2020 MAAC College Baseball Preview
Quinnipiac carried the flag for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference well last season by winning its opening NCAA Tournament game against host East Carolina and then falling one run short of winning a winner’s bracket game against Campbell before running out of gas.
Not only was that win notable because it was an upset of the top-seeded host team, but it was also the MAAC’s first win in a regional since Siena won an extra-innings elimination game against Dallas Baptist in 2014.
The Bobcats bring back a ton of talent from last year’s team and will make a run at repeating as champions, but this conference is nothing if not unpredictable from year to year. No team has gone to regionals in back-to-back seasons from the MAAC since Manhattan did it in 2011 and 2012.
Last year, five different teams finished within two games of first place, and it’s easy to imagine that type of logjam happening again in 2020.
Player of the Year: Nick Cimillo, C, Manhattan
Cimillo hit .350/.417/.498 with 12 doubles, seven homers and 36 RBI in 2019 on the way to being named the MAAC’s rookie of the year. This season, he will move back to his natural position behind the plate after primarily playing the outfield last season for the purpose of giving the Jaspers their best offensive lineup. Cimillo will have to answer the question about how well his offense will hold up now that he’s playing a more demanding physical position full-time, but there’s little evidence that it should be of great concern.
Pitcher of the Year: Trey McLoughlin, RHP, Fairfield
On the team that led the MAAC in ERA a season ago, McLoughlin’s 5.59 mark was actually one of the highest on the team. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, and some of his peripheral numbers suggest that he was much better than that, such as his 82 strikeouts in 75.2 innings and a respectable .279 opponent batting average. Over the summer, he had a 2.75 ERA and struck out 48 in 36 innings in the NECBL, featuring his fastball that sits in the low 90s. The top prospect in the conference, McLoughlin looks poised for a breakout season.
Freshman of the Year: Jake Andrey, RHP/1B, Rider
A physical 6-foot, 225-pound freshman from Cherry Hill, N.J., Andrey will have a chance to impact the game in multiple ways right away. One of the most talented freshmen to enter the conference ahead of the 2020 season, he projects to start for the Broncs at first base and close out games in the bullpen.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Fairfield (35-25, 15-9)
The Stags pitched extraordinarily well in 2019, leading the MAAC in ERA at 3.88, and despite the loss of top starting pitcher Austin Pope, that should be the case again in 2020. McLoughlin looks ready to be a star, sophomore lefthander Michael Sansone (5-3, 4.00) returns after proving to be a capable starter last season, and top bullpen arms in righthanders Eli Oliphant (1.79, 6 SV) and Nick Grabek (3.55, 9 SV) are back, along with swingman righthhander Josh Arnold (3-2, 3.64). Fairfield also projects to have redshirt-senior righthander John Signore in the mix. He didn’t pitch at all last season, but in the prior three seasons, he was as steady as they come, compiling a career 3.03 ERA in 252.1 innings of work.
Offensively, there is some re-tooling to be done, as the top two hitters from a season ago, Jack Gethings and Anthony Boselli, are gone. Outfielder Dan Ryan (.315/.391/.437), second baseman Justin Guerrera (.278/.322/.398) and outfielder Dylan Reynolds (.267/.360/.337) will give head coach Bill Currier and his staff a veteran nucleus to build around. And even if it takes some time for Fairfield’s lineup to take shape, the quality of the pitching staff should keep the offense from having to do too much.
2. Quinnipiac (30-29, 17-7)
Quinnipiac has the talent to buck the trend of the MAAC sending a different team to regionals each year, with 26 lettermen back from the 2019 team. The lineup has the potential be outstanding with the return of center fielder Evan Vulgamore (.270/.326/.507, 9 HR), left fielder Andre Marrero (.316/.383/.538, 10 HR, 20 SB), first baseman Ian Ostberg (.321/.383/.429, 18 SB) and catcher Colton Bender (.322/.373/.429). Right fielder Kyle Maves (.260/.359/.325) was just a part-time player last season, but he still managed to swipe 17 bases. His speed in the lineup full-time in 2020 could be a game-changer. The pitching staff, however, is somewhat unproven other than projected Saturday starter Arthur Correira (3-4, 5.31) and workhorse reliever Colin Donnelly (3.79, 59.1 IP). Rutgers-Camden (N.J.) grad transfer Dakota Herman projects to lead the rotation, with redshirt-senior righthander Christian Nicolosi (8.07, 35.2 IP) slotting in behind Correira on Sundays. Big-armed righthander Derek Goldrick could also fight his way into starts. His fastball sits in the low 90s, but has touched as high as 95 mph. Freshman lefthander Brandyn Garcia could also ride a high-velocity fastball into innings right away. His fastball has been up to 94 mph with a good low-80s slider as a complement.
