2014 College Preview: Southland

1. Jose Trevino, 3b/c, Oral Roberts
2. Tyler Eppler, rhp, Sam Houston State
3. Guillermo Trujillo, rhp, Oral Roberts
4. Michael Clemens, rhp, Mcneese State
5. Andro Cutura, rhp, Southeastern Louisiana
6. Andrew Godail, lhp, Sam Houston State
7. Hayden Simerly, of, Sam Houston State
8. Sam Bumpers, ss, Lamar
9. Ryan O'Hearn, 1b, Sam Houston State
10. Sam Roberson, c, Southeastern Louisiana
1. Logan Boyd, lhp, Sam Houston State
2. Jameson Fisher, 1b/c, SE Louisiana
3. Tate Scioneaux, rhp, SE Louisiana
4. Nick Heath, of, Northwestern State
5. Bryce Kingsley, rhp, McNeese State

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

Southland Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Abilene Christian (2014–Transitioning), Central Arkansas (2007), Houston Baptist (2014), Incarnate Word (2014–Transitioning), Lamar (1999), McNeese State (1973), New Orleans (2014), Nicholls State (1992), Northwestern State (1988), Oral Roberts (2013), Sam Houston State (1988), Southeastern Louisiana (1998), Stephen F. Austin State (2006), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (2007). 

Checking out: None.

Conference Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 21-24 at Central Arkansas.

Team to Beat: Sam Houston State.

Coach David Pierce has led the Bearkats to regionals in each of his first two seasons at the helm, and this might be his best team yet, with experience all over the roster. Sr. C Anthony Azar (.303/.371/.491, 6 HR) is a good all-around player who leads a lineup that has a nice blend of power and speed. Jr. CF Colt Atwood is an accomplished table-setter, while corner outfielders Luke Plucheck and Hayden Simerly provide power, and corner infielders Ryan O'Hearn and Carter Burgess are breakout candidates. With last year's top two starting pitchers gone, Tyler Eppler moves into the Friday spot, and he's followed by two lefties who can reach 92 mph and have quality breaking balls in Andrew Godail and Logan Boyd. Senior sinkerballer Jason Simms leads a veteran bullpen. 

Player of the Year: Jose Trevino, 3b/c, Oral Roberts.

After hitting .317 with 13 homers and playing for Team USA in 2012, nagging injuries caused Trevino to slump last year, but he's healthy now and ready to mash.

Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Eppler, rhp, Sam Houston State.

Eppler earned some big wins against SHSU's stiff midweek competition last year, but he has Friday night stuff: an 88-93 fastball, mid-80s slider and good change. 

Freshman of the Year: Cole Stapler, rhp/1b, Nicholls State.

The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Stapler (No. 469 in the BA 500 last year) has power in his righthanded swing, but he can reach 92 off the mound and projects for more. 

Luke Plucheck

Luke Plucheck

Notable Storylines: After eight seasons as Southeastern Louisiana's coach, Jay Artigues became the school's athletics director in October, and Matt Riser was promoted from assistant to the head job. He believes this is Southeastern's most talented team in his seven years there, highlighted by a deep, experienced pitching staff. Friday starter Andro Cutura is coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, and his 89-94 sinker, 80-84 cutter and quality change should allow him to thrive atop the rotation. No. 2 starter Tate Scioneaux is a competitor with good life on his 88-91 fastball, giving the Lions a nice one-two pitching punch . . . Oral Roberts should also factor into the Southland race if a trio of power arms can stay healthy and perform up to expectations. Seniors Curt Giller and Gavin Glands both had encouraging falls, running their fastballs up to 93, and So. RHP Guillermo Trujillo works at 90-94 and flashes a plus changeup. The team's strength should be its offense, led by the league's top prospect, Trevino . . . Two new Division I programs begin their transitions into the Southland this year: Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian, both located in Texas. Houston Baptist and New Orleans (which went 7-44 last year) also join the league. If those teams struggle, it could drag the conference's RPI down, ensuring the Southland is a one-bid league this year after it sent two teams to regionals last year (tournament champion Central Arkansas and regular-season champ Sam Houston State). Incarnate Word's coaching staff features a couple of familiar names, as 17th-year head coach Danny Heep spent parts of 13 years years in the big leagues, and recruiting coordinator Russell Raley had a good four-year playing career at Oklahoma a decade ago . . . One of the offseason's most intriguing coaching developments was 72-year-old Ron Maestri's return to New Orleans, where he went to nine regionals from 1972-85, and the 1984 CWS. He served as UNO's director of athletics from 1979-2000.