2019 Ohio Valley Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Morehead State (37-26, 18-12)
2. Jacksonville State (32-25, 18-12)
3. Tennessee Tech (53-12, 27-3)
4. Southeast Missouri State (27-30, 20-10)
5. Eastern Kentucky (30-31, 15-15)
6. Austin Peay State (30-27, 17-13)
7. Eastern Illinois (23-31, 12-18)
8. Belmont (19-36, 11-19)
9. Southern Illinois- Edwardsville (15-37, 6-24)
10. Murray State (27-29, 13-16)
11. Tennessee- Martin (11-40, 7-22)
Team to Beat: Morehead State
Morehead State (37-26) looks like the team to beat in the OVC for a couple of reasons. For one, while they haven’t had the highs similar to Tennessee Tech’s dominant 2018 season, the Eagles have been as consistent as any program in the league of late. They’ve won 143 games over the last four seasons and made two trips to regionals (2015 and 2018) during that time. The last four seasons have also provided the four highest single-season win totals in the history of the program. Beyond that, they return a veteran core from a team that pulled an upset, not once but twice, over Tennessee Tech in the OVC Tournament to win the league’s automatic bid. Much of that returning talent is concentrated on offense, and that should once again give MSU a dangerous offense. Back are first baseman Trevor Snyder (.335/.478/.606), second baseman Bryce Hensor (.294/.433/.344), shortstop Reid Leonard (.344/.468/.464) and outfielders Connor Pauly (.339/.438/.526) and Jake Hammon (.361/.471/.565). Morehead State’s association with offense is much stronger than with pitching, but there’s quality experience back on the mound and a couple of wildcards that could make this staff more productive than last season. Lefthander Dalton Stambaugh (7-3, 6.17) will lead the weekend rotation. His ERA might be a bit unsightly, but some of his peripheral numbers, such as his 87 strikeouts compared to just 33 walks in 90 innings, suggest that he was probably a bit better than the ERA shows. He features a three-pitch mix that includes a fastball at 88-90 mph and a plus changeup. Righthander Jake Ziegelmeyer (5-2, 7.91) is one of the wild cards after being banged up down the stretch last season. Righthander Garret Rogers (1-3, 5.51) will hold down the Sunday spot. In a swing role last season, with 32 strikeouts in 32.2 innings, he showed the ability to dominate, but he’ll need to limit his walks after allowing 6.61 free passes per nine innings last season. Lefthander Cory Conway (8-4, 3.57) is back to close games after serving as the Eagles’ most effective and most often-used reliever in 2018.
Player of the Year: Kevin Strohschein, OF, Tennessee Tech
Players don’t get much more productive over a three-year period than Strohschein, who has simply mashed since stepping foot on the Tennessee Tech campus. In three years, he has hit .352/.409/.620 with 51 doubles, 47 home runs, and 200 RBIs, and along the way, he’s been the OVC’s player of the year twice, in 2016 and 2018. Even in an offense-happy league like the OVC, those are impressive feats. An elbow injury forced him into DH duty for much of the 2018 season, but now fully healthy, Strohschein will also be a key piece of the Golden Eagles’ defense as the team’s center fielder. While he wasn’t among the eight Tennessee Tech players selected in the MLB draft last year, partly due to his injury, Strohschein this year figures to be an intriguing senior sign.
Pitcher of the Year: Garrett Farmer, RHP, Jacksonville State
Farmer enjoyed a classic breakout year in 2018. After holding down a role in the bullpen as a freshman in 2016 and then appearing in just three games in 2017, he emerged as a co-ace alongside Colton Pate in the JSU rotation last season, going 7-2 with a 3.80 ERA and a 107-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 90 innings. That performance earned him all-OVC honors, but he’s got a shot for even greater recognition in 2019. Farmer’s stuff won’t blow anyone away, but he throws every selection from his three-pitch mix, including a fastball from 88-91 mph and an above-average changeup, for strikes. This season, Farmer will be the unquestioned number one on the JSU staff, and he appears up for the task.
Freshman of the Year: Isaiah Magwood, RHP, Jacksonville State
Magwood is straight out of central casting for a starting pitcher looking to make an impact right away. At 6-foot-5, he has the prototypical height you look for in a workhorse pitcher, and that will also give opposing hitters a tough angle to work against. Then there’s the raw stuff, which includes a fastball that sits at 90-94 mph and an above-average curveball. Just as important as the build and tools, however, is opportunity, and Magwood will have that also, as he projects to slot in behind Farmer as JSU’s Saturday starter. The righthander from Hazel Green, Ala., has an incredibly high ceiling that it might take him some time to reach, but there’s every indication that he’ll be a factor from day one.
Top 25 Teams: None.
