Western Athletic Conference Preview

Sean Sutton (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

SEE ALSO: College Preview Index

Members: Cal State Bakersfield, Chicago State, Grand Canyon, New Mexico State, Northern Colorado, Sacramento State, Seattle, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Utah Valley.

2017 Top 10 Prospects
1. Tarik Skubal, lhp, Seattle
2. Nick Meservey, lhp, Seattle
3. Marcel Renteria, rhp, New Mexico State
4. Tom Lerouge, of, Grand Canyon
5. Janson Junk, rhp, Seattle
6. Caleb Henderson, 1b, New Mexico State
7. Garrison Schwartz, of, Grand Canyon
8. Marcus Still, of, New Mexico State
9. Sean Sutton, 1b, Seattle
10. Justin Dillon, rhp, Sacramento

Team to Beat: Seattle. The Redhawks set a program record with 37 wins last year, won the regular-season WAC title and advanced to the WAC Tournament championship game, but they were unable to finish the job, falling to Utah Valley and missing out on a regional berth. The Redhawks are still eyeing their first NCAA tournament appearance, and they could have their best chance to make it this season. Pitching is Seattle’s strength, with a rotation fronted by hard-throwing junior lefthander Nick Meservey (7-2, 2.32) and featuring experienced junior righthander Janson Junk (6-4, 4.21) and promising 6-foot-6 lefty freshman Nathan Bonck. Seattle’s literal ace in the hole is junior lefthander Tarik Skubal, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery and likely won’t be available until April. When healthy, Skubal features power stuff, working from 90-95 mph, and is the top prospect in the conference. Offensively, the Redhawks will have to find a way to replace the contributions of third baseman Brock Carpenter, catcher Michael McCann and second baseman Sheldon Stober—three of the team’s leading hitters and sources of power. They’ll likely lean heavily on junior first baseman Sean Sutton (.337/.450/.439), senior shortstop Griffin Andreychuk (.293/.397/.386) and sophomore outfielder Max Modeste, who hit four homers in 79 at-bats last season.

Player of the Year: Sean Sutton, 1b, Seattle. Coming off a first-team all-conference season in which he batted .337/.450/.439, Sutton will look to improve on that as a junior. He shows good feel for the zone—41 walks to 25 strikeouts last year—and the knack for making consistent contact, while also playing a smooth first base.

Pitcher of the Year: Nick Meservey, lhp, Seattle. The reigning WAC pitcher of the year, Meservey went 7-2, 2.32 last year with 79 strikeouts to 43 walks in 81.1 innings. The physical 6-foot-5 lefthander works 90-92 mph, touching 95 and mixes in a breaking ball and changeup. Rotation-mate Tarik Skubal’s stuff is a tick better, but he likely won’t be cleared to pitch until late in the season.

Freshman of the Year: Quin Cotton, of, Grand Canyon. Drafted by the Rockies in the 38th round, Cotton honored his commitment to Grand Canyon. An athletic outfielder with a quick bat, Cotton figures to see time around the outfield and as a DH for the Lopes.

Notable Storylines: Grand Canyon has a young team and a difficult non-conference slate, featuring matchups against Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Arizona and more. But that combination could be a fruitful one for the Lopes, as they look to condition themselves for 2018—the first season they’ll be eligible for regionals as they continue the transition to Division I . . . After bringing in a whopping 35-man recruiting class, second-year New Mexico State head coach Brian Green led the Aggies to the best year-to-year win improvement in the country, winning 23 more games in 2016 than 2015 and going 34-23 (20-7 WAC). The Aggies will miss fifth-round pick Daniel Johnson’s (.382/.432/.630, 12 home runs) dynamic combination of speed and power. But New Mexico State does retain most of last year’s team, and with an influx of talented junior college transfers, such as first baseman Caleb Henderson, the Aggies should compete with Seattle for the conference title . . . After winning the WAC tournament and the conference’s automatic bid last season, Utah Valley will have to rebuild in 2017. The Wolverines lost several key pieces, including hard-throwing righthander Danny Beddes’ 102.2 innings, outfielders Craig Brinkerhoff and Mark Krueger’s combined 18 home runs. Utah Valley will trot out a young lineup but does have some experience in its rotation in the form of junior lefthander Jackson Cofer (6-5, 3.79), junior righthander Jake Mayer (8-2, 4.27) and senior lefthander Patrick Wolfe (2-3, 5.57) . . . The WAC is down one member as North Dakota eliminated its baseball and men’s golf programs after last season due to forecasted state revenue shortfalls, conference core sport sponsorship requirements and Title IX compliance. North Dakota’s first baseball season was in 1889 and it had continuously existed since 1956, moving up to Division I in 2009.

Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination, May 24-28 at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz.

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