College Preview

2013 Western Athletic Conference Preview




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WESTERN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
  Conference Overall
  W L W L
Dallas Baptist (Indep.) 41 19
New Mexico State 11 7 35 24
Texas State (Southland) 32 24
Sacramento State 11 7 31 28
Cal State Bakersfield (Indep.) 25 30
*Texas-Arlington (Southland) 36 25
Louisiana Tech 7 11 27 28
Texas-San Antonio (Southland) 22 32
Seattle (Indep.) 23 30
San Jose State 6 18 19 39
*2012 conference champion.
Teams in bold are 2012 NCAA tournament participants. Teams are listed in order of predicted finish. Records listed are from the 2012 season.
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Dallas Baptist.
Conference Schedule: 27 games; begins March 22.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, two-division pool play, May 22-26 at Grand Prairie, Texas.
Player of the Year: Boomer Collins, of, Dallas Baptist.
Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Finnegan, rhp, Texas State.

TOP PROSPECTS, 2013-14 DRAFTS
1. Kyle Finnegan, rhp, Texas State
2. Ryan Walker, ss, Texas-Arlington
3. Jake Johansen, rhp, Dallas Baptist
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1b, Sacramento State (2014)
5. John Beck, rhp, Texas-Arlington
6. Cy Sneed, rhp, Dallas Baptist (2014)
7. Cael Brockmeyer, c, Cal State Bakersfield
8. Garrett Mattlage, ss, Texas State (2014)
9. Justin Higley, of, Sacramento State
10. Scott Grist, rhp, Texas State

TOP NEWCOMERS
1. Cory Taylor, rhp, Dallas Baptist (HS—Owasso, Okla.)
2. Joe Shaw, rhp, Dallas Baptist (HS—
3. Mylz Jones, 3b/ss, Cal State Bakersfield (HS—Lancaster, Calif.)
4. Mike Weselowski, 3b, Dallas Baptist (Tr.—Mesa, Ariz. CC)
5. Darien McLemore, 2b/ss, Texas-Arlington

QUICK HITS

• The WAC gets an extreme makeover this year, as mainstays Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada depart, while Dallas Baptist, Cal State Bakersfield, Seattle, Texas State, Texas-Arlington and Texas-San Antonio arrive—at least for this year. The four Texas schools are only making a one-year cameo in the WAC before moving on—DBU for the Missouri Valley Conference, UTSA for Conference USA, Texas State and UTA for the Sun Belt. Louisiana Tech also leaves next year for C-USA, and San Jose State will head to the Mountain West. That will leave Cal State Bakersfield, New Mexico State, Sacramento State and Seattle in the WAC, along with next year's four newcomers—Utah Valley, Northern Colorado, Chicago State and reclassifying Grand Canyon.

• This year, at least, the WAC looks like a solid baseball conference, with three teams (DBU, New Mexico State and Texas-Arlington) that made regionals last year, and another (Texas State) that was in the mix for an at-large spot deep into the season. So this league has a chance to send multiple teams to regionals, but most of those teams experienced major attrition after last season, leaving Dallas Baptist as the clear front-runner heading into 2013. The Patriots have wind in their sails: they have made back-to-back regionals (three in the last five years) as an independent, and now they'll finally have a chance to earn an automatic bid, smoothing their path to the postseason. They also move into a sparkling new 2,000-seat facility this year, paving the way for them to host regionals or super regionals in the future. DBU must replace its entire infield from a year ago, but So. SS Nash Knight had a strong fall, and Sr. 2B Jaime Garrido came on strong down the stretch last year, giving the Patriots a promising middle-infield duo. The lineup is anchored by a trio of quality seniors: CF Boomer Collins (.374/.466/.647, 13 HR, 58 RBI, 15 SB), RF Ronnie Mitchell (.296/.343/.450) and C Duncan McAlpine (.267/.372/.457, 9 HR). That group provides most of the thunder in what should be a strong offense. The Patriots think this could be their deepest pitching staff ever, fronted by dogged So. RHP Cy Sneed (8-5, 4.45). The bullpen duo of Michael Smith (4-1, 3.51, 6 saves) and Jake Johansen (3-1, 5.48) should be able to shorten games considerably. Johansen is the pick to click: He has always tantalized scouts with his 6-foot-6 frame, mid-90s fastball and vicious slider, but he has matured considerably and refined his feel for pitching.

New Mexico State earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament last year, a major step forward for a program that had been to just two prior regionals in its history, and none since 2003. But the Aggies must replace four of their top five hitters from a year ago, leaving Sr. SS Parker Hipp (.349/.488/.455) to lead the offense. The coaches think junior-college transfer Jr. LF Quinnton Mack has the tools to reach double figures in homers and stolen bases, and Sr. 3B Robert Lecount (.237/.317/.464, 12 HR) brings more good power. But New Mexico State always ranks among the national leaders in offensive categories; the big reason for its success a year ago was its pitching. In Rocky Ward's first nine seasons as the head coach, the Aggies posted a sub-7.00 ERA just twice: in their 43-win 2003 campaign (6.17) and their 44-win 2009 season (6.28). The Aggies won 36 games in 2010 and 34 games in 2011, with ERAs of 7.46 and 7.48, respectively. Last year, they posted an ERA of 5.47, and the four pitchers who accounted for 320 of their 505 innings (63 percent) are back. Sr. RHPs Adam Mott, Michael Ormseth and Casey Collins can all reach the low-90s with their fastballs and have swing-and-miss breaking balls to go with their heaters. Sr. LHP Ryan Beck (5-7, 4.24, 97 IP/97 SO) slides from the rotation into the closer role, replacing the valuable Scott Coffman.

Texas State looks like the most dangerous of the WAC's three Southland Conference expatriates, especially if Jr. RHP Kyle Finnegan (5-6, 3.28) can make the leap to elite Friday starter that many scouts expect. Finnegan has premium arm strength, with a fastball that reaches 96, an improved curveball and a developing changeup. With Colton Turner and Travis Ballew gone from the rotation, Finnegan needs to be the anchor. The staff sleeper is Jr. RHP Scott Grist, who has pitched just 6 2/3 innings over his first two seasons but is beginning to fill out his projectable 6-foot-4 frame and flashes a quality four-pitch mix. The Bobcats figure to be markedly less offensive now that sluggersJeff McVaney and Casey Kalenkosky are gone, as that duo accounted for 20 of the team's 27 home runs last year.

• Keep an eye on Sacramento State, the defending regular-season league champ, which has improved its pitching staff and still figures to play strong defense after ranking fifth in the nation with a .979 fielding percentage last year. Jr. RHP Tanner Mendonca (6-8, 4.74) had an up-and-down sophomore year but has tightened his curveball in the offseason, giving him a nice weapon to complement his 92-93 fastball. So. RHP Ty Nichols (2-3, 8.44) took his lumps last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery, but he was much better in the summer and fall, showing an 88-90 fastball and good breaking ball. The Hornets won't be overly offensive, but they do have a pair of real threats in Sr. 2B Andrew Ayers (.336/.397/.468) and So. 1B Rhys Hoskins (.353/.411/.567, 10 HR, 53 RBI), who garnered freshman All-America honors a year ago.