2019 Missouri Valley Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Missouri State (40-17, 18-3)
2. Dallas Baptist (42-21, 16-5)
3. Indiana State (31-24, 11-10)
4. Bradley (32-19, 11-10)
5. Southern Illinois (28-30, 10-11)
6. Illinois State (22-30, 9-12)
7. Valparaiso (19-34, 6-15)
8. Evansville (12-39, 3-18)
Team to Beat: Missouri State
The job that Missouri State (40-17) coach Keith Guttin and his staff have done to continually rebuild their program year after year is impressive. Heading into 2019, they will be without their most accomplished hitter on last year’s roster, shortstop Jeremy Eierman, and their staff ace, Dylan Coleman, and yet, they are still the favorites to win the conference regular season crown. Catcher Drew Millas (.321/.416/.500) is a clear player of the year candidate in the league after an outstanding 2018 season, and he and first baseman Ben Whetstone (.278/.378/.453) will continue to make the middle of the MSU order difficult for opposing pitchers to navigate. Add in third baseman Joey Polak, a junior college transfer who started his college career at South Carolina and was last year named NJCAA Division I player of the year at Jefferson (Mo.) JC, and fellow junior college transfer outfielder Collin Clayton, and the Bears have the potential for an elite offensive attack. On the mound, there are still some roles to be decided as Opening Day approaches, but righthanders Ty Buckner (7-4, 4.81) and Logan Wiley (7-6, 4.13) in the rotation and righthander Connor Sechler (7-1, 2.98) and lefthander Jake Lochner (1-1, 2.86) in the bullpen is a solid foundation around which to build a staff.
Player of the Year: Drew Millas, C, Missouri State
Two years ago, Jake Burger capped off an outstanding career at Missouri State by being selected in the first round by the White Sox. Last year, Jeremy Eierman went from playing shortstop for the Bears to a second-round pick of the Athletics. This season, Millas could make it three consecutive years of MSU position players having their names called in the first several rounds of the draft. Millas, a switch-hitter, took a huge leap as a sophomore in 2018 and emerged as the Bears’ best all-around bat, leading the team in average (.321), OPS (.916) and tallying 13 doubles, seven homers, and 61 RBIs. For good measure, he’s also a solid defensive catcher, and a good showing with Wareham in the Cape Cod League this past summer certainly won’t do anything to dampen spirits about his pro prospects or his ability to be one of the most dynamic players in the MVC in 2019.
Pitcher of the Year: Triston Polley, LHP, Indiana State
The story of Polley’s improvement throughout his career is one worth telling. In three seasons, his ERA has gone from 8.64 to 5.74 to just 3.53 a year ago. His WHIP has gone from 1.92 to 1.35 to 1.28. His walks per nine innings rate has dropped from 8.64 to 4.72 to 4.10. Not surprisingly, as he’s progressed, his role on the Indiana State pitching staff has grown. After making 12 relief appearances as a freshman, he made 18 appearances as a sophomore, including three starts, and as a junior, he made 15 starts as a member of the weekend rotation. Now, he’s poised for his best season yet as a senior. With a fastball that sits around 90 mph and good offspeed pitches at his disposal, stuff isn’t an issue, and in 2019, Polley will look to make better use and have better command of those secondary pitches after pitching primarily off of his fastball a year ago. With another step forward, the lanky Sycamores’ lefthander (he’s listed at 6-foot-2, 175 pounds) could be a bargain as a senior sign in the top ten rounds.
Freshman of the Year: Mason Hull, SS, Missouri State
Hull, a native of Effingham, Ill., will have the unenviable task of replacing Eierman at shortstop. No one is expecting him to be that type of player right out of the gate, of course, but he projects as a plus defender with good arm strength. Offensively, he’s coming off of a huge senior season in high school, but even if that breakout campaign doesn’t necessarily carry over into big numbers as a freshman, simply proving to be a steady hand at a premium defensive position will make him incredibly valuable as the Bears aim for another conference title.
Top 25 Teams: None.
Other Projected Regional Teams: Dallas Baptist.
Missouri State is the favorite, but if it sputters for one reason or another, Dallas Baptist, the conference’s other powerhouse, will likely end up winning the regular season title. The Patriots have pieces to replace on offense, starting with outfielders Devlin Granberg, a 2018 All-American, and Jameson Hannah, a second-round draft pick. But shortstop Jimmy Glowenke (.336/.432/.546), a premium 2020 draft prospect, is a fantastic centerpiece for the lineup. He’ll be helped by athletic, toolsy outfielder Luke Bandy (.255/.344/.395), and catcher Herbert Iser, a highly touted junior college transfer who is a good catch-and-throw guy behind the plate with solid pop in his bat. They return much more experience on the mound, where lefthander Jordan Martinson (1-1, 5.85) and righthanders MD Johnson (8-2, 5.14) and Luke Eldred (7-3, 3.28) will come into the season with more than 425 combined career innings between them, with Martinson and Johnson each having thrown more than 175. The bullpen, anchored by righthanders MacGregor Hines (5-3, 3.88), Jarod Bayless (3-3, 3.12) and Kragen Kechely (7-1, 3.99), will be just as much of a strength. The MVC race may come down to DBU’s series at Missouri State at the start of May.
Steve Holm takes over at Illinois State (22-30) after successful stints as an assistant coach at Sacramento State and Purdue. He’ll take over a veteran team that returns six starters from the 2018 lineup and an all-upperclassman weekend rotation featuring junior lefthander Brent Headrick (4-7, 6.40), senior righthander Jeff Lindgren (3-4, 5.94) and junior lefthander Matt Walker (5-2, 5.49). With Holm’s experience as a pitching coach at his previous stops, it wouldn’t be a shock to see that unit’s numbers improve right away. The marquee name to know with the Redbirds is that of junior outfielder John Rave (.347/.402/.571). With a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, he established himself as a top-five rounds draft pick and is the MVC’s biggest prospect this year. He brings a bit of everything. He handles the bat well, has improved his plate discipline year over year, can be a weapon on the bases with his plus speed, and he is a legit center fielder. He is perhaps the biggest challenger to MSU’s Millas for player of the year honors in the league.
Bradley and Indiana State both bring back veteran weekend rotations that should keep them as top-half finishers in the league. The Braves will go into the season with senior righthander Mitch Janssen (5-3, 4.90), sophomore lefthander Brooks Gosswein (2-2, 3.40), who will spend his 2019 summer on the Cape, and senior lefthander Cole Cook (4-5, 4.84), who is coming off of a great summer in the Alaska League. The Sycamores will go with Polley (7-2, 3.53), senior righthander Tyler Ward (6-3, 3.66) and junior lefthander Tristan Weaver (3-5, 4.75). The Braves (29-19, 11-10) and Sycamores (31-24, 11-10) last year finished third and fourth in the MVC and both had top-100 RPIs. Their experienced pitching staffs should keep them in contention again this spring.
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1. John Rave, OF, Illinois State
2. Adam Lukas, RHP, Evansville
3. Drew Millas, C, Missouri State
4. Ray Gaither, RHP, Dallas Baptist
5. Luke Bandy, OF, Dallas Baptist
6. Herbert Iser, C, Dallas Baptist
7. Triston Polley, LHP, Indiana State
8. Luke Eldred, RHP, Dallas Baptist
9. Brent Headrick, LHP, Illinois State
10. Parker Towns, RHP, Dallas Baptist