Western Athletic Conference Preview
Team To Beat: Grand Canyon.
The time has finally come. After completing the transition period from Division II to Division I, the Lopes will be eligible for postseason play for the first time in 2018. Grand Canyon should be more than ready to compete for the WAC title, as the Lopes are coming off a league-best 20-4 WAC record from a year ago and did so with a young nucleus. While GCU will miss leading hitter Tom Lerouge and powerful outfielder Garrison Schwartz, the Lopes return three-hole hitter Ian Evans (.323/.407/.485, 5 HR) and leadoff hitter Austin Bull and have talented sophomores in Quin Cotton, the top-ranked prospect in the Alaska League last summer, and Kona Quiggle. Even more, GCU returns its entire weekend rotation, led by righthander Jake Wong (5-3, 4.00), who is coming off a strong summer in the Cape Cod League and ranks No. 138 in the Top 200 Draft Prospects list. That combination of pitching depth and returning offense puts Andy Stankiewicz’ club in good position heading into its first postseason-eligible season.
Player of the Year: Mason Fishback, C, New Mexico State.
Entering his senior season, the Aggies’ starting catcher has established himself as one of the WAC’s most fearsome hitters, hitting .365/.417/.564 last season with eight homers and 52 RBIs. Fishback has only gotten stronger and more polished defensively behind the plate. Playing in a ballpark that skews offensive, Fishback should be poised for another big year.
Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Bradish, RHP, New Mexico State.
The top prospect in the league—and No. 107 on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list—Bradish is coming off an all-star summer in the Cape Cod League. He went 8-2, 3.20 last season as a sophomore with 89 strikeouts in 84.1 innings. Bradish works 92-94 mph with angle and has improved his breaking ball. With the addition of 15-20 pounds of good weight, Bradish will be a pitcher to fear on Friday nights.
Freshman of the Year: Drew Sims, C, Utah Valley.
A catcher from Murrieta, Calif., Sims father, Mike, played professionally in the Marlins organization. Drew Sims is a polished, defensively sound catcher who projects to start right away for Utah Valley. His power is still developing, but Sims’ has solid bat speed and could contribute offensively, as well.
First-Year Coaches Steve Holm, Jordan Bischel On Different Paths To Success
Central Michigan's Jordan Bischel and Illinois State's Steve Holm share similarities as first-year head coaches but took different routes to reach this point.
With Grand Canyon ineligible for postseason play, New Mexico State was the top seed in least year’s conference tournament after going 19-5 in WAC play and should contend once again for the league crown. Head coach Brian Green enters his fourth year in Las Cruces and has seen his team blossom since bringing in a banner 35-man recruiting class two years ago. The Aggies should be offensively stout, led by Fishback and Tristan Carranza (16 HR) and bolstered by the addition of powerful first baseman Caleb Henderson. A pitching staff fronted by Bradish should be formidable, as well.
In a conference with several intriguing arms, Seattle could potentially have the WAC’s best pitching staff—if lefties Tarik Skubal and Nick Meservey are able to recover their form after missing last season due to Tommy John surgery. Skubal, despite missing all of last spring, was drafted in the 29th round by the D-backs and has impressed as he prepares to get back to game action this spring. He can run his fastball up to 97 mph, while Meservey works 90-94 mph.
Sacramento State is another top contender thanks to sophomore righthander Parker Brahms, who went 8-4, 3.13 as a freshman and boasts excellent control and feel for his offspeed pitches. Along with Bradish, Skuball, Meservey and Wong, Brahms is a pitcher of the year hopeful.
After going 26-28 (7-17 WAC) last season, Texas-Rio Grande Valley hired West Virginia recruiting coordinator Derek Matlock as its new head coach. Matlock—also West Virginia’s pitching coach—helped lead the Mountaineers to their first regional in 21 years in 2017 and will look to turn around a UTRGV team that tied for last in the WAC last season.
Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination, May 23-27 at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa, Ariz.
Top 10 Prospects
1. Kyle Bradish, RHP, New Mexico State
2. Jake Wong, RHP, Grand Canyon
3. Tarik Skubal, LHP, Seattle
4. Nick Meservey, LHP, Seattle
5. Mason Fishback, C, New Mexico State
6. Justin Dehn, RHP, New Mexico State
7. Alex Reyes, RHP New Mexico State
8. Trevor Peterson, OF, Utah Valley
9. Ian Evans, 1B, Grand Canyon
10. Tristan Carranza, OF, New Mexico State