2019 Southwestern Athletic Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Alabama State
2. Jackson State
3. Alcorn State
4. Alabama A&M
5. Mississippi Valley State
2. Grambling State
3. Arkansas-Pine Bluff
5. Prairie View A&M
Team to Beat: Alabama State
The Hornets have developed into the powerhouse of the SWAC’s East Division and again enter the year as the favorite. Alabama State last season won 30 games but fell short in the SWAC Tournament, losing to Grambling State in the semifinals. The Hornets will be eager to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016 and return a strong team. They must replace third baseman Ray Hernandez and catcher Gustavo Rios, their top two hitters last season, but welcome back center fielder Noel Cheneau (.313/.385/.438, 13 SB) and get a boost as second baseman Eriq White returns from injury after missing all of last season. Alabama State also gets a boost from the addition of outfielder Cameron Hearn, a junior college transfer, who brings a powerful bat and will slide right into the heart of the order. On the mound, ace Darrius Wright (8-1, 2.36), who has the best stuff in the conference, is back at the front of the rotation. Righthander Darren Kelly is working back from Tommy John surgery and should give the Hornets another premium arm in the rotation, while closer Terrell McCall (2-2, 4.64, 4 SV) again anchors the bullpen. Alabama State has all the pieces to put together another big spring that culminates with a postseason run.
Player of the Year: Christian Sanchez, 1B, Texas Southern
Sanchez last year led the SWAC with 17 home runs and hit .335/.423/.651. This year, he will anchor the Tigers' lineup as they aim for their third straight SWAC Tournament title. Sanchez has made steady development over the course of his college career and is primed for a big senior year.
Pitcher of the Year: Darrius Wright, RHP, Alabama State
Listed at 6-foot, 175 pounds, Wright packs plenty of punch into his frame. His fastball sits in the low 90s and gets up to 94 mph. He mixes in a slider, changeup and cutter, giving him a deep arsenal to keep batters off-balance. Wright last season went 8-1, 2.36 in his first season at Alabama State after transferring from junior college and could hit another level this spring as a senior.
Freshman of the Year: Warren Laster, OF, Grambling State
The Tigers this fall brought in a strong recruiting class that was heavy on junior college transfers, but also included some exciting freshmen such as Laster. Listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, he runs well, has a physical frame and a good lefthanded swing. Laster should be able to quickly make an impact in Grambling State’s lineup.
Top 25 Teams: None.
Like Alabama State in the East Division, Texas Southern has established itself as the powerhouse of the West Division. The Tigers have won three of the last four SWAC Tournaments and are aiming for their third straight title, which no team has done since Southern did so from 2001-03. Texas Southern has two big pieces to build around this season in righthander Aron Solis (10-4, 3.67), the 2018 SWAC pitcher of the year, and first baseman Christian Sanchez (.335/.423/.651, 17 HR, 13 SB). Also returning is SWAC Tournament MVP Olijade Oloruntimilehin (.288/.384/.458, 10 SB) and Chris Suarez (2-1, 2.93, 5 SV). But the Tigers will have to fill some holes on the mound. Still, they figure to be in the mix at the end of the season for that NCAA Tournament bid, as they have been for the last few years.
Grambling State last year made a run to the SWAC Tournament championship game, eliminating Alabama State along the way. It lost to Texas Southern, falling shy of its first SWAC Tournament title since 2010. But the Tigers are well positioned going forward. Their recruiting class included lefthander Bryan Delgado and righthander Jason Alvarez, a pair of junior college transfers who can immediately make an impact on the pitching staff. Grambling State also adds infielder Jalin McMillian, who sat out last season after transferring from Illinois. He didn’t play much in two seasons for the Illini, but he adds a powerful bat to the middle of the lineup. Those newcomers join returning sluggers Rafael Ramirez (.353/.440/.735, 16 HR) and Richard Ortiz (.294/.423/.497, 10 HR) to make for a potent lineup. If the Tigers can sort out their new-look pitching staff, they could have another postseason run in them.
Alabama A&M underwent an offseason transition as coach Mitch Hill resigned after five seasons to take over at Martin Methodist (Tenn.), an NAIA school. Manny Lora, who served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for the last three seasons, was promoted to head coach. Lora is an Alabama A&M alumnus and made 54 appearances out of the bullpen for the Bulldogs during his career. He takes over a program that last year finished in third place in the East Division and missed the SWAC Tournament.
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Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects
1. Cameron Hearn, OF, Alabama State
2. CJ Newsome, OF, Jackson State
3. Jalin McMillan, INF, Grambling State
4. Desmond Chumley, OF, Jackson State
5. Darrius Wright, RHP, Alabama State
6. Aron Solis, Texas Southern
7. Christian Sanchez, 1B, Texas Southern
8. Darren Kelly, RHP, Alabama State
9. Carlos Lopez, RHP, Alcorn State
10. Sergio Esparza, OF, Arkansas-Pine Bluff