2020 Missouri Valley College Baseball Preview
The Missouri Valley Conference enjoyed a banner season in 2019, getting three teams into regionals—Dallas Baptist, Illinois State and Indiana State—all of which advanced to their respective regional finals.
That success came thanks to a number of factors. Dallas Baptist maintained its high level of excellence. First-year head coach Steve Holm was able to get the most out of a talented Illinois State roster, and Indiana State had its best team since at least 2014, the last time it appeared in a regional.
Having that type of season might be a tough trick to pull off in 2020. DBU looks the part of a postseason team again, but Illinois State and Indiana State lost a lot of players to graduation and the draft. But producing multiple postseason teams is not out of the question, either. In fact, it’s a fairly safe bet, as the league has done it each of the last three years and four of the last five. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out which teams those are.
Player of the Year: Jimmy Glowenke, SS, Dallas Baptist
Due to offseason arm surgery, Glowenke won’t be able to play his position right out of the gate, but it won’t limit him at the plate, which is great news for the Patriots. A Freshman All-American in 2018 and an all-MVC performer last season, Glowenke is a .332/.430/.505 career hitter with 32 doubles and 16 home runs. Being named MVC player of the year and hearing his name called early in the 2020 draft would be the perfect cap on an illustrious career.
Pitcher of the Year: Collin Liberatore, RHP, Indiana State
Liberatore was a huge part of giving Indiana State the deepest rotation in the MVC last season. A first-year player at ISU in 2019 who began his career at Pittsburgh, the righthander immediately became the workhorse the team needed, going 10-2, 2.96 in 103.1 innings. His innings total ended as the second-highest total in the conference, behind only teammate Triston Polley. In 2020, Polley is gone, as is the third member of the Indiana State rotation, Tyler Whitbread. For that reason, Liberatore is going to have a lot on his shoulders this season, but he looks more than capable of carrying that weight.
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Cermak, 3B/RHP, Illinois State
The top recruit in Illinois State’s recruiting class, Cermak will have opportunities right away as the Redbirds’ projected starting third baseman, though he has the athleticism to handle shortstop in the future. At 6-foot-1 and 205 pounds, he’s working from a solid frame and uses it to hit the ball with authority. During fall ball, he looked the part of an impact bat that could help mitigate the losses of players like Joe Aeilts and John Rave. Cermak also has some two-way potential as a righthander whose fastball can run into the low-90s.
Ranking the Top 50 Names in College Baseball in 2020
In Baseball America's annual list of the 50 best names in college baseball, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's Itchy Burts takes the top spot for the third year in a row.
Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Dallas Baptist (43-20, 14-7)
By tying for first place in the MVC standings last season, the Patriots enjoyed their sixth consecutive season of finishing first or second in the league. That type of result will be the expectation in 2020 as well. DBU’s biggest challenge is replacing Jordan Martinson and M.D. Johnson at the front of the rotation. There is hope that redshirt junior righthander Ray Gaither can step into the Friday role. He’s missed most of each of the last two seasons due to injury, but in 2017, he was a steady member of the rotation. A good athlete with a four-pitch mix that includes a fastball he can run into the mid-90s, Gaither’s talent is not in question. There’s no question who will do the heavy lifting in the bullpen, as junior lefty Burl Carraway (4-2, 2.81, 6 SV), a first-team Preseason All-American, is back to serve in a high-leverage role, whether that’s closing games out or serving as a bridge to the late innings.
Offensively, Glowenke is the clear catalyst, but third baseman Jackson Glenn (.292/.372/.460) and first baseman Andres Sosa (.262/.365/.468) are coming off of nice seasons and can be counted on to fill out the lineup. Blayne Jones (.254/.354/.392) can handle the bat well, but the biggest value he brings is as a defender in the middle infield. He’s primarily played second base at DBU, but will man shortstop as long as Glowenke isn’t able to play in the field. Having a backup option like that at a premium position is a massive luxury. Look for junior college transfer first baseman Dan Pruitt to inject some pop into the order right away. In terms of stature and junior college track record, he looks like an exact replica of Bryce Ball, who hit 18 home runs for Dallas Baptist last season.
