2024 AAC College Baseball Preview


Image credit: Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images)

The AAC will have a completely new look in 2024, as five new teams—all from Conference USA—have joined the conference after the departures of Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston to the Big 12. The defending Conference USA champions, Charlotte, last year won two games in the Clemson Regional—including a 3-2 win to knock out the Tigers—and will again be competitive in 2024. Texas-San Antonio’s 38 wins last year were the second-highest total in program history, and the Roadrunners will be immediate contenders in their first year in the conference. Florida Atlantic, Rice and UAB round out the group of newcomers, and while they may not be as competitive as Charlotte or UTSA, they figure to round into form as they continue to get settled into their new conference home.

Speaking of new looks, both Memphis and Wichita State will each feature a first-year head coach. For the Tigers, former Southeast Louisiana head coach Matt Riser will now be at the helm. While at Southeast Louisiana, Riser accumulated 320 wins and led the Lions to four tournament berths and two conference tournament championships. Taking the reins at Wichita State is former Washington State head coach Brian Green. He averaged nearly 23 wins per season across his four seasons with the Cougars, and his 29 wins in 2023 were tied for the most wins in a single-season since 2010. Both Coach Riser and Coach Green have track records of success, and both figure to make positive impacts at their respective programs.

Below, find the following as we dive deep into the AAC…

  • Predicted order of finish
  • Player, Pitcher and Freshman of the Year predictions
  • Team-by-team breakdowns
  • Top draft prospects
  • Top newcomers
  • Best scouting tools

Predicted Order of Finish (2023 Record)

1. East Carolina (47-19, 18-6)
2. Charlotte (36-28, 17-12 C-USA)
3. Texas-San Antonio (38-19, 21-8 C-USA)
4. South Florida (21-39, 7-17)
5. Florida Atlantic (34-25, 16-14 C-USA)
6. Memphis (29-28, 10-14)
7. Rice (21-37, 9-21 C-USA)
8. Tulane (19-42, 8-16)
9. Wichita State (30-25, 13-10)
10. UAB (17-36, 8-22 C-USA)

Player of the Year: Jacob Jenkins-Cowart, OF, East Carolina

Jenkins-Cowart exploded onto the scene in 2022 as a true freshman and posted a .331/.367/.549 slash line with 10 doubles, 13 home runs and a team-best 65 RBIs. “JJC” took a bit of a step back in 2023, hitting .294/.354/.491 with 13 doubles, nine home runs and 45 RBIs. Jenkins-Cowart has a big league body at 6-foot-6 and 212 pounds and an aesthetically majestic lefthanded swing with above-average bat speed. His long levers allow him to cover pretty much everywhere in the box, and he has above-average bat-to-ball skills given his 89% in-zone contact rate. Jenkins-Cowart is a solid athlete and his long strides enable him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield. His arm will flash above average, and although it’s unclear what position he’ll stick at long term, he’s a safe bet to stick in the outfield. After a down year in 2023, expect Jenkins-Cowart to return to his freshman year form.

Pitcher of the Year: Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina

After a solid freshman year in which he showed flashes of his upside, Yesavage in 2023 anchored the rotation and had an outstanding season. He worked a 2.61 ERA with 105 strikeouts to just 23 walks across 76 innings and was a first-team all-AAC selection and second-team All-American. As a cherry on top of what was an excellent season, Yesavage earned a roster spot on Team USA’s Collegiate National Team. He has an imposing mound presence and stands at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds with plenty of physicality. On top of a fastball that sits in the 93-96 (T97) range, Yesavage throws two distinct breaking balls in a low-80s curveball and a high-80s slider. The curveball in ’23 had a minuscule .098 opponents’ batting average and an impressive 58% miss rate, while his slider also generates its fair share of swing-and-miss. Yesavage will again headline the ECU rotation and could pitch his way into a first-round draft selection.

