BA breaks down the Western Athletic Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.
Western Athletic Conference
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS, 2014-15 DRAFTS|
|1. Rhys Hoskins, 1b/of, Sacramento State|
|2. Austin Davis, lhp, Cal State Bakersfield|
|3. Brandon Bonilla, lhp, Grand Canyon|
|4. Andrew Naderer, lhp, Grand Canyon (2015)|
|5. Sutter McLoughlin, rhp, Sacramento State (2015)|
|6. Craig Brinkerhoff, of, Utah Valley|
|7. Jorge Perez, rhp, Grand Canyon|
|8. Mylz Jones, ss, Cal State Bakersfield (2015)|
|9. Justin Dillon, rhp, Sacramento State (2015)|
|10. Andrew Thome, rhp, North Dakota|
Baseball Members (First Year): Cal State Bakersfield (2013), Chicago State (2014), Grand Canyon (2014), New Mexico State (2006), North Dakota (2014), Northern Colorado (2014), Sacramento State (2006), Seattle (2013), Texas-Pan American (2014), Utah Valley (2014).
Checking out: Dallas Baptist (to Missouri Valley), Louisiana Tech (to Conference USA), San Jose State (to Mountain West), Texas State (to Sun Belt), Texas-Arlington (to Sun Belt), Texas-San Antonio (to C-USA).
Conference Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination. May 21-25 at Mesa, Ariz.
Team to Beat: Sacramento State.
The Hornets should be a veteran team this spring, with seven returning starters and a pair of seniors sliding into the two vacated spots. Rhys Hoskins, the league’s best prospect, and So. OF Chris Lewis (.349/.396/.484, 46 RBI) make a formidable duo in the heart of the order, but the Hornets are counting on the rest of the lineup to take big steps forward after scuffling last year. The team’s strength should be its pitching, headlined by one of the WAC’s top Friday starters in Jr. RHP Brennan Leitao (8-3, 2.77), a dogged competitor who generates good fastball movement from a low three-quarters slot. Sacramento State’s best arm is closer Sutton McLoughlin (2.11 ERA, 17 SV), a 6-foot-5 righty who can bump 95.
Player of the Year: Rhys Hoskins, 1b/of, Sacramento State.
After hitting .353 with 10 homers in 2012, Hoskins slumped to .283 with three homers last year, but he showed power and hitting instincts in a big Cape season.
Pitcher of the Year: Jorge Perez, rhp, Grand Canyon.
A workhorse with a durable 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, Perez sits in the low 90s, touches 94, has good feel for his changeup and flashes an average curve.
Freshman of the Year: Sam Finfer, c/of, Seattle.
An unsigned 29th-round pick by the Dodgers, Finfer has a pro body (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and a nice lefthanded swing, excelling at driving the gaps.
Notable Storylines: In the farce that is conference realignment, the WAC has mastered the art of the absurd. Six teams exit this year, and six new teams enter, including five former members of the now-defunct Great West Conference. That league did not send an automatic qualifier to regionals, but the WAC does, so this move is a huge boost for the Great West refugees. Utah Valley had been that league’s best program, but the Wolverines slumped to 24-30 last year. They should rebound with a strong debut in the WAC thanks to a roster that the coaching staff calls its most talented yet, headlined by So. CF Craig Brinkerhoff, who is back from a Mormon mission and has solid tools across the board . . . In coach Andy Stankiewicz’s second season, Grand Canyon reached the 40-win plateau for the first time since 1990 in its final Division II campaign, and it brings a talented roster into the WAC (though it won’t be eligible for the postseason for four years). The team’s top prospect, Jr. LHP Brandon Bonilla, is academically ineligible this spring but could still be a high draft pick thanks to his premium arm strength, his 6-foot-4 pitcher’s frame and his big league bloodlines (his father is six-time all-star Bobby Bonilla). The Lopes still have two very good pitching prospects in Perez and So. LHP Andrew Naderer, an athletic 6-foot-3 lefty with an 88-91 fastball and an excellent curveball . . . Seattle is excited about the culture it is building, thanks in part to a hungry freshman class that includes three drafted players. The physical Finfer and 1B Michael McCann (a 40th-rounder) bring lefthanded pop to the middle of the lineup, while 3B Brock Carpenter (38th round) is an athletic defender who should grow into righthanded power and also bolster the bullpen. A fourth freshman—high-energy Canadian Griffin Andreychuk—could start at second base . . . Cal State Bakersfield sustained heavy losses from last year’s 37-win club, but the Roadrunners should have the WAC’s best middle infield in Sr. 2B Oscar Sanay (.362/.446/.487) and So. SS Mylz Jones (.333/.394/.382), who slides over from third base. Sr. LHP Taylor Aikenhead assumes the Friday starter spot after making a school-record 26 appearances last year, and redshirt So. LHP Austin Davis brings huge potential to the rotation. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound hulk showed 91-94 heat and good feel for his changeup in the fall.