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2006 A-Sun Baseball Preview

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2006 A-Sun Baseball Preview

The following was a post by Longball U on SEBaseball.com message board:

2006 Atlantic Sun Preview Reply

It's that time of year again! Atlantic Sun preview time! I have to divulge that without UCF and Troy it's not going to be the same. Who does Stetson and Florida Atlantic have to compete against? Glad you asked! With the loss of the aforementioned teams, the A-Sun grabbed two of the best up-and-coming new Division 1 transfers, so to speak, in North Florida and Kennesaw State (Ga.).

UNF and KSU cannot participate in the conference tournament, but you can bet the farm that Dusty Rhodes will be in the Top 6 this season. The Osprey have always been a tough competitor in the annual Jacksonville Kennel Classic against teams like Ohio State, Notre Dame and other midwest teams who come down to face off.

For the last two seasons, I have predicted the tournament champion correctly with Florida Atlantic in 2004 and Stetson in 2005. Despite taking 1 of 3 against the highly ranked Tennessee Volunteers I have to start the rankings like this…

1. STETSON (35-28, 16-14 A-SUN) 4th Place, Gainesville Regional
They say every championship team is strong up the middle. If this is the case, then the Hatters are ready and waiting. Even with catcher Jon Still (.305, 8 HR, 48 RBI) transferring to North Carolina State, the Hatters have what could be a much better back-up in David Golliner (.294-5-31). Golliner is stronger defensively, has quicker reflexes and isn't as prone to hitting into double plays like Still was known to do. Golliner has two big home runs in the Florida State series and is a leader behind the plate. With Myron Carlton backing him up, he will most likely start 48-52 games this season.

In the middle infield, the Hatters have arguably the best double play combination in Brian Bocock (.355-6-37) and Brandon Paritz (.271-0-30). Paritz sat out last year's post-season due to team reasons, but the shortstop Bocock picked up the slack.

In centerfield is two-year starter Shane Jordan (.375-1-32, 25 SB, 73 R). Jordan is the key to the Hatters ignition. Despite being careless on the basepaths his freshman year, Jordan stole 25 bases last season and scored 73 runs. He will be flanked in left and right field by freshman Jeremy Cruz and Adam Tindle (.338-3-29).

The area the Hatters are stack in is offense. With the above mentioned players, add to that Braedyn Pruitt (.328-7-57) and pre-season A-Sun Player of the Year Chris Johnson (.383-8-52). Despite Johnson's meager numbers against Florida Atlantic last year, he's still a huge stick that can do just about everything at the plate. You won't find a better fundamentally sound approach to the plate than Pruitt. He's not as big as some power hitters, but he can smoke'em when he gets a juicy pitch.

The biggest question mark this season will be the Hatters pitching staff. They came on strong in survival mode during the A-Sun Tournament before the defense collapsed in the Gainesville Regional. Chris Ingoglia (8-4, 4.88 ERA) and Nathan Nery (4-5, 4.00 ERA) are slated as the 1 and 2, but it gets foggy after there. Head coach Pete Dunn has a lot of options for other pitchers and may use them all this season. Transfer Brett Murphy is the logical choice for the 3 slot at this point.

In the bullpen, incumbent reliever Robbie Elsemiller (5-4, 5.43, 34 APP, 5 SV) will take the reigns and will be joined by high school classmate Blake Marsocci. The two Okeechobee boys will anchor the closing jobs and most likely be set up by J.T. Schroeder (0-1, 6.75) and Corey Kluber (2-2, 7.82).

WHAT TO EXPECT: Stetson to score a ton of runs this year.
DON'T EXPECT: A Golden Spikes pitching candidate
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If Stetson is carrying a national ranking into the post-season

2. FLORIDA ATLANTIC (37-24, 19-11), 3rd Coral Gables Regional
Despite Collegiate Baseball's confidence in Florida Atlantic, there were just too many question marks with the Owls. On paper, and potentially, this is a very explosive team.

