Mountain West Conference 2010 Baseball Preview

February 8, 2010
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MWC Looks To Have Tight Race In 2010

2009 Regular Season Champion:  TCU

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2009 Tournament Champion:  Utah beat San Diego State 9-3 in the championship game.

Last season proved to be an historic one for Mountain West Conference baseball.  For the first time ever the conference received three bids to the NCAA Tournament when Utah, San Diego State and TCU were all tabbed.  Utah was the #6 seed at the conference tournament and earned its berth after first eliminating TCU and then beating the Aztecs in the title game.  San Diego State’s Stephen Strasburg also became the first MWC player ever taken with the first overall pick in the Major League Baseball Draft when he was picked by the Washington Nationals last June.

2010 Mountain West Conference Preview

Air Force

2009 Record:  (14-37, 3-18)

Mascot:  Falcons

Head Coach:  Mike Hutcheon

Location:  U.S. Air Force Academy/Colorado Springs, CO

Vitals:  .291 BA, 57 HR, 68 SB, .365 OBP, .955 Fld%…8.34 ERA, 3 CG, 9 SV, 253 K, 153 BB, .369 opp. BA

Matt Alexander

Big Stick:  Senior DH/1B Matt Alexander (.383, 15 HR, 65 RBIs) was one of the top hitters in the MWC in 2009, and he’s back to lead the Falcons this season.  The preseason All-American was the conference RBI leader last year, while finishing second with his 15 HR and .710 slugging percentage.  He was also one of 16 semi-finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy.

Supporting Cast:  Fellow Senior Addison Gentry (.347, 9 HR, 40 RBIs, .575 slg%) provides protection in the order with some pop of his own.  Outfielders Ben Ausbun (.301, 6 HR) and Nathan Carter (7 HR, 15 SB) return as well.

Pitching Turnover:  The Falcons lose 8 of the 13 pitchers who toed the rubber in 2009, including team saves leader Aaron Kurcz (3-4, 7 SV).  Jake Petro and Casey Allen, who started 8 and 9 games, respectively, are also gone.  Senior RHP Alex Truesdale (2-9, 7.04 ERA), who had two of the staff’s complete games, is the top returnee.

Anchors Away:  Air Force plays a 3-game series vs. Navy in Savannah, GA Feb. 26-28.

BYU

2009 Record:  (30-24, 14-8)

Mascot:  Cougars

Head Coach:  Vance Law

Location:  Provo, UT

Vitals:  .310 BA, 57 HR, 98 SB, .388 OBP, .956 Fld%…5.45 ERA, 4 CG, 15 SV, 331 K, 239 BB, .295 opp. BA

BYU Bootcamp:  Members of the BYU baseball team were put through a two-day “boot camp” last fall by two Army Captains.  The 39 Cougars were taught the concepts of relying on each other through a series of drills and exercises designed to create better team unity.  The  players ate just a hard boiled egg and a hot dog on the first day of camp and then shared two granola bars and two packs of M & M’s on day two.  BYU coaches went through a similar two-day camp last August.

Line-Up Turnover:  BYU loses five players who each started at least 49 of 54 games last season.  Included in that group are Kent Walton (.377, 9 HR), Steve Parker (.361, 9 HR) and Stetson Banks (.348, 23 SB).  Walton and Parker were both drafted by the Oakland A’s, while Banks was selected by the L.A. Dodgers.  Senior OF Sean McNaughton (.290, 10 HR, 32 RBIs) is the team’s top returning overall hitter.

Perplexing Pitching:  Senior RHP Blake Torgerson (6-3, 5.66 ERA) is the only returnee of BYU’s top five pitchers from last season.  Marc Oslund (7-1, 2.49 ERA)  is serving a Church mission in North Carolina, starter Adam Miller (3-3, 4.04 ERA) is serving on mission in Mexico and Jeremy Toole (5-5, 5.77 ERA) was drafted by the San Francisco Giants.

The Family Law:  Senior 2B Andrew Law (.259, 18 SB) is the son of head coach Vance Law, who played both baseball & basketball at BYU before playing 10 Major League seasons for five teams.  The younger Law is the grandson of 1960 Cy Young winner Vernon Law (Pirates).  His brother, Tim, played baseball at BYU, and his uncles also played both baseball and basketball for the Cougars.

New Mexico

2009 Record:  (37-20, 15-8)

Mascot:  Lobos

Head Coach:  Ray Birmingham

Location:  Albuquerque, NM

Vitals:  .363 BA, 51 HR, 74 SB, .432 OBP, .976 Fld%…5.26 ERA, 1 CG, 12 SV, 394 K, 217 BB, .292 opp. BA

Rafael Neda

Rare Air:  New Mexico led the nation with its .363 team batting average and 47 triples in 2009.

