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2020 Atlantic 10 College Baseball Preview

Virginia Commonwealth continued its run of success in the Atlantic 10 in 2019, going 19-5 to win their second regular season title in three years. Despite clearly establishing itself as the team to beat in the league by topping the standings by three full games, the Rams were upset in the A-10 Tournament.

Fordham, meanwhile, swept their way through the field in the conference tournament after a fourth-place finish in the regular season, earning its first regional trip since 1998.

Those two teams look to be the class of the league again in 2020, but Dayton also brings back a talented, veteran group that helped the Flyers finish in a tie for second last season.

Then there are perennial contenders like Richmond and Davidson that more often than not put themselves in position to contend for the automatic bid once it’s all said and done.

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Riley Tirotta, 3B, Dayton

Before you even look at any stats, you know that the Flyers’ third baseman is a prospect to watch. At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, he cuts an imposing figure in the batter’s box and at the hot corner. He also packs plus power, plus arm strength and plus speed, which he used to run a sub-6.4 60-yard-dash in the Cape Cod League this past summer. Then, you look at the stats and you see that he did a little bit of everything for UD in 2019, hitting .260/.351/.405 with 14 doubles, five home runs and 18 stolen bases in 20 tries. All signs point to Tirotta putting up a massive season in 2020.

Pitcher of the Year: Matt Mikulski, LHP, Fordham

Mikulski’s teammate, righthander John Stankiewicz, was named the Atlantic 10’s pitcher of the year at the end of last season, but with the summer Mikulski had on the Cape, the lefthander looks poised to make a run at it this time around. After going 4-4, 4.06 with 89 strikeouts in 82 innings in 2019, Mikulski went out to the Cape and shined, putting up a 1.86 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. With a fastball that typically sits 90-93 mph, but can reach the mid 90s, and a slider and curveball that have shown improvement, he has the stuff to dominate, particularly if he can cut down on his walks, which have been an issue for him in the past.

Freshman of the Year: Lyle Miller-Green, 1B/RHP, George Mason

The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Miller-Green has a chance to be a two-way impact player right away for the Patriots. At the plate as the team’s projected DH, he brings an advanced approach and power, and will likely slot into the middle of the order right away. He is also expected to hold down a role as a weekend starter, working with a fastball from 88-92 mph as part of a three-pitch mix. A decorated player from the Virginia high school ranks, Miller-Green’s track record suggests he’ll take to the Division I level just fine.

Wilson, Ethan 2 (Courtesy Of South Alabama)

South Alabama's Ethan Wilson On The Honor The Game League, Being Home

South Alabama outfielder Ethan Wilson joins the Baseball America College Podcast to discuss the Honor the Game League, being home and the 2021 Jaguars.

Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)

1. Virginia Commonwealth (39-19, 19-5)

VCU has the talent to repeat its regular season title and break through to a regional for the first time since 2015, when it advanced to a super regional. Seven of nine starters from last year are back in the lineup, including power-hitting first baseman Liam Hibbits (.366/.450/.546, 60 RBI), senior second baseman Paul Witt (.336/.437/.471), senior shortstop Brett Norwood (.310/.427/.455, 25 SB), senior outfielder Brandon Henson (.269/.333/.463) and center fielder Hogan Brown (.287/.365/.361), who doubles as a plus defender at his position. With big-time power potential, Hibbits, in particular, is the type of player who could challenge to be player of the year in the league when it’s all said and done. Look for third baseman Tyler Locklear, one of the most talented freshman in the conference, to contribute right away.

There will have to be some rebuilding on the pitching staff after the departures of Benjamin Dum, Connor Gillispie, Sam Ryan and Jack Alkire. Last season, VCU used a unique method on the mound. Gillispie and righthander Justin Sorokowski (4-2, 3.47), who returns this season, both made 20 starts, a mix of weekend and midweek games, but it was rare that either of them threw more than five innings in an outing. Meanwhile, Dum and Ryan both had close to starting pitcher workloads, despite not starting a single game. If that approach continues, the roles will be fluid, but suffice it to say that Sorokowski, righthander Danny Watson (2.15, 2 SV) and righthander Evan Chenier (6-0, 3.56) will be key pieces.