Freshman of the Year: Bristol Carter, OF, East Carolina

Carter has an impressive set of tools and could be the next great player to come out of Greenville. He has a physical, compact build and is an exceptional athlete. Carter is a plus runner with great instincts, which are two traits that have translated well to the outfield. He will be the team’s everyday center fielder this season. Carter will also make an impact with his bat and will likely hit near the top of the lineup. He has above-average bat speed and has shown the ability to drive the ball with authority to either gap. For as good and as deep as this ECU team is, Carter could be one of the biggest contributors on the roster in his first collegiate season.

AAC Team-By-Team Breakdowns

1. East Carolina (47-19, 18-6)

2023 was another successful year for the Pirates, who earned their fifth consecutive tournament berth, won their fourth-straight AAC regular-season title and won 40+ games for the fifth year in a row. While they failed to make a super regional for the first time since 2019, the Pirates notched two wins over Oklahoma in the Charlottesville Regional before being eliminated by host UVA.

ECU boasts plenty of depth as it heads into the 2024 season, and returns its top four hitters from the 2023 team. It has two big-time draft prospects—one on each side of the baseball—in outfielder Jacob Jenkins-Cowart (.294/.354/.491) and righthanded pitcher Trey Yesavage (7-1, 2.61). Jenkins-Cowart will look to bounce back this year after a dip in production in 2023, while Yesavage is the clear-cut favorite to take home pitcher of the year honors.

On top of Yesavage and Jenkins-Cowart, a host of key contributors like Joey Berini (.318/.391/.416), the team’s leading hitter from 2023, Justin Wilcoxen (.318/.384/.538) and Carter Cunningham (.317/.429/.522) are all back, while on the pitching side lefthander Zach Root (3-3, 5.53 ERA), Danny Beal (6-2, 2.70 ERA) and Wyatt Lunsford-Shenkman (4-2, 4.24 ERA) will all log plenty of innings. Highly-touted freshman center fielder Bristol Carter is expected to start right away, and he has a toolset that will allow him to impact the game in a number of ways.

When looking at this team on paper, it is hard to imagine that it won’t extend its regular-season AAC championship streak to five. It will almost certainly return to the tournament—whether it be as the AAC’s automatic qualifier or as an at-large team—and it has the pieces to potentially reach the College World Series for the first time in program history.

2. Charlotte (36-28, 17-12 C-USA)

The 49ers could not have asked for a better end to their time as members of Conference USA. On top of returning to the tournament for the second time in three seasons, they won their first C-USA tournament championship and first conference tournament championship since 2011. The 49ers then had a successful tournament run, in which they won two games in the Clemson Regional, including a 3-2 upset win over Clemson to eliminate the Tigers, before falling to Tennessee in the regional final.

Charlotte this year will be tasked with replacing the incredible production of first-team all-CUSA selection Cam Fisher, who hit .348/.507/.813 and wallopped a conference-leading 30 home runs. On top of losing Fisher’s 30 home runs, the 49ers also lost an additional 45 home runs with the departures of Austin Knight, Jack Dragum, Jake Cunningham and Will Butcher. For those keeping track, that’s 75 of their 103 home runs hit in 2023.

After a productive 2023 season, in which he hit .288/.368/.478 with 15 doubles and nine home runs, third baseman Brandon Stahlman will anchor the offense. Catcher Kaden Hopson, who hit seven home runs of his own, will again handle the catching duties. A trio of junior college transfers in Carson Bayne, Thad Ector and Noah Furcht will be expected to contribute right away.

On the mound, veteran Cameron Hansen (3-1, 4.66 ERA) will lead the rotation while junior righthander Miles Langhorne (1-2, 7.11 ERA)—who has a chance to really pop—will also factor into the rotation. Much like on offesne, Charlotte will rely on a plethora of transfer arms to replace the production it lost from the 2023 season. There are some question marks surrounding this year’s Charlotte club, but it again has the talent to be one of the most competitive teams in the conference.