3. Manhattan (26-33, 15-9)
The Jaspers will go into the season with impressive lineup depth. Cimillo, center fielder Sam Franco (.301/.373/.432, 12 SB), shortstop Jonathan Barditch (.293/.392/.365), DH Matt Padre (.279/.371/.396), third baseman Alex Cerda (.274/.349/.372) and second baseman Jake Knop (.261/.333/.359) are all proven commodities. If right fielder Richie Barrella can bounce back to his 2018 form, when he hit .309/.379/.351 before missing most of last season, and physical freshman Alfredo Delgado makes an instant impact, this Manhattan offense could be extremely dangerous. On the mound, righthander T.J. Stuart (8-5, 4.08) is a proven ace that will give the team a chance every Friday. Behind him in the rotation, righthanders Nick Massa (6.23, 17.1 IP) and Jacob Knight (7.00, 27 IP) are both hard-throwers who will have to prove themselves in a weekend role. The back end is a little more settled, what with the return of righties Joe DiTorrice (3.93, 52.2 IP) and Teddy Sabato (5.85, 32.1 IP).
4. Canisius (24-29, 17-7)
The Golden Griffins have clearly established themselves as the most consistent program in the MAAC. They haven’t finished lower than third in the league standings since 2011 and they’ve made three regional appearances in the last seven seasons. The 2020 team has a chance to live up to that standard but will need some breakout performances to do so. The pitching staff has a talented mix of returners and new faces. Junior college transfer righthander Joe Barberio will front the rotation after striking out 64 in 43.1 innings last season at Niagara County (N.Y.) JC. Righthander Andrew Fron (4-1, 5.98) gives the Griffs an experienced option behind Barberio. In the bullpen, righthander Will Frank (7.82, 8 SV) and lefty Kyle Warner (4.76, 3 SV) will return to their roles closing out games. Frank’s high ERA is a bit deceiving, as he had a 1.72 ERA in conference play after a few rough outings in the non-conference slate. Offensively, DH Jacob Victor (.292/.371/.433), third baseman Stephen Bennett (.249/.368/.438) and center fielder Jake Burlingame (.235/.380/.382, 17 SB) will go into the season expected to be catalysts. Burlingame, as a good defensive center fielder with some speed on the bases and some pop in his bat, is one of the MAAC’s best talents. With a very productive senior class having just graduated, Canisius’ ceiling will be determined by how quickly the new players, either to the program or just to a full-time role, get up to speed.
5. Marist (27-26, 15-9)
Marist should again be a solid top-half team in the MAAC, as they have been for most of this century. Redshirt senior Tyler Kapuscinski (.366/.469/.531), one of the best hitters in the league, will lead an offense that returns key pieces in third baseman Robbie Armitage (.318/.373/.512, 9 HR), Robbie’s twin brother Reece Armitage (.269/.390/.396) and leading returning base stealer Gene Napolitano (.234/.341/.292, 16 SB). The departed Anthony Lazar and Frankie Gregoire were two of the most dynamic players in the conference, so those are obviously big holes to fill and will be something to watch as Marist’s season gets underway. In junior righthander Alex Pansini (5-4, 4.10), the Red Foxes have a building block in the rotation and in senior righthander Skyler Pichardo (4-6, 5.74) they have another experienced starter to work with. In the quartet of Erubiel Candelario (4.28, 33.2 IP), Nick Cantone (4.80, 30 IP), Conor McNamara (5.03, 34 IP) and Ryan Cardona (5.05, 41 IP, 5 SV), coach Chris Tracz and his staff have a core of returning bullpen arms that should be able to eat up a lot of innings once again, no matter their role.
6. Monmouth (27-29-1, 13-11)
Monmouth put up the second-best ERA in the conference last season with a 4.28 mark, and while they lost some key pieces off the staff, there is still enough talent on the mound returning to believe that they’ll be successful in a similar way in 2020. Two-thirds of the weekend rotation is back in Dan Klepchick (4-3, 5.61) and Rob Hensey (4-5, 3.88), and they will slot into the Friday and Saturday spots, respectively. Four pitchers to expect to earn significant innings in the bullpen are Jordan McCrum (1.29, 7 IP), who is ticketed to close games once he returns from his Tommy John rehab in March or April, Ryan Steckline (5.12, 31.2 IP, 6 SV), Nick Houghton (3.32, 38 IP) and Mason Miller (2.73, 33 IP). The Monmouth staff is also generally high on the talent of their young pitchers, which includes freshman lefthander Trey Dombrowski, who will get a crack at the weekend rotation right out of the gate. The lineup has a veteran flavor to it, what with the presence of three seniors in catcher Zach Schild (.303/.344/.394), shortstop Danny Long (.239/.338/.345), and outfielder J.P. Walsh (.236/.365/.310, 22 SB), in addition to five juniors, including first baseman Johnny Zega (.257/.376/.368), whose ten doubles were tied for third on the team despite collecting just 137 at-bats. With three of the team’s top four hitters gone, including Clay Koniencki and J.D. Andreessen, who combined for 14 of the Hawks’ 29 total homers, the key for this team will be finding new impact bats in the lineup.
