has blazing speed. That trio makes the offense go, but the Bulldogs need new starters to emerge in the infield and behind the plate.

Player of the Year: John Ziznewski, ss, LIU-Brooklyn

The senior hit .361/.428/.546 with 17 steals last spring and .345 in the Northwoods League last summer. He can drive the ball to all fields, has slightly above-average speed and is a good college shortstop, though he’ll likely play second in pro ball.

Pitcher of the Year: Craig Schlitter, rhp, Bryant.

A senior workhorse who has logged 204 innings in his career, Schlitter commands an 88-92 fastball, a decent curveball and changeup, and he shuts down opposing running games.

Freshman of the Year: Nolan Long, rhp, Wagner.

At 6-foot-10, 240 pounds, Long also plays forward for the Seahawks’ basketball team, but his low-90s fastball, downhill angle and projectable frame could make him a top-10-rounds baseball prospect as an eligible sophomore in 2015.

Projected Regional Team: Bryant.

Kyle Wilcox

Kyle Wilcox

Notable Storylines: Central Connecticut State is counting on Sr. OFs J.P. Sportman and Dylan DelaCruz to carry the offense. Sportman, a three-time all-NEC selection, won the NECBL MVP award last summer and looks primed for a big senior year. DelaCruz, who hit .352/.394/.567 with six homers last spring, is the bigger power threat . . . Injuries ravaged Fairleigh Dickinson last year, but the Knights have enough pitching to improve dramatically after going 12-36 last year, if they stay healthy. Ace RHP Brendan Butler went just 4-7, 6.39 last year, but he has intriguing upside thanks to a nice 6-foot-3 frame, a fastball that sits around 92 and the makings of three decent offspeed pitches . . . LIU-Brooklyn’s strength is its veteran group of position players, led by Ziznewski. Sr. OF Pete Leonello is an intriguing draft sleeper who has hit .327 or better in each of his first three college seasons and plays strong defense in center.