2019 Western Athletic Conference College Baseball Preview
1. Grand Canyon (33-24, 19-5)
2. New Mexico State (39-22, 17-7)
3. Sacramento State (35-25, 17-7)
4. Seattle (32-23, 13-11)
5. California Baptist (First season in Division I)
6. Texas-Rio Grande Valley (23-31, 8-16)
7. Cal State Bakersfield (21-36, 10-14)
8. Northern Colorado (24-23, 11-13)
9. Utah Valley (15-37, 6-18)
10. Chicago State (13-41, 7-17)
Team to Beat: Grand Canyon
The WAC looks to be very top heavy with what may end up being a tight race between Grand Canyon (2018 regular season champion), New Mexico State (2018 WAC Tournament champion) and Sacramento State. Grand Canyon returns a good core of position players led by outfielder Quin Cotton (.390/.462/.573, 13 SB), the 2018 WAC player of the year, and senior Austin Bull, a three-year starter who last year was slowed by injury. The return of senior third baseman Pikai Winchester (.355/.410/.485), along with the development of outfielder Kona Quiggle and slugger Cuba Bess, who missed last season due to injury, will make the ‘Lopes deep on offense. But to repeat as regular season champions, Grand Canyon will need to get production from a new but talented pitching staff. Ace Jake Wong, the 80th overall pick in last year’s draft, must be replaced, as does closer Mick Vorhof. GCU has some exciting newcomers on the mound and will need them to quickly adjust to the WAC. If they can do so, the ‘Lopes can be NCAA Tournament bound for the first time since joining Division I.
Player of the Year: Quin Cotton, OF, Grand Canyon
Cotton returns for his junior season after topping the conference in several offensive categories last season. He hit .390/.462/.573 to win the batting title and also led the conference in hits (94), runs (62) and total bases (138). He’ll look this year to improve on those numbers as he aims to join Wong as Grand Canyon’s only players drafted in the top five rounds in the last 25 years.
Pitcher of the Year: Parker Brahms, RHP, Sacramento State
Brahms enters his junior season as Sacramento State’s ace after a sophomore season in which he went 4-5, 2.41 to win the WAC ERA title. He struck out 113 batters (second most in the WAC), walked 25 and allowed just 79 hits in 93.1 inning. Brahms has been a steady member of the Hornets’ rotation throughout his career and enters his junior year with a career mark of 12-9, 2.78.
Freshman of the Year: Connor Sparks, RHP, Sacarmento State
Sparks is one of four players in Sacramento State’s freshman class who spent time with the Canadian Junior National Team. He was last year drafted in the 26th round by the Brewers and uses his 6-foot-5 frame to throw from a steep downhill angle and gets heavy sinking action on his upper-80s fastball. Sparks figures to quickly take on a significant role for the Hornets.
Top 25 Teams: None.
New Mexico State last year finished third in the standings and then fought through the conference tournament, beating No. 2 seed Sacramento State in the championship game to win its first ever WAC Tournament. The Aggies advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012 and first time under coach Brian Green. They figure to have a potent offense again this season, led by seniors Braden Williams (.273/.394/.299), Caleb Henderson (.341/.436/.585, 10 HR) and Tristan Carranza (.325/.429/.515), as well as second baseman Nick Gonzales (.347/.425/.596, 9 HR), a 2018 Freshman All-American. New Mexico State does have to replace some key pitchers, including righthander Kyle Bradish, who became the highest draft pick in program history when the Angels selected him in the fourth round. But Brock Whittlesey (3-5, 2.95, 12 SV) is back and figures to have an expanded role, and lefthander Alex Pinedo (5-3, 3.34) is back in the rotation.
Sacramento State is coming off a second-place finish in the WAC and fell just short against New Mexico State in the conference tournament championship game. The Hornets return a deep pitching staff fronted by Brahms. Righthander Scott Randall (7-3, 3.48) also returns in the rotation, and righthander Tanner Dalton (1-2, 3.02, 10 SV) is back to anchor the bullpen. Sacramento State lost some key hitters, including leading hitter Ian Dawkins and leading slugger James Outman. Outfielder Matt Smith (.310/.377/.452) and infielders Steven Moretto (.263/.331/.415, 8 HR) and Keith Torres (.268/.395/.379) lead the returners. If Sac State can find enough offense, its pitching staff will keep it in contention this spring.
Even though Cal Baptist will not be able to qualify for a postseason over the next four seasons as it reclassifies from Division II to Division I, look for coach Gary Adcock’s Lancers to make some noise in the WAC conference this year and beyond. In 15 seasons at CBU he has amassed a 549-268-1 record. Over that span Adcock’s teams have collected 14 postseason berths and six conference championships all coming during their time as part of the PacWest Conference. Grand Canyon has made a smooth transition to Division I in the WAC, and Cal Baptist will look to follow in its footsteps.
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Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects
1. Quin Cotton, OF, Grand Canyon
2. Austin Roberts, RHP, Sacramento State
3. Darius Vines, RHP, Cal State Bakersfield
4. Kona Quiggle, 1B, Grand Canyon
5. Tanner Dalton, RHP, Sacramento State
6. Joey Ortiz, SS, New Mexico State
7. Parker Brahms, RHP, Sacramento State
8. Brock Whittlesey, RHP, New Mexico State
9. Austin Lively, 3B, Seattle
10. Tristen Carranza, OF, New Mexico State