2022 Big East Conference College Baseball Preview
Connecticut last season won the Big East in its first season back in the conference after seven years as a member of the American Athletic Conference.
The Huskies did enough to earn a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but no other Big East team finished near regional contention in 2021. With a more normal schedule in 2022 – the Big East will return to three-game weekends after playing four-game series last season – and more inter-regional travel, perhaps the conference will be able to challenge for multiple bids.
At the top of the conference, UConn, Creighton and Xavier again look to be the strongest teams. If those three teams do indeed grab three of the four bids to the Big East Tournament, the fight for the last spot promises to be tight.
Player of the Year: Alan Roden, 1B, Creighton
Roden was excellent all season long for the Bluejays, hitting .378/.476/.685 with 17 doubles and nine home runs. He was even better in Big East play, hitting .421/.516/.737 and ranked second in the conference in all three categories. He’s a good all-around hitter with solid power and this summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League showed off more speed, as he stole 28 bases. He has experience at first base and in the outfield, but figures to this spring mostly play first base.
Pitcher of the Year: Dylan Tebrake, RHP, Creighton
Tebrake last season was named Big East pitcher of the year after going 8-0, 2.72 with 75 strikeouts and 24 walks in 72.2 innings. The fourth-year junior attacks hitters with a good fastball-slider combination, running his fastball up to 94 mph and pairing it with a high-spin-rate slider.
Freshman of the Year: George Eisenhardt, RHP, Xavier
Eisenhardt, an Oregon native, spent the summer pitching in the West Coast League, where he acquitted himself well. He has a long, projectable build at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds and has advanced feel on the mound to go with solid stuff. His fastball gets up to 93 mph and he mixes in a changeup and slider.
Projected Order of Finish (2021 records)
1. Connecticut (34-19, 13-4)
The Huskies last season made their return to the Big East after six seasons in the American Athletic Conference and won the conference tournament. UConn had five players drafted off that team, including Big East player of the year Kyler Fedko, catcher Patrick Winkle and No. 1 starter Ben Casparius, leaving some big holes to fill. UConn got bad news this fall when first baseman/lefthander Reggie Crawford was injured and required Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for the year after a standout summer with USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team.
Despite all those losses, UConn remains the Big East favorite. Fifth-year seniors Erik Stock (.364/.436/.556) and Christian Fedko (.295/.386/.389) bring experience to the lineup. The Huskies’ typically stout pitching staff again looks tough with righthanders Austin Peterson (7-1, 2.58) and Pat Gallagher (5-2, 4.44) back to lead the rotation and sidewinding righthander Justin Willis (4-0, 2.60) at the back of the bullpen. UConn also brought in some key transfers to bolster the roster, including outfielder Casey Dana, who last season earned all-Big East honors at Seton Hall, and righthander Enzo Stefanoni (Harvard), who is coming off an all-star summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. UConn also this season will have the services of catcher Matt Donlan, who sat out last season after transferring but impressed this summer in the Cape Cod League. UConn’s depth and experience should serve it well in 2022.
2. Xavier (28-26, 15-11)
The Musketeers last year pushed UConn to a winner-take-all championship game in the Big East Tournament before falling, 10-6. Xavier returns eight starters from its 2021 lineup and fills its lone hole with graduate transfer catcher Jerry Huntzinger, who last season earned all-conference honors while at Seton Hall. Among the key returners are leading hitter Andrew Walker (.316/.407/.493, 18 SB) and top power hitter Luke Franzoni (.279/.392/.566, 9 HR), as well as do-it-all senior Jack Housinger (.297/.437/.480, 17 2B, 13 SB). Xavier isn’t as deep on the mound after losing ace Nick Zwack to the draft. Veterans Trevor Olson (5-3, 2.97) and Lane Flamm (4-5, 4.41) will be asked to lead the rotation and bullpen, respectively. Newcomers Bryce Barnett (Arizona State) and Eisenhardt add upside on the mound. If Xavier can find the right formula for its pitching staff, it will be dangerous in the Big East.
3. Creighton (24-15, 15-6)
Led by Roden and Tebrake, the Bluejays have star power and there’s good depth behind that duo. Lefthander Carlos Lommel (3-3, 4.11) follows Tebrake in the rotation and fifth-year senior Tommy Steier will anchor the bullpen after missing much of last year due to injury. Offensively, fifth-year senior second baseman Andrew Meggs (.309/.380/.396) gives Creighton another veteran in the top of the lineup and the return of outfielder Jared Wegner (.277/.324/.354), who was limited to 17 games last season by injury, will be a boost. The Bluejays also added several significant newcomers to both the lineup and pitching staff. Catcher Brant Voth (junior college), fifth-year senior outfielder Chris Esposito (New Orleans) and freshman outfielder Tate Gillen all have a chance to make a quick impact offensively, while righthander Dominic Cancellieri (Notre Dame) and lefthander Tommy Lamb (Oklahoma) bolster the pitching staff. If Creighton can find the right players to complement Roden and Tebrake, it can challenge UConn at the top of the standings.