There’s a palpable buzz around the Jacksonville State program. The newly-constructed Jim Case Stadium gives the Gamecocks a distinct facilities advantage over the rest of the league, and this fall, 1,500 fans packed in for a scrimmage against Mississippi State after dedicating the new stadium. This season, they’ll have an opportunity to keep the good times rolling, as they have the talent in place to bring home the regular season OVC title. The presence of Farmer (7-2, 3.80) at the front of the rotation will give JSU an advantage every Friday night in league play, and Magwood will provide a high-end arm to follow the established ace. Freshman righthander Trey Fortner will round out a rotation that has experience and potential in just about equal measure. In the bullpen, sophomore Christian Edwards (3-1, 1.91) is about as good as it gets among returning relievers in the league after striking out 55 batters in 33 innings and holding opponents to a .104 batting average last season. There is some rebuilding to do on offense, but there are some important foundational pieces back, including catcher Nic Gaddis (.324/.424/.585), who could challenge the likes of Strohschein for OVC player of the year. Gaddis combines quality power in the batting order with steady defense and a strong arm behind the plate, making him a good cornerstone around which to build a lineup. First baseman Andrew Naismith (.291/.382/.443), shortstop Isaac Alexander (.306/.389/.454), and utilityman Cole Frederick (.255/.322/.407) will provide some support around Gaddis. Frederick, as a toolsy jack-of-all-trades with a plus arm who could conceivably play some second base, third base, shortstop, center field, or right field, is a particularly useful player on a team that projects to start five newcomers.
It would be foolhardy to write off a program that has been as consistently successful as Tennessee Tech (53-12), especially when they’re coming off of a super regional appearance, but the Golden Eagles suffered extraordinary attrition after their historic season in 2018. An OVC-record eight TTU players were selected (and eventually signed) in last year’s draft, they lost another as an undrafted free agent, and they had a couple more graduate. On top of that, former head coach Matt Bragga is now the head coach at Rice. The cupboard isn’t bare for new head coach Justin Holmes, however. Strohschein (.375/.433/.650), a two-time OVC player of the year, is back to anchor the offense, and fellow outfielder Anthony Carrera (.345/.438/.673 in 55 AB) looks ready for his star turn after showing well in a small role last season. There’s a bit more returning experience on the mound, with Alex Hursey (8-5, 4.81), Nic Dye (4-1, 4.95) and Devin Lancaster (1-0, 5.62) back with significant starting experience under their belts and Tyler Sylvester (3-1, 5.04) returning as a key bullpen arm. Tennessee Tech is going to take a step back in 2019, but they should still be contenders at the top of the league.
Southeast Missouri State (27-30) brings back a talented team after finishing second in the OVC behind Tennessee Tech a year ago. Two-thirds of SEMO’s weekend rotation—Christian Vick (5-5, 5.68) and Logan Spalt (2-2, 6.63)—return. The bad news is that the missing piece is last year’s ace Carlos Vega, who is now with the Cubs. Key bullpen arms Daniel Bergtholdt (2-4, 4.80) and Aaron Stretch (2-2, 4.15) also return after serving as the two most reliable relievers a season ago. Vega was the only pitcher who had an ERA lower than Stretch’s 4.15 in 2018, so head coach Andy Sawyers and his staff will certainly look for these guys to take steps forward. Offensively, the loss of Trevor Ezell as a grad transfer to Arkansas hurts, but Justin Dirden (.340/.437/.665) was an absolute monster in his debut season in Cape Girardeau, leading the team in homers (16) and RBIs (68). He could certainly mount a player of the year campaign as a senior.
Dan Skirka takes over as the head coach at Murray State. He previously served as an assistant in the program from 2010-2014, and more recently, was an assistant at junior college powerhouse Walters State (Tenn.) JC. Trevor McMurray (5-2, 5.15) gives him a workhorse at the front of the rotation, and Gray Dorsey (3-1, 4.88) has plenty of upside as well. Offensively, it will be a bit more of a blank canvas for Skirka, as the Racers’ top six hitters from a year ago are gone. On-base machine Ryan Perkins (.253/.410/.410) will serve as the returning centerpiece of the offense.
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Top 10 Prospects for the 2019 Draft
1. Kevin Strohschein, OF, Tennessee Tech
2. Aaron Ochsenbein, RHP, Eastern Kentucky
3. Alex Garbrick, RHP, Morehead State
4. Reid Leonard, SS, Morehead State
5. Kenny Serwa, RHP, SIU-Edwardsville
6. Michael YaSenka, RHP, Eastern Illinois
7. Nick Howie, OF, Eastern Kentucky
8. Korey Bell, RHP, Belmont
9. Nic Gaddis, C, Jacksonville State
10. Justin Dirden, OF, Southeast Missouri State