America East Conference Preview

Brendan Skidmore (Courtesy of Binghamton)
SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

Members: Albany, Binghamton, Hartford, Maine, Massachusetts-Lowell, Maryland-Baltimore Country, Stony Brook.

Team to Beat: Binghamton. The Bearcats rolled through the America East last season, winning all but one conference series and sweeping the conference tournament as they claimed their third championship in four years. Binghamton returns 26 lettermen from that team, which will again rely on its offense (second in the conference with 6.3 runs per game) and clean defense (.979 fielding percentage, ninth best in the country). Returning to lead the lineup again this year are junior center fielder C.J. Krowiak (.314/.366/.368, 16 SB), senior catcher Eddie Posavec (.319/.403/.432) and senior first baseman Brendan Skidmore (.307/.381/.516, 9 HR). They are joined by redshirt sophomore third baseman Justin Yurchak, who sat out last season after transferring from Wake Forest. Yurchak, a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s 2015 all-freshman team, spent the summer in the Cape Cod League, where he earned all-star honors. Binghamton wasn’t overpowering on the mound last season, but got the job done. Redshirt senior Jake Cryts (7-4, 5.22) and redshirt junior Jake Wloczewski (4-0, 3.06) will lead the rotation, which should again benefit from a solid defense.

2017 Top 10 Prospects
1. Justin Yurchak, 3b, Binghamton
2. John Arel, rhp, Maine
3. Ben Bengston, ss, Hartford
4. David MacKinnon, 1b, Hartford
5. Toby Handley, of, Stony Brook
6. Justin Courtney, rhp, Maine
7. Jake Wloczewski, rhp, Binghamton
8. Brendan Skidmore, 1b, Binghamton
9. David Drouin, rhp, Hartford
10. J.T. Genovese, rhp, Albany

Player of the Year: David MacKinnon, 1b, Hartford. The reigning America East player of the year and batting champion is back for his senior year. MacKinnon (.392/.471/.544) is a disciplined hitter and has good bat-to-ball skills. He is also an excellent athlete, who has been a two-sport star at Hartford, also serving as the starting goalkeeper for the Hawks’ soccer team.

Pitcher of the Year: Bret Clarke, rhp, Stony Brook. Last year’s America East rookie of the year, Clarke’s 1.92 ERA in conference play was the best mark in the circuit. Clarke (6-2, 2.19) will move to the front of the Seawolves’ rotation this season. His athleticism and fastball-breaking ball combination make him tough to square up.

Freshman of the Year: Michael Wilson, 2b/of, Stony Brook. An unsigned 15th round pick of the Red Sox, Wilson brings speed and athleticism to the Seawolves lineup. He has a smooth lefthanded swing and can impact the game on the bases. He was drafted as a shortstop, but remains raw defensively. He’ll likely play second base this spring, with his speed giving him a chance to fit in the outfield as well.

Top 25 Teams: None.

Notable Storylines: Binghamton and Stony Brook have combined to win eight of the last nine conference titles, and the Seawolves will again challenge the Bearcats this spring. Despite losing starters Tyler Honahan and Chad Lee, Stony Brook should be strong on the mound led by Clarke. The Seawolves have depth in the bullpen as closer Teddy Rodliff (7 SV, 3.20 ERA) returns, and righthander Cameron Stone (14 career saves) is back healthy after missing most of last year due to injury. First baseman Casey Baker (.314/.392/.367) and outfielders Andruw Gazzola (.304/.368/.411) and Toby Handley (.288/.394/.377), the team’s top three hitters, all return, but Stony Brook could use some more offense after posting a team OPS of .707 last season. . . . While Binghamton and Stony Brook have been the conference’s top programs for the last decade, Hartford has made gains under head coach Justin Blood. Last season the Hawks finished in second place in the conference standings and went 37-18 overall, setting a program record for victories. From that team, 20 lettermen return including junior shortstop Ben Bengtson (.316/.385/.540) and third baseman T.J. Ward (.313/.378/.425), who joined MacKinnon in receiving first-team all-conference honors last year. The Hawks should also benefit from the development of sophomore outfielders Ashton Bardzell (.268/.373/.451) and Chris Sullivan (.317/.415/.423), who were both named to the conference’s all-rookie team last year. If Hartford can sort out its pitching staff after losing righthanders Kyle Gauthier and Brian Murphy, who tied with a team-high 75 innings last season, it should again be in the mix for the conference title. . . After Steve Trimper left Maine in December to become the head coach at Stetson, Nick Derba was named interim head coach for this season. Derba, who played for Trimper at Manhattan, is in his fourth season of coaching and was elevated to associate head coach last season. He is now tasked with turning the Bears around after going 20-35 last year, their third straight losing season. Maine will lean on its pitching staff, which returns all but one contributor from last year’s team. The Bears have one of the biggest rotations in the country, as starters John Arel, Justin Courtney and Chris Murphy are all listed at 6-foot-5 or taller.

Tournament: Six teams, May 24-27 at LeLacheur Park in Lowell, Mass.

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