Team to Beat: Canisius.
Yes, Canisius lost 2017 conference player of the year Jake Lumley (.355/.436/.461) to the draft, but the Golden Griffins should still roll out one of the league’s best offenses with dangerous hitters throughout the order including senior third baseman Liam Wilson (.343/.422/.505), senior first baseman Ryan Stekl (.333/.422/.490), senior catcher Christ Conley (.299/.468/.420) and junior outfielder Mark McKenna (.328/.407/.418). In total, Canisius will return 29 lettermen from a 2017 team that finished one game behind first-place Fairfield with a 16-8 conference record and the best overall record (35-22) in the league. There’s plenty of experience returning on the mound as well with junior righthander Andrew Sipowicz (6-3, 3.48) slated for Friday night games and senior lefthander J.P. Stevenson (9-5, 3.65) projected to go on Saturdays. Senior righthander Tyler Smith (3-0, 0.30) is back to close out games with a low-90s fastball that helped him strikeout 43 batters in 29.2 innings in relief. Canisius should be solid in every facet of the game in 2018, led by a fearsome offense.
Player of the Year: Joe Drpich, 1B, Siena.
Drpich is coming off of a stellar 2017 junior season, in which he hit .346/.411/.577 and led the conference in slugging percentage, was fifth in batting average, tied for second in RBIs (46) and second in home runs (10). Drpich has an OPS of .895 or better in every season with Siena and is a career .317/.394/.565 hitter who has averaged more than eight home runs per year.
Pitcher of the Year: John Signore, RHP, Fairfield.
Signore (7-2, 3.26) was easily Fairfield’s top pitcher during the latter half of the 2017 season, leading the team with a 2.94 conference ERA and going 6-0 in his final 10 starts of the season. He led the MAAC in WHIP (1.05) and was fifth in wins (7) and opposing batting average (.227). Additionally, Signore excelled during the summer where he posted a 3.60 ERA in five innings with the New England Collegiate League and a 1.80 ERA in five innings with the Cape Cod League. Between both summer leagues, Signore struck out 12 batters and walked just three.
Freshman of the Year: Brendan Conley, CF, Siena.
Conley is a 5-foot-7, 175-pound outfielder from Worcester (Mass.) Academy who is projected to start in center field for the Saints during his first season. A speedy defender, Conley also has the versatility to help out in the infield if needed and has the talent to contribute quickly with the bat as well. Conley led Worcester to the Central New England Prep School Baseball League championship during his senior season.
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The four-time winner of the award for the top name in college baseball, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s Itchy Burts, graduated at the end of last season, leaving a void at the top of this list.
Fairfield has won the MAAC regular-season title in each of the last two years and has become something of a conference power under the leadership of coach Bill Currier, who will enter the 2018 season in his seventh year in charge of the program. In addition to the conference titles in each of the last two seasons, the Stags won the tournament championship in 2016 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. Fairfield has a lot to replace from a team that led the conference in hitting (.289) and ERA (3.78) in 2017, but Currier has shown he has what it takes to bring the program to the top of the conference. 2018 will give a good indication of the real staying power that Fairfield has.
After losing the team’s strikeout leaders to graduation (RHP Sean Keenan) and the draft (RHP Scott Boches, Mariners 30th round) Marist will need to replace a lot on the mound in 2018. Keenan (6-1, 3.24) and Boches (6-5, 2.72) helped lead the team to a 32-23 overall record and the top RPI rank in the league (112) as well as an appearance in the Gainesville Regional as the No. 4 seed. Senior lefthanders Charlie Jerla (9-2, 4.08) and Tony Romanelli (2-2, 3.24, 9 SV) will be key to the staff this season. The Red Foxes also welcome back redshirt sophomore Tyler Kapuscinski (.335/.440/.410), their leading hitter, and junior outfielder Frankie Gregoire (.297/.394/.479, 9 HR), their leading power threat. That core should keep coach Chris Tracz’s team in contention this spring.
While Canisius is overflowing with experience on the field, the leader in the dugout will be experiencing his first season at the helm, as Matt Mazurek was promoted to head coach on Sept. 6, 2017. Mazurek will replace former head coach Mike McRae, who left to be an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth. While he will be experiencing his first ever season as a head coach, Mazurek is no stranger to the program, having served as an assistant for the last 12 years, including the hitting coach for the last eight. Mazurek played for the Golden Griffins for two years, hitting .355 overall with the team and was named the 2006 Canisius male athlete of the year.
Tournament: Six teams, double elimination, May 23-27 at Richmond County Bank Ballpark in Staten Island, N.Y.
Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Fabian Pena, C, Manhattan
2. Tyler Smith, RHP, Canisius
3. Joe Drpich, 1B, Siena
4. Charlie Sobieraski, RHP, Canisius
5. Charlie Jerla, LHP, Marist
6. Marcos Campos, SS, Siena
7. John Signor, RHP, Fairfield
8. Jordan McCrum, RHP, Monmouth
9. Ryan Stekl, 1B/3B, Canisius
10. Joe Jacques, LHP, Manhattan