2014 College Preview: Missouri Valley

BA breaks down the Missouri Valley Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

1. Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville
2. Casey Gillaspie, 1b, Wichita State
3. Sam Coonrod, rhp, Southern Illinois
4. Dan Savas, rhp, Illinois State
5. Max Murphy, of, Bradley
6. Cy Sneed, rhp, Dallas Baptist
7. Chase Simpson, 3b, Wichita State
8. Tyler Baker, c, Wichita State
9. Jeremy Rhoades, rhp, Illinois State
10. Paul Voelker, rhp, Dallas Baptist
1. Joseph Shaw, rhp, Dallas Baptist
2. Drew Smith, rhp, Dallas Baptist
3. Tate Matheny, of, Missouri State
4. Cory Taylor, rhp, Dallas Baptist
5. Brent Stong, lhp, Bradley

Missouri Valley Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Bradley (1955), Dallas Baptist (2014), Evansville (1994), Illinois State (1980), Indiana State (1976), Missouri State (1990), Southern Illinois (1974), Wichita State (1945). 

Checking out: None.

Conference Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 20-24 at Indiana State.

Team to Beat: Wichita State.

The Shockers won 39 games last year, finished a game out of first in the MVC standings and won the conference tournament, but it wasn't enough to save long-time coach Gene Stephenson's job. Former Arkansas assistant Todd Butler takes over the head job and inherits a veteran team with real offensive firepower. First-team preseason All-American Casey Gillaspie and Jr. 3B Chase Simpson are switch-hitters who both have real power from both sides of the plate. Jr. C Tyler Baker has good feel to hit from the left side, and Sr. OFs Micah Green and Garrett Bayliff are high-energy catalysts with good speed. The pitching staff is built around five talented righties who can run their fastballs into the low 90s. 

Player of the Year: Casey Gillaspie, 1b, Wichita State.During a standout summer in the Cape Cod League, the switch-hitting Gillaspie solidified his standing as one of the nation's premier sluggers.

Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Freeland, lhp, Evansville.Another Cape League all-star, the loose-framed Freeland can reach 94 and eats up lefties with a good slider; he looks ready to become a big star as a junior. 

Freshman of the Year: Sam Tewes, rhp, Wichita State.The top draft prospect in the state of Nebraska last year, Tewes has a projectable 6-foot-5 frame and feel for pitching with a fastball that reaches 91 and a good curve. 

Casey Gillaspie

Casey Gillaspie

Notable Storylines: Defending MVC regular-season champion Illinois State should be Wichita's strongest competition again this year thanks to a talented pitching staff bookended by Jr. RHPs Dan Savas (10-0, 1.79) and Jeremy Rhoades (2-1, 1.54, 6 SV). Savas, a Cape League all-star last year, has a durable 6-foot-5 frame, a fastball that reaches 93 and a swing-and-miss slider. Rhoades can reach 95 in relief and has a wipeout power curve. Veterans Mike Hollenbeck and Brock Stewart lead a depleted lineup that will count on a few juco transfers to plug holes . . . Dallas Baptist went 41-19 as a D-I independent that played a full MVC schedule in 2012, then spent last year in the Western Athletic Conference and struggled. Now DBU enters the Valley as a full member, and it has the pitching to compete. Jr. RHP Cy Sneed, a proven workhorse with feel for three solid pitches, has been the staff ace since the start of his college career, and Texas transfer Josh Urban gives the Patriots a second low-90s arm in the rotation. The bullpen has two big guns in So. RHP Joseph Shaw (who sits at 92-94) and Sr. RHP Paul Voelker (who touched 95-96 in the Northwoods League, where he ranked as the No. 4 prospect) . . . Indiana State also has a new coach this year, as former Sycamore Mitch Hannahs takes over for Rick Heller, who went to Iowa. Hannahs' son, Derek Hannahs, hit .309 in a part-time role last year to lead the team, and he is back as a fourth-year junior this spring. But departed ace Sean Manaea (a first-round pick) left big shoes to fill.