3. Texas-San Antonio (38-19, 21-8 C-USA)

The Roadrunners last year continued their success under fifth-year head coach Pat Hallmark, winning 38 games—tied for the highest single-season total since 2008—and 21 conference games. They entered the C-USA tournament as one of the favorites, but lost to Middle Tennessee and Charlotte on consecutive days to squander any tournament hope.

UTSA lost a handful of big-time contributors from last year’s squad, including the team’s most productive hitter Antonio Valdez (.387/.483/.694) and catcher Taylor Smith, who led the team with 17 home runs. The offense this year will be centered around Matt King (.318/.411/.507), whose 58 RBIs were the second-highest total last year, and Caleb Hill (.319/.388/.525). Outside those two, Coach Hallmark and company will rely on transfer talent and returners from last year whose game will need to take a step forward.

The Roadrunners pitching staff will be led by Ulises Quiroga, who had a respectable 2023 season, in which he pitched his way to a 5.59 ERA. Daniel Garza (5-1, 5.29 ERA) will transition from the bullpen to the rotation, while Ryan Ward (1-2, 5.76 ERA) will also now pitch in the rotation full time. Losing Simon Miller (8-1, 2.30 ERA) in the bullpen is a huge loss, which means someone like Fischer Kingsbery (1-1, 6.87 ERA), who showed flashes in his 18.1 innings last year, will need to step up. Even with the talent it lost from the 2023 team, UTSA will be one of the top teams in the AAC.

4. South Florida (21-39, 7-17)

If you’re looking for a darkhorse in the AAC, look no further than USF. After a disappointing 2023 season, it returns loads of talent and will feature one of the deeper lineups in the conference. 2023 AAC freshman of the year Eric Snow (.343/.418/.526) has AAC player of the year–type upside, and on top of his ability with the bat, he is also a smooth defender at shortstop. The team’s two leading home run hitters from 2023—Bobby Boser (.323/.445/.621, 15 home runs) and Drew Brutcher (.293/.393/.515, 13 home runs)—will be a vaunted middle-of-the-order duo, while Rafael Betancourt (.317/.340/.470) and Joaquin Monque (.297/.381/.453) give the Bulls two more weapons.

USF also returns most of its starts on the mound from 2023 with Jack Cebert (4-4, 5.05 ERA), strikeout leader Hunter Mink (6-6, 6.75 ERA) and Lawson Gailey (2-5, 4.09 ERA) all back. That makes for a potentially solid rotation, but the Bulls will need their bullpen to take a major step in the right direction after struggling mightily in 2023. Their lineup should hit enough to keep them in most games, but how well the pitching staff performs will be the determining factor in whether or not the Bulls maximize their upside. Nonetheless, this figures to be one of the better USF teams in the last five seasons.

5. Florida Atlantic (34-25, 16-14 C-USA)

In what has been the norm in the Coach John McCormack era, FAU was again competitive in 2023. The program has not made the tournament since its back-to-back appearances in 2018 and 2019, but the Owls have finished above .500 in every season since 1998. 2024 will be the team’s first as a member of the AAC, and it has a heck of a lot of production to replace from 2023.

Replacing Nolan Schanuel will be impossible. The 2023 Golden Spikes semfinallist and C-USA player of the year was the highest overall draft pick (11th overall) in program history after hitting .447/.615/.868. He had one of the most rapid ascents to the majors of any position player in recent memory and is currently a top-100 prospect in all of baseball. Unsurprisingly, he led the Owls in almost every statistical category. 

Jackson Ross (.345/.437/.605), who was the team’s second-leading hitter, transferred to Ole Miss, and Dylan Goldstein (.297/.413/.538) transferred to Georgia. Goldstein and Ross drove in 62 and 58 runs, respectively, which were the second- and third-highest totals on the 2023 team. The offense this year will rely heavily on a trio of returners in catcher John Schroeder (.294/.377/.500), center fielder Spencer Rich (.327/.381/.574) and infielder Christian Adams (.281/.353/.463). Southern New Hampshire transfer Mike LaRocca (.362/.466/.629, 30 extra-base hits) will take over at first base and gives the lineup a lefthanded hitting power bat.

