2020 Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Stock Watch
This offseason, we’re taking a deep dive into all 31 college baseball conferences, using five years’ worth of data to examine where a league has been and project forward to where it might go.
The Atlantic Sun has been known for a couple of things in recent years. For one, it has earned a reputation for being a pitcher’s conference, and that’s borne out in the names of the pitchers who have come out of the league.
Stetson’s Logan Gilbert was a first-round pick in 2018. Jacksonville’s Michael Baumann, a third-round pick in 2017, is flying through the Orioles system. The Dolphins currently have another intriguing draft prospect in hard-throwing righthander Trent Palmer, who is No. 165 in the BA 500 prospect ranking.
The A-Sun is also known as an extremely competitive league, often featuring multi-team battles at the top of the standings and even more competition in the middle of the pack among the teams trying to get into the six-team conference tournament.
Unfortunately for the league, that parity mostly hasn’t led to additional postseason bids in the last five seasons, which reversed a trend of the A-Sun increasingly being a multi-bid league during the first half of the 2010s.
While a big part of that issue is the ever decreasing number of at-large bids awarded to teams in non-Power Five conferences, the league also has realignment to thank for that.
With the help of Stetson’s outstanding 2018 season, the league got two teams into the field of 64 that season, with Jacksonville being the other. Before that, the last time the A-Sun accomplished that was 2013. The two teams that got in that year? East Tennessee State and Mercer, both now members of the Southern Conference, with Mercer making two more regional appearances under the SoCon banner since then.
Taking a wider view, between 2010 and 2014, the conference made eight cumulative regional appearances. Five of those came from schools no longer in the conference. Maybe the A-Sun would have been a one-bid league more often than not in the last five seasons regardless, but a stronger conference from top to bottom could only help.
Realignment has also introduced new members in North Alabama and New Jersey Tech, and while improvement can be expected as those programs get further accustomed to a relatively new conference (in the case of NJIT) and to the Division I level (for North Alabama), they might be RPI anchors for the rest of the league until the point that they become more consistently competitive.
But while realignment might be part of why the Atlantic Sun has been a multi-bid league somewhat less often lately, it could also prove to be a catalyst for the league to return to getting more than one team into regionals. Liberty joined the conference for the 2019 season and immediately had an impact, winning 43 games and securing the automatic bid.
Even in seasons when the Flames haven’t been of regional quality, they’re always solid, and they will undoubtedly improve the Atlantic Sun’s prospects for getting more teams into regionals in the near term.
*2020 records not included
** Liberty’s conference record includes Big South record from 2015-2018
|Team||A-Sun Record||Winning Pct.||Overall Record||Winning Pct.|
|Florida Gulf Coast||57-49||53.77||166-120||58.04|
|New Jersey Tech||20-66||23.26||89-151||37.08|
These standings capture a few things. For one, they capture the quiet consistency of Jacksonville. Stetson has been to more regionals in the last five years and its breakthrough as a regional host in 2018 can’t be touched by anyone in the conference, but Jacksonville is the only team to not have any seasons finishing .500 or worse in conference play in the last five years. Because the A-Sun standings are typically fairly compact in a given year, these standings also capture how much one or two standout seasons can really help a program separate itself. In four of the last five seasons, Kennesaw State has finished no better than one game over .500 in the league, but in that one outlier season, it went 17-4, which helped it finish this data sample comfortably over .500. Similarly, UNF helped itself with 16-5 and 15-6 records in 2015 and 2016, respectively. Note that NJIT was an independent in 2015 and therefore has played fewer conference games than most others and that North Alabama has only been at the Division I level for one season.
Team-by-Team Five-Year Trends
The following are summations of how each Atlantic Sun program performed over the last five full seasons. The arrow designation of up, down and to the side represent the results of the last five seasons, not a projection of the years to come.
It has been a good five-year run for the Dolphins. They haven’t finished lower than fourth in conference play in any of the last five years, they got to a regional in 2018, and in 2017, won the regular-season title for the first time since 2006. The current streak of four consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins overall is also the longest streak since 1997-2001, when the Dolphins did so for five seasons in a row.
The arrow pointing to the side for Liberty should be taken as a compliment to what Scott Jackson and his coaching staff are doing there, because the standard has been really high at Liberty for a while now. So while the Flames did get to a regional in 2019 and win a program-record 43 games, they also got to back-to-back regionals in 2013 and 2014 and had three separate seasons of 40 or more wins between 2010 and 2014. So while things are going well for Liberty, that has been the case for a while now.
The Osprey have been in the middle of the Atlantic Sun pack over the last few years, but if you go back to the 2015 and 2016 seasons, they were excellent, and that alone qualifies the last five seasons as a success in the big picture. In 2015, the team won the conference regular-season title and won 45 games overall, a record for UNF as a Division I program. In 2016, it went 15-6 in the league and came in second. North Florida was a perennial postseason team during its years in NAIA and Division II under Dusty Rhodes (no, not that Dusty Rhodes), but despite having been competitive from the moment it moved up to Division I, it is still looking for its first regional appearance.