2. Fordham (38-24, 15-9) 

Fordham will be strong again this season as it brings back most of its lineup and high-end talent on the mound from last year’s regional team. One thing you can take to the bank is the offense will have its foot firmly planted on the gas pedal at all times. No team in college baseball stole more bases in 2019, and all of the top thieves are back, including shortstop Jake MacKenzie, whose 43 stolen bases ranked fourth in the nation. The Rams clearly aren’t the type of offense to wait around for a three-run homer, but if they do get a three-run homer, it’s likely to have come off the bat of outfielder Alvin Melendez, who stole 35 bases but also led the team with five home runs.

Mikulski and Stankiewicz (8-4, 1.47) give Fordham the best one-two punch in the conference. With his 2019 season nearly impossible to replicate from a statistical standpoint, Fordham coach Kevin Leighton notes that the key for Stankiewicz will be to stay within himself and not focus on matching what he accomplished a season ago. The third spot in the rotation isn’t quite settled, but that said, there are quality options available. Sophomore righty Cory Wall (3-1, 3.82), the two-way player Melendez (2-1, 3.19) and junior righthander Joseph Quintal (1-0, 2.66) all have some starting experience. Wall and Melendez were often-used pitchers last season, while Quintal was limited to just four appearances due to injury. Certainly, Leighton and his staff will want to sort out that Sunday starter spot and the bullpen roles, but having depth on the mound be the only pressing question coming into the season is a good place to be.

3. Dayton (32-26-1, 16-8)

The Flyers bring back a whopping 27 lettermen from a team that put up the program’s best record since 2009. Now, that group will try to take the next step and get into a regional for the first time since 2012. Much of that experience is concentrated in the lineup, which should have good length. Tirotta is a budding star, but shortstop Ben Blackwell (.275/.373/.345, 15 SB), center fielder Mitchell Garrity (.265/.422/.405, 16 SB), DH Alex Brickman (.264/.361/.481), catcher Jay Curtis (.259/.333/.349) and first baseman Eddie Pursinger (.256/.368/.429) will all be key cogs. While they didn’t run nearly as much as Fordham last season, the Flyers’ 113 stolen bases were good for a tie for 12th in the country. The top five base stealers are back in the lineup, including Tirotta and outfielder Michael Cleary (.214/.426/.330), who tied for the team lead with 18.

The pitching staff will feature a mix of returners and talented newcomers. Friday starter Hunter Wolfe (9-4, 3.70) is back in the fold, as is 6-foot-8 righthander Cole Pletka (4-3, 4.79), who will slot into the Sunday starter role. With 81 strikeouts in 56.1 innings last season and a fastball that sits 90-93 mph, the latter has the stuff to dominate. Sandwiched between those two on the weekend will be grad transfer lefthander Ben Olson, who threw 101 innings over three seasons at Bradley. In the bullpen, senior righthander Tyler Jones (2.97, 5 SV) will be back to help close out games. Two junior college transfers to watch on the mound are righthander Andrew Zapka and righthander Jared Howell, both of whom have big-time stuff.

4. Richmond (28-25-1, 13-8)

The Spiders will go into the 2020 season with realistic hopes for their best finish in conference play since 2015 when they finished second. The offense will be paced by the outfield trio of left fielder Johnny Hipsman (.377/.482/.526), center fielder Anthony Forte (.280/.375/.537, 12 HR) and right fielder Jordan Schulefand (.288/.368/.424). That should be a good defensive unit as well. Having redshirt junior Tim Miller (5-2, 3.21) back to front the rotation is a boon for the Spiders. The righthander doesn’t have electric raw stuff and doesn’t typically dominate, but he’s been a durable, effective starter for each of the last two seasons. Righthander Jacob Marcus (2-4, 4.58) is also something of a known commodity in the Sunday role after starting eight games a season ago. A fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a good slider give him the stuff to flourish as a full-time starter. Lefty James Hulbert is projected to slot in between Miller and Marcus after missing all of last season in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Like Marcus, he boasts a fastball in the low-to-mid 90s and a quality breaking ball that gives him the potential to pile up strikeouts.

