2019 America East Conference College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Nick Grande (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Athletics)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

1. Stony Brook (32-25, 12-12)
2. Hartford (26-31, 16-8)
3. Massachusetts-Lowell (25-29, 13-11)
4. Binghamton (18-30-1, 9-15)
5. Maine (20-34, 12-12)
6. Maryland-Baltimore County (22-29, 12-11)
7. Albany (20-28, 9-14)

Team to Beat: Stony Brook

In the six seasons since Stony Brook’s Cinderella run to the 2012 College World Series, the Sea Wolves have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance (2015). They have remained a power in the America East Conference, but life in a one-bid league is unforgiving. This year, Stony Brook is primed for another breakthrough. The Sea Wolves return several regulars in their lineup, including shortstop Nick Grande (.377/.468/.560, 32 SB), their leading hitter, and right fielder Michael Wilson (.293/.362/.498). Upperclassmen righthanders Brian Herrmann (5-7, 4.38), Greg Marino (7-2, 4.53) and Bret Clarke (2-7, 5.25) are back in the rotation and give experience to the pitching staff. Stony Brook must replace third baseman Bobby Honeyman, who was drafted in the 29th round, and closer Aaron Pinto, who was drafted in the 26th round, but has options to do so. Senior Michael Russell (.282/.350/.366) figures to take on a larger role in the lineup, either at third base or DH, and righthander Adam Erickson, a junior college transfer, could slot in at the back of the bullpen. The Sea Wolves are the most talented team in the conference and pair that with plenty of experience. That combination will make them difficult to beat this spring.

Player of the Year: Nick Grande, SS, Stony Brook

Grande last season took over as Stony Brook’s starting shortstop to great success. He hit .377/.468/.560 with 18 doubles, six home runs and 32 stolen bases, the second most in a single season in program history. He dominated America East pitching, hitting .418/.518/.692 with five home runs in 24 conference games. And Grande did all of that while anchoring Stony Brook’s defense with a solid defensive performance at shortstop. Now back for his junior year, Grande’s tools give him a chance to be the first player from Stony Brook to be drafted in the top 10 rounds since 2013.

Pitcher of the Year: Nicholas Dombkowski, LHP, Hartford

Dombkowski as a freshman last season was a revelation for the Hawks and helped lead them to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The lefthander became the first player in conference history to be named both America East pitcher and freshman of the year after going 6-5, 2.88. Dombkowski isn’t overpowering but understands what he needs to do to get outs and attacks hitters with a three-pitch mix. After his huge freshman season, he’ll try to improve this spring as a sophomore.

Freshman of the Year: Jake Roper, OF, Maine

Roper this summer got a head start on adjusting to college baseball with a tour in the South Florida Collegiate League, where he hit .316/.409/.566 and was named an all-star. The Connecticut prep product has an intriguing combination of power and speed in his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. He also played quarterback at The Canterbury School in New Millford, Conn., and brings that football mentality to the diamond.

Top 25 teams: None.

Notable storylines

Hartford last season was unanimously picked to finish last in the America East coaches’ poll after a disappointing 2017 campaign. But the Hawks far outperformed those expectations, going 16-8 in conference play to win the America East by three games and then sweep through the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Hawks are now eyeing back-to-back conference titles and have the pieces to give Stony Brook a run at the top of standings. The pitching staff returns mostly intact, led by Dombkowski and junior righthander Nate Florence (4-5, 3.78) in the rotation. Closer Seth Pinkerton is gone after being drafted in the 20th round, but the Hawks will look for senior righthander Sebastian DiMauro to take a step forward after missing most of the last two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Offensively, the Hawks must replace center fielder Nick Campana, their leading hitter and the conference player of the year. But senior left fielder Ashton Bardzell (.308/.412/.532, 10 HR) and junior shortstop Jackson Olson (.303/.343/.388) are back to anchor the lineup. After last season, Hartford won’t catch anyone by surprise. But the Hawks will be ready for the challenge.

Along with Stony Brook, Binghamton has been one of the America East’s heavyweights for more than a decade. But last year it took a step back, going 18-30-1 and finishing in last place in the conference. The last time the Bearcats had a season like that was in 2015, and they responded with back-to-back seasons in which they won 30 games and the America East title. Binghamton should be improved this year, but a worst-to-first turnaround will be difficult. Binghamton should be strong on the mound, with senior righthander Nick Gallagher (4-7, 4.52), the 2017 conference pitcher of the year, back at the front of the rotation, junior righthander Ben Anderson (3-2, 1.60) moving into the rotation after an impressive summer in the Coastal Plains League and senior closer Robert Brown (1-1, 0.93, 4 SV) returning at the back of the bullpen. But Binghamton will need to find a way to improve its offense after it posted a .677 team OPS and averaged 4.1 runs per game. Senior outfielder Anthony Meduri (.274/.361/.339), the Bearcats’ leading hitter, returns and Binghamton will look for the healthy returns of third baseman Justin Drpich and outfielder Andrew Eng to help bolster its lineup.

UMBC closer Stephen Schoch this summer stood out in the Cape Cod League, where he earned all-star honors and went 2-1, 0.95 with 21 strikeouts in 19 innings. Listed at 6-foot-5, 235 pounds, the redshirt junior presents an uncomfortable matchup for hitters thanks to his sidearm delivery. The righthander wil again anchor the Retrievers’ bullpen after going 1-6, 1.72 with 10 saves and 71 strikeouts in 57.2 innings a year ago. After his standout summer on the Cape, Schoch will look to become just the second Retriever to be drafted in the 21st century and lead UMBC to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.

Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects

1. Nick Grande, SS, Stony Brook=
2. Ben Anderson, RHP, Binghamton
3. Stephen Schoch, RHP, Maryland-Baltimore County
4. Michael Wilson, OF, Stony Brook
5. Ashton Bardzell, OF, Hartford
6. Danny Casals, 3B, Maine
7. Nate Florence, RHP, Hartford
8. Greg Marino, RHP, Stony Brook
9. Dominic Savino, RHP, Albany
10. Brian Herrmann, RHP, Stony Brook

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