College Preview

2012 Sun Belt Conference Preview

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*2011 automatic qualifier. 2011 NCAA regional participants in bold (2011 records listed; 2012 national rankings in parentheses)


Conference Overall

Florida International 20 9 40 20
Troy 21 9 43 19
Florida Atlantic 17 13 32 25
Louisiana-Lafayette 18 12 31 27
Arkansas State 13 16 27 31
Middle Tennessee State 9 21 18 37
Western Kentucky 17 13 33 24
South Alabama 15 15 30 28
Louisiana-Monroe 9 21 24 30
*Arkansas-Little Rock 10 20 24 34
Projected NCAA Teams (3): Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Troy.
Conference Schedule: 30 games; begins March 16.
Conference Tournament: Eight teams, May 23-27 at Western Kentucky.
Player of the Year: Pablo Bermudez, of, Florida International.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Ray, rhp, Troy.

1. R.J. Alvarez, rhp, Florida Atlantic
2. Jimmy Hodgskin, lhp, Troy (2013)
3. Jabari Henry, of, Florida International
4. Michael Faulkner, of, Arkansas State
5. Daniel Palo, rhp, Middle Tennessee State
6. Mason McVay, lhp, Florida International
7. Jacob Lee, rhp, Arkansas State
8. Alex Hudak, of, Florida Atlantic
9. Tyler Ray, rhp, Troy
10. Tanner Perkins, lhp, Western Kentucky
1. Julius Gaines, ss, Florida International (HS—Locust Grove, Ga.)
2. Aramis Garcia, c, Florida International (HS—Pembroke Pines, Fla.)
3. Jo-El Bennett, of, Troy (HS—Midland City, Ala.)
4. Alex Hermeling, rhp, Louisiana-Monroe (HS—Northbrook, Ill.)
5. Austin Robichaux, rhp, Louisiana-Lafayette (HS—Lafayette, La.)

• Mark Calvi won a national championship as South Carolina's 2010 pitching coach, then became the head coach-in-waiting at South Alabama. With Steve Kittrell retiring, Calvi waits no longer. His first squad includes 18 junior-college transfers and seven freshmen for a program with plenty of tradition, more than 1,050 wins in Kittrell's 28 seasons and distinguished big league alumni such as Juan Pierre and Adam Lind. However, the Jaguars haven't made it to reginals since 2006. The team's top athlete, So. 1B/OF Jordan Patterson (.284/.391/.403), adds lefthanded relief pitching duties this season. Western Kentucky also has a new coach, as Matt Myers was promoted from associate head coach when Chris Finwood left for Old Dominion.

• Arkansas-Little Rock shocked the Sun Belt to win the league tournament last season, becoming the first No. 8 seed to do so in coach Scott Norwood's third season. The Trojans have 20 newcomers this year, led by Jr. OF David Guarno, whose older brother Rick starred for UALR a decade ago and is now one of the assistant coaches.

• Turtle Thomas has shed the "assistant" label well at Florida International, with three straight winning seasons and consecutive regional berths. While the Golden Panthers lose hit-streak man SS Garret Wittels, who signed as a nondrafted free agent with the Cardinals, they may be more talented up the middle with a pair of impact freshmen. SS Julius Gaines (32nd round, Red Sox) and C Aramis Garcia (20th round, Cardinals) both step into the starting lineup and shouldn't have to bear much of a burden, thanks to a veteran core. Sr. Mike Martinez (.294/.354/.540, 15 HR) was a DH last season but will take over at third base this spring, while OFs Pablo Bermudez (.373/.488.524) and Jabari Henry (.241/.383/.477, 10 HR) both can carry the team for stretches. While offense should be no problem, FIU could use a power arm to complement RHPs R.J. Fondon (6-6, 3.05) and Kyle Fitzpatrick (7-2, 2.83) in the rotation. To that end, Thomas plans to shift redshirt Jr. LHP Mason McVay (1-1, 3.56, 30 IP/37 SO), a Tommy John surgery alumnus, into the rotation after he ran his fastball into the mid-90s as a reliever last spring. Former Canadian national teamer RHP Mike Ellis also should contribute after missing most of 2011 due to a family emergency.

• Troy earned its first-ever Top 25 ranking last season, and the Trojans return RHP Tyler Ray (12-0, 2.39) as well as LHP Jimmy Hodgskin (3-7, 4.68), who was the top recruit in program history until this year. That designation may belong to OF Jo-El Bennett, an unsigned 11th-round pick of the Pirates who has all kinds of raw hitting ability. Sr. RHP Drew Hull (4-0, 2.04) could provide an X-factor boost as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. He was granted a fifth-year medical hardship waiver and is aiming to pitch in the second half of the 2012 season.

• Middle Tennessee State coach Steve Peterson enters his 25th season with the Blue Raiders having just experienced his worst season. In 2009, MTSU won 44 games and held onto two of the top prep pitchers in Tennessee, but Jr. RHPs Hunter Adkins and Daniel Palo have yet to fully deliver on their potential. Palo can reach 94 mph with his fastball but has as many walks (78) as strikeouts in 115 career innings and is 3-12, 6.10 overall. Adkins, a lanky 6-foot-5 with an average fastball, has similar numbers (73-65 SO-BB ratio in 124 IP) and is 3-11, 6.17 in two seasons.