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NAIA Preview: Hard To Bet Against Lewis-Clark

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How They Will Finish
1. Lewis-Clark State (Idaho)
2. Southeastern (Fla.)
3. Oklahoma Wesleyan
4. Faulkner (Ala.)
5. Oklahoma City
6. Bellevue (Neb.)
7. Middle Georgia State
8. Keiser (Fla.) University
9. Judson (Ill.) College
10. William Carey (Miss.) College

Recent Champions
2017: Lewis Clark State (Idaho)
2016:Lewis Clark State (Idaho)
2015: Lewis Clark State (Idaho)
2014: Cumberland (Tenn.)
2013: Faulkner (Ala.)
2012: Tennessee Wesleyan
2011: Concordia (Calif.)
2010: Cumberland (Tenn.)

Top Draft Prospects

  1. Eddie Jimenez, Southeastern (Fla.). Jimenez is one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in NAIA with a fastball that’s been clocked in the mid-90s.
  2. Gage Burland, RHP, Lewis-Clark (Idaho) State. Burland has a big arm and has touched 98 mph, but the two-time draftee has to both stay healthy and throw more strikes to show what he can do.
  3. Mitch McIntyre, RHP, Tabor (Kan.) College. A transfer from Indiana State, McIntyre has recovered from Tommy John surgery and is once again throwing in the low-90s with a potentially above-average curveball.
  4. Renny Tolentino, RHP, LSU-Shreveport. The senior struck out 78 in only 65 innings last year and held hitters to a .196 average against. A short (6-foot) righthander with a quick, short arm action, Tolentino uses a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a potentially above-average slider to attack hitters.
  5. Israel Fuentes, RHP, Faulkner (Ala.). After a dominating 2017 season, Fuentes also posted a 2.18 ERA in with 10 strikeouts in 8.1 innings in the Cape Cod League last summer.
  6. Chris Acosta-Tapia, OF, Oklahoma Wesleyan. The top player in NAIA baseball last year could be a solid senior sign this year thanks to above-average speed and a lengthy track record of productivity at the plate.
  7. Elliott Cary, OF, Oklahoma City. The son of big leaguer Chuck Cary, the younger Cary was a 34th-round pick of the Nationals out of high school. He missed the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, but was a part-time starter for at Oregon State before transferring. He has the speed and defense to be drafted if he can take a step forward at the plate.
  8. Taylor Blatch, RHP, Keiser (Fla.) University. A transfer from Florida State who didn’t pitch much for the Seminoles, Batch has a 90-94 mph fastball that gives him a chance to develop with regular work.
  9. Jacob Hulcher, RHP, University of Northwest Ohio. Hulcher doesn’t throw as hard as his teammate Austin Gridley, but he is a 6-foot-7 with a 88-92 mph fastball and a  power curve.
  10. Austin Gridley, LHP, University of Northwest Ohio. A 6-foot-2 lefty with a 90-94 mph fastball, Gridley was extremely wild last year, but if he tames his control he could be a solid senior sign.
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College Podcast: 2019 Signing Day Special

Texas coach David Pierce, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis join the podcast.

