2020 Mountain West College Baseball Preview
Fresno State won its second conference title in four years in 2019, dominating the competition with one of the best offenses and pitching staffs in the conference. After losing seven players to the draft though, it will be tough to make it three in five years, with San Diego State and Nevada both poised for strong seasons.
San Diego State boasts the most talented player in the conference in two-way standout Casey Schmitt, a Preseason All-American, and has incredible depth on both sides of the ball this season. Nevada, on the other hand, brings back plenty of veterans in the infield, two key starting pitchers and also pulled in a transfer from Vanderbilt’s 2019 national championship team.
One of the biggest storylines this year in the Mountain West Conference will be Boise State, which revives its baseball program this season for the first time in four decades and will look to make some noise despite bringing a young, fairly inexperienced team to the table.
Player of the Year: Casey Schmitt, 3B/RHP, San Diego State
Schmitt is a legitimate candidate for both player and pitcher of the year honors, as a two-way player for San Diego State. Last season he became the first player in conference history to win both player of the week and pitcher of the week honors in the same week. An above-average defender at third with a plus arm, Schmitt is also a talented hitter coming off of a .315/.415/.450 line with five home runs and eight doubles a season ago. He has a chance to be a top-two rounds pick in the draft this June.
Pitcher of the Year: Oscar Carvajal, RHP, Fresno State
There are a number of interesting candidates for this honor, including Carvajal’s teammate Jamie Arias. After being used exclusively in relief last season, Carvajal should be a fixture of Fresno State’s starting rotation during his redshirt junior season. After striking out almost 11 batters per nine and walking 2.2 per nine out of the bullpen. Carvajal will need his stuff to translate to a different role, but has all the talent to handle the transition.
Freshman of the Year: Caden Miller, 2B, San Diego State
Miller was a two-time member of the all-Mission League team out of high school, an impressive accolade in a strong high school baseball league in Southern California. He brings impressive speed to the table and should also provide above-average defense at the keystone. A switch-hitter with good bat speed and bat-to-ball skills, Miller could impact every facet of the game on a strong San Diego State club.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 records)
1. San Diego State (32-25, 16-13)
San Diego State returns plenty of talent from a 2019 club that went 32-25 (16-13) and finished second in the conference. It’s one of the most complete and deep teams that coach Mark Martinez has had in his time at the helm, with leading hitters Schmitt and Matt Rudick returning. The lineup will also get a boost from catcher Wyatt Hendrie, a transfer from Antelope Valley (Calif.) JC, who brings power and a strong arm to the table. A few key starters have departed, but the team has a talented trio of sophomore righthanders in Mike Paredes, Aaron Eden and Troy Melton that should give the team a solid pitching staff, with Schmitt closing out games.
2. Nevada (30-26, 14-16)
After finishing third in the conference a year ago, Nevada brings a seasoned group of position players back this spring, including left fielder Jaylon McLaughlin and third baseman Josh Zamora, who led the team in hitting in 2019. The entirety of the 2019 infield is back, with slick fielders Wyatt Tilley and Tyler Bosetti forming a strong double-play combo. Redshirt senior Kiambu Fentress gives the team another top-of-the-lineup bat and speed in center field after transferring from Vanderbilt, while the team returns starting pitchers Owen Sharts and Jake Jackson in the rotation.
3. Fresno State (40-16-1, 20-8-1)
After winning the conference a year ago and advancing to the Stanford Regional final, the Bulldogs will have to replace seven players who left for the draft and two others who graduated. Despite losing first round pick Ryan Jensen, pitching should be the strength of this Fresno State club, with arms like lefthanders Jaime Arias and Nikoh Mitchell and righthanders Oscar Carvajal and Jamison Hill returning with plenty of experience. The offense will look entirely different, with the team’s top six hitters departing, but there is some physicality and speed with the 2020 lineup thanks to EJ Andrews, Nate Thimjon, Zach Presno and Emilio Nogales.
4. Nevada-Las Vegas (29-29, 14-16)
After posting a 5.93 team ERA a season ago, UNLV should be improved on the mound in 2020. There’s a lot of depth in the pitching staff, with five different starters competing for weekend jobs, including the team’s three leaders in innings pitched, Ryan Hare, Cameron Jabara and Chase Maddux. Losing first round shortstop Bryson Stott hurts, and the team will need several players to step up in his absence.
5. New Mexico (23-28-1, 11-16-1)
Hitting should remain a strength for the Lobos in 2020 after ranking third in the conference in batting a season ago. While leading hitting Jared Mang left for the draft, his brother Connor returns after posting a .359/.441/.587 line as a redshirt sophomore and the team will get additions from junior college transfers Kyle Landers and Kyler Castillo, who should hold down the corner infield spots. The team did lose two of its better arms in Justin Slaten and Malachi Edmond, but depth remains in that area with veteran righthanders like Nathaniel Garley and Tristin Lively returning as well as another junior college transfer in righthander Aaron Makil.
6. San Jose State (20-34, 13-17)
San Jose State returns much of its lineup from a season ago, but the team ranked last in the conference in hitting and will need other players to step up and help outfielder Blake Berry (.323/.406/.423) carry the offensive load, with Kellen Strahm getting drafted in the fourth round. Defense should be a strength of the team, but there are some real questions about the pitching as well, with starters Andrew Mitchell and Tevin Cadola leaving, as well as closer Fineas Del Bonta-Smith. Sophomore righthander Jonathan Clark returns after starting 10 games as a freshman, but he’ll need other arms to step into bigger roles around him.
7. Air Force (26-26, 12-14)
Air Force relied on a strong group of senior hitters in 2019 that need to be replaced this year, as each of Colby Brown, Rob Dau, Gabe Martinez and Nic Ready were among the top five hitters on the club, but will move on this season. Fortunately, the team brings back outfielder Ashton Easley, who led the team in hitting (.327), runs (46), triples (4) and stolen bases (30) as a dynamic, table-setter. He’ll still need more hitters to step up to help carry the load, while righthander Nathan Price (6-3, 2.59) returns to the pitching staff after an outstanding freshman season in which he tied for the fourth-lowest ERA among qualified pitchers in the MWC.
8. Boise State (N/A)
Boise State will field a baseball team in 2020 for the first time since 1980, when the sport was discontinued at the university. Coach Gary Van Tol brings plenty of experience after spending a decade as a manager and coach with the Cubs organization, but his team will be made up of 19 freshmen players. The Broncos should be one of the youngest teams in the conference, and that means they will rely on experienced transfers like catcher Cory Meyer (Washington State), second baseman Christian Padilla (Spokane Falls (Wash.) JC), left fielder Michael Hicks (Portland) and center fielder Geonhyoung Kim (Portland). While the expectations will be low this season considering the state of the program, 2020 is highly important for Boise State as a tone-setter for the club in its return.
Top 10 Prospects for 2020
1. Casey Schmitt, 3B, San Diego State
2. Wyatt Hendrie, C, San Diego State
3. Josh Zamora, 3B, Nevada
4. Jamison Hill, RHP, Fresno State
5. Wesley Clawson, LHP, San Jose State
6. Daniel Ritcheson, RHP, San Diego State
7. Drew Williams, 2B/3B, San Jose State
8. Matt Rudick, OF, San Diego State
9. Cameron Jabara, RHP, Nevada-Las Vegas
10. Jaylon McLaughlin, OF, Nevada