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2020 America East College Baseball Preview

During the last decade, Binghamton and Stony Brook had a commanding presence in the America East. The two schools combined to win the regular season title eight times and the conference tournament seven times.

A new decade has begun, but, again, the Bearcats and Seawolves look to be the class of the conference. If any team is to cut in on that duopoly this spring, it will likely be Hartford, which won the regular season and conference tournament in 2018.

The America East standings figure to be tight this spring, much like last year when just four games separated first from sixth place.

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Shane Marshall, OF, Binghamton

Marshall last season hit .376/.423/.584 to lead the Bearcats, posting the third-highest batting average in program history. He was especially good down the stretch and was named to both the all-conference and all-conference tournament teams. Marshall has impressive all-around tools and premium defensive ability. He can impact games in many ways and is the conference’s best draft prospect.

Pitcher of the Year: Nicholas Dombkowski, LHP, Hartford

As a freshman in 2018, Dombkowski became the first player in conference history to be named both pitcher of the year and rookie of the year in the same season while also helping the Hawks to the NCAA Tournament. His numbers took a bit of a step back last spring as he went 3-6, 4.97 with 78 strikeouts and 24 walks in 83.1 innings. But Dombkowski, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior, should be ready for a bounce-back campaign. He’s coming off a solid summer in the Cape Cod League and has piqued scouts’ interest.

Freshman of the Year: Ken Turner, RHP, Hartford

Turner last year was drafted in the 20th round by the Rangers but upheld his commitment to Hartford and is ready this spring to step into the rotation. Listed at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, he has a solid fastball and mixes in a hard slider. Like all young pitchers, Turner has some growth and development to do, but coach Justin Blood has done a great job of developing pitchers throughout his career.

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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)

1. Binghamton (26-24, 12-9)

Following back-to-back first-place finishes in 2016-17, the Bearcats fell to the cellar in 2018. They got it turned around last season, finishing in third place and advancing to the conference tournament championship game, where they lost to Stony Brook. Now, Binghamton comes into the season as the favorite. Outfielder Shane Marshall (.376/.423/.584) is the conference’s top prospect and closed last season on a tear, hitting .455 with 20 RBI in the team’s final 20 games. He leads a lineup that returns seven regulars, with seniors Alex Baratta (.356/.426/.479) and Daniel Franchi (.330/.387/.431, 10 SB) also providing veteran experience. Under coach Tim Sinicki, the Bearcats have typically played excellent defense and with catcher Connor Aoki, second baseman Baratta, shortstop Jake Evans and Marshall up the middle, that should be true again in 2020. That will be to the benefit of the pitching staff, which is young, but talented. Sophomore lefthander Thomas Babalis (4-2, 3.62) was named 2019 America East Rookie of the Year and will lead the staff this spring. Classmate Jack Collins (3-2, 3.41) will move from the back of the bullpen to the rotation and sophomore Ryan Bryggman and freshman Dylan Gearhart give the staff another two promising young arms. Binghamton’s veteran lineup should buoy the younger pitching staff while it rounds into form early in the season. Once it all comes together, the Bearcats look to be a well-rounded group.

2. Stony Brook (31-23, 15-9)

The Seawolves last season won both the America East regular season and tournament titles to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Several significant pieces of that team, however, are now gone. Stony Brook must replace its top three hitters from last season and the two pitchers who threw the most innings. While those are big holes, the Seawolves do have talent on hand. Senior first baseman Chris Hamilton (.325/.395/.535, 8 HR) is back to anchor the lineup and junior catcher John Tuccillo (.242/.302/.332) gives them a steady hand defensively, which will be important with new players up the middle in the infield and outfield. Seniors Jared Milch (1-3, 8.27) and Sam Turcotte (4-2, 4.04) have a lot of experience in the rotation and there’s good depth behind them in righthanders Brandon Bonanno (4-1, 5.67) and Ben Fero (4-1, 2.19). The key for Stony Brook will be how quickly its inexperienced players come along. If the Seawolves young hitters, especially, adjust to their new roles quickly, this team has the talent to challenge the Bearcats.

