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2016 College Conference Preview: Big South

BA breaks down the Big South Conference, including our projections for player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.
Baseball members: Campbell, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, High Point, Liberty, Longwood, Presbyterian, Radford, UNC Asheville, Winthrop.
Team to Beat: Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers are one of the most experienced teams offensively in the country, with five seniors projected to be in their starting lineup. Senior center fielder Anthony Marks and junior shortstop Michael Paez, the team’s leading hitters last season, are among the returners. Coastal has some pop in its bats, but, as always, coach Gary Gilmore’s team will be active on the base paths to create runs. They aren’t as experienced on the mound, but the Chanticleers have some talented starters in righthanders Alex Cunningham and Jason Bilous. If they can stay healthy all season, an area Gilmore believes they’ve improved with the hiring of strength coach Nick White, the Chanticleers could have their best team since they reached super regionals in 2010.
Top 25 Team: (23) Coastal Carolina.
Other Projected Regional Teams: Winthrop. Like Coastal Carolina, Winthrop is a veteran team. The Eagles can run out a lineup with six players who have been in the program for at least four years and have improved their record every season. Leading hitter Brad Kaczka was the lone regular Winthrop lost from last year’s team, but it still returns four players who hit better than .300 in more than 160 at bats last season. On the mound, Winthrop is led by lefthander Matt Crohan, who spent the summer pitching for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. The Eagles will need to replace some key pieces in their bullpen, including closer Joey Strain (nine saves). Senior shortstop Kyle Edwards may fill that role, as he is expected to pull double-duty this year to take advantage of his strong arm. He throws his fastball 88-91 mph and mixes in a solid curveball.
Player of the Year: Michael Paez, ss, Coastal Carolina. Though a little undersized at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Paez is the best of Coastal Carolina’s prospects. He hit .326/.436/.526 with eight home runs and 19 stolen bases last year. Paez is a steady defender at shortstop and will be at the heart of the Chanticleers’ plans this season.
Pitcher of the Year: Matt Crohan, lhp, Winthrop. As a sophomore, Crohan went 7-4, 3.05 with 87 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings, and then impressed scouts while pitching for Team USA. Listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, Crohan throws his fastball in the low 90s and mixes in a quality changeup and slider. He has a chance to be Winthrop’s highest drafted pitcher since Kevin Slowey went in the second round in 2005.
Freshman of the Year: Jason Bilous, rhp, Coastal Carolina. Bilous missed his senior season at Caravel Academy (Bear, Del.) due to Tommy John surgery but was still drafted in the 29th round by the Dodgers. He decided to uphold his commitment to Coastal Carolina and will immediately step into the weekend rotation. He can get his fastball up to 96 mph and pairs it with a quality changeup, giving the Chanticleers’ staff an electric arm.
Notable Storylines: The Big South announced its conference tournament will be held at the Lexington County Baseball Stadium in South Carolina for the next three years. It is the first time in conference history that the tournament will be held at a true neutral site without a school serving as the host. The tournament championship game will also be broadcast live by ESPNU for the first time ... High Point hasn’t had a player drafted since 2013, when four Panthers were selected, but that should change this spring. High Point has an intriguing pair of prospects for scouts to watch. Big rIghthander Andre Scrubb (listed at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds) has a powerful fastball and went 6-1, 2.50 with 48 strikeouts in 54 innings while working out of the bullpen last year. Outfielder Josh Greene was the Panthers’ leading hitter in 2015, batting .355/.441/.532 with seven home runs and 13 stolen bases. He was drafted in the 39th round out of high school by the Cubs, and figures to go quite a bit higher than that in June ... Radford had a season for the ages last year, as it won a school-record 45 games, its first conference championship and finished as the runner-up in the Nashville Regional. The Highlanders lost nine players from that team, including six everyday position players, as well as ace Michael Boyle (10-3, 2.48) and closer Ryan Meisinger (5-0, 1.62 with a national-best 17 saves). Aside from Boyle and Meisinger, the Highlanders return their entire pitching staff, which posted a program-record 3.95 ERA last year. Radford will have a different look this year, but Big South coach of the year Joe Raccula has built a solid program at his alma mater and should again have a competitive team.
Tournament: Eight teams, May 24-28 in Lexington, S.C.


Big South Conference Preview

Winthrop has the talent to bounce back this spring

1. Matt Crohan, lhp, Winthrop
2. Andre Scrubb, rhp, High Point
3. Michael Paez, ss, Coastal Carolina
4. Josh Greene, of, High Point
5. Alex Cunningham, rhp, Coastal Carolina
6. Adam Hall, rhp, Coastal Carolina
7. Roger Gonzalez, c, Winthrop
9. G.K. Young, Coastal Carolina
9. Hayden Deal, lhp, Presbyterian
10. Austin Ross, rhp, Radford

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