Missouri Valley Conference Preview

Camden Duzenack (Courtesy of Dallas Baptist) 

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

Members: Bradley, Dallas Baptist, Evansville, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State.

2017 Top 10 Prospects
1. Jake Burger, 3b, Missouri State
2. Seth Elledge, rhp, Dallas Baptist
3. Will Kincanon, rhp, Indiana State
4. Jordan Hand, of, Dallas Baptist
5. Dalton Higgins, rhp, Dallas Baptist
6. Gunner Troutwine, c, Wichita State
7. Matt Duce, c, Dallas Baptist
8. Austin Conway, rhp, Indiana State
9. Willie Schwanke, rhp, Wichita State
10. Michael Baird, rhp, Southern Illinois

Team to Beat: Dallas Baptist. A year after hosting its first-ever regional, Dan Heefner’s squad rolled through the MVC once again, winning the regular season and conference tournament titles en route to a No. 2 seed in the Lubbock Regional. The Patriots have appeared in three straight regionals—five in the last six years—and appear primed to reach a fourth straight. Though Dallas Baptist will miss the significant two-way contributions of Darick Hall, who hit 20 home runs and went 9-3, 3.43 as a weekend starter, and ace Colin Poche (9-1, 2.38), the Patriots return six position players with more than 100 at-bats and bring in several key newcomers. The Patriots should be especially strong up the middle, as they return sophomore center fielder Jameson Hannah (.332/.407/.456), four-year starting shortstop Camden Duzenack (.287/.348/.438) and junior catcher Matt Duce (.321/.417/.507). Junior college transfer Jordan Hand could help replace some of Hall’s missing pop in the batting order, while freshman righthander/third baseman Ray Gaither could provide a spark in two roles. The Patriots will have to shuffle their weekend rotation, although they’ll have options to turn to in returning sophomores Jordan Martinson and hard-throwing righthander M.D. Johnson. Much like the 2015 regional-host team, Dallas Baptist could be carried by its bullpen, which features power arms in junior closer Seth Elledge and fellow junior righthander Dalton Higgins.

Player of the Year: Jake Burger, 3b, Missouri State. A third-team All-American last season, Burger tied for second in the nation with 21 home runs and hit .349/.420/.689 while playing a solid third base for the Bears. He spent the summer playing for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and enters the spring as a first-team Preseason All-American. He is poised for another loud season.

Pitcher of the Year: Michael Baird, rhp, Southern Illinois. Last year, in his first full season starting, Baird went 9-4, 1.76 in 102 innings, leading the MVC in ERA, and the junior has the lowest ERA of any returning starter (minimum 85 innings) in the nation. Baird threw three complete games, including a shutout, and took a no-hitter into the ninth against Illinois. With his above-average control, feel for pitching and strong changeup, Baird is as steady as they come in the conference.

Freshman of the Year: Ray Gaither, rhp/3b, Dallas Baptist. No. 173 on the BA 500, Gaither has the chance to be a two-way threat in college. He can touch the mid-90s with his fastball, mixing in an effective breaking ball, and he has the athleticism and power to fit at third base.

Notable Storylines: Southern Illinois had the biggest turnaround of any team in the conference—and in fact any team in the country—last season, going from 12 to 31 wins. The Salukis should continue to build on last season’s success as they return all nine position starters and all three weekend starters, including Baird . . . A year after making a super regional, Missouri State went just 7-13 in conference play last season, missing its formidable one-two punch of Matt Hall and Jon Harris on the weekend. The Bears should be deeper on the mound this year, bringing in junior college transfers Doug Still and Anthony Herron—both of whom could see work as starters—and returning senior closer Bryan Young. Anchored by the powerful Burger at third, Missouri State returns its entire infield. The Bears won’t have Spencer Johnson, who led the country with 24 home runs last season, but they should still pack plenty of punch. Also worth noting: head coach Keith Guttin enters the season only 24 wins away from 1,200 . . . Wichita State went 21-37 last year in head coach Todd Butler’s third season at the helm. However, the Shockers should be healthier and more experienced than they were a year ago, after at times starting six or seven freshmen in the starting lineup. Senior righthander Willie Schwanke gives the Shockers a veteran presence on Fridays, while junior catcher Gunner Toutwine should provide leadership behind the plate and at the plate . . . With head coach Mitch Hannahs entering his fourth season at Indiana State, he could have his deepest team, especially on the mound. Junior college transfer righthander Will Kincanon can touch the mid-90s with sink and slides into the Friday role in the rotation, while senior Austin Conway will return from injury and brings power stuff in the back end of the rotation.

Tournament: Eight teams, double elimination, May 24-27, at Hammons Field at Springfield, Mo.

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