Leading the Owls will be their ace pitcher Mickey Storey (10-1, 1.70). Storey came on early as a reliever and finished the year as the Owls top pitcher. I'd say ace, but an ace is the No. 1 pitcher you throw no matter what when you need a win. Head coach Kevin Cooney hasn't designated a true ace since Dan Jackson in 2000 and Todd Moser in 1999. It worked for him in the 2003 Tuscaloosa Regional as the Owls are still the only A-Sun team to reach a Super Regional. Storey can be dominating at times, but if his hammer isn't working… let's jsut say someone else's hammers will be.

Storey will be flanked by southpaws Chris Salburg (6-5, 5.06) and Joel Schmal (transfer). But here's where it gets good for Cooney. He has coming out of the bullpen Will Mann (3-5, 5.00) and Mike Crotta (5-4, 6.02). Either of these guys could start for any other A-Sun team on the weekend. I'd put money that Crotta is back in the rotation by mid-March. He's a former draftee with good stuff, that occasionally becomes great stuff.

Closing out the games this season will be Mike McBryde (2-2, 3.11, 19 APP, 10 SV). Despite a blown save at Georgia Tech last year, McBryde was almost flawless. He throws extremely hard and has a solid breaking pitch for an off-speed. An injury in game one against Tennessee sidelined him for the nightcap of the twinbill against Tennesse, but freshman Brandon Cooney came in to close out the game.

The one quality that Kevin Cooney has about his pitching staff is that he's willing to go to everyone. Some coaches will stick to a common 5-7 pitchers all season, Cooney will use them all, and therefore year-in and year-out he has a deep staff. Might not always be the best or work out, but it's there and gives him options.

Offensively is where the Owls are in second place. McBryde (.370-5-48, 35 SB) is a good lead-off man for a right-handed stick and steals his share of bases. The 12:45 walk:strikeout ratio has without question killed several opportunities for the Owls. In the Tennessee series, Cooney had newcomer Ovy Ramirez batting third. Ramirez is a fireplug and is about as tall as one too. He seems to know how to work the strikezone, but has to put up the power numbers to follow.

Tim Mascia, LF (.294-3-33) is back after starting out horrifically last season, and that hurt the Owls early. Mascia can be a big catalyst if he can regain the swing that put up big numbers in 2003 and 2004. In right field will most likely be Jonathan Shapland (.321-8-35) a switch-hitter who tends to be better from the left side of the plate which may cause a platoon situation.

In the infield, Jordan Hafer (.209-1-12) will return at first base after an injury last season. Robbie Widlansky (.317-7-39) can play either of the corners and Alex Fonseca (.306-3-31) at shortstop.

Like I said, this team can be really good, but it's generally best not to count your chickens before they hatch.

WHAT TO EXPECT: This team will roll as Mike McBryde does.
DON'T EXPECT: The starting rotation to go wire-to-wire
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If Florida Atlantic wins all their low scoring games.

3. NORTH FLORIDA (48-16)
The Osprey at 3 over their crosstown rivals Jacksonville in their first season? Yes, and I'm sure Terry Alexander hates me for this, but that's how I see it.

Despite the early two losses at Georgia Southern, this team is only going to get better.

UNF lost three huge cannons last season in Marion Knowles (.318-18-57), Sadry Cafe (.371-15-54) and Jon Skorupski (.344-15-52). This will be hard to replace.

Who is coming back is outfielder Brennan Grogan (.339-4-33, 23 SB), the leadoff hitter and one who can get on base. Matt Oxendine (.305-4-32) will play shortstop and Brooks West (.292-3-12) will hit in the middle of the lineup and play third as well and pitch in relief.

On the mound, the Osprey have a solid rotation with Ryan Amason (7-3, 3.45, 17 starts) and Jacob Dixon (8-3, 3.61, 17 starts), who were in last year's rotation, as well as Jeremy Papelbon (3-3, 3.18), a midweek starter.

Coming out of the bullpen is closer Josh Papelbon (7-3, 1.49, 33 APP, 14 SV) and Jared Incinelli (5-1, 3.44, 4 SV). If UNF is leading after seven, they are going to win 80% of their games, at least.

WHAT TO EXPECT: A big opening for the conference slate.
DON'T EXPECT: Their offense to work as well as it did in Div. 2
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If their RPI is good enough to make the Regionals as an at-large

4. JACKSONVILLE (23-31, 13-17)
Make your comments now, but Terry Alexander is not going to sit back and watch North Florida push their way into the spotlight with the Dolphins winning as many tournament titles as anyone else in the conference since they joined in 1999 (2).