On the strength of a 2018 season that saw Stetson win the A-Sun with a 15-3 record, go 48-13 overall, host the first regional in program history and then win the first regional in program history, the arrow is up. Although it is also notable that the Hatters are the only team in the conference to make two regional appearances in the last five seasons, so the success of the last five seasons goes beyond just one standout campaign.
From 2010-2014, Kennesaw State enjoyed its best stretch of baseball since joining Division I. It won 30 or more games overall in four consecutive seasons, and in 2014, led by first-round pick Max Pentecost, it not only made its first postseason appearance, but also won the Tallahassee Regional. In the last five seasons, the Owls did win their first A-Sun regular-season title with a 17-4 record in 2016, but they have not been back to the postseason since 2014 and they haven’t won more than 29 games overall in any of the last five seasons.
Florida Gulf Coast - ⬆️
The last five years have been a success for FGCU. It won a Division I program record 43 games in 2017 and then captured the league’s automatic bid at the end of that season for its first regional appearance since 2007. It also won the regular-season title in 2019. For those reasons, the arrow points up, but it wasn’t the most straightforward designation, as the five seasons prior provide a compelling case as well. Between 2010-2014, the Eagles won two regular-season titles and never finished under .500 in conference play, and the latter has happened twice in the last five years. So while the last five seasons have been good to Florida Gulf Coast, there has been some inconsistency there.
With arguably the best season in Lipscomb’s Division I program history coming in 2015, and therefore slipping in just under the wire for this five-year data sample, the arrow points up for the Bisons. In that season, they finished second in the Atlantic Sun, their best since joining the league, won 39 games, the most since jumping to Division I and got to the program’s second regional. Since then, they’ve also added a third-place finish, tied for the second best in their A-Sun history and finished .500 or better overall in four out of the last five seasons.
North Alabama has been at the Division I level for just one season, so there’s just not enough data to make a designation. The Lions didn’t immediately become a contender in the A-Sun the way that others, like Florida Gulf Coast and North Florida, were upon moving up from Division II, but they also showed that they were far from overmatched.
New Jersey Tech - ⬆️
The Highlanders have something of a strange history in Division I. From 2007-2009, they were independent. From 2010-2013, they were members of the Great West Conference, which didn’t have an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament and was as much a scheduling alliance as an actual conference. They were back to independent in 2014 and 2015 before joining the Atlantic Sun as the northernmost school in the league. That said, it is an improvement that NJIT is now a member of a conference with an automatic bid, and it has been better on the field the last couple of years after winning just two conference games in each of its first two seasons in the A-Sun. In 2018, with a sixth-place finish in the standings, it made its first appearance in the Atlantic Sun Tournament. NJIT has a lot of work to do in order to be truly competitive within the league, but just getting to this point is a success.
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Regional Recap by Year
|2019||Liberty||1-2 in Chapel Hill Regional|
|2018||Stetson||3-0 in DeLand Regional|
0-2 in Chapel Hill Super Regional
|2018||Jacksonville||1-2 in Gainesville Regional|
|2017||Florida Gulf Coast||1-2 in Chapel Hill Regional|
|2016||Stetson||0-2 in Coral Gables Regional|
|2015||Lipscomb||0-2 in Nashville Regional|
The postseason results haven’t been great for the Atlantic Sun over the last five seasons, with the obvious exception of what Stetson did in 2018. It was a similar story between 2010-2014, when Kennesaw State’s 2014 run was the standout result for the conference in a five-year span that mostly featured quick exits in regionals. The difference there, however, is the 2011 season, when the conference got three teams into regionals, two of which, Belmont and Stetson, got to a regional final. The league got three bites at the postseason apple in 2011 and the results followed, further driving home the point that the goal for the league is setting itself up to be a multi-bid league more often in future.
Top Draft Selections
|Logan Gilbert, RHP, Stetson||2018||14th overall|
|Donnie Dewees, OF, North Florida||2015||47th overall|
|Austin Hays, OF, Jacksonville||2016||91st overall|
|Michael Baumann, RHP, Jacksonville||2017||98th overall|
|Michael Gigliotti, OF, Lipscomb||2017||120th overall|
In 2018, Logan Gilbert was the fourth-highest selection in Atlantic Sun history, and this data set just misses the second-highest pick in the league’s history, KSU’s Max Pentecost, who went 11th overall in 2014. The total number of draft picks has remained fairly static in the conference over the last five seasons, with the low being the 10 selected in 2016 and the high-water mark being 15 taken in the 2018 draft, which was helped greatly by having six Stetson players selected.
|2018||New Jersey Tech||Brian Guiliana||Robbie McClellan|
|2017||North Florida||Smoke Laval||Tim Parenton|
|2016||Jacksonville||Tim Montez||Chris Hayes|
|2016||Liberty||Jim Toman||Scott Jackson|
|2016||Stetson||Pete Dunn||Steve Trimper|
Things were fairly quiet in the conference over the last five seasons, save for the offseason after the 2016 season, which resulted in 60 percent of the coaching changes in this data sample. The three coaches hired in that offseason have all had relatively quick success. Trimper took the Hatters to a super regional in year two, Jackson led the Flames to a regional appearance and a program record for wins in year three and Hayes helped the Dolphins to a regular-season title in year one and a regional appearance in year two.