Oral Roberts has won the Summit League in baseball every single year since they joined in 1998. Will their unprecedented 12-year dominance come to an end in 2010? We think so.
Player of the Year: Jesse Sawyer, JR 3B, South Dakota State
Pitcher of the Year: Boone Whiting, JR RHP, Centenary
Conference Champion: Centenary
Summit League Preview (in order of projected finish):
1. Centenary – The stars are aligned for Centenary to take down perennial powerhouse Oral Roberts in 2010. They are following up a 33-16 season by returning the best 1-2 punch in the league with juniors Boone Whiting (6-2, 4.16 ERA) and Justin Kraft (6-4, 4.08 ERA) as well as four of their top five hitters that helped them hit .312 as a team and score six and a half runs per game last spring – Tell Ross (.350/.428/.552), Michael Tompkins (.348/.463/..552), Cliff Shepard (.345/.389/.571).
2. Oral Roberts – Offensively, ORU loses SS Juan Martinez (.377 AVG, 16 HR), but returns a trio of the league’s best hitters in Colby Price (.340 AVG, .553 SLG), Seth Furmanek (.333 AVG, 17 HR), and Tyler Garewal (.330 AVG, .460 OBP). However, they will be forced to go with several junior college transfers to try to replenish their starting rotation, which was ravaged by the MLB draft in 2009 – Mark Serrano (9-1, 2.50 ERA), Andre Lamontagne (6-2, 2.97 ERA), and Jerry Sullivan (8-3, 3.12 ERA) are all gone. Looking to fill those lost innings will be returners Jeff Burleson (3-0, 3.12 ERA) and Drew Bowen (2-2, 5.35 ERA). Newcomers to watch include two players who chose to attend ORU instead of signing pro contracts after being selected in the 2009 MLB draft – JUCO All-American SS Tyler Saladino (36th Rd. – Astros) and freshman catcher Bennet Pickar (15th Rd. – Braves).
3. Southern Utah – Southern Utah has a chance to make a run in the Summit League in 2010 thanks to the return of a lot of key contributers. Coming back from a success 2009 campaign are starters Steve Johnson (8-4, 5.00 ERA), Kyle Melling (7-3, 5.58 ERA), and hitters Bucky Anoa (.293 AVG, 10 HR), Matt Sanford (.366/.484/.595), and Bo Cuthberson (.393/.418/.519).
4. South Dakota State – SDSU returns two of the league’s premier power hitters in catcher Joey Blake (.351 AVG, 13 HR) and 3rd basemen Jesse Sawyer (.346 AVG, 19 HR). However, while the Jack Rabbits hit 65 home runs as a team in 2009, they also gave up 54 with a team ERA of 6.80. They will need big years out of returning starters Layne Somsen (4-7, 5.32 ERA) and Mike Robinson (5-4, 7.20 ERA) if they want to make some waves in the conference.
5. North Dakota State – The Bison are led by a talented sophomore class including John Straka (4-3, 3.49 ERA), Alex Chaput (2-1, 4.55 ERA), Glenn Parker (4.59 ERA) and hitters Justin Kline (.425/.503/.576) and Zach Wentz (.329/.421/.479). The inexperience on NDSU will hamper them in 2010, but as their talented underclassmen continue to develop, watch out for them to challenge for the title in 2011 and 2012.
6. Oakland – Oakland loses their top three hitters in graduated seniors Andrew Stafford (.381 AVG, 46 RBI), