SEC 2010 Baseball Preview – Eastern Division

February 11, 2010
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Half Of The Division Made NCAA Field Last Year

2009 Eastern Division Champion:  Florida

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2009 Western Division Champion:  LSU & Ole Miss Tied with 20-10 records

2009 SEC Tournament Champion:  LSU

Banner Year:  Teams outside the SEC often complain the conference gets too much respect when it comes to NCAA Tournament bids, but the SEC lived-up to its lofty status last year.  Eight SEC teams received NCAA bids in 2009, with half of them, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas, advancing to at least a Super Regional.  Arkansas and LSU both made it to Omaha, while the Tigers winning the 2009 National Championship.

Big Crowds:  The SEC drew a record of nearly 1.9 million fans to its on-campus ballparks in 2009, the fourth year in a row to draw over 1.6 million. Seven SEC teams drew in excess of 100,000 fans to their parks in 2009. The SEC averaged a record 4,689 fans per game in 2009, the third straight year to exceed the 4,000 mark.

2010 SEC Eastern Division Preview

Florida

2009 Record:  (42-22, 19-11)

Mascot:  Gators

Head Coach:  Kevin O’Sullivan

Location:  Gainesville, FL

Vitals:  .309 BA, 68 HR, 72 SB, .393 OBP, .966 Fld%…4.27 ERA, 0 CG, 13 SV, 427 K, 188 BB, .282 opp. BA

Preston Tucker (Florida photo)

The Good With The Bad:  After winning the SEC Eastern division last year Florida advance to a Super Regional for the first time since going to the 2005 College World Series.  However, the Gators lost both of their Super Regional games on their home field to Cinderella Southern Mississippi.

Notable Returns:  The Gators return four of their top six batters from last year’s team.  2009 SEC co-Freshman of the Year Preston Tucker (.364, 15 HR, 85 RBIs) heads the group.  He’s joined by two time All-SEC performer Josh Adams (.342, 8 HR, 52 RBIs) and OF Matt den Dekker (.296, 5 HR, 37 RBIs).

Oh Brother:  Brothers Jonathon (.357, 6 HR, 32 RBIs) and Daniel Pigott (.301, 3 HR, 21 RBIs) are back to patrol the Gator outfield.  Jonathon is a senior while Daniel is a sophomore.

The Sophomore Four:  Sophomore pitchers Tommy Toledo, Anthony DeSclafini (6-3, 4.98 ERA), Nick Maronde (3-1, 4.40 ERA) and Alex Pantaliodis (6-5, 4.38 ERA) are expected to lead the Gator pitching staff.  Toledo missed all of his freshman season while recovering from shoulder surgery.

Arms And Innings To Replace:  Bullpen stalwarts Tony Davis (5-0, 2.25 ERA) and Billy Bullock (3-3, 2.64 ERA, 11 SV) are both departed.  The duo combined for 66 appearances with 87 strikeouts in 91 2/3 IP last year.

Keep It In Florida:  Not only do the Gators play their first 22 games in the state of Florida, they also play 15 games vs. intrastate rivals South Florida, Florida State, Miami, Central Florida, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida Atlantic, Bethune-Cookman and North Florida.

Georgia

2009 Record:  (38-24, 15-15)

Mascot:  Bulldogs

Head Coach:  David Perno

Location:  Athens, GA

Vitals:  .292 BA, 109 HR, 72 SB, .381 OBP, .966 Fld%…4.86 ERA, 0 CG, 12 SV, 487 K, 257 BB, .274 opp. BA

Tough Slate:  According to Boysdworld.com Georgia’s 2010 schedule is the 8th toughest in the nation.  It is also the toughest schedule in the SEC.  The Bulldogs open the season with two games against Baylor and two vs. Duke in Waco, TX.  They also play non-conference games against the likes of Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Georgia State-all made the 2009 NCAA field (as did Baylor), with FSU & Clemson going to Super Regionals.

Near Total Turnover:  Georgia loses six of its top eight batters from last year’s NCAA Regional team, including team triple crown winner Rich Poythress (.376, 25 HR, 86 RBIs), Bryce Massanari (.305, 19 HR, 57 RBIs), Matt Cerione (12 HR), and Joey Lewis (19 HR).  Freshman All-American third baseman Colby May (.339, 11 HR, 42 RBIs) heads the list of returnees.  Players who had part-time roles last year like Zach Cone (.323, 4 HR) and Peter Verdin (.316, 2 HR) are likely to see bigger roles this year.

The Pitching:  The Bulldogs return starters Justin Grimm (4-4, 4.15 ERA) and Alex McRee (4-4, 6.27 ERA) as well as relievers like Cecil Tanner (3-1, 4.29) , Jeff Walters (2-0, 4.64 ERA) and Michael Palazzone (3-0, 5.13 ERA).  They lose Trevor Holder (7-5, 4.48 ERA) and closer Dean Weaver (3.60 ERA, 10 SV).

Kentucky

2009 Record:  (28-26, 12-18)

Mascot:  Wildcats

Head Coach:  Gary Henderson

Location:  Lexington, KY

Vitals:  .297 BA, 56 HR, 71 RBIs, .385 OBP, .966 Fld%…5.55 ERA, 4 CG, 9 SV, 523 K, 202 BB, .284 opp. BA

Wildcats Back:  Kentucky returns 8 of its top 10 batters from 2009, including team batting & RBI leader Chris Bisson (.360, 52 RBIs, 13 SB), Chad Wright (.343), Braden Kapteyn (.319), and team home run leader Marcus Nidiffer (.312, 10 HR, 32 RBIs).

PitchingKapteyn (5-0, 6.06 ERA, 4 SV) also made 23 relief appearances last year as a freshman.  Fellow sophomore Alex Meyer (1-4, 5.73 ERA) is the only starter to return who made more than 10 starts last year.   Jr. LHP Logan Darnell (5-6, 4.50 ERA, 3 SV) is back as well.  Starters Chris Rusin (7-4, 4.20 ERA) and James Paxton (5-3, 5.86 ERA) are both gone.  Rusin had all four of the staff’s complete games last year.

Midweek Madness:  The Wildcats play home-and-home midweek games vs. intrastate rivals Western Kentucky and Louisville, which both made the 2009 NCAA Tournament.  They also have midweek games vs. Indiana, Wright State and Xavier, which also qualified for last year’s NCAA field.

South Carolina

2009 Record:  (40-23, 17-13)

Mascot:  Gamecocks

Head Coach:  Ray Tanner

Location:  Columbia, SC

Vitals:  .310 BA, 109 HR, 45 SB, .394 OBP, .974 Fld%…5.07 ERA, 6 CG, 8 SV, 500 K, 268 BB, .260 opp. BA

Regional Regulars:  South Carolina’s 10 straight NCAA Regional appearances is the longest such streak of any SEC school.  The Gamecocks have advanced to seven Super Regionals with three straight College World Series appearances

Sam Dyson (USC photo)

(2002, 2003 & 2004) since 2000.  They fell to host East Carolina in the championship of last year’s Greenville Regional.

Packing Some Pitching:  The Gamecocks return their entire weekend rotation, with 9-game winners Sam Dyson (9-4, 5.21 ERA) and Blake Cooper (9-4, 4.50 ERA) joined by LHP Nolan Belcher (4-5, 5.33), who earned Freshman All-American honors last year.   Senior Jay Brown (3-0, 3.35 ERA) returns as well.  Closer Alex Farotto (4-2, 4.96 ERA, 7 SVs) must be replaced.

Carolina Core:  Senior first baseman Nick Ebert (.321, 23 HR, 72 RBIs) is back to lead the USC line-up.  His 23 home runs are the second most of any returning player in all of college baseball this year.  He’s joined by Junior OF Whit Merrifield (.340, 11 HR, 49 RBIs, 15 SB), Jr. Parker Bangs (.328, 5 HR), and Sr. Bobby Haney (.291), who started all 63 USC games last year at shortstop.  The most notable losses are Mack DeAngelo (.360, 14 HR, 60 RBIs) and Justin Dalles (.324, 15 HR).

Out For A While:  USC recently announced that 2009 Freshman All-American Jackie Bradley, Jr. (.349, 11 HR, 46 RBIs) will miss 4-8 weeks with a broken hand.

Rematch:  After falling to East Carolina in last year’s NCAA Regional South Carolina plays a 3-game series at ECU the second weekend of the season.

Tennessee

2009 Record:  (26-29, 11-19)

Mascot:  Volunteers

Head Coach:  Todd Raleigh

Location:  Knoxville, TN

Vitals:  .286 BA, 87 HR, 39 SB, .378 OBP, .972 Fld%…6.16 ERA, 1 CG, 8 SV, 493 K, 215 BB, .290 opp. BA

They Have Their Number:  Despite finishing the 2008 & 2009 seasons with losing records Tennessee won 5 of the 6 games it played vs. LSU in the last two years.  The Tigers lost all three games vs. the Vols in their ’08 CWS season and dropped 2 of 3 games to Tennesse in Baton Rouge last year before going on to with the 2009 National Championship.

Valuable Vols:  Tennessee returns six of its top eight batters from 2009, including Cody Hawn (.364, 22 HR, 81 RBIs), who is just the 10th Vol to win the team Triple Crown.  Blake Forsythe (.347, 15 HR, 46 RBIs) and Josh Liles (.313, 8 HR, 8 SB) are among the other top returnees.

Experience Addition:  Junior shortstop Matt Duffy joins Tennessee after two years at Vermont.  Duffy was named the America East Conference Player of the Year in 2009 after hitting .388 with 13 HR, 57 RBIs and a .713 slugging percentage.  He transferred and is eligible to play this year after Vermont discontinued baseball after last season.

On The Mound:  Seniors Stephen McCray (4-3, 5.16 ERA) and Aaron Tullo (2-6, 7.80 ERA) return along with sophomores Adam Adkins (2-1, 5.27 ERA) and Matt Ramsey (5.45 ERA), who had team-highs with 27 appearances and 4 saves last yer.  The staff’s most experienced pitchers, Nick Hernandez (4-5, 5.23 ERA, 13 starts) and Ty’Relle Harris (4-4, 6.18 ERA), are both gone.

Early Tests:  The Vols play 11 of their first 15 games of the season against 2009 NCAA Tournament teams.  They start by hosting a 3-game series vs. Xavier, followed by three games at Oregon State, with games to follow vs. Binghamton, Ohio State, Western Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee State.

Vanderbilt

2009 Record:  (37-27, 12-17)

Mascot:  Commodores

Head Coach:  Tim Corbin

Location:  Nashville, TN

Vitals:  .306 BA, 56 HR, 89 SB, .392 OBP, .972 Fld%…4.66 ERA, 6 CG, 17 SV, 604 K, 207 BB, .271 opp. BA

Head East…Far East:  Vanderbilt traveled to Tokyo, Japan over their 2009 Thanksgiving break to play four exhibition games against Japanese universities.  The Commodores were 3-1 in those games in which wooden bats were used.

Commodore Arms:  Vandy loses just four of the 14 pitchers who saw action last year, but three of the losses, Mike Minor (6-6, 3.90 ERA), Caleb Cotham (7-5, 4.10 ERA) and Nick Christiani (6-6, 5.00 ERA), were their top three starters last year.  Those three accounted for more than a third of the staff’s strikeouts, 19 of the team’s 37 wins, 39 of 64 starts, and all 6 of the staff’s complete games last year.  Juniors Russell Brewer (1-2, 2.96 ERA, 4 SV), Chase Reid

Curt Casali (VU photo)

(3-0, 4.46 ERA) and Taylor Hill (2-1, 5.05 ERA) and sophomore Sonny Gray (5-1, 4.30 ERA) are among those who will look to fill the void.  Gray was recently invited to the 2010 USA Baseball Team Trials.

Power Down:  The Commodores lose their top two hitters, Aaron Westlake (.377, 10 HR, 57 RBIs) and Steven Liddle (.348, 10 HR, 51 RBIs), from last year’s NCAA team.  They tied with returning catcher Curt Casali (.336, 10 HR, 59 RBIs) for the team home run lead.  Riley Reynolds (.332, 12 SB), Brian Harris (.299, 9 HR, 10 SB), Andrew Giobbi (.289, 6 HR), and Jason Esposito (.287, 20 SB)  all return as well.

2010 SEC Eastern Division Predictions

Top Eastern Division Player:  Preston Tucker – Florida

Top Eastern Division Pitcher:  Sam Dyson – South Carolina

Eastern Division Champion:  South Carolina

CLICK HERE for the Western Division Preview with overall picks for Player of the Year, Pitcher of the Year and conference champion.

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