2020 Southwest Athletic Conference College Baseball Preview
The Southwest Athletic Conference was home to the country’s biggest turnaround in 2019 as Southern went from nine wins in 2018 to 32 wins and a regional berth in 2019. The Jaguars are the most storied HBCU and getting back to regionals for the first time in 10 years was important for the restoration of the program under Kerrick Jackson, who this spring begins his third season as coach.
With Southern’s return to the top of the West Division and Alabama State continuing to dominate the East Division, the two programs could be in for a sustained cross-division rivalry for SWAC supremacy. But Grambling State has improved, and Jackson State remains strong and can challenge for the title this season and beyond, while Texas Southern is never far away from contention.
Player of the Year: Equon Smith, OF, Jackson State.
Smith last year hit .359/.409/.421 and stole 39 bases for the Tigers. The senior will be one of the keys to Jackson State’s season, serving as an offensive catalyst and tracking down fly balls in center field.
Pitcher of the Year: Bryan Delgado, Grambling State.
Delgado went 6-4, 3.38 with 69 strikeouts and 27 walks in 88 innings last season. The senior will lead the Tigers rotation this spring and figures to be one of the workhorse starters of the conference.
Freshman of the Year: Christian Muniz, 3B, Alabama State.
The Hornets are never short on talent and they brought in another impressive recruiting class this fall. Muniz, listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, has a physical frame and big power potential in his righthanded swing. He’s played against high level competition in high school, which could help him make a smooth adjustment to college.
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. Alabama State (28-26, 18-5)
The Hornets last season won the East Division for the fifth time in six years and advanced to the SWAC Tournament championship game before falling to Southern. The Hornets weren’t the most talented they’ve been during that stretch but had enough offensive firepower to remain atop the standings. There are some new faces this season, but Alabama State may have increased the level of its roster. Junior catcher Santiago Garcia (.328/.375/.513, 9 HR) is the Hornets’ leader, while sophomore DH Angel Jimenez (.311/.409/.422) gives them another proven hitter. They’ll need to find a replacement for the power production Noel Cheneau and Yamil Pagan gave them, but this should be a strong lineup. On the mound, Alabama State lost top reliever Terrell McCall and ace Darren Kelly. Sophomore lefthanders Jeremy Rivera (7-4, 4.93) and Ricardo Rivera (6-3, 5.16) make for a solid combination. They’ll need some new pitchers to step up around them, but Alabama State has some of the best pitching depth in the SWAC.
2. Jackson State (31-24, 15-9)
The Tigers put together a strong 2019 season, pushing Alabama State in the division race and winning 31 games, a total that included a win against Kansas to end the regular season. They figure to be dangerous again this season with a strong returning offensive core of senior DH Chris Prentiss (.381/.443/.581, 10 SB), senior shortstop Wesley Reyes (.286/.332/.382, 10 SB), senior outfielder Equon Smith (.359/.409/.421, 39 SB) and senior third baseman Jaylyn Williams (.381/.487/.540, 10 SB). JSU last season had the SWAC’s best ERA (4.42) and should be strong on the mound again. Junior Nikelle Galatas (7-5, 4.17) was a workhorse last season, throwing 105.2 innings, and seniors Mario Lopez (5-4, 4.23) and Brandon Valentin (2-0, 4.50) give the staff two more experienced pitchers. If JSU can find some players to fill in around that core, it has what it takes to challenge Alabama State for the division title.
3. Alcorn State (14-31, 7-16)
The Braves return some important pieces offensively this spring from a team that relied on its lineup to win games. Senior outfielder Brandon Rembert (.345/.462/.489) and sophomore second baseman Tristin Garcia (.344/.411/.478) are back to lead the offense. They’ll need some help from the pitching staff to make a move up the standings, however. Alcorn State finished ninth in the conference in ERA (9.59).
