2014 College Preview: Ohio Valley

BA breaks down the Ohio Valley 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. Jared Carkuff, rhp, Austin Peay State (2015)
2. Austin Coley, rhp, Belmont
3. David Hess, rhp, Tennessee Tech
4. Matt Borens, rhp, Eastern Illinois
5. Joe Greenfield, rhp, Eastern Illinois
6. Ryan Quick, rhp, Austin Peay State
7. P.J. Torres, c, Austin Peay State
8. Zach Hall, lhp, Austin Peay State
9. Skyler Geissinger, 2b/rhp, SIU-Edwardsville (2015)
10. Zach Stephens, 1b, Tennessee Tech

Ohio Valley Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Austin Peay State (1962), Belmont (2013), Eastern Illinois (1996), Eastern Kentucky (1948), Jacksonville State (2003), Morehead State (1948), Murray State (1948), Southeast Missouri State (1991), Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (2012), Tennessee-Martin (1992), Tennessee Tech (1949).

Checking out: None.

Conference Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination. May 21-25 at Jackson, Tenn.

Team to Beat: Tennessee Tech.

The Golden Eagles went 24-6 to win the OVC regular-season crown last year but fell flat in the conference tourney. They return a veteran club that will feature five seniors and two juniors in the powerful starting lineup, headlined by sluggers Zach Stephens (15 HR), 3B Daniel Miles (12 HR) and Brandon Thomasson (12 HR). Junior-college transfer Chris Chism should team with Jr. RHP David Hess to form a strong one-two punch atop the rotation. Hess, one of the league’s to prospects, can reach 95 mph and is making progress with his slider. Fellow upperclassmen Seth Lucio and Ross Spurgeon give Tennessee Tech two more power arms in the bullpen, capable of touching 93 and 94, respectively.

Player of the Year: Zach Stephens, 1b, Tennessee Tech.

One of the nation’s most accomplished power hitters, Stephens has mashed 43 home runs in three years and ranked fifth nationally with 71 RBIs last season.

Pitcher of the Year: Austin Coley, rhp, Belmont.

Loose and athletic, the 6-foot-3 junior works downhill with a live fastball and can throw two quality offspeed pitches for strikes as well.

Freshman of the Year: Logan Gray, ss, Austin Peay State.

Gray has the footwork, smooth actions, quick release and strong arm to be a standout at short; he’s a plus-plus runner with good plate discipline and strength.

Brandon Thomasson

Brandon Thomasson

Notable Storylines: Austin Peay State lost many key pieces from a team that won 47 games and earned a No. 2 seed in the Bloomington Regional, where it finished as runner-up. But the Governors reloaded with what coach Gary McClure calls “by far the best and most talented recruiting class” in his 26-year tenure. Expect four freshmen to start this spring, headlined by Gray at shortstop and CF Chase Hamilton, who has good tools across the board and projects to hit for intriguing power. Very accomplished seniors like C P.J. Torres, 1B Matt Wollenzin and RF Rolando Gautier remain to provide leadership, and the pitching has more quality arms than ever, led by So. RHP Jared Carkuff (who sits 91-94 and features an 83-84 slider) and Sr. RHP Ryan Quick (who was back up to 95 this fall and showed improved secondary stuff). If the freshmen mature quickly, APSU has a high ceiling . . . Belmont went 22-8 in its first season in the OVC last year, and a strong one-two pitching punch should keep the Bruins in the mix again. Coley has the best stuff on the staff, but Jr. LHP Dan Ludwig (11-3, 3.83) was an all-conference performer last year thanks to his good feel for pitching and excellent changeup.