2. Illinois State (36-26, 14-7)
Things clicked for the Redbirds under first-year head coach Steve Holm in 2019, and while they saw a number of talented players depart due to the draft and graduation after the season, they still bring back a veteran club. Offensively, shortstop Joe Butler (.319/.370/.450), a good athlete who has played a number of positions in his career, outfielders Jack Butler (.304/.370/.444) and Jordan Libman (.299/.421/.376) provide a quality foundation. Getting first baseman Jake McCaw and outfielder Ryan Hutchinson back from injury will help as well. Illinois State lost all three members of its weekend rotation from last year, and replacing that production is a concern, but it hopes it has some of the answers already in-house. Righthander Brady Huffman projects to lead the rotation. He missed all of last season due to injury, but two years ago, he was the team’s Friday starter. Lefthander Colton Johnson (4-1, 4.61) will slot in behind him after serving mostly in relief in 2019. But Johnson was last seen in an ISU uniform throwing 7.1 quality innings in a regional final against Louisville. Freshman lefthander Trey Krause and junior righthander Brett Wicklund (4-4, 4.50) project to start games as well, whether in the Sunday spot or in the midweek. Bullpen roles will have to be hammered out as time goes on, but there’s no question who will be closing, with lefthander Jacob Gilmore (3.71, 11 SV) back.
3. Bradley (31-19, 11-10)
In 2019, the Braves rode an MVC-best 3.37 team ERA to a 31-win season and a fourth-place finish. In 2020, it might be the offense, which was already one of the best in the conference, doing more of the work. The top four hitters from last year’s lineup return in shortstop Luke Shadid (.344/.421/.574, 10 HR), outfielder Dan Bolt (.327/.453/.595, 11 HR), third baseman Brendan Dougherty (.283/.363/.415) and first baseman Connor O’Brien (.282/.352/.404), plus veteran outfielder Eli Rawlinson (.248/.360/.421) and third-year starting catcher Keaton Rice (.215/.422/.326). On the pitching staff, the Braves are without two top starters from last season in Mitch Janssen and Sam Lund, plus swingman Cole Cook and top relievers Allen Beer and Brian Schrimmer, and rebuilding the staff will be the team’s biggest challenge. Lefthander Brooks Gosswein (4-4, 4.38) is back to lead the rotation in 2020. The junior got experience pitching on the weekends last year and threw the first seven innings of Bradley’s no-hitter against Division II Robert Morris-Springfield in April. At least initially, look for senior lefthander D.J. DePiero and junior college transfer righthander Matt Hamilton to get a crack at the other two weekend rotation spots. Freshman lefty Angel Acevedo has a chance to earn innings right away. Righthander Theron Denlinger (2.86, 6 SV) is back at the back of the bullpen and his powerful fastball plays well in that role.
4. Missouri State (20-36, 10-11)
A confluence of negative events kept Missouri State from living up to its potential in 2019. The Bears endured impactful injuries, didn’t get as much production from some of their newcomers as they hoped and also had some veterans take steps back. The upside is that they now return a healthy, veteran team that could steady the ship. The lineup is littered with seniors, including catcher Logan Geha (.197/.330/.333), power-hitting first baseman Ben Whetstone (.240/.357/.397), speedy second baseman John Privitera (.250/.332/.344) and center fielder Jack Duffy (.305/.392/.426), the team’s leading hitter. They also added a grad transfer in outfielder Jordan McFarland, a .276/.360/.376 career hitter in three years at Arkansas. Outfielder Dakota Kotowski (.288/.381/.576, 12 HR) will provide pop in the order alongside Whetstone and third baseman Joey Polak (.218/.292/.394), who struggled with strikeouts in his first season out of junior college, but has as much power potential as anyone in the lineup. In the rotation, righthander Logan Wiley (5-5, 3.67) will be in his third season in the weekend rotation, to be joined by righthander Ty Buckner, who is a huge key for the Bears. He missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, but two seasons ago, he was 7-4, 4.81. As far as new faces go, freshman righthander Hayden Minton will get a crack at the rotation, while junior college transfer righthander Trey Ziegenbein will look to nail down a role in the bullpen.
5. Indiana State (43-18, 13-8)
Indiana State returns just 13 lettermen from last year’s team that got to the Nashville Regional final, and many of those 13 are players who were minor pieces of what was a senior-laden club. For many programs, that would signal an upcoming fall down the standings, but Indiana State is a bit different. Just once in Mitch Hannahs’ six seasons at the helm have the Sycamores finished lower than fourth, and there’s a chance it will be the same in 2020. Liberatore returns to give the team an ace as good as any in the league and lefthander Tyler Grauer (1.91, 9 SV) will move into the rotation after serving as the closer last year. Hard-throwing Indiana transfer Lane Miller gives the rotation some additional upside. Freshman righthander Cam Edmonson is a new face to watch in a bullpen role. In a fall outing against Illinois this past September, he showed his penchant for attacking hitters at a level beyond his years and his 5-foot-9 frame. Catcher Max Wright (.296/.380/.394) is the only returning starter in the lineup, but shortstop Jordan Schaffer (19 AB), outfielder Ellison Hanna (29 AB) and outfielder Brandt Nowaskie (12 AB) have all been biding their time in the program waiting for a chance to break through, which they could do in 2020. A duo of transfers from Wabash Valley College in first baseman Miguel Rivera and projected DH Brian Fuentes look ready to make instant impacts at the plate.
