2014 College Preview: Sun Belt

Baseball America breaks down the Sun Belt Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

TOP 10 PROSPECTS, 2014 DRAFT
1. Austin Robichaux, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette
2. Zach Thompson, rhp, Texas-Arlington
3. Greg Milhorn, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette
4. Carson Baranik, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette
5. Mike Strentz, c, Louisiana-Lafayette
6. Seth Harrison, of, Louisiana-Lafayette
7. Jo-El Bennett, of, Troy
8. Garrett Mattlage, ss, Texas State
9. Justin Hageman, rhp, Western Kentucky
10. Scott Grist, rhp, Texas State
TOP 5 PROSPECTS, 2015 DRAFT
1. Blake Trahan, ss, Louisiana-Lafayette
2. Matt Rose, rhp/3b, Georgia State
3. Nick Thurman, c, Louisiana-Lafayette
4. Darien McLemore, 2b, Texas-Arlington
5. Ian Tompkins, lhp, Western Kentucky

Sun Belt Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Arkansas-Little Rock (1991), Arkansas State (1991), Georgia State (2014), Louisiana-Lafayette (1991), Louisiana-Monroe (2007), South Alabama (1976), Texas-Arlington (2014), Texas State (2014), Troy (2006), Western Kentucky (1982).

Checking out: Florida Atlantic (to Conference USA), Florida International (to C-USA), Middle Tennessee State (to C-USA).

Conference Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 21-25 at South Alabama.

Team to Beat: Louisiana-Lafayette.

With power and speed throughout the lineup, talented playmakers on defense, a senior-laden bullpen and a talented rotation, the Cajuns have no holes.

Player of the Year: Blake Trahan, ss, Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Cajuns are loaded with player of the year candidates, but Trahan is their best overall player—a slick shortstop who can throw, hit and run.

Pitcher of the Year: Austin Robichaux, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette.

The 6-foot-6 Robichaux generates good downward plane on an 88-92 fastball that bumps 94-95 and flashes a wipeout curveball and solid changeup.

Freshman of the Year: Granger Studdard, 1b, Texas State.

A physical 6-foot-2, 185-pound lefthanded hitter, Studdard brings power to the middle of the Bobcats’ lineup, and he is an athletic defender at first.

Top 25 teams: (14) Louisiana-Lafayette.

Caleb Adams and Blake Trahan

Caleb Adams and Blake Trahan

Notable Storylines: The Sun Belt gets a radical makeover, with three mainstays leaving for Conference USA, replaced by two newcomers from the Southland and one from the CAA. Two of the new members, Georgia State and Texas State, should compete for regional bids in their Sun Belt debuts. The Panthers return the bulk of an offense that ranked third in the nation in batting (.321) and fifth in slugging (.468) a year ago. Seniors Chad Prain (a high-energy shortstop who hit .394 last year) and Chase Raffield (.382/.457/.645, 10 HR) lead the loaded offense, and powerful Sr. 1B Nic Wilson had a huge fall. Expect a monster year from So. RHP/3B Matt Rose, who can hit for power, defend well at third base and throw 91-93 mph off the mound with a good changeup and solid breaking ball, making him the likely ace . . . The Bobcats need four freshmen to hit the ground running in everyday roles, but they have two skilled veteran leaders in the middle of the diamond in Sr. C Tyler Pearson and Jr. SS Garrett Mattlage. The smallish Mattlage is a switch-hitter with strength from both sides and good instincts at short, making him one of the league’s best players. Pearson is a standout catch-and-throw guy who has gotten bigger and stronger, prompting the Bobcats to predict a big year from him . . . The Sun Belt sent four teams to regionals last year, but Florida Atlantic is gone, and South Alabama and Troy sustained heavy losses, leaving Louisiana-Lafayette as the lone safe bet for the NCAA tournament. Troy must rebuild its bullpen and lineup, but Sr. LHP Shane McClain (9-1, 3.48) and Sr. RHP Tanner Hicks (8-4, 3.61) give the Trojans a pair of battle-tested bulldogs who really know how to pitch atop the rotation. Two more seniors provide excellent defense at key up-the-middle positions: SS Tyler Vaughn and CF Ali Knowles.