The Dolphins have Gordie Gronkowski (.327-7-28) for what seems like his seventh season at Jacksonville. The big guy can still rake and with the wind blowing off the St. John's I'm projecting at least 15 longballs this year. Protection will come by way of Daniel Murphy (.329-2-31) who is off to a good start with seven RBIs in two games. Murphy is the Dolphis third sacker and will be joined by Logan James at second (.298-0-14) and Matt Lopez (.328-1-29) at shortop. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that means JU has EVERYONE back in the infield.

Pete Clifford (.325-7-41) is the mainstay starter in left field and early season has Jon Tiner in centerfield.

On the mound, Kyle DeVries (9-3, 4.15, 15 starts) returns as the Dolphins ace. From there, it's Donald Brickle (2-6, 5.60) and a logjam for competition (you can imagine why they are picked seventh by the coaches).

I have my theory though. When it comes to the Atlantis Sun, your offense will take you to the championship, although it does help to have a couple starters that can throw a lot to get through the first two rounds.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Jacksonville to come on strong and surprise everyone come tournament time.
DON'T EXPECT: An NCAA appearance outside of winning the A-Sun
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If UNF/JU becomes one of the NCAA's nastiest conference rivalries in the upcoming years.

5. GARDNER-WEBB (28-30, 15-15)
The Bulldogs were three outs away from knocking Stetson out of the A-Sun Tournament and the Hatters pushed the envelope. The Bulldogs couldn't hold on and were put in their place.

This year, revenge is on their mind and they have a solid cast. Finally, the Bulldogs can play baseball and win for themselves and not be the "School Zach Ward Pitches For".

Third baseman Blake Lalli (.384-5-39, 30 doubles) and catcher Jay McConnell (.345-5-39) were pre-season all-conference selections. Matt Maloney (.339-11-48) will provide a big stick in the outfield and in the lineup. Also returning are Jeremy McCann and Joey Testa.

This is why I don't like Gardner-Webb. Their top returning starter is Wes Cogdill (3-5, 5.75), a small left-hander who gave up seven home runs last season. Matt Taffazoli (1-1, 4.11, 22 APP, 2 SV) could start or close, but is the only other strong pitching candidate with experience coming back.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Gardner-Webb will win their share of games at home and make it into the playoffs with a questionable pitching staff.
DON'T EXPECT: A-Sun pitcher of the Year to come from this team.
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If the Bulldogs fall off the map because their offense is relied on too much and slips out of the conference tournament race.

6. CAMPBELL (25-29, 13-17)
I know what you're going to say, and personally I really don't care. I like Campbell this season. You never want to say a team is in a rebuilding year when you have seniors playing for the last time, but last year was a rebuilding year. This stat alone tells you: Campbell had seven pitchers start six games or more.

Pitching will be the stronghold of this team. Mike Ange (6-1, 3.52), Jeff Randol (4-4, 6.05), Lincoln Smith (3-7, 10.04) and Joe Waldecker (3-2, 6.17) all return for the Fighting Camels. Despite their Rockies' like ERA numbers, they will have gotten better over a year.

Offensively, Mike Priest (.365-14-46, 22 doubles) and Tim Holt (.365-6-49) garnered pre-season all-conference honors. Since some of Campbell's pitchers hit, that will take their mind off the mound work.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Campbell is going to surprise a lot of teams in the conference with their pitching and situational hitting.
DON'T EXPECT: The Fighting Camels to take a great record into the conference season.
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If this is the year the Fighting Camels finally break through and make a run like in 2000.

The other Owls of the conference are coming off a solid season, and similar to UNF, they have lost some big bats in the lineup. However, this team is from the heart of baseball country Georgia and that usually accounts for something, and this time it's pitching.

Gone are Kevin Gergel (.387-13-51), Jeremy Brotherton (.368-4-32), Adrian Colton (.342-4-46) and Jon Love (.285-8-46). Of the statistical proven performers, infielders Scott Hendrix (.332-7-44, 19 doubles) and Ryan Perry (.328-1-31).

