SEE ALSO: College Preview Index
Team to Beat: UNC Wilmington. On the strength of a 43-19 season, the Seahawks advanced to their second straight regional in 2016 and were a win away from advancing to a super regional, only to lose back-to-back games to host South Carolina. UNCW should be in position to repeat that success this year. The Seahawks lost outfielder Steven Linkous (.374/.456/.492), catcher Gavin Stupienski (.347/.444/.590) and hard-throwing righthander Jared Gesell (1-3, 4.18), but otherwise the team returns mostly intact with an experienced core. The Seahawks lineup should be a powerful one, led by junior catcher Nick Feight (.349/.410/.726, 21 HR, 91 RBI) and junior second baseman Brian Mims (.371/.443/.614, 14 homers), who were invited to USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team trials last summer. The addition of junior college transfer Mason Berne, who hit 22 home runs at Spartanburg (S.C.) Methodist JC last year, provides even more punch. There's less experience on the mound, but the Seahawks have intriguing options. Junior righthander Josh Roberson (0-1, 6.01) made strides in the fall and has the best stuff on the team, touching as high as 97 mph. He projects as the Sunday starter but has Friday upside. Sophomore righthander Alex Royalty (8-2, 4.71) will lead the rotation, and he works 90-93 mph with a three-pitch mix, and redshirt sophomore Logan Beehler (7-1, 5.00) should occupy the other role. The Seahawks do have experience in the back end of the bullpen, with junior Austin Magestro (5-3, 2.59) the likely closer. If the Seahawks can piece it together on the mound, they have a potent enough offense to make some noise.
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS|
|1. Nick Feight, c, UNC Wilmington|
|2. Josh Roberson, rhp UNC Wilmington|
|3. Bailey Ober, rhp, College of Charleston|
|4. Brian Mims, 2b, UNC Wilmington|
|5. Zach Evers, cf, Elon|
|6. Casey Golden, of, UNC Wilmington|
|7. Nick Raquet, lhp, William & Mary|
|8. Cullen Large, 2b, William & Mary|
|9. Adam Sisk, of, James Madison|
|10. Mason Berne, 1b, UNC Wilmington|
Player of the Year: Nick Feight, c, UNC Wilmington. Feight tied for second in the country with 21 home runs last year, fourth with a .726 slugging percentage and first with 91 RBIs. Though aided somewhat by playing in an offensive environment, Feight is a legitimate power threat and one of the scarier hitters in the country to pitch to. His defensive development behind the plate this year will likely decide how high he is drafted.
Pitcher of the Year: Bailey Ober, rhp, College of Charleston. After missing the 2015 season with Tommy John surgery, Ober returned last season and made 15 starts, going 7-4, 3.53. He battled some inconsistency and command issues early, but now another year removed from the surgery, Ober could be primed for a big year. The 6-foot-8 righthander pitches in the low-90s with downward angle and is one of the top pitching prospects in the league.
Freshman of the Year: George Kirby, rhp, Elon. Ranked No. 379 on last year's BA 500, Kirby is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound righthander whose fastball touched as high as 93 mph this fall and has a four-pitch mix at his disposal. He's projected to open the season as a weekend starter for Elon.
Notable Storylines: William & Mary beat UNCW twice in the CAA tournament last year to win the championship and advance to the Charlottesville Regional. The Tribe returns 24 lettermen, including powerful junior second baseman Cullen Large (.328/.406/.508), and adds a few key pieces that should help the team contend for another CAA title. Lefthander Nick Raquet, a transfer from North Carolina, pitches at 88-92 mph with a good changeup and projects to start on the weekend. Freshman righthander Jamie Sara was drafted in the 12th round by the Padres and pitches in the low-90s. Two-way freshman Michael Goldak is projected to start at first base and hit in the middle of the order . . . Elon went 25-29 last year and is looking to return to a regional for the first time since 2013. The Phoenix will have a chance to do so, as the team will combine veteran talent with a few high-upside newcomers. Junior college transfer Zach Evers should provide speed and power in center field, playing next to senior right fielder Kyle Jackson, who hit 12 home runs a year ago. Experienced senior lefthander Jordan Barrett (3-6, 5.83) will start on Fridays and pitches in the upper 80s, while Kirby could give the rotation a jolt with his power stuff . . . College of Charleston went 31-26-1 last year under first-year head coach Matt Heath. The Cougars lose leading power hitter Bradley Jones (.283/.385/.489, 11 homers) and rotation anchor Nathan Helvey (4-6,3.77), but the return of Ober, closer Carter Love (3-2, 2.87) and speedy table-setter Dupree Hart (.314/.443/.414) should keep the Cougars in the mix.
Tournament: Six teams, May 24-27, Wilmington, N.C.