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2019 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference College Baseball Preview

Morro, Conner (Courtesy of Canisius).jpg
Conner Morro (Photo courtesy of Canisius)

Projected Standings

(2018 Record)

1. Canisius (35-22, 16-8)
2. Marist (27-23, 14-10)
3. Monmouth (30-25, 16-7)
4.
Quinnipiac (26-30, 16-8)
5.
Fairfield (22-29, 9-14)
6.
Manhattan (25-28, 13-11)
7.
Niagara (24-27, 13-11)
8.
Siena (21-35, 14-10)
9.
Rider (12-35, 7-16)
10.
Iona (16-31, 10-13)
11. St.
Peter’s (2-42, 2-22)

Team to Beat: Canisius.

The reigning MAAC Tournament champions, Canisius enters 2019 looking for back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time in school history. The Golden Griffins will have to repeat its feat despite the loss of some important contributors from last year’s team, including 2018 MAAC pitcher of the year J.P. Stevenson (10-2, 2.73, 93 SO) and closer Tyler Smith (2-3, 0.98, 10 SV), an eighth-round pick by the Angels last June. In their place, Canisius will turn to senior righthander Andrew Sipowicz (7-2, 5.65) on Friday nights and junior righthander Will Frank (4-1, 3.02) to anchor the back of the bullpen. Senior Jared Kennedy (2-1, 3.82) should be the Griffs’ top lefthanded relief option, while senior righthander Andrew Knuessle (2-3, 4.82) will slide into the rotation on a full-time basis. Offensively, Canisius will lean on senior shortstop Conner Morro (.342/.448/.457, 11 SB) and senior right fielder Mark McKenna (.333/.406/.418, 13 SB), both of whom build a majority of their offensive value around above-average contact ability and speed. Relying on those specific tools will be part of an overall trend for the Griffs in 2019, as Matt Mazurek’s club has to replace the only three players—Ryan Stekl, Liam Wilson and Gage Lanning—who hit at least five home runs a season ago. The MAAC hasn’t had a repeat conference champion since Manhattan won back-to-back conference tournaments in 2011-12, but Canisius returns 27 lettermen from last year’s team and should once again be in contention for the league’s top spot.

Player of the Year: Tyler Kapuscinski, INF/DH, Marist

A first-team all-MAAC selection last season, Kapuscinski returns for his redshirt junior season in 2019, one year after leading Marist in batting average (.366), on-base percentage (.450) and slugging percentage (.511). In fact, Kapuscinski has led the Red Foxes in both batting average and on-base percentage in each of the last two seasons, while also driving in 45 runs and scoring 60 in 83 total games. Having spent the majority of his time at either DH or first base over the past two seasons, Kapuscinski’s value is largely tied to his offensive production. Regardless, the Marlboro, N.J., native has proven himself to be one of the conference’s top hitters.

Pitcher of the Year: John Signore, RHP, Fairfield

Fairfield’s top pitching option a season ago, Signore returns for his senior season in 2019 leading the Stags’ rotation yet again. As a junior, the 5-foot-11, 230-pound righthander led the team in wins (six), ERA (2.93) and innings pitched (83), and he finished second in the MAAC with 91 strikeouts and five complete games. In all, Signore, who has struck out 225 batters, is just 69 strikeouts away from setting a program record for most strikeouts in a career, and the 2018 all-MAAC first-team selection needs just six more wins to become Fairfield’s all-time winningest pitcher. He currently holds the school record for fewest walks per nine innings (1.57) as well.

Freshman of the Year: Dylan Vincent, 1B, Canisius

An all-New York state first team selection during his senior year at Olean (N.Y.) High, Vincent finished his high school career with a .470 batting average, including a .574 mark during his final season. A 6-foot, 215-pound lefthanded hitter, Vincent has the chance to make an immediate impact in the Griffs’ lineup, giving Canisius a potential power threat in the middle of the lineup while also filing in it at first base on defense. Fellow Canisius freshman Kyle Kush is another first year player to keep an eye on, as the 5-foot-9 middle infielder can play a number of positions around the diamond and has potential at the plate as well.

Top 25 Teams: None.

Notable Storylines

Marist returns enough offensive firepower to be considered a real threat for the MAAC championship in 2019. Led by seniors Tyler Kapuscinski, Randy Taveras and Anthony Lazar, the Red Foxes’ lineup features three experienced hitters who hit above .300 and combined for 12 home runs, 79 RBIs and 20 stolen bases a season ago. Both Kapuscinksi and Lazar were first-team all-MAAC selections last year, and all three players should be in the running for similar honors in 2019. On the mound, Marist must replace lefthander Charlie Jerla, who led the team with six wins and 15 starts in 2018, and closer Mike Coss (5-2, 3.38) who recorded a team-best eight saves in 27 relief appearances. The Red Foxes return righthander Conor McNamara (1-3, 5.56), lefthander Tony Romanelli (5-5, 3.94) and righthander Skyler Pichardo (2-3, 4.10), however—all of whom have previous starting experience. Romanelli enters his redshirt senior season having led Marist in innings (82.1) and strikeouts (70) last year. Chris Tracz is entering his 10th season as Marist’s head coach looking for his second NCAA Tournament bid. The Red Foxes have yet to finish atop the regular season standings in Tracz’ tenure, but they have finished .500 or better in conference play in each of the past four seasons.

Monmouth was one of only two teams—joining conference champion Canisius—to win more than 30 games and record at least 16 conference victories a season ago. In fact, coach Dean Ehehalt’s club was the No. 1 seed in last year’s conference tournament before falling to the Griffs, 11-0, in the championship game. This year, Monmouth will lean on the likes of redshirt senior outfielder Kyle Norman (.298/.412/.439, 4 HR) and junior infielder Danny Long (.286/.417/.446, 5 HR) to lead the offense, while hoping to replace the power production of Shaine Hughes (.316/.442/.480) and Pete Papcun (.258/.331/.503), who combined for 16 of the Hawks’ 34 home runs a season ago. From a pitching standpoint, Monmouth will rely heavily on sophomore righthander Dan Klepchick, who is coming off a stellar freshman season that ended with MAAC rookie of the year honors and a second-team all-MAAC selection. In his first year on campus, Klepchick led the Hawks in strikeouts (78), and he walked just 18 hitters in a team-high 85.2 innings. Having a true front-of-the-rotation starter should help Monmouth navigate the MAAC regular season slate, and the Hawks appear to have the complementary pieces necessary to contend for their first NCAA Tournament berth in 10 years.

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Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects

1.Will Frank, RHP, Canisius
2.
Austin Pope, RHP, Fairfield
3.
Brendan White, RHP, Siena
4.
Randy Taveras, SS, Marist
5.
Evan Vulgamore, C/INF, Quinnipiac
6.
Liam Scaferiello, OF, Quinnipiac
7.
Tyler Kapuscinski, 1B/DH, Marist
8.
John Signore, RHP, Fairfield
9.
Conner Morro, SS, Canisius
10.
Logan Muratalla, RHP Manhattan

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