2019 Big East Conference College Baseball Preview
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- St. John’s (40-17, 15-3)
- Seton Hall (30-20-1, 13-4)
- Creighton (34-16, 8-9)
- Xavier (20-35, 7-11)
- Butler (31-20, 9-8)
- Georgetown (25-30, 8-9)
- Villanova (9-39, 1-17)
Team to Beat: St. John’s.
The Red Storm are coming off a Big East title and have won at least 40 games and made the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four years. St. John’s this year is aiming for its third consecutive regionals appearance, which it has not done since 2010-12. The Red Storm returns the bulk of a strong pitching staff, led by junior righthander Sean Mooney (11-3, 2.56), who has firmly established himself as their Friday starter. Junior lefthander Jeff Belge (6-4, 2.84) is the team’s top prospect and has the biggest stuff but has at times been inconsistent with his command. Redshirt-sophomore lefthander Nick Mondak has been sidelined for almost two full years by injury but is healthy now. That trio gives St. John’s the best rotation in the Big East and one that can match up with nearly any rotation in the country.
For good measure, St. John’s added righthander Ben Greenburg as a graduate transfer from Fordham, giving them an experienced option in midweek action. The bullpen is also strong thanks to the tandem of righthander Gavin Hollowell (3-0, 2.16, 5 SV), whose fastball reaches the upper 90s, and lefthander Tommy LaSorsa (4-0, 2.09, 7 SV), who can do a bit of everything. With that kind of pitching staff and the Red Storm’s typically strong defense, runs are likely to come at a premium against St. John’s.
It’s not as formidable offensively, as it must replace four of its top five hitters from last season. Senior catcher Wyatt Mascarella (.340/.394/.535) and junior outfielder Mike Antico (.308/.390/.504, 10 SB) will anchor the new-look lineup. If some of St. John’s junior college transfers or younger players can step up to help give the pitching staff some support, it could be a special season in Queens.
Player of the Year: Will Robertson, OF, Creighton.
Robertson had a breakout 2018, first as a sophomore at Creighton, where he hit .333/.412/.641 with 12 home runs, and then in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .300/.380/.435. Along the way, he established himself as a prospect to watch and he was this year voted a Preseason All-American by major league scouting directors. Robertson, a lefthanded hitter, has above-average raw power and his bat control and level swing enables him to make a lot of hard contact.
Pitcher of the Year: Ricky DeVito, RHP, Seton Hall.
DeVito last year was named Big East pitcher of the year after going 6-3, 1.88 as a sophomore. He carried that momentum over into the summer on the Cape, where he went 1-1, 2.45 with 35 strikeouts and 13 walks in 29.1 innings. His fastball reaches 96 mph, and he also throws a good changeup and curveball. He pounds the zone with all three of his offerings, giving him all the tools he needs to succeed on Friday nights.
Freshman of the Year: Kody Darcy, 3B, Xavier.
The Musketeers went far beyond their usual recruiting footprint to land Darcy, a Washington native. Drafted in the 39th round by the Mets, he looks like Xavier’s shortstop of the future, but with senior Chris Givin back at shortstop, Darcy will begin his college career at the hot corner. He is a good athlete, which translates well defensively, and has a good feel for hitting.
Top 25 teams: None.
Small School 2019 Pitchers With Big Time MLB Potential
Here are a handful of premium pitching prospects from outside the traditional college baseball power conferences.
It’s a banner year for Big East prospects, many of whom are coming off big summers in the Cape Cod League. DeVito leads the way on the Top 200 Draft Prospects list at No. 58, with Robertson (No. 109) and Belge (No. 111) following. Xavier righthander/third baseman Connor Grammes just missed the list and could play his way up draft boards this spring. Butler righthander Ryan Pepiot is also intriguing after a solid summer on the Cape, and St. John’s bevy of arms will keep scouts busy in the Northeast. None of the conference’s current members have had a Day 1 draft pick since 2012 (Jeremy Baltz, St. John’s), a streak that could end this year. The splintering of the old Big East left the conference weaker in baseball, but it is starting to recover, with this year’s draft class the latest evidence.
Creighton last year had mixed results, going 34-16 overall, but going just 8-9 in the Big East and missing the conference tournament. The Blue Jays had series wins against Minnesota and California, but were also swept at St. John’s and, more puzzlingly, lost a home series to Georgetown. That series loss against Georgetown was especially costly, as it gave the Hoyas the tiebreaker over the Blue Jays for the final spot in the Big East Tournament. Creighton this spring will look to get back on track with Robertson leading the way. Righthander Mitch Ragan (6-4, 3.74) and Mitch Boyer (3-0, 2.70) will anchor the pitching staff. If the Blue Jays can be more consistent, they have the talent to get back into the conference’s top half and into the Big East Tournament.
Xavier last year scuffled in Billy O’Conner’s first season as head coach, finishing 20-35 and in sixth place a year after winning the Big East Tournament in 2017 to reach regionals for the third time in four years. The Musketeers were young last season and return the bulk of that team, which should be better positioned going into this spring. Grammes (.330/.375/.517, 10 HR; 0-5, 6.75, 45 SO, 28 IP) has big potential both at the plate and on the mound, where his fastball reaches the upper 90s. He came to pitching late and has struggled with his control, but if he can harness his stuff, he would give Xavier one of the best pitchers in the league. Xavier returns its top five hitters, including shortstop Chris Givin (.342/.399/.511) and catcher Natale Monastra (.280/.348/.476). If the Musketeers can be better on the mound—starting with Grammes—they’ll be back to competing with the conference’s best.
Butler has been much improved the last two years under coach Dave Schrage and last year broke through for its first Big East Tournament appearance after finishing 31-20 and in third place in the conference. The Bulldogs this spring should be strong on the mound, led by Pepiot (6-0, 2.62). But they must replace their four leading hitters who formed the heart of their lineup. Butler will need some new hitters to take a step forward. Outfielder Harrison Freed (.240/.286/.427) could do just that after a breakout summer in the Northwoods League. The Bulldogs also are looking for a boost from graduate transfer Kyle Smith, who last year was a standout at Division II Mississippi College.