Lobo Line-Up Lowdown:  Four Lobos hit above .400 last year and two of them, catcher Rafael Neda (.415, 7 HR, 49 RBIs, .629 slg%) and OF Ryan Honeycutt (.406, 6 HR, 53 RBIs), are back to lead the offense in 2010.  2009 MWC Player of the Year Mike Brownstein (.414, 11 triples, .611 slg%, 20 SB) and Kevin Atkinson (.400, 61 RBIs)  are both departed, as is Brian Cavazos-Galvez (.392, 15 HR, .737 slg%).   Australian Adam Courcha (.313, 30 starts) will assume a bigger role this year, as will Max Willett (.355, 46 RBIs, 12 SB)  and Justin Howard (.309, 6 HR, 41 RBIs).

Pitching Turnover:  Departed Friday starter John Hesketh (6-4, 3.45 ERA, 15 starts) was the only Lobo to make 10 or more starts last year, and closer Cole White (3-2, 2.33 ERA, 4 SV) is gone as well.  Reliever Gabe Aguilar (2-1, 1.98 ERA), who had the team’s best ERA as a freshman, will bolster the bullpen.  Rudy Jamarillo (4-2, 5.73 ERA) and Willy Kesler are expected to lead the weekend rotation, while hard throwing junior college transfers Mike Lachapelle (90 mph fastball) and Zach Cleveland (95 mph fastball) will look to make impacts as well.

Bring It On:  New Mexico’s only NCAA Tournament appearance was in 1962, but the lack of NCAA bids hasn’t kept Ray Birmingham from challenging his team.  The Lobos open the season with a 3-game series at 2009 College World Series runner-up Texas.  They play a 3-game set at USC March 5-7, two games at Arizona March 23 & 24 and two games at 2009 CWS team Arkansas in April.

San Diego State

2009 Record:  (41-24, 15-9)

Mascot:  Aztecs

Head Coach:  Tony Gwynn

Location:  San Diego, CA

Vitals:  .291 BA, 47 HR, 53 SB, .379 OBP, .974 Fld%…4.04 ERA, 4 CG, 24 SV, 571 K, 165 K, .264 opp. BA

Addison Reed

Big Season:  San Diego State’s NCAA Regional berth last year was the program’s first since 1991.  Aztec head coach Tony Gwynn was still in the middle of his Hall of Fame MLB career in ’91, while Stephen Strasburg was not quite 3 years old.  The 2009 Aztecs set a program record with their .974 fielding percentage.  SDSU was 1-2 at the Irvine Regional with losses to Virginia and Irvine.  It’s only win eliminated defending national champion Fresno State.

Big Shoes To FillStrasburg (13-1, 1.32 ERA, 195 K) famously became the number one overall pick by the Washington Nationals in last year’s MLB Draft.  His ERA and strikeouts led the NCAA.  While he was the centerpiece of the Aztec pitching staff, he is not the only loss the staff has to overcome…

Depleted Pitching:  Fellow Starters Tyler Lavigne (8-2, 3.05 ERA) and Jon Berger (4-5, 5.83 ERA) are gone as well.  Those two and Strasburg combined for 26 of the team’s 41 wins, 353 of 571 strikeouts and all four of the staff’s complete games last season.  Closer Addison Reed (0.65 ERA, 20 SV) returns to lead the staff, but it will be up to a new set of faces to give him the save opportunities he had last year.

The Line-Up:  The Aztecs lose team triple crown winner Erik Castro (.382, 11 HR, 56), but return Cory Vaughn (.326, 10 HR, 51 RBIs) who finished second to Castro in the three key stats, while leading the team with 15 stolen bases.   Mitch Blackburn (.312), Pat Colwell (.300) and Ryan O’Sullivan are among other top returnees.  O’Sullivan hit 6 home runs and also won four games in 11 starts on the mound as a freshman.

Early Test:  SDSU opens the season by hosting a four-game series vs. 2009 NCAA Regional host Oklahoma.  OU closer Ryan Duke and Addison Reed are both on the NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List.

TCU

2009 Record:  (40-18, 15-5)

Mascot:  Horned Frogs

Head Coach:  Jim Schlossnagle

Location:  Ft. Worth, TX

Vitals:  .308 BA, 67 HR, 59 SB, .387 OBP, .969 Fld%…4.24 ERA, 1 CG, 15 SV, 404 K, 186 BB, .265 opp. BA

Super Season:  TCU had a season of first in 2009.  The Horned Frogs were a number one seed and hosted an NCAA Regiional for the first time in program history last year, and they didn’t waste the opportunity.  After going 3-0 vs.

Kyle Winkler

Wright State (1) and Oregon State (2) TCU advanced to its first-ever Super Regional as well, falling two games to one in Austin, TX to eventual national runner-up Texas.

TCU Turnover:  The top three batters, Matt Vern (.360, 17 HR, 54 RBIs, 16 SB), Matt Carpenter (.333, 11 HR, 13 SB, 6 triples, 47 RBIs) and Chris Ellington (.331, 6 HR, 52 RBIs), are gone from last year’s Super Regional squad.  Seniors Matt Curry (.315) and Bryan Holaday (.300, 10 HR, 48 RBIs) and Sophomores Taylor Featherston (.322, 5 HR, 8 SB) and Jason Coats (.316, 6 HR) head the list of returnees who will have a chance to step into those roles.

