2012 Atlantic Sun Conference Preview

*2011 automatic qualifier. 2011 NCAA regional participants in bold (2011 records listed; 2012 national rankings in parentheses)

Conf. Overall
Stetson 23 7 43 20
Jacksonville 19 11 37 24
*Belmont 17 13 38 26
Florida Gulf Coast 16 14 27 28
Kennesaw State 18 11 32 25
East Tennessee State 16 12 36 21
North Florida 13 17 27 27
Mercer 17 12 39 20
Lipscomb 10 20 19 36
South Carolina-Upstate 10 18 19 36
Projected NCAA Teams (2): Jacksonville, Stetson.
Conference Schedule: 30 games; begins March 16.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 23-26 at Stetson.
Player of the Year: Adam Brett Walker, 1b, Jacksonville.
Pitcher of the Year: Kurt Schluter, rhp, Stetson.
TOP PROSPECTS, 2012-2013
1. Adam Brett Walker, of, Jacksonville
2. Ronnie Freeman, c, Kennesaw State
3. Dan Gulbransen, of, Jacksonville
4. Kurt Schluter, rhp, Stetson
5. Sean Dwyer, of, Florida Gulf Coast (2013)
6. Tucker Donahue, rhp, Stetson
7. Jake Boyd, rhp, Stetson
8. Chris Anderson, rhp/dh, Jacksonville (2013)
9. Chris Nunn, lhp, Lipscomb
10. Taylor Ratliff, of, Jacksonville (2013)
1. Max Pentecost, c, Kennesaw State (HS—Winder, Ga.)
2. Alex McRae, rhp, Jacksonville (HS—West Allis, Wis.)
3. Ryan Gebhart, of, Florida Gulf Coast (Tr.—Missouri)
4. Zach Lowery, of, Lipscomb (Tr.—Gordon, Ga., JC)
5. Will Carter, rhp, East Tennessee State (HS—Johnson City, Tenn.)
• A raft of returning seniors makes Stetson, which won the league in 2011, the favorite again. In the words of coach Pete Dunn, “Our entire pitching staff returns,” including 42 wins on the mound from a crew that led the Atlantic Sun with a 3.95 ERA. Sr. RHPs Lindsay Caughel (6-2, 4.88) and Tucker Donahue (3-3, 3.76 in 79 relief innings) were drafted and didn’t sign. Sr. RHP relievers Robbie Powell (5-3, 3.42, 8 SV) and Jake Boyd (9-1, 2.93, 6 SV) team with Donahue in a formidable ‘pen, while Jr. RHP Kurt Schluter (8-0, 1.40) returns healthy after missing the last six weeks of 2011. He was the A-Sun’s pitcher of the year anyway. If the Hatters’ pitching didn’t look so formidable, it would be easy to consider their infield the team’s strength. All four starters return, led by Sr. 3B Ben Carhart (.323/.369/.462) and Sr. SS Mark Jones (.333/.411/.481, 17 SB). Stetson must replace offensive leader C Nick Rickles, and Jr. Sam Kimmel, an unsigned 35th-round pick of the Reds out of Indian River (Fla.) JC, gets the first crack. He’s one of the team’s better runners and could hit in one of the top two spots in the order.

• After making a regional last year, Jacksonville may have the most talented team in head coach Terry Alexander’s 22 seasons. It starts with the conference’s best offense that hit .326 and averaged 8.5 runs per league game. OF Dan Gulbransen (.370/.491/.546, 12 SB) could be picked in the first five rounds, but 1B/OF Adam Brett Walker (.409/.486/.682, 14-14 SB) led the league in batting and total bases despite ranking fourth in strikeouts. He’s a potential first-rounder with his prodigious power. So. Taylor Ratliff (.330/.422/.398, 25 SB) sets the table and moves from third base to right field, where he and Sr. LF Jonathan Murphy (.312/.371/.431, 18 SB) team with Gulbransen for one of the nation’s top units. Murphy’s older brother David played at Jacksonville before playing for the Mets in the majors. So. RHP Chris Anderson (4-2, 3.91, 11 SV) adds DH duties to his fireman chores, and two freshmen RHPs from Wisconsin—home state of Gulbransen and Walker— figure to contribute heavily. Fr. Alex McRae will step into the weekend rotation while Nolan Peterson goes to the back of the bullpen with Anderson.

• Belmont rallied to win its first league tournament and earn a regional bid, then became the first team in school history to win an NCAA tournament game. Much of the power behind that club has moved on, but the Bruins won with pitching and defense last spring anyway. Closer Jon Ivie (15 SV) graduated, but ace Sr. RHP Matt Hamann (9-2, 2.81) and workhorse Jr. LHP Chase Brookshire (6-4, 3.33) return, as do three sound infield defenders, led by So. 3B Greg Brody (.315/.345/.521).

• Florida Gulf Coast took a step back last season after the loss of Chris Sale, and as its deep recruiting class took its lumps. The Eagles should be a year older and wiser this season and added a key veteran in fifth-year Sr. OF Ryan Gebhart, who hit .261 in 157 at-bats in three seasons at Missouri. A graduate student, Gebhart led the Jayhawk League in batting (.382) last summer and has above-average speed. He’ll step right into center field, helping push last year’s top newcomer, So. Sean Dwyer (.234/.332/.363), to first base. So. RHP Ricky Knapp (5-1, 5.06) moves into the Friday starter role.