4. St. John’s (19-21, 10-16)
The Red Storm last season finished sixth in the Big East and missed the conference tournament for the first time since the league adopted its current configuration in 2014. St. John’s will look to bounce back in 2022 with a large group of newcomers on the roster. It does return third baseman Marty Higgins (.333/.404/.409), its leading hitter, and fourth-year righthander Ian Murphy (2-3, 3.15), an experienced starter. One of the top newcomers to watch is slugger Tate Ballestro, a New Jersey native who transferred to St. John’s after spending the first two years of his college career at Virginia. The Red Storm will need some pitchers to take a step forward after losing No. 1 starter Nick Mondak and closer Ethan Routzahn. Sophomore righthander Tyler Roche (1-2, 3.44) and fourth-year junior righthander Joe Joe Rodriguez (2-2, 5.32) this spring will be counted on in bigger roles.
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5. Seton Hall (23-25, 16-11)
The Pirates are coming off a strong 2021 season but have several key players to replace this spring. With their whole rotation now gone, righthander Chris Shine (2-1, 3.28) and lefthander Joe Cinnella (3-3, 3.89) will be asked to step into larger roles, while sophomore Drew Conover, who threw just 9.1 innings in 2021, and freshman Dan Frontera could provide an extra spark. Offensively, leading hitter Will Gale (.317/.381/.367, 16 SB) returns to the outfield after earning all-conference honors, but fellow all-Big East honorees Casey Dana, Jerry Huntzinger and Matt Toke are all gone. That leaves the Pirates this spring relying on a new set of position players. They should be a sound team defensively but finding the right mix offensively will be important.
6. Villanova (21-14, 9-12)
The Wildcats last season stood out on the mound, thanks in part to ace Gordon Graceffo, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Cardinals. In his place, the Wildcats will turn to lefthander Danny Wilkinson (0-2, 3.20, 7 SV), who last season served as closer. Wilkinson has a good arm – his fastball gets up to 94 mph and he pairs it with a big curveball – and if he can successfully make the transition to starting, Villanova should again have a quality rotation. The Wildcats added fourth-year righthander Cole Patten as a transfer from Seton Hall and return sixth-year lefthander Tyler Arella (3-4, 3.43), giving them plenty of experience in the rotation. Villanova last season ranked seventh in the Big East in scoring (4.29 runs per game) and finding some more offense will be imperative this spring. The good news is fifth-year outfielder Chris Rotondo (.272/.400/.566, 7 HR, 7 SB) returns to anchor the lineup after leading the team in OPS (.966). Villanova has intriguing upside if some other hitters can step up.
7. Butler (13-23, 8-13)
The Bulldogs are coming off a difficult season and are now faced with a lot of roster turnover, having lost their leading hitter and two-thirds of their rotation. Fifth-year outfielder James Gargano (.277/.360/.468, 7 HR, 10 SB) will anchor the lineup, which this year figures to be speedier and more athletic than in 2021. Fifth-year shortstop Travis Holt, who transferred from High Point after four years as a starter, is a key addition. He struggled at the plate in 2021, but twice was named all-Big South Conference with the Panthers. On the mound, fifth-year lefthander Nick Eaton (2-2, 3.48) will lead the rotation after serving as a swingman in 2021. Freshman righthander Holden Groher is a newcomer to watch and figures to quickly carve out a role on the mound.
8. Georgetown (6-25, 6-19)
The Hoyas last year were limited by the pandemic, as Covid protocols led both fall ball and preseason practice to be canceled and they didn’t play their first game until April 7. To make things even more challenging, Georgetown was one of the few schools nationally to have a new coach in 2021, as Edwin Thompson took over the program. With a more normal offseason under their belts, the Hoyas will look to take a step forward in 2022. To do so, Georgetown will need to improve offensively after averaging just 2.65 runs per game. It brought in several graduate transfers who will look to make an impact in the lineup, including infielder Ethan Stern, who last season stole 15 bases while at Lafayette. On the mound, righthanders Carter Bosch (1-2, 3.45) and Nolan McCarthy (0-3, 3.63) and lefthander Angelo Tonas (1-3, 5.51) are all entering at least their fourth year of college baseball, giving the Hoyas a lot of experience.
Top 2022 Draft Prospects
- Reggie Crawford, LHP/1B, Connecticut
- Alan Roden, 1B, Creighton
- Pat Gallagher, RHP, Connecticut
- Cade Lomell, LHP, Creighton
- Bryce Barnett, RHP, Xavier
- Matt Dolan, C, Connecticut
- Dylan Tebrake, RHP, Creighton
- Alex Helmin, OF, Xavier
- Ian Murphy, RHP, St. John’s
- Will Gale, OF, Seton Hall