5. Davidson (29-22, 14-6)

Davidson has proven with its recent form that the super regional appearance in 2017 was more than just a brief brush with being competitive in the A-10 and nationally. Over the last two seasons under new coach Rucker Taylor, the Wildcats have finished fifth and second in the league, their two best seasons as members of the conference. The 2020 version of the team should be in line for a top-five finish again. Senior first baseman Brett Centracchio (.262/.327/.482), senior second baseman Matt Frey (.266/.380/.446) and junior DH Ruben Fontes (.211/.327/.506, 14 HR) bring a physical nature to the lineup. The loss of all three of Davidson’s top starting pitchers is a concern, but there is still some upside on the staff. Righthander Gabe Levy (3-1, 2.57) will lead the rotation after primarily pitching out of the bullpen in 2019. A sinker/slider pitcher, Levy will look to use the former to get outs early in counts and the latter to put away hitters. Righthander Alex Fenton (5.45, 39.2 IP) will look to make a similar transition. His fastball was up to 94 mph in the fall. Junior Pete Bloomberg looks well suited for the closer’s role after he struck out 32 batters in 19.2 innings.

6. Saint Joseph’s (21-28, 13-11)

The Hawks return a veteran team capable of the program’s highest finish within the conference since the 2016 team turned in a third-place performance. Jake Meyers, who had a 4.59 ERA in 49 innings last season, is gone from the pitching staff, but that’s about it. Last season’s innings leader, righthander Jordan DiValerio (5-5, 3.80) returns, as do Saint Joe’s co-closers Cole Stetzar (2.92, 3 SV) and Ryan Devine (4.76, 4 SV). All told, seven of the top eight pitchers from 2019 in terms of innings pitched are back on the roster in 2020. Offensively, outfielder Brendan Hueth (.308/.366/.380, 24 SB) will be a catalyst once again, catcher Andrew Cossetti (.289/.404/.494, 8 HR) and third baseman Nate Thomas (.286/.405/.417, 5 HR) will provide some pop, and catcher James McConnon (.300/.415/.347) shows a knack for finding his way on base.

7. Rhode Island (24-29, 15-9)

The Rams’ pitching staff is a big reason for optimism that they can challenge to finish in the top tier of the A-10 again. Righthander Justin Cherry (3-1, 2.93) is slated to be the team’s Friday starter and righthander Tyler Brosius (2.27, 6 SV) will return to close games after the duo served as URI’s two most effective arms in 2019. Projected Saturday starter Nick Robinson (2-7, 6.13) took his lumps last season, but he turned in an outstanding summer in the NECBL and looks poised to handle the role well. Righthander Ryan Twitchell (3.18, 45.1 IP) was enjoying a solid season in 2019 before it was cut short due to a broken bone caused by a line drive. If he can continue his success from last season, he’ll round out the rotation nicely. In the lineup, junior first baseman Xavier Vargas (.300/.347/.406) was already a top contributor, but he could be ready for an even bigger breakout in 2020 as he continues to develop power in his game. DH Jackson Coutts (.259/.320/.358) may end up being the player who makes the offense go, however. A physical 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds, he is coming off of hitting .280 in the Cape Cod League, and could unlock his potential as he continues to learn how to use his power in-game.

8. Saint Louis (25-30, 13-11)

The Billikens turned over much of their roster after a seventh-place finish in the Atlantic 10, the lowest finish for the program since coming in tenth in 2011. Still, solid foundational pieces return in outfielder Jake Garella (.330/.404/.529), outfielder Corrigan Bartlett (.301/.411/.419) and catcher Cam Redding (.307/.427/.368). Garella is the type of player who could earn A-10 player of the year honors at the end of the season. Last year, his 27 doubles were good for a tie for second in the country and gave him 48 for his career. The weekend rotation is completely rebuilt, with junior college transfer righthander Marius Balandis, a Lithuanian native, set to start on Fridays. In the bullpen, righthanders Ryan Patel (4.38, 24.2 IP) and Charlie Sheehan (3.32, 38 IP) will look to be effective in relief once again, with Patel slated to take over the closer’s role.

9. George Washington (30-24, 11-13)

Whether George Washington is able to avoid a step back in 2020 has a lot to do with how well they mitigate the losses of star players Dom D’Allesandro, who finished second in the country in batting average (.423), and Nate Fassnacht, who did a little bit of everything for the Colonials, including hit 23 doubles and swipe 12 bases. To keep the GW offense going, eyes will turn to outfielder Tyler Hix (.307/.379/.474) and second baseman Noah Levin (.305/.385/.460), the two other hitters in the lineup with .300 or better batting averages last season. The pitching staff suffered no such losses, and as a matter of fact, returns most of its most effective hurlers. That group includes lefthander Rich Pfluger (4-1, 3.97), righthander Elliott Raimo (1-3, 4.00), righty Andrew Wheeler (4.01, 33.2 IP) and righthander Jared Edwards (6-3, 5.80), who led the team in innings.

