College Preview

2006 Sun Belt Conference Preview




HOW THEY'LL FINISH



Conference Overall


W
L
W
L
1. +South Alabama
15
9
35
27
2. Louisiana-Lafayette
16
8
48
19
3. Florida International
14
10
38
21
4. Troy
--
--
37
21
5. Middle Tennessee State
13
10
32
23
6. Arkansas State
12
12
33
23
7. New Orleans
10
14
20
39
8. Western Kentucky
8
16
21
37
9. Arkansas-Little Rock
6
17
23
33
(2005 records listed; 2006 national ranking in parentheses)
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface

Projected NCAA Teams (1): South Alabama.
Conference Schedule: 24 games. Schedule begins March 24.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 24-27 at Bowling Green, Ky. (Western Kentucky).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
* 2005 conference leader

C--Jordan Newton, Jr., Western Kentucky (.329-13-55). 1B—Michael Lopez, Sr., Florida International (.312-5-47). 2B—Brett Kinning, Sr., Arkansas State (.375-9-41). 3B—David Freese, Sr., South Alabama (.373-6-48). SS—Jeff Beachum, Sr., Middle Tennessee State (.346-2-41). OF—Brandon Bowser, Jr., New Orleans (.362-6-47); Josh Landry, Sr., Louisiana-Lafayette (.309-7-62); Nathan Hines, So., Middle Tennessee State (.342-4-53). DH—Jonathan Lucroy, So., Louisiana-Lafayette (.379-5-48). P—Mike Felix, Jr., Troy (0-2, 11.93 at Auburn); Matt Scott, Jr., Middle Tennessee State (10-1, 3.07); P.J. Walters, Jr., South Alabama (10-7, 4.26, 142 IP/*119 SO). RP—Chase Christianson, Jr., South Alabama (4-6, 4.60, *5 SV).

Player of the Year: Jordan Newton, c, Western Kentucky.
Pitcher of the Year: P.J. Walters, rhp, South Alabama.
Freshman of the Year: Myles Ervin, 3b, Middle Tennessee State (HS—Chattanooga, Tenn.).

Top Newcomers: 1. Mike Felix, rhp/of, Troy. 2. Bill Kleinschrodt, of, South Alabama (Jr., .188-0-8 at Vanderbilt). 3. Brett Lawler, 1b, Arkansas-Little Rock (Jr., Tr.—San Jacinto, Texas, JC). 4. Tommy King, ss, Troy (Jr., .248-2-13 at South Carolina). 5. Walker Whitley, rhp, Florida International (Jr., Tr.—Spartanburg Methodist, S.C., JC).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS

1. Jordan Newton, c, Western Kentucky.
2. Mike Felix, rhp, Troy.
3. Chase Christianson, rhp, South Alabama.
4. David Freese, 3b, South Alabama.
5. #Joel Collins, c, South Alabama.

# Not eligible for 2006 draft

BEST TOOLS

Best Pure Hitter—Todd Martin, Middle Tennessee State. Best Raw Power—Jordan Newton, Western Kentucky. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Brett Kinning, Arkansas State. Best Athlete—Jordan Newton, Western Kentucky. Fastest Runner—Brandon Bowser, New Orleans. Best Baserunner—Brandon Bowser, New Orleans. Best Defensive Catcher--Jordan Newton, Western Kentucky. Catcher/Best Arm—Michael McKenry, Middle Tennessee State. Best Defensive First Baseman—Clint Robinson, Troy. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Brett Kinning, Arkansas State. Best Defensive Third Baseman—David Freese, South Alabama. Best Defensive Shortstop--Jeff Beachum, Middle Tennessee State. Infielder/Best Arm—Guillermo Martinez, South Alabama. Best Defensive Outfielder—Brandon Bowser, New Orleans. Best Outfield Arm—Bill Kleinschrodt, South Alabama. Best Fastball—Clay Christianson, South Alabama. Best Breaking Ball--P.J. Walters, South Alabama. Best Control—Matt Scott, Middle Tennessee State.

SHORT HOPS

• Louisiana-Lafayette finished atop the Sun Belt standings in 2005, but faces a significant rebuilding job this season as none of the five pitchers who won more than two games returns, notably RHP Austin Faught (12-0, 2.45) and Kevin Ardoin (10-5, 3.76). The Ragin’ Cajuns will rely heavily on the offensive contributions of sophomore C Jonathan Lucroy (.376-5-48) and senior OF Josh Landry (.309-7-62), but just four of the 10 hitters who had more than 120 at-bats returns.

• In a shuffle of conference teams, the Sun Belt inherits Troy, which won the Atlantic Sun regular season title a year ago, while losing New Mexico State to the Western Athletic Conference. While it lost OF Adam Godwin (.367-5-44), the nation’s stolen base leader with 84, Troy beefed up its roster with the addition of two former Southeastern Conference players: ex-Auburn RHP Mike Felix (0-2, 11.93) and ex-South Carolina SS Tommy King (.248-2-13). Felix, whose fastball ranges from 88-92 mph, will take a regular turn in the outfield for the Trojans when not pitching.

• Western Kentucky and Arkansas-Little Rock, which brought up the rear in the Sun Belt a year ago, will introduce new coaches this season. Former Auburn assistant Chris Finwood takes over for the retired Joel Murrie at Western Kentucky, while ex-Texas A&M assistant Jim Lawler is the new coach at Arkansas-Little Rock, replacing the fired Brian Rhees. Lawler will be assisted by Scott Lawler (Jim's nephew), and his son Brett, a transfer from San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College, will move in at first base.

• The effects of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the area in and around New Orleans, forced the University of New Orleans baseball team to pack up and head to Las Cruces, N.M., home of ex-Sun Belt member New Mexico State, for the fall semester. The Privateers players practiced and attended classes there and returned to their home campus for the spring. Maestri Field, New Orleans’ home park, emerged relatively unscathed from the hurricane.

• Middle Tennessee State senior DH Todd Martin (.412-8-31), who led the conference in hitting a year ago, had surgery on his knee and elbow last summer but was expected to be available for the start of the season.

• Led by Western Kentucky junior C Jordan Newton (.329-13-55), one of the nation’s top catching prospects, the Sun Belt is unusually deep in quality catchers this year. Other catchers who rank among the league’s elite players are South Alabama sophomore Joel Collins (.264-2-31), Louisiana-Lafayette’s Lucroy (.379-5-48), Middle Tennessee State junior Michael McKenry (.328-13-42), Troy senior Nick Smith (.338-13-52) and New Orleans senior Alex Webster (.330-8-47). All have professional potential, but Smith’s may be of a different calling. He is an aspiring country music performer who is popular locally and may end up signing a recording contract.