2019 Horizon League College Baseball Preview
1. Wright State (39-17, 22-6)
2. Illinois-Chicago (27-18, 15-9)
3. Wisconsin-Milwaukee (24-28, 13-12)
4. Youngstown State (18-38, 10-19)
5. Oakland (15-32, 12-14)
6. Northern Kentucky (13-38, 9-21)
Team to Beat: Wright State
The Raiders are coming off another outstanding season that saw them win 39 games and win the Horizon League by a commanding five-game margin. Wright State swept through the Horizon League Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Now, the Raiders must reset. Gone are slugger Gabe Snyder, the Horizon League player of the year, a raft of key pitchers, headlined by fourth-round pick Ryan Weiss and coach Jeff Mercer, who was hired away by Indiana after two seasons at the program’s helm. Still, Wright State remains the most talented team in the league. The offense features outfielders Peyton Burdick (.347/.437/.569, 9 HR, 15 SB) and JD Orr (.318/.465/.388, 34 SB). Third baseman Seth Gray (.267/.378/.406) is coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League and is primed to take a step forward as a junior. The Raiders will have a new-look pitching staff after losing key pitchers who accounted for more than 200 innings last season. Lefthander Zane Collins (6-1, 4.18) is back for his senior season, however, and if he can recapture his form from 2017 when he stood out both for Wright State and on the Cape, the Raiders will have a true ace at the front of their rotation. Wright State is going through its third coaching transition in six years. So far it hasn’t slowed them down at all, and there’s every reason to believe that Sogard, 31, will keep things rolling in Dayton.
Player of the Year: Peyton Burdick, OF, Wright State
Burdick last year made a strong return after missing all of 2017 due to Tommy John surgery. As a redshirt sophomore, he hit .347/.437/.569 with nine home runs and 15 stolen bases, earning all-Horizon League honors. He followed that up with a solid showing on the Cape, where he hit .252/.351/.435 with five home runs. Burdick, a righthanded hitter, packs big raw power into his 6-foot, 210-pound frame, and is an above-average runner. With another strong spring, he figures to be drafted in the top 10 rounds.
Pitcher of the Year: Zane Collins, LHP, Wright State
A year ago, Collins was coming off an all-star performance on the Cape and was expected to be drafted in the top 10-15 rounds. He scuffled as a junior, however, as his velocity and command took a step back and he went 6-1, 4.18 with 44 walks and 48 strikeouts in 66.2 innings. If he can get back on track, he has the ability to dominate Horizon League hitters this spring like he did when he went 7-5, 2.83 as a sophomore. He’s not overpowering, even at his best, but locates his stuff well and has good pitchability.
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Hoffman, RHP, Oakland
Hoffman, listed at 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, figures to quickly take on a significant role for the Grizzlies. He had a decorated prep career at Plainfield (Ill.) East High and can run his fastball into the low 90s. Oakland returns senior righthander Nick Parr, who made 13 starts last season, but has openings in its rotation. Hoffman has the stuff to seize one this spring.
Top 25 Teams: None.
UIC has long been Wright State’s foil in the league and last season finished second to the Raiders in the standings and lost to them in the Horizon League Tournament championship game. The Flames must replace two key members of last season’s pitching staff, as they lost both the Horizon League pitcher and reliever of the year in Ryan Campbell and Charlie Cerny, who were both drafted in the top seven rounds. Despite those losses, the staff will still have strong veteran presence. Junior righthander Jacob Key (4-4, 3.77) will move to the front of the rotation and seniors Braeden Toikka (1-2, 3.70), Nick Oliff, who was limited to seven innings last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and Patrick Martin, a graduate transfer from Hawaii-Manoa, are options behind him. UIC wasn’t particularly offensive last year and posted a team OPS of .743. Senior outfielder Scott Ota (.283/.351/,481) leads the returners in the lineup. With an older lineup, the Flames should have a more potent lineup, which will help easy the pressure on a less experienced pitching staff.
Milwaukee should also be improved this season thanks to a solid returning core. Redshirt senior outfielder Devin Rybacki (.336/.401/.418), the team’s leading hitter, junior second baseman Trevor Schwecke (.318/.376/.419) and senior catcher Tyler Bordner (.241/.286/.429, 5 HR) are back to lead the lineup. The Panthers aren’t as experienced on the mound and the loss of ace Austin Schulfer is a tough one. But righthander Patrick Tomfohrde (2-2, 3.13), a member of the 2018 Horizon League all-freshman team, returns, as does senior righthander Jared Reklaitis (4-4, 4.87). If Milwaukee can get a couple more pitchers to step up, their offense should provide enough support to keep them in the mix.
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Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects
1. Seth Gray, 3B, Wright State
2. Peyton Burdick, OF, Wright State
3. Zane Collins, LHP, Wright State
4. Trevor Schwecke, 2B, Milwaukee
5. Blaze Glenn, 3B, Youngstown State
6. JD Orr, OF, Wright State
7. Alex Padilla, RHP, UIC
8. Scott Ota, OF, UIC
9. Mitch Gremling, RHP, Wright State
10. Bobby Nicholson, RHP, UIC