2019 Mountain West Conference College Baseball Preview
1. San Diego State (39-21, 18-12)
2. Fresno State (30-24, 13-17)
3. Nevada (29-24, 20-9)
4. Nevada-Las Vegas (35-24, 14-16)
5. New Mexico (20-33-1, 11-19)
6. San Jose State (27-30, 16-14)
7. Air Force (24-30, 12-17)
Team to Beat: San Diego State.
After finishing second in the regular season and winning the Mountain West Tournament a year ago, San Diego State returns 18 lettermen to the 2019 team, with veterans filling out the roster on the mound and in the lineup. Just two freshmen are projected to start for the Aztecs this season—first baseman Brian Leonhardt and outfielder Jaden Fein -- giiving coach Mike Martinez one of the most complete teams he’s had in his five seasons at the helm. The pitching staff is led by righthander Logan Boyer, who struck out 12.79 batters per nine innings last season but was hampered by injuries. When healthy, Boyer has the stuff to be the best pitcher in the league. Three redshirt senior righthanders come after him in Harrison Pyatt, Brad Wegman and Justin Goossen-Brown, while two-way Freshman All-American Casey Schmitt is back after a breakout freshman campaign in which he posted a 0.28 ERA in 32 innings of relief. He’ll handle third base duties as well, and now healthy after playing 2018 with wrist injury, Schmitt could take another step forward with the bat. Julian Escobedo will handle the center field duties as an impressive runner with a strong arm, and he should also be a reliable bat in the lineup after a .316/.419/.429 campaign in 2018.
Player of the Year: Bryson Stott, SS, UNLV
Stott is the easy choice here and returns for his junior season as the top hitter in the conference. He trailed only Torin Goldstein (Fresno State) and Grant Fennell (Nevada) in batting average last season, and both those players are now gone. Stott hit for more power during his sophomore season, upping his extra-base hits from 14 to 37, and he put up a .365/.442/.556 slash line that earned him the starting shortstop spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Over the summer, Stott showed improved defensive actions up the middle, and if he continues to show that he can drive the baseball with impact, he will fly up draft boards in June. Already the No. 27 prospect in the country, Stott’s selective approach and innate feel for barreling the baseball make him the most dangerous hitter in the conference.
Pitcher of the Year: Logan Boyer, RHP, San Diego State
The top arm on a deep San Diego State pitching staff, Boyer works off of a fastball in the 91-94 mph range and gets up to 95 mph with life. He compliments the pitch with a hard slider and changeup that helped him rack up 27 strikeouts in just 19 innings last season. He has the stuff to miss bats, but the biggest question will be how regularly he can run out to the mound after dealing with injuries in 2018. Boyer also thrived as a freshman, posting a 1.46 ERA, but that still came in just a 12-inning sample. With no track record of holding innings over a season in the Mountain West, picking Boyer here is risky. But he’s always been effective when he’s taken the mound, including a 2017 stint in the Alaska Summer League as a 19-year-old when he posted a 1.44 ERA over 31.1 innings, striking out 13.79 batters per nine innings.
Freshman of the Year: Owen Sharts, RHP, Nevada
Sharts will start the year behind sophomore righthander Jake Jackson and junior lefthander Ryan Anderson, but the polished freshman should have ample opportunity to make an impact on the mound in his first year. Extremely polished for a high school pitcher, Sharts ended the year ranked as the 162nd prospect in the 2018 BA 500. He made his way to Nevada, however, where he brings an 89-91 mph fastball that touches 94 mph, a low-80s changeup and a mid-70s curveball. Sharts showed he was able to hold his velocity deep into outings in high school and locates his three-pitch arsenal well.
Top 25 Teams: None.
After winning the conference’s regular season title last season, Nevada will have to find a way to replace leading hitters Grant Fennell and Cole Krzmarzick in the outfield. The former posted a 1.028 OPS en route to winning the Mountain West player of the year award, while the latter hit .359/.428/.425 during his senior season. Both are gone, along with all-Mountain West first team righthander Mark Nowaczewski, though 2018 freshman of the year third baseman Joshua Zamora is back after a loud first season in which he hit .355/.430/.563. He can offer plenty of power to the lineup, after leading the team with nine home runs a season ago, but others will need to step up offensively. The Wolf Pack does have experience returning on the mound, but both Anderson and Jackson will need to become more efficient to bridge the gap to senior righthander Brad Bonnenfant, who is set to take over the closer's role after posting a team-best 2.79 ERA a season ago.
Air Force first baseman Nic Ready has been a consistent source of power over his college career, and he has homered 37 times during his three seasons, capped off with a career-high 20-homer campaign in 2018. That season, Ready led the Mountain West in home runs, slugging percentage (.688) and RBIs (73). He followed that up by besting Clemson shortstop Logan Davidson in the 2018 College Home Run Derby in Omaha. Ready is already tied for fifth among Air Force players in career home runs, and he would need to hit just 10 more during his senior season to become the all-time home run leader for the program. Steve Saleck (1977-1980) is the current record-holder with 46.
Inside Bryson Stott's Transformation Into A Star At UNLV
Stott has a chance to be UNLV's fourth-ever 1st round MLB Draft pick and is the centerpiece of the Rebels' resurgence.
1. Bryson Stott, SS, UNLV
2. Carter Bins, C, Fresno State
3. Logan Boyer, RHP, San Diego State
4. Justin Slaten, RHP, New Mexico
5. Julian Escobedo, OF, San Diego State
6. Ryan Anderson, LHP, Nevada
7. Brad Wegman, RHP, San Diego State
8. Nic Ready, 1B, Air Force
9. Jared Mang, OF, New Mexico
10. Zach Ashford, OF, Fresno State