NAIA Preview: Lewis-Clark Loaded For Repeat

In our small college preview, Baseball America looks at Division II, Division III, NAIA and junior colleges. Below is our NAIA preview.

1. Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State 52-8
2. Georgia Gwinnett 57-7
3. Bellevue (Neb.) 54-12
4. Tennessee Wesleyan 50-15
5. Lindsey Wilson (Ky.) 45-22
6. Science & Arts (Okla.) 48-13
7. Keiser (Fla.) 40-22
8. Faulkner (Neb.) 53-15
9. The Master’s (Calif.) 42-19
10. Missouri Baptist 45-15
2016 Champion: Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State
Player of the Year: Keivan Berges, of/rhp, Keiser (Fla.)
Pitcher of the Year: Brandon Guske, rhp, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.)


• If you’re predicting who will win the NAIA national title, you’re wise to pick Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State, since the Warriors have won seven of the 16 titles awarded this century. After Lewis-Clark “slipped” in Ed Cheff’s final two years and Gary Picone’s two years as head coach to fail to make the semifinals in four straight seasons, Jeremiah Robbins led the Warriors to back-to-back runner-up finishes in his first two years and is now coming off of back-to-back titles. What’s frightening for the rest of the NAIA field is that Lewis-Clark will bring back the vast majority of last year’s champs. L-C returns eight position player starters and eight pitchers who pitched significant innings last year. • This is the deepest pitching staff Keiser (Fla.) University has had in Jamie Kennedy’s decade as the school’s head coach. Led by RHP Ariel Burgos Garcia, a 32nd-round pick of the Padres last year who opted to return to school, Keiser has four quality righthanded starters. Burgos-Garcia will light up the radar gun with a 90-94 mph fastball, while Kyle Keatts baffles hitters with an excellent changeup. Danny Garmendia, a transfer from Eastern Florida, and Miguel Castellanos, a transfer from 2016 national champion Faulkner (Ala.) University, are also battling for spots in the weekend rotation. Castellanos was the closer for Faulkner last year so he is a very viable option in the bullpen if he doesn’t earn a starting job. The bullpen also has a trio of 90+ mph RHPs in Francisco Arias, Connor Morrison and Keivan Berges, as well as sidearming RHP Jeremy Graf. Berges is even better in the field as the outfielder finished fourth in NAIA in home runs (21) and total bases (180) and 10th in slugging percentage (.776). • Faulkner (Ala.) lost 13 seniors from last year’s team, so it needed a talent infusion, which is has pulled off with a strong class of junior transfers. Faulkner should be very deep, giving coach Patrick McCarthy an ability to mix and match to play to the players’ strengths and weaknesses. SS/3B Olivier Basabe and SS/2B Tramayne Holmes gives Faulkner plenty of athleticism up the middle while LHP Ivan Pelaez succeeds by locating three solid offerings. • SS/OF Tim Hergert (.360/.461/.517), SS Culver Plant (.387/.456/.582) and OF Angel Cruz (.363/.405/.487) should help Missouri Baptist score plenty of runs. The Spartans also have depth in the starting rotation with RHP Jared Crescentini (8-2, 3.46) and LHP Pat Boyle (5-0, 4.53), but Missouri Baptist coach Eddie Uschold will have to put together a bullpen that lacks a hard-throwing closer after having that luxury in recent years.

1. Rian Bassett, rhp, Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State
2. Gage Burland, rhp, Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State
3. Cameron Frost, of, Texas A&M University-Texarkana
4. Ariel Burgos-Garcia, rhp, Keiser (Fla.) University:
5. Riley Echols, rhp, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University
6. Keivan Burges, of/rhp, Keiser
7. Jordan Harris, of/rhp, Tabor (Kan.) College
8. Andy Mocahbee, c, Middle Georgia State
9. Justin Morhardt, c, Bryan (Tenn.)
10. Brandon Guske, rhp, Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University

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