College Preview

2013 Sun Belt Conference Preview




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SUN BELT CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
Florida Atlantic 19 8 32 22
Troy 14 16 28 30
Florida International 15 14 31 26
Arkansas State 19 9 34 23
South Alabama 15 15 23 34
Middle Tennessee State 14 16 31 28
*Lousiana-Monroe 15 15 32 30
Louisiana-Lafayette 11 19 23 30
Western Kentucky 13 17 25 33
Arkansas-Little Rock 12 18 26 28
*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 (1): Florida Atlantic.
Conference Schedule: 30 games, begins March 15.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 22-26 at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Player of the Year: Chase Compton, 1b/lhp, Louisiana-Lafayette.
Pitcher of the Year: Chance Cleveland, rhp, Arkansas-Little Rock.

TOP PROSPECTS, 2013-2014 DRAFTS
1. Aramis Garcia, c, Florida International (2014)
2. Chase Compton, 1b/lhp, Louisiana-Lafayette
3. Jordan Patterson, of/1b, South Alabama
4. Jo-El Bennett, of, Troy (2014)
5. Justin Hageman, rhp, Western Kentucky
6. Danny Collins, of/3b, Troy
7. Levi Meyer, c, Florida Atlantic
8. Cale Wine, rhp, Louisiana-Monroe
9. Hunter Adkins, rhp, Middle Tennessee State
10. Chance Cleveland, rhp, Arkansas-Little Rock

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Heath Slatton, rhp, Middle Tennessee State
2. Cole Billingsley, of, South Alabama
3. Adam Grantham, rhp, Arkansas State
4. Levi Meyer, c, Florida Atlantic (Tr.—Iowa Western CC)
5. Ty Alexander, lhp, Florida International (Tr.—Hillsborough, Fla., CC)

QUICK HITS

Middle Tennessee State coach Steve Peterson retired after 25 seasons, giving way to Jim McGuire, his assistant for 20 years. The Blue Raiders return 30 players to the roster, including some intriguing arms in Sr. RHPs Hunter Adkins (5-6, 5.75) and Daniel Palo (1-1, 7.24, 4 SV) and LHP Jordan Cooper (2-3, 3.74), all of whom have flashed low-90s fastball velocity if not better. They add touted but raw RHP/1B Heath Slatton, the Volunteer State's top prep pitching product in the 2012 class and a powerful lefthanded bat.

Florida Atlantic started its program in 1981 with coach Steve Traylor (with future Arizona State coach Pat Murphy one of the players). That team went 15-16 but won 40 games in each of Traylor's next five seasons, and the program has had just three losing seasons since then—none since 1998. The Owls built last year's pitching staff from the back to the front but lost RHP R.J. Alvarez as the Angels' third-round pick. Sr. RHP Hugh Adams took a medical redshirt last season and should step into Alvarez's closer role, considering he went 0-1, 3.43 with 10 saves in 2011, while Sr. RHP Mike Sylvestri (1-2, 4.11, 2 SV) brings the bullpen a power arm, hitting 94 mph over the summer in the Florida Collegiate Summer League. Jr. RHP Andrew Archer also closed last season at Broward (Fla.) JC and could contribute in that role. Two pieces of the rotation figure to expand on their roles, as So. LHP Austin Gomber (3-4, 3.82, 61 IP/63 SO) and Jr. RHP Kevin Alexander (5-1, 3.29, 55 IP/40 SO) both improved as the season progressed.

Florida International also has had just four losing seasons since 1981, with four straight winning seasons under sixth-year head coach Turtle Thomas. He rebuilds a bit this season after losing lineup stalwarts such as OFs Pablo Bermudez and Jabari Henry and DH/1B Mike Martinez, the school's career RBIs leader. Last year's dynamic freshman duo, C Aramis Garcia (.271/.344/.417, 6 HR) and SS Julius Gaines (.233/.286/.265, 8 SB), will be expected to take on a larger role, especially if Gaines is 100 percent after offseason shoulder surgery. Jr. LHP Ty Alexander brings an athletic, live arm to the rotation as a key junior-college transfer to join Jr. RHP Mike Ellis (3-2, 3.13, 83 IP/88 SO).

South Alabama is trying to return to Sun Belt prominence under second-year head coach Mark Calvi, who has rebuilt the roster in short order. Like the Owls, the Jaguars hope to build their pitching staff from back to front, adding hard-throwing RHP Dylan Stamey (44 SO in 36 IP) as a transfer from Faulkner (Ala.) State JC to complement last year's closer, Sr. LHP Kyle Bartsch (1-4, 4.26, 10 SV, 38 IP/39 SO). Stamey's fastball hit 95 mph in the fall. The bullpen gets another boost from two-way talent Jordan Patterson, who will start at first base but can bring low-90s heat from the left side off the mound. Another newcomer with two-way ability, Fr. CF/LHP Cole Billingsley, is a dynamic talent for the Jaguars to build around.

Troy's pitching didn't come together as hoped in 2012, but the top performers from last season are back in the bullpen. Sr. LHP Nate Hill (7-2, 3.53, 4 SV, 79 IP/75 SO) led the team in wins and saves while ranking second in innings thanks to his ability to throw his breaking ball for strikes or as a chase pitch. Sidearming Sr. RHP Thomas Austin (3-5, 2.80, 3 SV) gives him a rubber-armed setup man. He needs solid defense behind him, putting pressure on Sr. 3B Logan Pierce (.341/.444/.496)—the team's top hitter—as he makes the transition across the diamond from first base. Jr. SS Tyler Vaughn (.305/.346/.379) is steady at short despite modest arm strength. The team's offense hopes to get a jolt with the move to the outfield of a pair of infielders. So. Jo-El Bennett (.226/.319/.363), a touted shortstop recruit, shifts to left field while Jr. Danny Collins (.318/.388/.562, 12 HR) moves off third base to right field.