6. Evansville (24-29, 11-12)
The Purple Aces faded down the stretch in 2019, pushing them out of postseason contention, but as a 12-win improvement over the previous season, it was a nice step forward. They’ll try to keep building in 2020, and at the very least, should have the pitching to do so. Nathan Croner (5-6, 4.28), who led the team in innings last season with 82, is back to lead the rotation. Also back is righthander Shane Gray (3-1, 4.25), who emerged as a valuable swingman as a freshman, and lefthander Michael Parks (4.04, 6 SV). At the plate, first baseman Tanner Craig (.284/.374/.442) will be a focal point. The powerful junior has a two-year track record of producing for Evansville and is coming off of a successful summer in the Northwoods League, where he hit .271 with ten doubles and seven home runs. A key for the lineup will be outfielder Troy Beilsmith (.242/.354/.399), whose numbers were down a bit in 2019 after hitting .335/.442/.564 in 2018. When he’s swinging it well, he’s the type of player who makes the offense go. Neither second baseman Danny Borgstrom (.235/.302/.320) nor shortstop Craig Shepherd (.241/.359/.303) were overly offensive last season, but they bring experience to their positions in the middle infield. The former started all but one game as a freshman last season, while the latter has appeared in 150 games over his three seasons.
7. Southern Illinois (26-29, 5-16)
Southern Illinois made a couple of inspired hires over the offseason. The first was bringing in Lance Rhodes, formerly an assistant at Missouri, to be the program’s new head coach. Then, in January, Rhodes brought in former Missouri head coach Tim Jamieson as his pitching coach. Jamieson built a pitching factory in his time at Mizzou, producing future big leaguers like Max Scherzer, Kyle Gibson and Aaron Crow. Now, he and Rhodes will look to impart wisdom on a pitching staff that returns some veteran pieces. Senior righthander Mason Hiser (4-4, 4,79), junior lefthander Blake Begner (6-7, 6.01) and senior lefthander Brad Harrison (3-1, 3.05) make up a weekend rotation with a lot of starting experience in the program. Closer Trey McDaniel (4.06, 14 SV) gives Rhodes and Jamieson a reliable arm on the back end. Offensively, first baseman Philip Archer (.262/.333/.407), second baseman Ian Walters (.226/.331/.377), outfielders J.T. Weber (.261/.304/.307) and Addison Fugitt (.238/.345/.311), and DH Grey Epps (.216/.307/.358) bring experience to the table.
8. Valparaiso (14-36, 6-15)
The Crusaders have finished seventh in each of their first two seasons in the MVC. If they are to make a move to finish higher than that in 2020, it will likely be led by the pitching staff, which returns 94% of innings pitched from last season. Righthander Jon Tieman (2-10, 5.28), righthander Colin Fields (2-4, 5.96) and lefthander Jarrett Hammel (2-4, 5.21) form a weekend rotation that tallied 28 starts in 2019. Senior righthander Easton Rhodehouse (3.82, 4 SV) returns to his role closing games. Righthander Jacob Rosencranz will also fight for innings as the season goes on. The 6-foot-5 freshman has a fastball that sits 88-92 mph with a good curveball, and will be a prospect to follow two years down the road. The same is true of fellow freshman righthander Trent Turzenski, who has been up to 95 mph with his fastball in the past. The lineup has more to prove. Center fielder Riley Dent (.290/.379/.341), the leading returning hitter, will be a catalyst in the leadoff spot. A bevy of junior college transfers in second baseman D.J. Calvert, third baseman Troy Jones and outfielder Jon Temple will be key for the Crusaders’ offense to show improvement over last season, when it hit .238 as a group.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
- Burl Carraway, LHP, Dallas Baptist
- Jimmy Glowenke, SS, Dallas Baptist
- Brooks Gosswein, LHP, Bradley
- Dominic Hamel, RHP, Dallas Baptist
- Tanner Craig, 1B, Evansville
- Dan Pruitt, 1B, Dallas Baptist
- Ty Buckner, RHP, Missouri State
- Joe Butler, SS, Illinois State
- Ray Gaither, RHP, Dallas Baptist
- Keaton Rice, C, Bradley