Atlantic Sun Conference Preview

Michael Gigliotti 

Members: Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, New Jersey Tech, North Florida, Stetson, South Carolina-Upstate.

Tournament: Six teams, May 24-27 at Melching Field, DeLand, Fla.

Team to Beat: Lipscomb. The Bison finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2015, their best finish since joining the league in 2004. Now, Lipscomb has a chance to win its first-ever Atlantic Sun regular-season title to go with a pair of conference tournament championships. Outfielder Michael Gigliotti and righthanders Jeffrey Passantino and Brady Puckett had breakout summers in the Cape Cod League, where they earned all-star honors, and return to school ready for big junior seasons. The Bison are more than just their trio of summer stars, however. Righthander Denton Norman is healthy again after missing last season as he recovered from surgery and will round out the rotation. Junior second baseman Lee Solomon (.370/.471/.498, 25 SB) was the team’s leading hitter last season and pairs well with Gigliotti at the top of the lineup. With experience and star power at several spots on the diamond, the Bison are well positioned for an exciting 2017.

Player of the Year: Michael Gigliotti, of, Lipscomb. Coming off his outstanding summer on the Cape where he hit .310/.404/.426 with 11 stolen bases, Gigliotti was voted a first-team All-American by MLB scouting directors. His game is built around his plus speed and he profiles well at the top of the lineup, though he can also drive balls. He is an above-average defender in the outfield.

Pitcher of the Year: Michael Baumann, rhp, Jacksonville. The conference’s freshman and pitcher of the year in 2015, Baumann has all the makings of being the best pitcher in the league again. His fastball reaches 96 mph and he mixes in a changeup, curveball and slider. He struggled with his control last year but appeared to find a mechanical solution late in the summer on the Cape. If Baumann can consistently harness his stuff, he’ll be tough to beat and will see his draft stock rise.

2017 Top Draft Prospects
1. Michael Gigliotti, of, Lipscomb
2. Michael Baumann, rhp, Jacksonville
3. Brady Puckett, rhp, Lipscomb
4. Tony Dibrell, rhp, Kennesaw State
5. Eli Lovell, of, Florida Gulf Coast
6. Lee Solomon, 2b, Lipscomb
7. A.J. Moore, rhp, Kennesaw State
8. Chris Erwin, lhp, Kennesaw State
9. Jeffrey Passantino, rhp, Lipscomb
10. Austin Hale, c, Stetson

Freshman of the Year: Marc Coffers, c/of, Florida Gulf Coast. After an exemplary prep career at Collier High in Naples, Fla., Coffers chose to stay close to home for college and brings impressive athleticism and offensive upside to the Eagles’ lineup. He will likely catch for FGCU, but his athleticism, plus speed and strong arm give him the tools to play the outfield as well. Coffers figures to be an impact hitter regardless of his defensive position. He has an advanced approach at the plate and uses the whole field to hit.

Top 25 Teams: None.

Notable Storylines: Longtime Stetson coach Pete Dunn was slated to retire following this season, but that time table was moved up after offseason knee replacement surgery. In December, after 37 seasons, he stepped down as head coach. Shortly after Dunn’s retirement, Steve Trimper was hired from Maine to be the Hatters’ new head coach. Stetson made a surprising run to win the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed last year, but will have a new look on the field as well as in the dugout. Ace Mitchell Jordan and closer Walker Sheller were both drafted in the top 10 rounds, leaving junior righthander Brooks Wilson (5-6, 2.90) as the Hatters’ most experienced pitcher. Sophomore outfielder Kirk Sidwell (.308/.316/.379, 1 HR) leads the returning hitters. . . . Kennesaw State last year pulled out of an early-season funk just in time for the start of conference play and won the regular season title, its first since moving to Division I in 2006. The Owls return 26 players from that team, including junior first baseman Austin Upshaw, the team’s leading hitter (.344/.411/.517, 7 HR). On the pitching staff, Kennesaw State gets its starting rotation of senior lefthander Chris Erwin, senior righthander Gabe Friese and junior righthander A.J. Morris back, as well as junior righthander Tony Dibrell, the best prospect of the group. The Owls have been one of the conference’s top programs in recent years, including a trip to super regionals in 2014, and should challenge Lipscomb at the top of the standings. . . . Jacksonville elevated Chris Hayes from assistant head coach to head coach, replacing Tim Montez. The Dolphins went 33-22 and finished third in the conference last season and figure to be in contention again even after losing their top three hitters. Jacksonville will rely more heavily on its pitching staff this season with Baumann leading the way. He is joined in the rotation by senior righthander Nathan Disch (5-4, 3.74) and sophomore righthander Chris Gau (0-2, 5.75). Freshman righthander Mark Potter (No. 357 on the BA 500) will get important innings and his stuff gives him a chance to push for a spot in the rotation. Sophomore closer/catcher Mark Cassala (12 SV, 3.52 ERA) also returns, giving the Dolphins a good mix on the mound. Cassala is also expected to shoulder a bigger load behind the plate after mostly serving as a backup last season.

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