7. Rider (17-36, 8-16)
Coach Barry Davis notes that his team has reached the point of being tired of losing and is ready to turn the corner after back-to-back tenth-place finishes in the conference. Of course, to do so, you also have to have the talent to make a jump, and the Broncs appear to have both. It was just five years ago, in 2015, that Rider won the MAAC regular season title, and while that likely isn’t on the table, moving back in the right direction is. Losing Riley Mihalik in the lineup is tough, but five seniors return, led by center fielder Sebastian Williamson (.301/.322/.393, 12 SB), shortstop Kyle Johnson (.257/.344/.396, 13 SB), left fielder Jack Peterson (.254/.312/.438) and right fielder Joe Simone (.227/.319/.325), who hit .331 in the NECBL over the summer after putting up modest numbers as a junior. In the weekend rotation, senior lefthander Pete Soporowski (3-2, 2.64) is healthy after being limited to eight games last season and will take the ball on Fridays. Behind him, there are nothing but unknowns, as sophomore transfer Frank Doelling and freshmen Kenny Quijano and Dylan Heine are projected to be in the mix to start games. Righthander Vin Vitacco (2-9, 6.57) made 14 starts a season ago, but he is ticketed for a spot in the bullpen, alongside Andrey, another freshman arm that will handle important innings.
8. Niagara (15-33, 9-15)
Niagara has shown improvement within the league over the last half-decade, as it has finished eighth or better in each of the last four years after doing so only once in the five years prior to that. The Purple Eagles will go into 2020 with a veteran offense that will help keep that momentum going. The top five hitters from last season are back in Michael Gabriele (.318/.379/.376), Dawson Bailey (.289/.358/.405), Benny Serrano (.278/.332/.324), Max Giordano (.261/.320/.435) and Peter Battaglia (.261/.387/.528, 10 HR). With the loss of staff ace Matthew Brash, plus the second-most used starting pitcher Tyler Howard, there are questions in the weekend rotation, but there are plenty of returning arms to fill either those roles or to eat up innings in the bullpen, including Yohn Zapata-Baez (1.42, 19 IP), Kyle Smyth (4.24, 23.1 IP) and Alex MacKinnon (4.33, 27 IP). Suffice it to say that how well the pitching staff comes together will determine the ceiling for Niagara in 2020.
9. Siena (18-33, 12-12)
The dean of college baseball coaches, Tony Rossi, will go into his 51st season with a relatively inexperienced team looking to get up to speed quickly. There is perhaps no area where that is more the case than on the pitching staff. The 2019 Saints pitched well, which pushed them to a .500 finish in MAAC play, but that unit is almost completely rebuilt coming into this season. Converted reliever Mike McCully (5.28, 29 IP) will look to transition into the team’s Friday starter. The remaining three starting spots, including the midweek role, are projected to go to freshman righthander Jon Lumpinski, who impressed in the fall, and a pair of hard-throwing junior college transfers in Jordan Walden and Jayden Metz. Outfielder Zach Durfee (.304/.419/.405) is the top returning hitter, but just as is the case on the mound, newcomers will have to do some heavy lifting, including freshman catcher Bryce Mordecki, freshman second baseman Donovan Montgomery, and third baseman Pat O’Hare and DH Jake Hall, both junior college transfers.
10. Iona (14-38, 8-16)
In year two of the Paul Panik era at Iona, the Gaels will look to turn things around after suffering through its toughest season from a wins and losses perspective since 2016. The pitching was ahead of the offense a season ago, and on paper, that looks to be the case again. Senior righthander Stephen Hansen (4-6, 3.23), senior lefty Chris Dodrill (2-8, 6.28) and sophomore righty Hunter Sibley (2-7, 4.55) are all back after starting a significant number of games last season, although Sibley pitched in a bullpen role over the second half of the season. Returning relievers from last season include righthander Antonio Velardi (2.95, 6 SV), lefthander Drew Helmstetter (3.53, 35.2 IP), lefty Jason Goetz (4.50, 12 IP) and lefthander Michael Untracht (4.62, 25.1 IP). The bigger challenge will be getting more production out of an offense that hit .236/.338/.322 as a group, but with that said, there is a solid group of returning players that could be ready to take a step forward. Sam Punzi (.283/.402/.373), Stephen Furman (.245/.383/.308) and Brian Picone (.242/.348/.303) are chief among them.
11. Saint Peter’s (5-46, 3-21)
With all of the well-documented struggles of the Saint Peter’s program, including a winless 2017 and four different head coaches since the start of the 2013 season, it’s all about finding signs of progress. The five wins last season, the most in the last three seasons, was a small step, and some of the individual talents on the roster suggest another small step could be in store. Left fielder Hunter Mason (.300/.379/.453, 13 SB) is a talented hitter who has a little bit of pop and can swipe some bases. Center fielder Andrew Connor (.296/.386/.389) shows good speed in the field and on the bases. The 10.58 team ERA will have to drop significantly for the Peacocks to be more competitive. A rotation of Dawy Lebron (22.20, 15 IP), Ian Concevitch and Stephen Carbonara (15.63, 19 IP) will be tasked with doing so.
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