The theme of this year’s rotation is “upside.” Sophomore righthander Tyler Murphy (1-0, 5.50 ERA) leads the way after spending most of the 2023 season pitching out of the bullpen. He struck out 39 across 34.1 innings and has the stuff to anchor the rotation. True freshman lefthander Trey Beard will get the ball on Saturdays, while Dylan Oborne (1-2, 14.14 ERA) rounds out the rotation. Oborne is the biggest wild card of the bunch and has big-time stuff, though his strike-throwing ability is a major question mark. 

With the loss of talent on offense combined with some uncertainty on the pitching staff, the Owls this year could finish more toward the middle of the pack.

6. Memphis (29-28, 10-14)

The 2024 season will begin the Coach Matt Riser era in Memphis. He will look to build off the momentum the Tigers built during the 2023 season, in which they won their most games in a single season since 2017. They will need to weather two key losses from 2023 in Logan Kohler (.330/.404/.574)—who led the team in hitting—and conference pitcher of the year Dalton Fowler (5-6, 4.24 ERA). Anthony Hansen, who led the team with 12 home runs, graduated, which leaves another hole in the lineup.

Coach Riser retained the team’s most productive hitter from 2023 in Austin Baskin, who hit .287/.363/.491 with a team-leading 49 RBIs. He also landed a key transfer in former N.C. State outfielder Will Marcy (.302/.399/.500), who is a legitimate pro prospect. Marcy has a projectable, athletic build and the actions to hold down center field while also providing impact at the dish. Fellow transfer Daunte Stewart (.284/.398/.475) will provide an advanced defensive skill set at second base. If you want a “pick to click” candidate, outfielder Pierre Seals (.247/.395/.494) is your guy. He put up modest stats at the junior college level, but has both a plus arm and plus raw power.

The rotation will certainly miss the presence of Fowler, but David Warren (5-5, 5.57 ERA), Luke Ellis (3-3, 4.64 ERA) and Logan Rushing (2-0, 5.08 ERA in 2022) make for a quality rotation. Keep a particularly close eye on Rushing, who missed the 2023 season recovering from injury but has the best stuff on the staff. Coach Riser also brought in junior college transfer Brayden Sanders (1-3, 3.12 ERA), who features a fastball up to 95 and has excellent mound presence. The first year under a new head coach is always a bit of a transition period, but the Tigers have some intriguing talent that should allow them to notch their fair share of series wins.

7. Rice (21-37, 9-21 C-USA)

The Owls struggled in 2023 and failed to finish above .500 for the fifth straight season. Their 9-21 C-USA record landed them third-to-last in the conference standings, and their tournament drought extended to five seasons. Rice hit just .250 as a team, and its 5.94 team ERA left a lot to be desired.

At the plate, Rice returns two of its three leading hitters from the 2023 season in Pierce Gallo (.284/.362/.373) and Jack Riedel (.290/.351/.460, 20 extra-base hits). Riedel is the most “prospecty” of the bunch and will look to build off his solid 2023 campaign. Ben Royo (.261/.322/.505) will again anchor the left side of the infield after a great freshman season, in which he was a second-team all-conference selection and clubbed a team-leading 13 home runs. The Owls also have a proven backstop in catcher Manny Garza (.282/.346/.372), who has a strong throwing arm and will contribute with the bat.

The outfield will be the deepest position group and is headlined by two transfers: former Princeton outfielder Brendan Cumming (.281/.397/.373) and former Wichita State outfielder and second-team all-AAC selection Kyle McDonald (.313/.395/.463). Both will be impact bats in the lineup while also providing invaluable leadership in the dugout and clubhouse.

