The Southland Conference has 12-teams and a reputation for developing Major League caliber talent. A total of 21 conference players were selected in the 2009 MLB draft, who are the top prospects in the conference for 2010?
Player of the Year: Michael Choice, JR OF, UTA
Pitcher of the Year: Eric Harrington, SO RHP, Lamar
Conference Champion: Texas State
Southland Conference (in order of projected finish):
1. Texas State – Texas State was an offensive powerhouse in 2009 and won the Southland Conference. As a team, they hit .334/.419/.514 and walked more times than they struck out while averaging over seven runs per game. They lose .400 hitter Spenser Dennis to graduation and the MLB draft swiped slugging 1B Paul Goldschmidt (.356 AVG, 88 RBI), rocket-arm catcher Ben Theroit (.335 AVG, 76% runners caught stealing), and staff ace Kane Holbrooks (10-1, 101 IP). TSU has a star in the making in sophomore Tyler Sibley (.359/.459/.577).
2. Lamar – Lamar is reloading instead of rebuilding after losing four pitchers to the MLB draft in 2009 – Ricky Testa (8-3, 4.13 ERA), James Brandhorst (3-0, 3.59 ERA), Brian Needham (4-3, 4.26 ERA), and Kevin Angelle (39 K in 28.2 IP). However, top starters Eric Harrington (8-1, 3.01 ERA) and Madison Smith (6-6, 3.52 ERA) return to lead a talented recruiting class of 13 junior college transfers and six true freshman led by OF Clayton Farhat, who hit over .400 at Navarro JC last season.
3. Sam Houston State – SHSU returns starting pitchers Brent Powers (3-2, 4.77 ERA), Dustin Gallant (4-4, 6.52 ERA), and shut down reliever Matt Shelton (7-0, 1.99 ERA). Offensively, despite losing Nick Zaleski (.419 AVG/.509/.627), the Bearkats return their offensive and defensive leader in shortstop Braeden Riley (.387, .975 FLD).
4. Southeastern Louisiana – Southeastern is led by the deepest pitching staff in the Southland Conferene that includes experienced returning pitcher Josh Janway (4-2, 4.50 ERA), Ryan Boudreaux (6-4, 5.03 ERA), Brandon Efferson (5-5, 5.07 ERA), as well as the team’s top prospects, closer Chris Franklin (5-2, 2.60 ERA, 12 SV).
5. UTSA – UTSA will suffer some big losses in 2010, including outfielders Jose Hernandez (.360 AVG, 17 HR) and Michael Rockett (.394 AVG, 15 HR, 14 SB) along with their best starting pitcher – Red Patterson (5-3, 4.96 ERA, 94.1 IP). However, UTSA returns two of the better hitters in the Southland in Ryan Hutson (.343 AVG, 17 HR) and Lance Brown (.372/.422/.553).
6. Stephen F. Austin – SFA will say goodbye to all-time saves leader Richard Folmer (3.27 ERA, 12 saves), fellow reliever Chris Court (28 AP, 3.92 ERA), as well as top hitters Sean Meyer (.398), Zach Gardner (.335) and Brian Ferguson (.322). Freshman to watch LHP Kyle Rogers will join returning starters Brett Rogers (2-4, 5.02 ERA) and Jared West (4-3, 5.11 ERA) on the pitching staff, and the offense will rely heavily on Tanner Hines (.353 AVG, 17 SB) and Ryan Priest (.370 AVG, .576 SLG).
7. Texas – Arlington – UTA outscored their opponents by 100 runs in 2009, but only managed a 30-26 record. In 2010, they return Team USA star OF Michael Choice (.413/.492/.644), but will be hurt by the loss of his protection in the lineup in fellow .400 hitters Matt Otterman (.432) and Andrew Kainer (.417), losses that loom big since UTA didn’t have any other hitter hit over .275 last spring. Rett Varner (2-3, 3.95 ERA) was the Pitcher of the Year in the Texas Collegiate League, but won’t be enough by himself to help a staff that loses top starters Nathan Long (6-4, 3.76 ERA) and Ryan Robinson (6-2, 3.89 ERA).
8. Northwestern State – Northwestern State has two nice prospects in 1B/3B Chris Lyles (.362/.451/..678 with 17 SB and .927 FLD) and closer Chad Sheppard (4-1, 2.34 ERA, 10 SV). However, they will miss their two top hitters from 2009 – Justin O’Neal (.373 AVG, 52 RBI) and Joe Urtuzuastegui (.371 AVG, 45 RBI) and their #1 starter Jimmy Heard (7-4, 5.23 ERA)
9. McNeese State – The good news: McNeese State returns the majority of their pitching staff from 2009. The bad news: their pitching staff had a 7.60 team ERA in 2009. The loss of catcher Taylor Freeman (.333 AVG, 12 HR) will put a lot of pressure on talented redshirt sophomore Lee Orr (.301 AVG, 15 HR, 18 SB) to generate runs..
10. Central Arkansas – UCA returns three of their top players in 2009 with senior OF Tye Throneberry (.374/.422/.518)) and starting pitchers Reece Cross (4-4, 4.48 ERA) and Bobby Pritchett (4-5, 4.85 ERA). The question is, who is going to provide the pop for the Bears? They lost power hitters Dillon Smith (.365 AVG, 11 HR) and Jonathan Yerby (.298 AVG, 14 HR) and no one else coming back with more than four in one season.
11. Texas A&M – Corpus Christi – The Islanders will rely heavily on returning starters Brandon Orr (2-6, 6.05) and Roy Ferdin (2-7, 6.27 ERA) to help improve the squad’s 7.71 team ERA from 2009 and 18-38 record. Offensively, they will look for help from Texas transfer 2B Bobby Buckner and Northern Iowa transfer SS Cory Edge.
12. Nicholls State – Nicholls will need to rely on their pitching staff as their offense (.271 AVG) and defense (95 errors) struggled in 2009. There will be a lot of pressure on senior starters Jarrett Dunnam (3-8 despite 3.80 ERA) and Tyler Minto (3-3, 4.26 ERA) to keep the other team off the scoreboard.
Top 10 Draft Eligible Prospects
1. Michael Choice, JR OF, UTA
2. Braeden Riley, JR SS, SHSU
3. Chad Sheppard, RS-SO RHP, NWLA
4. Lee Orr, RS-SO OF, MCN
5. Rett Varner, RS-JR RHP, UTA
6. Dallas Gallant, JR RHP, SHSU
7. Matt Shelton, JR RHP, SHSU
8. Ryan Hutson, JR 2B, UTSA
9. Chris Franklin, SR RHP, SLU
10. Chase Lyles, RS-SR 1B/3B, NWLA