2019 Atlantic Sun Conference College Baseball Preview
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- Stetson (48-13, 15-3)
- Jacksonville (40-21, 14-6)
- Florida Gulf Coast (32-21, 8-13)
- Kennesaw State (25-30, 11-10)
- Liberty (32-26, 17-10 in Big South)
- North Florida (28-28, 10-11)
- New Jersey Tech (22-25, 9-12)
- Lipscomb (24-30, 9-12)
- North Alabama (First season in Division I)
Team to Beat: Stetson
The Hatters (48-13) might not be able to replicate the historic success of their 2018 season that saw them reach super regionals, but they are still the favorites to come away with the A-Sun title in 2019. Stetson lost righthanders Logan Gilbert, a first-round pick, Joey Gonzalez and Jack Perkins from last year’s rotation, as well as All-American closer/DH Brooks Wilson, but lefthander Mitchell Senger (9-2, 2.51) is back and ready to take over on Friday nights. His return will take some pressure off the new pitchers in the rotation, Robbie Peto, a junior college transfer who originally began his career at North Carolina, and Austin Wood (0-0, 2.84), who is sliding into a starting role after a solid freshman season in the bullpen. Offensively, the Hatters return the bulk of their lineup, though the loss of Wilson is not insignificant. With its hitters a year older, Stetson has the potential to be more high scoring than they were a year ago with the return of center fielder Jacob Koos (.291/.387/.423), third baseman Jonathan Meola (.266/.362/.391), right fielder Andrew MacNeil (.263/.380/.388) and shortstop Jorge Arenas (.233/.296/.363). Also back is first baseman Eric Foggo (.236/.286/.407), who has as much raw power as anyone on the roster but had some of the typical ups and downs a freshman has in their first taste of college baseball. To that mix, Stetson added in a solid recruiting class, featuring Peto and outfielder Noah Dickerson, righthander Austin Knowles and first baseman Brandon Hylton, all freshmen who were drafted last June. Pitching will still likely be Stetson’s calling card this season, but with the returning offensive talent in the fold, they could be a more balanced club.
Player of the Year: Richie Garcia, 3B, Florida Gulf Coast
It’s hard to be any more decorated than Garcia has been in his first two seasons at FGCU. In 2017, he was named the A-Sun’s freshman of the year after hitting .279/.397/.417. In 2018, he hit .324/.411/.533 with 17 doubles, seven homers, and 50 RBIs on the way to being named to the all-Atlantic Sun first team. Certainly, his improvement from year to year has been impressive. From year one to year two, he became a much more effective power hitter, and after not stealing any bases his freshman season, he went 7-for-8 stealing bases as a sophomore. With another jump like that in his junior season, he’ll be in line to win the biggest piece of hardware yet in the conference’s player of the year award.
Pitcher of the Year: Mitchell Senger, LHP, Stetson
Senger may have been in Gilbert’s shadow last season, but he produced a special season of his own. In 93.1 innings, he had a 2.51 ERA, a 114-to-28 strikeout-to-walk ratio and limited opponents to a .196 batting average. Over the summer, he was invited to pitch for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. This season, he’ll have to do more heavy lifting on the weekends with the departures of Gilbert and Perkins, but he should be up to the task. He may not have Gilbert’s power arsenal, but Senger has demonstrated he has the combination of stuff and pitchability necessary to succeed. He looks like the next in the line of premium pitchers to come out of Stetson and should be in line for a big year.
Freshman of the Year: Brandon Hylton, 1B, Stetson
The presence of sophomore Eric Foggo, another powerful bat on the Stetson roster, will likely force Hylton to split his time between first base and DH. Hylton, listed at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, was drafted in the 33rd round by the Brewers last year. His size and pedigree suggest that he will be a contributor right away for the Hatters. Hylton was lauded for his ability to adjust to college pitching quickly in the fall, and his plus power could be a game-changer in a Stetson lineup looking to have more punch in 2019.
Top 25 Teams: None.
North Alabama, led by head coach Mike Keehn, will take the field as a Division I program for the first time in 2019. The Lions have been a solid Division II program over the years, and that should create confidence that they’ll be contenders in the league in due time. In the near term, however, they’ll have the types of growing pains you would typically expect from a transitioning program, not just because they’re moving up in competition but also because they have some significant roster attrition. Brandt Holland and Kyle Hubbuch were the two most effective hitters in the North Alabama order a year ago, and now they’re both gone. The same is true of their three top starters, Tyler Joyner, Shane Priest and Lane Wallace. In the lineup, outfielder Kevin Brenning (.330/.431/.417) will be a catalyst, with the same being true of key reliever Josh Stillman (1-0, 1.94). North Alabama will not be eligible for the postseason until 2023.
In addition to adding North Alabama, the Atlantic Sun essentially traded South Carolina-Upstate to the Big South Conference in exchange for Liberty. The Flames (32-26) were consistent contenders in the Big South, and they figure to improve the depth of the A-Sun. A rotation fronted by the duo of Garret Price (7-4, 3.99) and Noah Skirrow (4-3, 4.57) will give the Flames a chance every weekend. One of the marks of recent Liberty teams has been plate discipline, and that should continue with the presence of hitters such as catcher Jonathan Embry (.239/.395/.438), who walked 44 times compared to just 30 strikeouts in 2018, and third baseman Tyler Galazin, who struck out just two more times (32) than he walked (30).
Jacksonville (40-21) last season reached regionals as a No. 2 seed and should once again be a quality challenger to Stetson at the top of the league. Their foundation includes a starting pitcher in Tyler Santana (10-2, 3.76) who could find his way into the conference pitcher of the year race, a Freshman All-American closer who tied for the national lead in saves last year in Chris Mauloni (3-2, 2.97), a second baseman who was second in the league in hitting last year in Scott Dubrule (.348/.409/.418) and a third baseman in Angel Camacho (.329/.394/.454) who should be among the favorites for league player of the year. With that kind of talent returning to campus, it would be a surprise if the Dolphins weren’t right there with the Hatters in the standings come May.
NJIT (22-25) enjoyed a 13-win improvement from 2017 to 2018, and while a competitive A-Sun conference may not allow for another big jump in their win total, they’re clearly continuing a move in the right direction. With all three weekend starters—senior Sean Lubreski (4-5, 3.86), junior Tyler Stafflinger (4-5, 2.87), and junior Jared Kacso (3-6, 4.57)—back in the fold, the Highlanders should be very solid in the rotation. Offensively, they’re unlikely to overwhelm the opposition, but the return of brothers Julio (.352/.404/.512) and David Marcano (.297/.368/.352), shortstop Justin Etts (.272/.319/.356) and catcher Paul Franzoni (.271/.320/.391), plus the addition of dynamic freshman outfielder Andrew Elcock, should make them competitive on that side of the ball as well.
- Mitchell Senger, LHP, Stetson
- Marc Coffers, OF, Florida Gulf Coast
- Robbie Peto, RHP, Stetson
- Jacob Koos, OF, Stetson
- Terence Norman, OF, Kennesaw State
- Chris Mauloni, RHP, Jacksonville
- Richie Garcia, 3B, Florida Gulf Coast
- Alex Brait, C, Florida Gulf Coast
- Tyler Santana, RHP, Jacksonville
- Zach Bryant, RHP, Jacksonville