Outside of Trey Yesavage, Rice has the top pitching prospect in the conference in righthander Parker Smith (2-3, 3.58). Smith is an above-average strikethrower and features a quality three-pitch mix. Junior lefthander JD McCracken joins Smith in the rotation and possesses a lively arsenal, while Jack Ben-Shoshan will handle the closing duties after a strong 2023 season, in which he worked a 3.20 ERA. While losing the services of draft picks Justin Long and Matthew Linskey certainly hurts, the one-two punch of Smith and McCracken gives the Owls a solid rotation.

The strength of this year’s team is without a doubt its offense, which could end up taking some teams by surprise. Rice will look to its core of returners and impact transfers to be competitive in its first year in the AAC.

8. Tulane (19-42, 8-16)

2023 was one of the more magical seasons for the Green Wave in the last decade. After finishing the regular season with just 19 wins and in second-to-last place in the conference, they enjoyed a Cinderella run through the AAC Tournament that culminated in a championship victory over top-seeded East Carolina. Tulane jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning, but ECU would go on to score the next five runs and held a 5-3 lead in the fifth inning. However, the Green Wave went on to score three runs in the fifth and never looked back, en route to their first AAC Tournament title. They proceeded to go 0-2 in the Baton Rouge regional, but the Green Wave’s improbable run was one of the most fun storylines of the entire season.

It is hard to judge this year’s Tulane team. On one hand, it is the reigning conference champion and fresh off a tournament appearance. On the other, it is more-or-less the same team that won less than 20 games just a year ago. While the Green Wave lost leading hitter Brady Hebert (.307/.440/.458), their most productive hitters in Brennan Lambert (.290/.414/.500) and Simon Baumgardt (.277/.383/.530, 10 home runs), they return two high-impact bats in Brady Marget (.303/.393/.489) and Teo Banks (.301/.373/.607). Banks last year was second in the AAC with 18 home runs and second on the team with 51 RBIs. Virginia transfer Colin Tuft (.234/.368/.298) will be the team’s everyday catcher and could provide a spark with the bat.

The team’s biggest question mark is its pitching. Last year, it finished dead-last in the AAC with a 7.08 team ERA and allowed a conference-worst 7.70 runs per game. The Green Wave unfortunately lost their two best starters from last year, as Dylan Carmouche (5-9, 5.80 ERA) and Ricky Castro (4-7, 5.44 ERA) were drafted and graduated, respectively. Pitching roles are still being sorted out, but expect an entirely new look on the mound this year for the Green Wave. One arm who could join the weekend rotation full time is righthander Jonah Wachter (1-4, 7.42 ERA), who, after a rough spring season, pitched his way to a 3.76 ERA with 23 strikeouts to four walks in the Sun Belt League. With lots of unknowns and a lack of depth, the Green Wave could be in line to finish in the bottom half of the conference standings.

9. Wichita State (30-25, 13-10)

It was a topsy-turvy year for the Shockers, who dealt with a mid-fall coaching change after former head coach Eric Wedge resigned due to health issues. Former Charlotte head coach Loren Hibbs was named the interim head coach and did an admirable job given the circumstances, guiding the Shockers to a 30-win season and their second-highest conference win total since 2014. At the end of the season, it was announced that Coach Hibbs would not return for the 2024 season. 

With that came a mass exodus of players, leaving new head coach Brian Green with a decimated roster. Coach Green enjoyed a strong four-year tenure at Washington State, in which he won 91 games. He was a great hire for the Shockers, though it will take a couple years for him and his staff to hit their stride. The lone returning contributor from last year’s offense is catcher Mauricio Millan. Millan hit .315/.392/.406 with 15 doubles, a home run and 26 RBIs. He is a sound defender behind the dish and has advanced bat-to-ball skills. Outside of Millan, Coach Green will rely on a bevy of transfers and freshmen to step into everyday roles. 

