2019 Big South Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Campbell (35-26, 21-6)
2. High Point (34-22, 19-8)
3. Winthrop (25-31, 15-12)
4. Radford (25-32, 14-13)
5. Gardner-Webb (31-27, 14-13)
6. Charleston Southern (19-35, 10-17)
7. Longwood (17-38, 9-18)
8. Presbyterian (15-39, 8-19)
9. UNC Asheville (13-38, 8-19)
10. South Carolina-Upstate (23-28, 5-14 in Atlantic Sun)
Team to Beat: Campbell
Fresh off the program’s third NCAA Tournament appearance—and second in the past five seasons—Campbell is looking to make it back-to-back Big South championships in 2019. The Camels will rely heavily on outfielder Matthew Barefoot (.364/.484/.585, 8 HR, 33 SB), who will need to match or surpass last year's numbers to help mitigate the loss of senior infielder Christian Jones, who led the team with 20 home runs and 67 RBIs last season. On the mound, Campbell and coach Justin Haire will turn to a talented unknown to lead its rotation, as junior righthander Seth Johnson is expected to take over the Friday starter’s role. Johnson, a transfer from Louisburg (N.C) JC, primarily worked as an infielder before coming to Campbell but impressed as a pitcher in the fall. An above-average athlete, Johnson’s fastball sits 92-95 mph, and he has two separate breaking balls that both come across as average offerings, as well as a work-in-progress, fourth-pitch changeup. Johnson and senior righthander Michael Horrell (6-4, 3.75) will steady the rotation, while closer Tyson Messer (0-2, 4.72, 7 SV) provides an experienced weapon in the back of the bullpen.
Player of the Year: Matthew Barefoot, OF, Campbell
A first-team all-Big South selection in 2018, Barefoot led the conference in batting average (.364), on-base percentage (.484), hits (79), doubles (18) and stolen bases (33) a season ago, and he finished second among all league hitters in slugging percentage (.585), runs (58) and total bases (127). The 6-foot, 205-pound redshirt junior also excelled in the Cape Cod League over the summer, hitting .379/.474/.521 to win the batting title while also leading the league in hits (53) and on-base percentage. Simply put, Barefoot is one of the best pure hitters in the country and should help carry the Camels’ offense toward the top of the league.
Pitcher of the Year: Zach Peek, RHP, Winthrop
A 6-foot-3, 200-pound righthander, Peek is coming off a sophomore campaign in which he went 6-5, 3.74 while striking out a team-best 99 hitters in 89 innings. Armed with a low-90s fastball that can touch 96 mph, Peek showed above-average control of all three of his pitches last spring, walking just north of two batters per nine innings. Peek had a solid showing in the Cape this past summer, striking out 27 hitters in 26 innings. High Point senior righthander Andrew Gottfried (6-5, 3.28) should also be a strong contender for this award after a first-team all-Big South season in 2018, and, from a draft prospective, Campbell junior righthander Seth Johnson is currently the top pitching prospect in the league.
Freshman of the Year: CJ Conrad, OF, Winthrop
A true freshman out of Apex High in Cary, N.C., Conrad has a chance to make an immediate impact for the Eagles in 2019. Likely to slot in as Winthrop’s starting left fielder when the season begins, Conrad displayed an advanced, all-fields approach at the plate in the fall, when he hit close to .350, and he also has an above-average arm in the outfield.
Top 25 Teams: None.
On paper, High Point seems to pose the biggest threat to Campbell in the race for a conference championship. The Panthers return a bevy of experience on their pitching staff, led by Gottfried, who recorded a team-best six wins and 72 strikeouts in 74 innings last season. High Point must replace closer Rion Murrah (5-3, 2.06, 6 SV) but return key bullpen pieces in Grey Lyttle (2-0, 3.46), Cooper Jeffers (2-1, 5.55) and Matt Hodges (1-0, 3.52), who made a combined 51 appearances last season. The Panthers led the Big South in team ERA (4.27) and opponent average (.246) a season ago, which should ease the burden on an offense returning several key pieces. Outfielder Tanner Wells (.329/.376/.452) returns after a stellar freshman season, while catcher Daniel Millwee (.292/.428/.468), second baseman Travis Holt (.286/.366/.319) and shortstop Conner Dunbar (.257/.366/.378) ensures the Panthers will be strong defensively up the middle.
Winthrop brings back a wealth of experience from a team that went 15-12 in conference play a year ago. Headlined by senior center fielder Matt Mulkey (.304/.389/.595, 5 HR), who played in only 21 games in 2018 due to a hand injury, the Eagles return 76 percent of their runs scored and 70 percent of their RBIs from last season. Starting righthanders Peek (6-5, 3.74) and Nate Pawelczyk (7-6, 3.77) give Winthrop two returning weekend starters, and in total the Eagles return 80 percent of their wins, 75 percent of their innings pitched and 76 percent of their strikeouts from last season.
The Big South and Atlantic Sun conferences made a de facto “trade” this offseason, when Liberty left the Big South to join the Atlantic Sun, filling a void left by South Carolina-Upstate, which is the newest Big South member. The Spartans struggled last season in the A-Sun, finishing last in the eight-team league, but they return experienced pitchers Jordan Marks (2-6, 6.40) and Trey Van Der Weide (4-5, 4.50), as well as potential closer Grant Hoppock (4-1, 4.01). Offensively, USC-Upstate returns senior J.J. Shimko, who hit .300/.417/.435 in 2017 but played in just eight games a season ago due to injury. Junior college transfer Julian Rip should step into a starting role in right field and should make an immediate impact after hitting .297 with nine home runs at Hutchinson (Kan.) CC in 2018.
College Baseball Takeaways: Stanford, Maryland Clinch Titles
Stanford clinched the Pac-12 and Maryland clinched the Big Ten, highlighting Friday's action in college baseball.
1. Seth Johnson, RHP, Campbell
2. Matthew Barefoot, OF Campbell
3. Zach Peek, RHP, Winthrop
4. Spencer Horwitz, OF, Radford
5. Nate Pawelczyk, RHP, Winthrop
6. Tyson Messer, RHP, Campbell
7. Daniel Millwee, C, High Point
8. Chandler Redmond, OF, Gardner-Webb
9. Conner Dunbar, SS, High Point
10. Ryan Stoudemire, RHP, Charleston Southern