Pitching will be strong as KSU returns their entire rotation in right handers Ben Sosebee (8-2, 4.22, 13 starts), Bubba Blalock (7-2, 2.84) and Matt Eckardt (4-6, 5.25, 15 starts). Closer Kyle Muschara (2-1, 2.54, 20 APP, 4 SV) will most likely be their short and long relief averaging 2.0 IP per appearance.

WHAT TO EXPECT: KSU will be a big pain in everyone's side having to face that pitching every weekend.
DON'T EXPECT: Any team to take the Owls lightly.
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If you see a first team all-conference pitcher from this squad.

I did have an advantage of writing this after the Bucs derailed 10th-ranked Missouri. Now, they did do it against a committee of Tiger pitchers that did not include Max Scherzer, but still, when you take out #10, it means they have more than one player.

What has me, is they lost to Eastern Michigan. Early on, I just can put a placement on the talent this squad has.

It's not question that Jeremy Hall (10-4, 5.08, 18 starts) can throw. Already this season he has more than a strikeout per inning and was solid against Missouri.

Offensively, the Bucs have three all-conference seniors returning. Shane Byrne (.370-14-45) leads the cast with first baseman Blake Church (.333-7-53), infielder Chuck Hargis (.387-7-42, 22 doubles) and outfielder Stephen Douglas (.338-5-56, 17 doubles) last season.

WHAT TO EXPECT: The Bucs will do a lot of damage, but after the season beginning shocker to Missoui, everyone will see them coming like they did Gardner-Webb a couple years ago when the beat Georgia.
DON'T EXPECT: Them to win the conference
DON'T BE SURPRISED: If they can keep up with the Hatters offensively.

9. MERCER - Pitchers Brentley New (5-4, 3.55) and Hunter Abercrombie (7-7, 5.13) will keep the Bears in a lot of game, but with no protection for slugger Josh Thompson (.319-12-46), Craig Gibson is a year away from competing for the tournament.

10. BELMONT - Wilson Tucker (.352-10-51) and Matt Reynolds (.346-6-33, 30 SB) will lead a team based on speed. Ben Meador (5-6, 4.58) and Charles Lee (3-5, 5.43) will try to keep this bunch in the race as long as possible. Belmont could sneak in, but I wouldn't be on it.

11. LIPSCOMB - Zack Duncan (5-7, 5.63)), Alan Tungate (3-4, 4.53) and Tadd Brewer (.345-2-25) lead this bunch. They may be able to surprise a team or two like they did with UCF, but don't expect it to make them competitive.

SP-Mickey Storey, Florida Atlantic
SP-Jeremy Hall, East Tennessee State
RP-Mike McBryde, Florida Atlantic
C-Jay McConnell, Gardner-Webb
1B-Gordie Gronkowski, Jacksonville
2B-Tim Holt, Campbell
SS-Brian Bocock, Stetson
3B-Braedyn Pruitt, Stetson
OF-Shane Byrne, East Tennessee State
OF-Shane Jordan, Stetson
OF-Mike McBryde, Florida Atlantic
DH-Chris Johnson, Stetson

SP-Kyle DeVries, Jacksonville
SP-Jacob Dixon, North Florida
SP-Chris Ingoglia, Stetson
RP-Jared Incinelli, North Florida
C-Josh Thompson, Mercer
1B-Mike Priest, Campbell
2B-Ovy Ramirez, Florida Atlantic
SS-Matt Oxendine, North Florida
3B-Blake Lalli, Gardner-Webb
OF-Wilson Tucker, Belmont
OF-Matt Maloney, Gardner-Webb
OF-Pete Clifford, Jacksonville
DH-Chuck Hargis, East Tennessee State

Player-of-the-Year: Brian Bocock, Stetson
Pitcher-of-the-Year: Mickey Storey, Florida Atlantic
Coach-of-the-Year: Dusty Rhodes, North Florida

Looking forward to a great season!

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2006 A-Sun Baseball Preview

His pick of Stetson isnt looking so good! :)
Stetson is 2-5 with a team batting average of .249 and only 1 homer on the season.
He said Stetson wouldnt miss Jon Still(who transfered to NC State) but Still is hitting .483(14 for 29 with 5 BB) and his "much better" replacement Golliner is hitting .143(3 for 21).
Love it when Stetson fans make themselves look bad with their big talk! :)
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