Division II Preview
1. Colorado Mesa
2. Tampa (Fla.)
3. St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.)
4. West Chester (Pa.)
5. Delta State
6. California Baptist
7. Nova Southeastern (Fla.)
8. Minnesota State
9. Southern New Hampshire
10. Mercyhurst (Pa.)
2017: West Chester
2016: Nova Southeastern
2014: Southern Indiana
2012: West Chester
2011: West Florida
2010: Southern Indiana
Colorado Mesa has made it to the College World Series in two of the past four seasons. The pitching staff gives them a chance to return once again as RHP Kyle Leahy (13-0, 1.41), RHP J.R. McDermott (9-1, 3.12), RHP Jake Mielock (3-2, 2.35), LHP Reagan Todd and LHP Chris Ramirez give the team enviable depth. SS Zach McLeod and OF Keenan Eaton should lead the lineup.
Tampa (Fla.) will be loaded as usual. Cheyne Bickel (7-4, 3.71) and David Lebron (7-1, 2.66), Darren Miller (.371-13-53) and Richie Rivera. The big addition is North Carolina transfer Cole Aker, who could quickly become the team’s ace if he can tame his control issues.
St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.) should once again be one of the best teams in the Northeast. The lineup is once again potent thanks to RF Giovanni Dingcong (.302/.402/.604). Dingcong hit 20 home runs last year. He has excellent power and solid athleticism in right field, although he also racks up strikeouts. Switch-hitting SS Joseph Pena (.375/.517/.575) has walked almost twice as many times as he’s struck out during his career. RHP Frank Moscatiello (9-2, 2.00) will be asked to anchor a pitching staff that has to develop a couple of new starters and key relievers.
West Chester (Pa.), the defending champs, should be among the title contenders again this season. 1B/DH Shane Dressler (.375/.455/.571) should be one of the best hitters in the country while senior Mike Cipolla (8-2, 1.70), the championship game winner last year, returns to the rotation.
Delta State (Miss.) brings back 1B Zack Shannon (.434/.498/.758) and OF Clay Casey (.333 with 17 home runs) to ensure pitchers will never be comfortable against them, but if the Statesmen are going to come close to matching last year’s 45 wins, they’ll have to develop some young pitchers around RHP Seth Birdsong (10-2, 3.02).
This will be Cal Baptist’s final season in Division II before moving to Division I. As usual, the Lancers have an impressive pitching staff led by RHP Justin Montgomery (2-0, 4.55 with 36 strikeouts in 27.2 innings last year) has three pitches including a 90-94 mph fastball and was a Cape Cod League all-star. RHP Logan Rhinehart, a sophomore, is just as talented.
This may be Nova Southeastern (Fla.)’s deepest team. The 2016 D-II champs have healthy competition in both the starting rotation (with RHP Devin Conn, RHP Derik Beauprez, RHP Brady Acker and RHP Ronny Orta) and in the bullpen (with RHP Joe Strzelecki, RHP Michael Gizzi and RHP Christian Demby). The Sharks don’t have nearly as much returning offensively, although C Jake Anchia (.326/.443/.719 with 17 home runs) and OF Andrew Liberty (.345/.445/.676) are back. Conn has a very lively low-90s fastball, Strzelecki has similar velocity with a quality slider and Acker has a low-90s fastball with a useable curve and changeup he mixes in.
Minnesota State returns one of the best pitching staffs in Division II as six of the Mavericks top eight pitchers return including RHP Dalton Roach (10-1, 1.56 in 2017). Roach was the D-II pitcher of the year in 2017, winning the Brett Tomko award. He’ll be joined by 2017 Northwoods League pitcher of the year LHP Aaron Rozek (4-0, 1.53) and RHP Nick Belzer (6-2, 3.58). The lineup should be fine as well, with eight starters back from last year’s 46-11 team, including 1B Dylan Dressel (.328 with 13 home runs) and OF Jordan Hart (.356 with 12 home runs).
Southern New Hampshire has plenty of experience and depth. OF John Stanton and OF Caleb Potter fit the Penmen’s approach, some pop with some strikeouts to go with it.. LHP Shane McDonald, RHP Andrew Lalonde and RHP Jake Walkinshaw top a large number of reliable arms.
Mercyhurst (Pa.) has one of the better pitching staffs in the country with some of the best pure velocity in Division II. RHP Chris Vallimont (8-1, 2.69), RHP Russell Lamovec (7-1, 2.83), LHP Matt Minnick (4-1, 2.35), RHP Andrew Ciolli (1-0, 5.40) and LHP Levi Wright gives the Lakers enough velocity to overwhelm many lineups. The lineup is much more up in the air, but C/OF Drew Delsignore (.396/.430/.689) does return.