The Great Equalizer:  TCU is loaded with returning pitching in 2001.  The Horned Frogs return their top four pitchers, Paul Gerrish (7-2, 3.84 ERA), Kyle Winkler (7-1, 4.15 ERA), Tyler Lockwood (4-2, 4.71 ERA), and Eric Marshall (2-2, 1.48 ERA, 9 SV), while losing just 3 of 13 pitchers who saw action last year.  Marshall is on the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Watch ListWinkler has been invited to the 2010 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team Trials.

Tough Tests:  TCU plays its first 7 and 9 of its first 11 games of the season vs. 2009 NCAA Tournament teams, and just three of those games ( vs. Sam Houston State) are at home.  The Horned Frogs play at Baylor, at Cal State Fullerton (3) and single games vs. Rice and Missouri at the Minute Maid Classic in Houston in the season’s first three weeks.

UNLV

2009 Record:  (26-32, 9-15)

Mascot:  Rebels

Head Coach:  Buddy Gouldsmith

Location:  Las Vegas, NV

Vitals:  .329 BA, 49 HR, 56 SB, .395 OBP, .961 Fld%…6.89 ERA, 1 CG, 3 SV, 342 K, 242 BB, .318 opp. BA

Power Outage:  The Rebels lose four players, Jesse Wight (.345, 10 HR, 37 HR), Ryan Thornton (.327, 10 HR, 42 RBIs), 2B Bryan Resnick (.327, 7 HR, 35 RBIs), and SS Anthony Morel (.324, 3 HR, 44 RBIs) who combined to hit 30 of the team’s 49 home runs last year.  Resnick and Morel also formed the Rebel’s middle infield.  Top reliever Marc Baca (3-1, 4.05 ERA, 3 SV), who had the pitching staff’s best ERA, is gone as well.

Returning Rebels:  Senior outfielders Rance Roundy (.364, 3 HR, 32 RBIs) and Scott Berke (.329, 2 HR, 40 RBIs, 10 SB) is UNLV’s top returning hitters.  They’re joined by seniors Drew Beurlein (.407), Brian Gilbertson (.370) and Kyle Kretchmer (.329) who all look for for bigger roles this year after starting a combined 48 games in ’09.  Sophomore RHP Tanner Peters (5-7, 4.90 ERA), who tied for the team-lead with his five wins last year, is the top returning Rebel hurler.

Northern Exposure:  The Rebels host four games each with Northern teams Columbia, Temple and Northwestern over the first month of the season.

Utah

2009 Record:  (28-31, 8-16)

Mascot:  Utes

Head Coach:  Bill Kinneberg

Location:  Salt Lake City, UT

Vitals:  .303 BA, 59 HR, 55 SB, .377 OBP, .964 Fld%…6.13 ERA, 0 CG, 11 SV, 421 K, 206 BB, .317 opp. BA

Cinderella Season:  Utah entered the 2009 Mountain West Conference Tournament as the #6 seed, but the Utes went 5-1 (including two wins over #1 seed TCU) to claim the program’s first ever MWC title.  With the championship came Utah’s first NCAA appearance since 1960.  The Utes were the #4 seed at the Fullerton Regional where they were 2-2 with wins over Georgia Southern and Gonzaga sandwiched between two losses to the host Titans.  Utah was the only sub-.500 team to qualify for the NCAA field last year.

USA Ute:  Head coach Bill Kinneberg will serve as one of the assistants on this year’s USA Collegiate Baseball National Team.  He was the pitching coach for the US National Team in 2007.  Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano

Nick Kuroczko

will serve as pitching coach this year.  The University of San Francisco’s Nino Giarratano is this year’s USA head coach.  Ed Blankmeyer of St. John’s is also on the staff.

Plenty Of Returnees:  Utah returns five of its top seven batters from last year’s NCAA team.  Senior Nick Kuroczko led the team in averge (.353), triples (9), slugging percentage (.558), and on-base percentage (.454).  Tyler Yagi (.343), HR & RBI leader C.J. Cron (.337, 11 HR, 58 RBIs), Devin Walker (.314, 8 HR), Michael Beltron (.309), Rick Cornu (8 HR), and Cooper Blanc (7 HR) are all back as well.  Cron received Freshman All-American status last year.

Why Not WhatcottJordan Whatcott (5-3, 4.19 ERA) was 31st round pick by the L.A. Dodgers in last year’s draft, but opted to return for his senior year.  Whatcott’s return gives the Utes three of their top four starting pitchers back in 2010.  They do lose closer Greg Krause (3-4, 4.93 ERA, 4 SV).

So Long Salt Lake City:  Utah plays its first 18 games on the road with games in five different states.  California (vs. UC Davis), Texas (vs. Sam Houston State), Washington (vs. Washington State), Oregon (vs. Oregon State & Portland), and New Mexico (conference opener vs. UNM).

2010 Mountain West Conference Predictions

Player of the Year:  Rafael Neda – New Mexico (Darkhorse – Matt Alexander Air Force)

Pitcher of the Year:  Kyle Winkler – TCU

Conference Champion:  TCU – with New Mexico and Utah right behind them.

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