One pick to click is outfielder Jaden Gustafson (.255/.355/.314). He logged just 51 at-bats in 2023, but hit .393/.481/.616 with 15 extra-base hits in the Jayhawk League this summer and also performed well this fall. There are also very few returners on the pitching staff. Lefthander Caden Favors (3-4, 4.04 ERA) spent the vast majority of last year pitching out of the bullpen, but he will now anchor the pitching staff. Matt Wilkinson (1-1, 3.50 ERA) will be one of the team’s go-to relievers after logging just 18 innings in 2023. 

The Shockers have one of, if not the most exciting freshman arm in the conference in Tommy LaPour. He is uber-physical at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, and already has the best stuff on the pitching staff. LaPour’s fastball this fall was up to 99 and he will be in the weekend rotation. 2024 is shaping up to be a rebuilding year for Wichita State, but it has a bright future with Coach Brian Green at the helm.

10. UAB (17-36, 8-22 C-USA)

The Blazers struggled in their final year in Conference USA and finished dead-last in the conference standings. They particularly struggled to hit, as their .232 team average, 62 doubles, 25 home runs, 205 RBIs and 567 total bases all ranked last in C-USA. To make matters worse, Christian Hall (.258/.380/.433)—who led the team last season in both home runs (8) and RBIs (34)—transferred to Auburn. However, they return leading hitter Logan Braunschweig, who last year hit .333/.428/.421, as well as Brayton Brown, whose 21 extra-base hits were the most on the team. Junior college transfer Tyler Harrington will likely hit in the middle of the lineup after hitting .437/.496/.744 last season at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

Carson Myers (3-5, 3.52 ERA), who led the Blazers last year with 70 strikeouts and was the team’s best arm, transferred to Auburn, which leaves a big hole on Friday nights. Blayze Berry will be the Friday guy this year, and he had a solid 2023 season to the tune of a 4.52 ERA with 63 strikeouts across 81.2 innings. John Luke Marlin (0-3, 4.13 ERA) will again handle the closer role, and last year he notched a team-leading three saves. Expect some growing pains for UAB in its first year in the AAC, which could see the squad finish at the bottom of the conference standings.

2024 Top 100 Prospects

See the full Top 100 entering the 2024 season headlined by Orioles SS Jackson Holliday.

Top 10 Draft Prospects For 2024

1. Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina
2. Jacob Jenkins-Cowart, OF, East Carolina
3. Parker Smith, RHP, Rice
4. Teo Banks, OF, Tulane
5. Will Marcy, OF, Memphis
6. Miles Langhorne, RHP, Charlotte
7. Drew Brutcher, OF, South Florida
8. Danny Beal, RHP, East Carolina
9. Brandon Stahlman, 3B, Charlotte
10. Joey Berini, 2B/SS, East Carolina

Top 5 Draft Prospects For 2025

1. Bristol Carter, OF, East Carolina
2. Eric Snow, SS, South Florida
3. Zach Root, LHP, East Carolina
4. Tyler Murphy, RHP, Florida Atlantic
5. Calvert Clark, OF/RHP, Charlotte

Top Newcomers

1. Bristol Carter, OF, East Carolina
2. Trey Beard, LHP, Florida Atlantic
3. Will Marcy, OF, Memphis
4. Tommy LaPour, RHP, Wichita State
5. Ethan Norby, RHP, East Carolina

Best Tools

Best pure hitter: Eric Snow, SS, South Florida
Best power hitter: Teo Banks, OF, Tulane
Best strike-zone discipline: Luke Nowak, OF, East Carolina
Best athlete: Bristol Carter, OF, East Carolina
Fastest runner: Luke Nowak, OF, East Carolina
Best baserunner: Luke Nowak, OF, East Carolina
Best defensive catcher: Manny Garza, C, Rice
Best defensive infielder: Eric Snow, SS, South Florida
Best infield arm: Eric Snow, SS, South Florida
Best defensive outfielder: Drew Brutcher, OF, South Florida
Best outfield arm: Teo Banks, OF, Tulane
Best fastball: Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina
Best breaking ball: Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina (curveball)
Best changeup: Zach Root, LHP, East Carolina
Best control: Trey Yesavage, RHP, East Carolina

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