3. Hartford (23-34, 11-13)

After winning the America East and advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history in 2018, the Hawks fell to sixth in the conference standings in 2019. They are ready to bounce back in 2020. Lefthander Nicholas Dombkowski (3-6, 4.97), the 2018 America East Pitcher and Rookie of the Year, will again front the rotation and redshirt junior righthander Nathan Florence is ready to go after missing last season due to injury. That pair, as well as sophomore closer Will Nowak (6-2, 2.06, 7 SV) and freshman righthander Ken Turner, who was drafted in the 20th round by the Rangers, make for a strong core on the mound. The lineup is more inexperienced, but the Hawks have a pair of seniors on the left side of the infield in shortstop Jackson Olson (.306/.345/.396), the team’s leading hitter a year ago, and third baseman Zachary Ardito (.275/.359/.363) to anchor the group. If a couple of Hartford’s young hitters can take a step forward as well, it has the look of a well-balanced team.

4. Albany (28-23, 14-9)

The Great Danes last season finished a half game behind first-place Stony Brook in the regular season standings, their best finish since they were runners-up to the Seawolves in 2012. Albany brings back some core pieces from last year’s team, starting with senior infielder Nick Kondo (.324/.432/.438, 17 SB), last year’s leading hitter. Senior outfielder Marc Wangenstein (.304/.382/.513), who last year hit eight of the team’s 20 home runs, also returns to the lineup. On the mound, the Great Danes must replace starters John Clayton and Dominic Savino, but do return senior righthander Joe Kruszka (2-2, 2.16, 10 SV) and redshirt junior Ray Weber (7-3, 4.05). Albany will have a different look this spring but has the talent on hand to avoid a significant step back.

5. Maine (15-34, 11-12)

The Black Bears last season lost their first 14 games and were 1-17 when America East play began in late March after facing an ambitious early-season schedule that included seven games against eventual College World Series teams Florida State and Mississippi State. After that tough start, Maine turned things around in conference play. It will hope for a better start to 2020 and with the return of senior outfielder Hernan Sardinas (.298/.353/.556, 11 HR), who led the team in many offensive categories, and senior catcher Cody Pasic (.250/.380/.313), who was a Cape Cod League all-star this summer, it has a couple strong building blocks in the lineup. The Black Bears also add two impactful transfers in first baseman Cody Emmertz and second baseman Mike Magnanti. Maine will need some pitchers to step into new roles this spring. Senior lefthander Trevor DeLaite (1-2, 2.12, 7 SV) has experience but will move from the back of the bullpen to the rotation. If some younger arms emerge around him, Maine can take a step forward.

6. Massachusetts-Lowell (20-36, 12-12)

Since moving up from Division II, UMass-Lowell has consistently been in the mix in the America East under coach Ken Harring. This year’s team will again feature senior catcher Ciaran Devenney (.287/.446/.566, 7 HR) in the heart of the order. Infielder Robert Gallagher (.232/.360/.268) last season as a freshman injected speed into the lineup and stole 24 bases to set the program’s Division I single-season stolen base record. The River Hawks will need some players to step up around them in the lineup after they finished fifth in the conference last year in scoring (265 runs). On the mound, UMass-Lowell will need to replace top starter Nick Rand. Righthanders Joshua Becker (4-3, 4.44, 5 SV) and Gerry Siracusa (1-3, 4.63) got important experience last season as freshmen and will need to take a step forward as sophomores. How well the River Hawks’ young players come along this spring will determine where they finish in the standings.

7. Maryland-Baltimore County (22-31, 6-17)

UMBC endured a turbulent year that ended with coach Bob Mumma resigning and associate head coach Liam Bowen promoted to replace him. One of the bright spots for the Terriers was freshman infielder Blaze O’Saben (.262/.360/.351, 25 SB). He already ranks in the program’s top 10 in career stolen bases and is back to headline the lineup. UMBC will be young on the mound and must improve on its 6.40 team ERA, despite losing righthander Stephen Schoch in the draft. To climb out of the cellar in 2020 would be a significant improvement for the Terriers.

Top 2020 Draft Prospects

  1. Shane Marshall, OF, Binghamton
  2. Nicholas Dombkowski, LHP, Hartford
  3. Chris Hamilton, 1B, Stony Brook
  4. Cody Pasic, C, Maine
  5. Nathan Florence, RHP, Hartford
  6. Matt Pushard, RHP, Maine
  7. Sam Turcotte, RHP, Stony Brook
  8. Jackson Olson, SS, Hartford
  9. Dan Franchi, OF, Binghamton
  10. Henry Funaro, RHP, Massachusetts-Lowell
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