4. Alabama A&M (15-34, 11-11)
The Bulldogs have a young team, having brought in a 17-man freshman class this fall. They’ll need that group to produce right away, as there are only 11 upperclassmen on the roster. Alabama A&M will be especially young in the lineup but does have some experience back on the mound in juniors Peyton Baker (4-3, 5.88) and Jose Figueroa (2-4, 6.40), and senior Michael Hovermill (5-5. 5.60)
5. Mississippi Valley State (8-27, 6-16)
The Delta Devils finished last season in the East Division cellar and lost the top three hitters from a team that finished last in the conference in most offensive categories. But MVSU is in better shape on the mound. It returns both top starter Nicholas Johnson (3-5, 5.09) and top reliever Aaron Barkley (1-2, 1.89). Barkley was the conference’s best reliever and posted a 51-to-7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He spent the summer in the Prospect League, where he shone again, going 2-0, 0.41 with 19 strikeouts and one walk in 21.2 innings.
1. Southern (32-24, 17-6)
After a tough first season in 2018, Southern made a big leap last year in coach Kerrick Jackson’s second season with the program. The Jaguars more than tripled their win total, going from nine wins in 2018 to 32 in 2019, and won the SWAC Tournament for the first time in a decade. Southern acquitted itself well in the Starkville Regional and pushed host Mississippi State in the opening game before getting eliminated. After a tough few years of NCAA sanctions and subpar results, Southern is back. The challenge now will be to repeat that success and move it forward. The Jaguars have a large group from that team back, headlined by senior righthander Elijah Finney (6-2, 4.45). He’ll anchor what should be a solid pitching staff. The lineup will be full of new faces, but Southern brought in a solid recruiting class heavy on junior college transfers that should be able to quickly take on significant roles. Infielders Jovante Dorris, a junior college transfer, and freshman Jahli Hendricks are two of the newcomers to watch. Southern may not repeat last year’s impressive results, but it should remain among the conference’s best teams.
2. Grambling State (27-25, 16-8)
The Tigers have been building over the last couple years, making the SWAC Tournament championship game in 2018 and last season producing their best regular season of the decade. Grambling lost three of its top four hitters from last season, but senior outfielder Jahmoi Percival (.323/.419/.492, 14 SB) gives it a cornerstone. On the mound, senior lefthander Bryan Delgado (6-4, 3.38) returns to lead the rotation. He’s the best pitcher in the conference and a workhorse starter that can anchor a staff.
3. Texas Southern (20-34, 13-11)
The Tigers won the SWAC Tournament in back-to-back years in 2017-18 and have won the event three of the last five seasons. But last year was a down one for Texas Southern as it slipped to third in the division standings. To get back into the race, it’ll need to improve it’s run prevention after finishing sixth in the conference in ERA (7.59), well behind Southern and Grambling, and seventh in fielding (.948), again, well behind the division leaders. Redshirt junior first baseman Oscar Ponce (.278/.345/.405) and senior outfielder Tyson Thompson (.311/.417/.383, 15 SB) are back to lead the offense, which does lose leading slugger Olajide Oloruntimilehin.
4. Prairie View A&M (18-35, 9-14)
Daniel Lingua last year won the SWAC batting title with a .411 batting average, but he’s now gone leaving the Panthers looking for a new offensive catalyst. They’ll lean on second baseman Alex Martinez (.323/.389/.571, 11 HR) and outfielder Xavier Jefferson (.310/.473/.420) to make the offense go this spring. PVAM last season ranked eighth in the league in ERA (8.40) and it will need to improve on the mound to move up in the standings.
5. Arkansas-Pine Bluff (8-42, 3-19)
UAPB struggled throughout last season, but a first baseman Nick Kreutzer provided a bright spot. He earned all-SWAC honors last season after hitting .352/.448/.626 with 11 home runs. He’s back this spring for his redshirt senior season and will be counted on to provide the power in the heart of the Golden Lions order. UAPB will look to improve on the mound after finishing last in the conference in ERA (10.13).
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
1. Santiago Garcia, C, Alabama State
2. Bryan Delgado, LHP, Grambling State
3. Elijah Finney, RHP, Southern
4. Equon Smith, OF, Jackson State
5. Aaron Barkley, RHP, Mississippi Valley State
6. Alex Martinez, 2B, Prairie View A&M
7. Jaylyn Williams, 3B, Jackson State
8. Nick Kreutzer, 1B, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
9. Wesley Reyes, SS, Jackson State
10. Tyson Thompson, OF, Texas Southern