2012 Mountain West Conference Preview

See also: Preseason Top 25 Capsules include a complete report on Texas Christian

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

Conf. Overall
Texas Christian (15) 20 3 43 19
*New Mexico 10 14 20 41
San Diego State 11 13 22 36
Nevada-Las Vegas 10 13 33 25
Air Force 4 20 19 36
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Texas Christian.
Conference Schedule: 24 games; begins March 16.
Conference Tournament: Four teams, May 24-27 at UNLV.
Player of the Year: Josh Elander, c, Texas Christian.
Pitcher of the Year: Andrew Mitchell, rhp, Texas Christian.
1. Josh Elander, c, TCU
2. Andrew Mitchell, rhp, TCU (2013)
3. Jason Coats, of, TCU
4. Jake McCasland, rhp, New Mexico (2013)
5. Kaleb Merck, rhp, TCU
6. Austin House, rhp, New Mexico
7. Cole Swanson, lhp, San Diego State (2013)
8. Kyle Von Tungeln, of, TCU
9. Sam Wolff, rhp, New Mexico
10. Brandon Bayardi, of, UNLV
1. Kevin Cron, 1b, TCU (HS—Phoenix)
2. Michael Cederoth, rhp, San Diego State (HS—Spring Valley, Calif.)
3. Steven Pallares, rhp/if, San Diego State (HS—Corona, Calif.)
4. Zak Qualls, lhp, UNLV (HS—Las Vegas)
5. Derek Odell, ss, TCU (HS—Canyon, Texas)
• The Mountain West Conference is in the midst of a dramatic facelift. The league will be down to five baseball-playing members this spring, as Utah and Brigham Young have bolted for the Pac-12 and WCC, respectively. League powerhouse TCU will exit for the Big 12 in 2013, and San Diego State will move to the Big West for baseball, but Fresno State and Nevada will defect from the WAC to the MWC, keeping the league at five teams for baseball. The league has a two-year grace period of being under the NCAA’s six-team minimum to keep its automatic bid, so expect more changes.

• New Mexico’s emergence over the last two years under coach Ray Birmingham has been one of college baseball’s great stories. The Lobos snapped a 48-year regionals drought by landing an at-large bid in 2010, then overcame a 3-15 start (against a brutal schedule) with a young club in 2011. New Mexico caught fire down the stretch, then beat TCU twice in the conference tournament en route to the automatic bid. The Lobos have a chance for a strong pitching staff if So. RHP Jake McCasland (2-6, 6.34) and Jr. RHP Austin House (1-2, 5.89) can build off their encouraging falls. The physical McCasland attacks hitters with a plus fastball and an improving curveball, while the loose-armed House shows solid command of a power sinker and solid slider and changeup. Jr. RHP Sam Wolff, who began his collegiate career as a high-profile recruit at San Diego but spent last year at Southern Nevada JC, gives this staff another hard thrower with lots of upside if he can firm up his breaking ball and fine-tune his command. The lineup returns five of its top six run producers, led by Sr. OF Luke Campbell (.301/.365/.448, 5 HR) and So. 1B/3B D.J. Peterson (.317/.377/.545, 6 HR, 48 RBI).

• San Diego State got a talent infusion from the nation’s No. 25 recruiting class. With 20 freshmen on the roster and as many as four expected to earn everyday jobs, the Aztecs will be inexperienced but exciting. Two-way talent Steven Pallares and hard-throwing RHP Michael Cederoth lead the newcomers and figure to make the biggest impacts. So. LHP Cole Swanson (4-2, 3.23) is the most polished pitcher on the staff and the rotation anchor. Jr. RHP Bryan Crabb (1-7, 8.40) saw his promising 2010 freshman year cut short when a line drive hit him in the head, but he showed flashes of regaining his form down the stretch last year, and the Aztecs hope he can hold down the closer job as a junior.

• UNLV and Air Force are both moving in the right direction under second-year coaches Tim Chambers and Mike Kazlausky, respectively. The Rebels topped the 30-win plateau in 2011 for the first time since 2005, while Air Force posted its highest wins total since 2002 and cut its staff ERA from 11.31 to 6.09. Jr. RHP Sean Carley has emerged as the leader of the staff—he reduced his ERA from 11.46 to 3.94 last year, earning all-conference honors. Carley is also the team’s top prospect, thanks to a 6-foot-4, 230-pound frame, an 88-92 mph fastball and three serviceable secondary pitches. UNLV, meanwhile, features seven upperclassmen in its everyday lineup, led by powerful Jr. OF Brandon Bayardi (.325/.429/.589, 10 HR, 51 RBI), who has 19 homers in two seasons. Sr. RHP Joe Robinson (5-7, 4.88) flashes a plus fastball but needs to refine his secondary stuff in order to anchor the young but talented pitching staff. Fr. LHP Zak Qualls and Fr. RHP Erick Fedde give the Rebels a pair of very intriguing arms to build around.