College Preview

2013 Conference USA Preview




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See also: Full reports on Rice and Southern Mississippi in College Top 25 Scouting Reports
CONFERENCE USA
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
Rice (18) 17 7 41 19
Southern Mississippi (23) 14 10 32 24
East Carolina 13 10 36 24
Tulane 14 10 38 20
Central Florida 16 8 45 17
Memphis 14 10 31 28
Houston 5 18 18 35
*Alabama-Birmingham 9 15 32 30
Marshall 5 19 17 37
*2012 conference champion
Teams in bold are 2012 NCAA tournament participants. Teams are listed in predicted order of finish. Records listed are from 2012 season.
Projected NCAA Teams (4): Rice, Southern Mississippi, East Carolina, Tulane.
Conference Schedule: 24 games, begins March 22.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 22-26 at Rice.
Player of the Year: Mason Robbins, of/lhp, Southern Mississippi.
Pitcher of the Year: Aaron Blair, rhp, Marshall.

TOP PROSPECTS, 2013-14 DRAFTS
1. Jeff Hoffman, rhp, East Carolina (2014)
2. Mason Robbins, of/lhp, Southern Mississippi (2014)
3. Aaron Blair, rhp, Marshall
4. Austin Kubitza, rhp, Rice
5. Ben Lively, rhp, Central Florida
6. John Simms, rhp, Rice
7. Jordan Stephens, rhp, Rice (2014)
8. Alex Massey, rhp, Tulane (2014)
9. Eric Skoglund, lhp, Central Florida (2014)
10. Sam Moll, lhp, Memphis
11. Randy LeBlanc, rhp, Tulane
12. Jack Reinheimer, ss, East Carolina
13. Michael Ratteree, of, Rice
14. Daniel Poncedeleon, rhp, Houston
15. Garrett Cannizaro, 3b, Tulane

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Kevin McCanna, rhp, Rice (HS—The Woodlands, Texas)
2. Justin Taylor, rhp, East Carolina (HS—Farmville, N.C.)
3. Leon Byrd, of, Rice (HS—Cypress, Texas)
4. Daniel Poncedeleon, rhp, Houston (Tr—Cypress, Calif., JC)
5. Jacob Lemoine, rhp, Houston (HS—Bridge City, Texas)
6. Zach Houchins, 3b, East Carolina (Tr.—Louisburg, N.C., JC)
7. Spencer Davis, rhp, Central Florida (Tr.—Howard, Texas, JC)
8. Jared West, lhp, Houston (HS—Frierson, La.)
9. Jon Reed, rhp, Memphis (Tr—Walters, Tenn., State JC)
10. Garrett Brooks, of, East Carolina (HS—Chesapeake, Va.)

QUICK HITS

East Carolina may have C-USA's deepest roster, with a strong recruiting class supplementing a core of 20 returnees. Jr. SS Jack Reinheimer (.294/.342/.374) and DH/1B Chase McDonald (.283/.335/.395) are three-year starters, while Sr. OF Philip Clark (.269/.300/.294) also brings extensive experience. The top returnee, though, is the league's top prospect, So. RHP Jeff Hoffman (3-2, 3.67), who came on as the year went along. Hoffman really excelled (2.40, 30 IP/30 SO) in the Cape Cod League during the summer, running his fastball up to 95 mph regularly. He fronts a deep pitching staff that adds newcomer RHPs Ryan Williams, a California juco all-star, and David Lucroy, younger brother of Brewers big league catcher Jonathan.

Houston endured its fourth straight losing season, and coach Todd Whitting still has some rebuilding to do, hoping to build around this recruiting class. The Cougars got one of the nation's top junior-college transfers in RHP Daniel Poncedeleon, who has a power arm and is the team's top prospect, and a nearly new infield with 1B Casey Grayson the lone holdover. The rest are newcomers, including SS Frankie Ratcliff, who spent last year at Pensacola (Fla.) JC. Ratcliff spent his freshman year at Miami and was arrested in 2010 for trying to sell marijuana to an undercover officer, then was found to have steroids in his apartment. The team's top freshmen are intriguing, projectable arms in RHP Jacob Lemoine, an unsigned 21st-round pick, and LHP Jared West, whose older brother Sean reached the big leagues with the Marlins.

• Marshall Jr. RHP Aaron Blair had a strong Cape Cod League summer and enters the spring as Conference USA's top 2013 draft prospect. He hasn't gotten much help at Marshall and is just 4-11 overall in two seasons despite a 3.60 ERA. Blair commands a fastball with major league-average velocity at 89-92 and above-average life, and throws his curveball and changeup for strikes in any count. He'll lead Marshall on a challenging slate with only one home series scheduled before April, and just four home series in C-USA play.

Tulane, which used to rely heavily on an impact freshmen, has evolved into a team that relies heavily on seniors who don't sign as drafted juniors. This year's lineup has six projected senior starters plus a redshirt junior; the top veterans are 3B Garrett Cannizaro (.305/.378/.420), a fine defender, and CF Brandon Boudreaux (.330/.426/.541, 8 HR, 10 SB). They also return Sr. RHP Alex Byo (9-4, 3.38), who showed what he could do when healthy by tying for the conference lead in victories. During this fall and spring, redshirt Jr. RHP Kyle McKenzie has returned to the form that made him a big-name prep prospect in Massachusetts, making him a breakout candidate. Juco transfer Tony Rizzotti gives this staff another power arm with a nice pedigree, and he has overcome a pair of knee surgeries to show power stuff this offseason. On the whole, this roster looks deeper and more dangerous than it has been in years.