BA breaks down the Atlantic Sun Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.
Atlantic Sun Conference
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS, 2014 DRAFT|
|1. Max Pentecost, c, Kennesaw State|
|2. Chad Sobotka, rhp, South Carolina-Upstate|
|3. Michael Suchy, of, Florida Gulf Coast|
|4. Alex McRae, rhp, Jacksonville|
|5. Chesny Young, 3b, Mercer|
|6. Jack English, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast|
|7. Drew Weeks, of, North Florida|
|8. David Trexler, rhp, North Florida|
|9. Clinton Freeman, of/lhp, E. Tennessee State|
|10. Zach Tillery, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast|
|TOP 5 PROSPECTS, 2015 DRAFT|
|1. Brad Labozzetta, rhp, Florida Gulf Coast|
|2. Donnie Dewees, of, North Florida|
|3. Patrick Mazeika, 1b, Stetson|
|4. Travis Bergen, lhp, Kennesaw State|
|5. Connor Marabell, 1b, Jacksonville|
Baseball Members (First Year): East Tennessee State (2006), Florida Gulf Coast (2008), Jacksonville (1999), Kennesaw State (2006), Lipscomb (2004), Mercer (1979), North Florida (2006), Northern Kentucky (2013) South Carolina-Upstate (2008), Stetson (1986).
Checking out: None.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 21-25 at Florida Gulf Coast.
Team to Beat: Mercer.
The Bears return seven regulars and all three weekend starters from a team that won a school-record 43 games and won the A-Sun regular-season title. Mercer ranked in the nation's top 10 last year in scoring, home runs and walks, and expect it to be very offensive again, led by Jr. 3B Chesny Young (who hit .401 last year, sixth in the nation) and the senior trio of Nick Backlund, Derrick Workman and Sasha LaGarde (who all hit better than .300 and combined for 29 home runs). The Bears also led the nation with a .982 fielding percentage, but they will rely upon a freshman—Matt Meeder—at shortstop. Sr. RHPs Brandon Barker and D.J. Johnson form a battle-tested one-two punch atop the rotation, while Jr. RHP Dimitri Kourtis is a nasty closer who varies his arm slots to keep hitters off balance.
Player of the Year: Max Pentecost, c, Kennesaw State. The Cape Cod League MVP after hitting .346/.424/.538 with six homers last summer, Pentecost is a gifted hitter with athleticism behind the plate.
Pitcher of the Year: Brandon Barker, rhp, Mercer. With advanced command of a lively 86-88 fastball and good feel for his slider and changeup, Barker is not overpowering, but he's tenacious.
Freshman of the Year: Bryan Baker, rhp, North Florida. Athletic and projectable at 6-foot-6, Baker sat at 88-92 and touched 94 this fall while also making strides with his developing secondary stuff.
Top 25 Teams: None.
Other Projected Regional Teams
North Florida: The Ospreys ranked seventh nationally in batting last year and should be potent offensively again. So. OF Donnie Dewees is a dynamic athlete with a fluid lefthanded swing, and UNF refers to So. SS Kyle Brook as an "action player" who helps make the offense go. The centerpieces of the lineup are Sr. 1B Kyle Roberson (who hits for average and some power) and Jr. OF Drew Weeks (a five-tool talent who ranks as UNF's top prospect). The pitching staff has plenty of arm strength, led by a pair of veterans. Sr. RHP Tyler Moore was injured in 2013 but returned to show 89-92 heat and a good slider this fall, making him the presumed ace. Sr. RHP David Trexler has also bounced back from injury to show power stuff: a 90-93 fastball that bumps 94 and a big-breaking 12-to-6 curve.
Notable Storylines: The A-Sun was very competitive last year, with the top four teams in the standings separated by three games. The league appears to have four or five legitimate regional contenders in 2014, led by Mercer and North Florida. Florida Gulf Coast lost numerous key pieces from a year ago but remains very talented, if less experienced. Jr. OF Michael Suchy, a standout in the Northwoods League last summer, should be the A-Sun's most fearsome power threat, and juco transfer Adam Eggnatz brings plus-plus speed to the top of the lineup. As usual, FGCU's pitching staff is loaded with arm strength, as RHPs Jack English, Zach Tillery and Brad Labozzetta have all flashed plus velocity. Labozzetta came back from Tommy John surgery and worked at 92-96 this fall . . . Kennesaw State has fallen in the A-Sun tournament title game each of the last two years, and its pitching staff has to replace four departed stalwarts. KSU's breakout arm this fall was So. LHP Travis Bergen, who spotted a high-80s to low-90s fastball. The Owls should be stellar up the middle, with a premium catcher in Pentecost and a fluid, instinctive shortstop in Kal Simmons . . . East Tennessee State made a 4-0 run through the conference tournament to reach its first regional since 1981 last year, and coach Tony Skole thinks this year's club might be the most talented in his 14 years at the school. Certainly, the Buccaneers have the A-Sun's most indispensable player in Sr. OF/LHP Clinton Freeman (.335/.398/.569, 10 HR, 57 RBI; 7-1, 3.04 off the mound), who will anchor the middle of the lineup and assume the Friday starter job after anchoring the bullpen last year. ETSU should have excellent team speed once again, led by outfielders Dylan Tritsch and Jeremy Taylor.