2012 Patriot League Preview

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

Conference Overall
*Navy 12 8 33 25
Army 11 9 22 26
Bucknell 10 10 25 28
Holy Cross 9 11 24 23
Lehigh 8 12 24 21
Lafayette 10 10 18 30
Projected NCAA Teams (1): Navy.
Conference Schedule: 20 games, begins March 31.
Conference Tournament: Four teams, May 12-13/May 19-20 at higher seeds.
Player of the Year: Alex Azor, of, Navy.
Pitcher of the Year: Ryan Ebner, lhp, Bucknell.

1. Mike Ahmed, 3b/rhp, Holy Cross (2013)
2. Taylor Runge, rhp, Bucknell
3. Alex Azor, of, Navy
4. Ben Nelson, rhp, Navy
5. Ryan Ebner, lhp, Bucknell

1. Chris Cannon, c, Navy (HS—Queens, N.Y.)
2. Carter Bumgardner, 2b/ss, Bucknell (Tr.—Broward, Fla., JC)
3. Justin Paccioli, c, Lehigh (HS—Easton, Pa.)

• Navy lost several key contributors from last year’s conference championship team, but the Midshipmen remain a slight favorite over Army and Bucknell to win the conference title again. Freshmen will be counted on at a couple of spots, including C Chris Cannon, but Navy brings back seven position players who were starting at the end of the season, led by Sr. OF Alex Azor, who is a strong defender and led the team in batting last season at .329/.407/.402. The pitching staff has led experience but has a solid anchor in RHP Ben Nelson, who enters his third season as Navy’s ace. He led the team with 92 IP last year and was MVP of the Patriot League tournament, though he needs to sharpen his command to cut down his 4.91 ERA. A key will be two pitchers who are returning from injury, RHPs Johnny Schoberi and Zach Sipe.
• The conference’s top prospect is Holy Cross two-way player Mike Ahmed, a sophomore who will be eligible for the 2013 draft. Ahmed’s brother Nick is a shortstop who was a second-round pick of the Braves last June out of Connecticut, and Mike ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League last summer even though he was still recovering from a torn ACL. He may rate as a better pro prospect on the mound, with an 89-91 mph fastball and swing-and-miss slider, but Holy Cross is counting on him at third base, where he obviously offers a strong arm but will need to get better at the plate. The Crusaders are optimistic about their chances to move up in the conference and they have experience all over the diamond—including Sr. LHP Nate Koneski fronting the rotation and the school’s single-season saves leader, John Colella, at closer. Ahmed will probably work in as a bullpen contributor.
• In the tightly bunched Patriot standings, just four games separated the top from the bottom last year, so a season can turn on one or two players. Bucknell hopes RHP Taylor Runge will make the difference this season, as he’s a projectable 6-foot-7 starter who is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. He’ll be the team’s No. 2 starter, behind defending conference pitcher of the year Ryan Ebner (6-1, 3.53).