Northwood (Mich.) University won its first conference title in school history last year. It may be hard to match last year’s 46-13 record, but some of the stars of the Timberwolves impressive run are back. OF David Vinsky hit .449 while leading Division II with 109 hits, making him the first freshman to lead the nation in hits in more than 40 years. Senior LHP Tyler Jandron (12-1, 2.37 with 102 strikeouts in 91 innings) has excellent movement and deception as he pitches off of a high-80s fastball.
Southern Indiana is bringing back much of last year’s team with eight lineup regulars returning. OF Drake McNamara (.367/.442/.595) and SS/3B Sam Griggs (.286/.335/.375) as well as solid C Logan Brown give the Eagles plenty of offense and defense. The pitching staff is a bigger question. RHP Kyle Griffin (6-3, 3.52) has plenty of talent and Austin Krizan (4-1, 2.85) showed improved velocity in fall ball. The Eagles need Devin Williams to make it back from Tommy John surgery and they need some young arms to step up to fill out the bullpen.
Lindenwood (Mo.) made its first NCAA Division II World Series appearance last season. Wes Degener (.408/.481/.520) and Drew Quinones (.387/.455/.461) give the Lions a stout lineup.
Dixie State (Utah) will have an impressive pitching staff, but the youth of its lineup, which will have to replace its entire outfield and its middle infield could hold them back. 1B Logan Porter, 3B Bryce Feist and C Jake Davidson are back from last year’s . The pitching staff will get a big boost from the return of LHP Aaron Pope.
Millersville (Pa.) is still young, but a lot of their young players played as freshman last year, so the team is now paradoxically young and experienced. The rotation returns RHP Eli Nabholz (7-2, 3.00), LHP Cordell Shannon (4-5, 4.68) and RHP Tyler Yankosky (4-2, 5.27) and closer RHP Mike Mock (4-1, 1.19) is back as well. OF Dominic Hardaway, a transfer from Boston College, is an athletic marvel as he has excellent raw power and runs well, but he’ll need to make strides at the plate after getting limited playing time with the Eagles.
Cal Poly Pomona is counting on a number of transfers to make immediate impacts. RHP Tim Holdgrafer, RHP Dylan Francis, LHP Austin Isenhart and RHP Brian Conley are all expected to step in and contribute immediately. 3B Patrick Vizcaino, another transfer, and freshman SS Drew Cowley have impressed with their gloves. 1B Nic Hernandez and C Cody Martin are among the best of the returnees.
Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) will be young this year, but some of those young players, like sophomore OF Micah Pries, are extremely talented. Transfers Wyatt Shackleford (Cal Poly Pomona), Tommy Paul (Oregon State), Connor Barrett (West Valley JC), and John Balliet (Orange Coast College) are all being counted on to pitch. Shackelford should be the team’s closer. He’s stood out since arriving with a low-90s fastball.
Lubbock Christian (Texas) has the pitching staff to keep games low scoring, which may be needed because the Chaparrals bring back only 1B Ryan Rogers from last year’s lineup. RHP Ricky Contreras (10-2, 2.67), RHP Daniel Crooks (9-2, 2.88) and LHP Ryan Johnson gives Lubbock a loaded rotation.
Central Missouri will rely on a lot of freshman and sophomores, but there is strength in numbers as there is the depth for the team to mix and match in the lineup. OF Justin Graff-Rowe (.412/.484/.604) and 1B Collin Nevil (.335/.379/.611) should ensure that the Mules continue to mash. RHP Zach Girrens (6-0, 2.42) will be expected to be the team’s ace.
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TOP 20 DRAFT PROSPECTS
1. Josiah Gray, RHP, Le Monye (N.Y.): Gray was a revelation in the Cape Cod League last summer as the two-way star focused on pitching and dominated with a mid-90s fastball and a potentially above-average slider. He’s athletic and throws plenty of strikes with a repeatable delivery. Gray struck out 22 in 14 innings with a microscopic 0.63 ERA last spring.
2. Justin Montgomery, RHP, Cal Baptist: The Lancers saw Garrett King go in the 11th round of last year’s draft. Montgomery, a three-pitch righthander with a 90-94 mph fastball who was impressive in the Cape Cod League, should be school’s next significant draftee.