10. Massachusetts (18-27, 8-14)

UMass head coach Matt Reynolds is simply trying to get his program to a place where they are competitive within the league year after year. The Minutemen haven’t finished inside the top 10 in the conference standings since 2014, when they were ninth, but this team could get them there. The ultimate goal isn’t to just finish out of the bottom third of the standings, but it’s progress. Righthander Sean Harney (3-5, 3.27) is a solid arm at the front of the rotation. Projected Saturday starter Ben Shields sat out all of 2019, but as a 6-foot-4 lefty with a fastball that sits 88-92 mph, he has big-time potential. Look for left fielder Anthony Videtto (.296/.421/.420) to be a key piece of the lineup along with second baseman Eddy Hart (.270/.385/.374) and outfielder Nolan Kessinger (.258/.337/.325). Freshman third baseman Jordan Erbe and freshman outfielder Ryan Coleman stand out as candidates to make an impact right away. The former, who could see time at shortstop as well as third, shows a mature approach and plate discipline already, while the latter has the type of speed that could be a game-changer defensively and on the base paths.

11. La Salle (25-31, 4-20)

Strides were made in year two of the David Miller era at La Salle. The 25 victories were the highest total since 2011 and an early-season hot streak included three consecutive series wins to begin the season. But that success didn’t translate to A-10 play and the Explorers finished 4-20 in the league for the third year in a row and in last place for the fourth year in a row. The 2020 team has the star power to pull themselves out of the cellar. Catcher Tatem Levins (.321/.385/.556) is a bona fide star. Senior first baseman Ryan Guckin (.275/.383/.421), sophomore outfielder Nick O’Day (.271/.352/.400) and outfielder/third baseman Jack Cucinotta (.250/.369/.477) will give Levins some support in the order. On the mound, righthander Chuck Kelley (4.97, 29 IP), righthander Mike Jenkins (4-0, 5.02) and lefty Colin Scanlon (4-4, 5.23) are among the most proven options back on the roster in 2020.

12. George Mason (19-35, 5-19)

The Patriots’ 12th-place finish last season tied the program’s lowest finish since joining the A-10 before the 2014 season. The coaching staff will rely heavily on transfers to help get things headed back in the right direction in 2020. First baseman Cooper Mrowka (Massachusetts), shortstop Pete Nielsen (Brigham Young) and outfielder Jack DeLongchamps (Charleston Southern) come to George Mason with experience at this level under their belts. Among returning hitters from last year’s team, outfielder Cam Reckling (.271/.385/.360) leads the way. Miller-Green figures to factor into the lineup with his plus power and mature approach. He is also projected to get a crack at a spot in the weekend rotation, where he will be joined by returning arms in righthanders James Beasley (4.70, 23 IP) and Mason Posey (8.31, 21.2 IP), both of whom pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2019. Righthander Patrick Halligan (4-5, 5.49) could also find his way into starts after making 11 of them a season ago. Righthander Jared Lyons (10.06, 34 IP), whose fastball sits 92-94 mph, will slide into the closer’s role vacated by Beasley.

13. St. Bonaventure (13-32, 6-18)

With just nine returning lettermen on the roster, the Bonnies are pressing the reset button heading into 2020. Of those returning players, however, several are very important pieces. Outfielder Tyler Kelder (.293/.317/.513, 9 HR) is back after serving as the team’s best power bat in 2019. Second baseman Kevin Higgins (.264/.299/.365) was also among the most consistent hitters on the squad. Lefthander Donovan Moffat (4-4, 2.58), will front the rotation in 2020 despite pitching mostly in relief last season. St. Bonaventure’s success will hinge on how well the newcomers take to college baseball, but it should help to have foundational players back to lead the way.

Top 2020 Draft Prospects

  1. Matt Mikulski, LHP, Fordham
  2. Riley Tirotta, 3B, Dayton
  3. John Stankiewicz, RHP, Fordham
  4. Liam Hibbits, 1B, Virginia Commonwealth
  5. Tatem Levins, C, La Salle
  6. Jake MacKenzie, SS, Fordham
  7. Tim Miller, RHP, Richmond
  8. Tyler Brosius, RHP, Rhode Island
  9. Paul Witt, 2B, Virginia Commonwealth
  10. Jake Garella, OF, Saint Louis
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