QUICK HITS

  • If you’re predicting who will win the NAIA title, it’s always a safe bet to choose Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) University. Yes, the NAIA World Series is played at their home park, but the Warriors consistently win once they get there. The Warriors have won 19 national titles including the last three. In five seasons as coach, Jeremiah Robbins’s worst two teams have finished as NAIA runners-up. So as you would expect, Lewis-Clark State will be loaded once again, even though they have to replace almost all of last year’s infield. Outfielders Raymond Pedrina and Kasey Bailey are back, as are catchers Matt Thompson and Darren Trainor. Robbins will be putting together a pitching staff on the fly. RHP Gage Burland has the potential to develop into an ace, but he threw only 20 innings last year.
  • Southeastern (Fla.) University won 50 games last year, and they should again be one of the best teams in the Sun Conference. The Fire’s RHP Eddie Jimenez will be one of the harder-throwing pitchers in NAIA (95+ mph). RHPs Jordan Scott, Chase Dreger, Jared Crescentini and Heibert Romero and LHPs Jonathan Bermudez and Felix Dieguez give the Fire one of the deeper pitching staffs around. OF Marvin Malone hit .473 with 19 home runs for Colby (Kan.) CC last year.
  • Oklahoma Wesleyan University could be a little better than last year’s NAIA World Series team that went 51-12. OF Chris Acosta-Tapia is back after being named the NAIA’s Player of the Year last year thanks to his .441-24-85 season that saw him lead the country in total bases while ranking second in slugging percentage (.874). 3B John Lantigua, a transfer from Western Okla. State JC, has the best power potential on the team other than Acosta-Tapia. RHP Tyler Shumpert (1-1, 3.38 with 14 saves) gives the Eagles a very reliable closer as well.
  • While Lewis-Clark State is trying to win a fourth straight title, Faulkner (Ala.) is trying to win just one more game after back-to-back runners-up finishes. RHP Israel Fuentes will help give the Eagles a shot to do that. The junior was 12-0, 2.98 last year with 98 strikeouts in 90.2 innings last year.
  • Oklahoma City University brings back most of last year’s NAIA World Series club. INFBrandon Grieger (.361/.415/.581), C/INF Joe Lytle (.395/.415/.536) and INF Brandon Grieger (.376/.472/.633) will be joined by OFBrandon Grieger, a transfer from Oregon State who is the team’s best draft prospect. A 34th-round pick of the Nationals out of high school, Cary could provide a big boost with his speed and defense in center field. The pitching staff will be led by senior RHP Matt Young (10-3, 3.03) and senior RHP Craig Knoche (8-0, 2.63).
  • Bellevue (Neb.) could win more than 50 games again this year thanks to a potent lineup that brings back plenty of hitters from the group that averaged more than eight runs a game last year. 1B/C Riley Baasch, a redshirt sophomore, hit .367/.436/.601 last season. New addition 2B/CF Kory Longaker, a transfer from Shoreline (Wash.) JC has speed and hitting ability to make an immediate impact.
  • Indiana University Southeast should have one of its best teams thanks to a veteran team with plenty of depth in the lineup. Outfielder Nolan Rogers (a transfer from Vanderbilt) and infielder Richard Rodriguez (a transfer from Cincinnati) will add further thump to a team that averaged more than seven runs a game last year.
  • Center fielder Rayden Sierra will try to help Cumberland (Tenn.) University improve on last year’s 26-29 record. Sierra hit .360 with 13 home runs last year, but he’ll need help from a large number of incoming junior college transfers.
  • Huntington (Ind.) University should contend for another Crossroads League title thanks to an excellent pitching staff. Righthander D.J. Moore (8-2, 2.88), righthander Mason Shinabery (5-2, 2.82) and lefthander Connor West (4-2, 3.22) give the Foresters one of the better pitching staffs in the Midwest. Shinabery could be the best of the bunch with an 87-92 mph fastball and a quality breaking ball.
  • Keiser (Fla.) University looks to have an impressive pitching staff especially if Ariel Burgos-Garcia, one of the team’s top pitchers in 2016, is back to full speed after an injury-racked 2017 season. If Burgos-Garcia can join Chad Tworek, Victor Hughes and Taylor Blatch in the rotation, Keiser can match up arm for arm with most any team they will face. The bullpen has been boosted by righthander Alex Lamrouex and lefthander Darrien Ragins.
  • Tabor (Kan.) College won 44 games last year, but the Bluejays will be largely starting over as much of that team has graduated. A talented group of transfers led by RHP Mitch McIntyre (Indiana State transfer), RHP Brandon Whetnight (Chaffey (Calif.) CC transfer) and OFs Cody Stineman and Freddie Walker will try to help Tabor rebuild on the fly.
  • Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.) University could be a sleeper this year, as almost everyone from last year’s lineup returns including SS Bryce Lester (.356 with 26 steals) and 1B Aden Campbell (.374 with seven home runs). If the Lions are going to top last year’s 32 wins, they will have to figure out a way to replace the quality innings staff aces Brandon Guske and Riley Echols provided last year. Landon Sewell and Jacob Sawyers are the pitchers most likely to fill those voids.
  • Friends (Kan.) University will be as athletic as the Falcons have ever been. Speedy 2B Augie Isaacson hit .430 last year and impressed in the Northwoods League last summer where he hit .314. C John Gardner is an excellent defender, with a strong 6-foot-3, 220 pound frame. He also hit .390/.447/.648 with 14 home runs last year.
  • Webber (Fla.) International University won a school-record 39 games in 2017, but they have a chance to top this in 2018. CF Manny Rodriguez (.350 with 24 stolen bases), 3B Marcus Begg (.336 with 10 home runs), a potent pair of catchers in Mark Martinez and Napo Ballestero and a solid defensive SS in Cristian Rivera lead the lineup. The Warriors will win with pitching and stringing together hits, as the team doesn’t have a lot of power.
  • Judson (Ill.) University will have a senior at every spot in the lineup other than right field, and that right fielder, Josh Krueger, is expected to hit third in the lineup. SS Tanner Kehrer and OF Dave Matthews could hear their names called during the draft as well.
  • The University of Northwestern Ohio has had players drafted in each of the past two years. The Racers have a good chance to make that three-for-three thanks to a loaded roster of quality arms. Senior LHP Austin Gridley (90-94 mph) and 6-foot-7 junior RHP Jacob Hulcher (88-92 mph with a solid breaking ball) are the best draft prospects, but RHPs Cole Baker, Mitch Ebben and Mike Alexander should provide quality innings as well. Speedy senior CF Kyle Fisher will contribute both defensively and as the catalyst of the lineup.
  • LSU Shreveport brings back its top three starting pitchers and its best lefty reliever as it tries to top last year’s 39 wins. RHPs Renny Tolentino and Adrian Cook and LHP Pat Day are the best on the mound while OF Taylor Fajardo, SS Carlos Andujar and 1B Jordan Trahan are bats to watch.
  •  Middle Georgia State University should be able to depend on a wide array of arms as it follows up last year’s 46-16 season. Senior LHP Austin Bowker (8-3, 3.88) and senior RHP Jared Crews (5-2, 2.20) will be able to hand the ball to a deep bullpen led by LHP Logan Carter and RHP Devan Harriman. The lineup will rely on plenty of new faces as four first-team all-conference position players graduated.
  • Texas A&M-Texarkana C Bobby Kramer missed last season as he recovered from Tommy John surgery. He’ll be a much-welcomed returnee as the lefthanded-hitting senior hit .423 in 2016. OF Cole Beckham has above-average speed and hit .347 with 10 home runs last year. The Eagles have a young but talented pitching staff with transfers Nate McGhee and Evan Rogers expected to take on significant roles immediately. If LHP Ryan Fant can stay healthy and throw strikes, he could also play a large role.
  • Texas Wesleyan University’s roster has some familiar names for baseball fans. OF John Grimsley, son of MLB pitcher Jason Grimsley, and INF/OF Jacob Barfield. Barfield has some of his father’s power while Grimsley is a versatile, speedy outfielder. OF Kiki Menendez has plenty of bat speed and a right fielder’s arm.

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