3. Chris Vallimont, RHP, Mercyhurst: A 6-foot-6 righthander, Vallimont has an excellent low-to-mid-90s fastball and a hard curve that helped him rack up 88 strikeouts in 60 innings last
4. Cole Aker, RHP, Tampa: Aker transferred to Tampa after two seasons at North Carolina. The 6-foot-2 righthander has plenty of arm strength but he has to tame his control. He walked 30 in 46 innings at North Carolina and 21 in 23 innings in the Cape Cod League last summer.
5. Kyle Leahy, RHP, Colorado Mesa: A 6-foot-4 righthander with a solid (88-93 mph) fastball and four pitches, the junior is coming off of a dominant 13-0, 1.41 season.
6. Jake Anchia, C, Nova Southeastern (Fla.): Anchia’s defense needs to continue to improve, but he has significant power, as he showed with 17 home runs last season and five more in the Cape Cod League last summer.
7. Grant Wolfram, LHP, Davenport (Mich.): Wolfram is an athletic, tall (6-foot-7) lefty with three potentially average pitches. He was 13-2, 3.28 with 100 strikeouts in 93.1 innings last year.
8. Zach Shannon, 1B, Delta State (Miss.): Shannon ranked No. 231 on the BA500 draft list coming out of high school. Since then he’s been a productive hitter at Wabash Valley (Ill.) JC and hit .434/.498/.758 with 19 home runs last year for Delta State, making him a productive senior sign.
9. Devon Conn, RHP, Nova Southeastern (Fla.): Conn is a draft-eligible redshirt sophomore. He transferred to Nova after pitching for Middle Tennessee in 2017 where he struck out more than a batter an inning. He has a 90-93 mph fastball with excellent life.
10. Kyle Griffin, RHP, Southern Indiana: Griffin has a lively arm (up to 95 mph) and is coming off a season where he struck out 11.2 batters per nine innings while walking only 2.2.
11. Joseph Pena, SS, St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.): Pena posted a .517 on-base percentage last year and is a career .348 hitter. The switch-hitter may need to move to second base as a pro, but his on-base skills and hitting ability give the senior some potentially carrying skills.
12. Giovanni Dingcong, OF, St. Thomas Aquinas (N.Y.): Dingcong stood out in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League last summer, where he hit 13 home runs on top of the 20 he hit last year for St. Thomas Aquinas. There’s some swing-and-miss to his game, but as a right fielder with enough arm and athleticism to stay at the position, he’s an intriguing senior sign.
13. Matt Minnick, LHP, Mercyhurst: Minnick was expected to be one of the best pitchers in Division II last year. But after a 4-1, 2.35 start, he was shut down for the season with a partial UCL tear. He’s expected to return to their rotation this year. With a low-90s fastball and a promising curve and changeup, he could move up this list once he demonstrated he’s fully recovered.
14. Dalton Roach, RHP, Minnesota State: Roach was the best pitcher in Division II last year, going 10-1, 1.56 with 128 strikeouts in 86.2 innings. He went undrafted as a junior because of his fringy stuff, but he profiles as an excellent senior sign with a high-80s fastball, average curve and excellent control.
15. Russell Lamovec, RHP, Mercyhurst: Lamovec had touched 96 himself, much like his teammate Vallimont. He uses the fastball to set up his slider, which helped him strikeout 84 batters in 63.2 innings last year.
16. J.R. McDermott, RHP, Colorado Mesa: McDermott doesn’t have the size or stuff of his teammate Leahy, but the 6-foot junior gets plenty of swings and misses with his 88-91 mph fastball. Last year he struck out 108 in only 83.2 innings.
17. Ronny Orta, RHP, Nova Southeastern: A shorter (5-foot-10 righthander) with a reliever’s delivery, Orta has a fast arm that generates plenty of run on his 92-93 mph fastball. He also has a low-80s fastball with excellent bite.
18. Jake Mielock, RHP, Colorado Mesa: Mielock is yet another flame-thrower on Colorado Mesa’s stacked staff. He sits 88-93 mph, but he touched some 94s and 95s in the Northwoods League last summer.
19. Hayden Marze, RHP, Florida Southern: The thick, stout 6-foot-2, 220-pound Marze didn’t pitch for Mississippi State because of an arm injury, but he showed a low-to-mid 90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider last summer in the Texas Collegiate League, striking out 29 in only 16.2 innings.
20. Craig Lewis, OF, Seton Hill: Lewis is an above-average runner who also shows power potential. A draft-eligible sophomore, Lewis hit .379/.491/.593 with 28 steals last season.