2016 College Conference Preview: Atlantic Sun

BA breaks down the Atlantic Sun Conference, including our projections for player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

Members: Florida Gulf Coast (2008), Jacksonville (1999), Kennesaw State (2006), Lipscomb (2004), New Jersey Tech (2016), North Florida (2006), Stetson (1986), South Carolina-Upstate (2008).
Checking out: Northern Kentucky (moved to the Horizon League)
Tournament: Eight teams, double-elimination. May 25-29 at Dugan Field, Nashville
Team to Beat: Florida Gulf Coast: Led by its veteran lineup, Florida Gulf Coast enters the 2016 season with designs on its fifth regular-season title in nine years in the league. Second baseman Jake Noll and designated hitter Nick Rivera lead the returners and form a solid combination in the middle of the Eagles lineup. Rivera was drafted by the Astros in the 38th round but is back for his senior season after hitting .347/.458/.608 with 10 home runs last year. Redshirt senior Brady Anderson will give up hitting to focus on pitching after pulling double-duty the last two seasons. If FGCU’s younger pitchers can step up behind the righthander, coach Dave Tollett’s team should be positioned for another strong season.
Player of the Year: Jake Noll, 2b, Florida Gulf Coast: Following his 2014 conference freshman of the year campaign, Noll hit .348/.406/.423 with three home runs and 15 stolen bases last spring. He continued to hit during the summer in the Cape Cod League, and now enters the season with as strong a track record as anyone in the conference. Noll is a patient hitter, adept at putting the bat on the ball, but will need to prove himself to big league scouts in the field.
Pitcher of the Year: Mitchell Jordan, rhp, Stetson: Jordan had a historic summer on Cape Cod, going 6-0, 0.21 to match Eric Milton’s ERA record set in 1996. Jordan doesn’t overpower hitters, instead relying on his command and feel for pitching to get outs. As long as he keeps throwing strikes, he gives the Hatters a reliable ace at the front of their rotation.
Freshman of the Year: Von Watson, of, Lipscomb: Drafted in the 29th round by the Phillies last June, Watson brings a powerful bat to the Bisons lineup. Listed at 6-foot-2, 208 pounds, he is a prototypical corner outfielder who will quickly make his impact felt if he is able to adjust to college pitching.
Notable Storylines: The conference has a slightly new look this year, as New Jersey Tech enters and Northern Kentucky leaves for the Horizon League. Northern Kentucky finished in seventh place in the league last year, going 5-16 with a 17-34 overall mark. New Jersey Tech went 24-23-1 as an independent in 2015, and will be in a conference for the first time since the Great West Conference folded after the 2013 season … Jacksonville righthander Michael Baumann was named a Freshman All-American and won both conference freshman and pitcher of the year awards last season after going 7-1, 2.24. He became the first freshman to win pitcher of the year. The Minnesota native will again be counted on to lead the Dolphins rotation … North Florida, last year’s regular-season champions, lost All-American outfielder Donnie Dewees, who was drafted in the second round by the Cubs last June. He hit .422/.483/.749 with 18 home runs and 23 stolen bases, leading the nation in slugging percentage and ranking second in hitting. Dewees’ departure leaves a significant hole in the lineup, but the Ospreys should still be among the best teams in the league. DH/RHP Corbin Olmstead was an All-American last year as a two-way player and returns for his senior year, and provides a physical presence both in the lineup and the back of the bullpen.
1. Mitchell Jordan, rhp, Stetson
2. Jake Noll, 2b, FGCU
3. Austin Hays, of, Jacksonville
4. Vance Vizcaino, of, Stetson
5. Chris Erwin, of/lhp, Kennesaw State
6. Bryan Baker, rhp, rhp, North Florida
7. Nick Rivera, 1b, FGCU
8. Corbin Olmstead, rhp/dh, North Florida
9. Gabe Friese, rhp, Kennesaw State
10. Chris Thibideau, of, North Florida

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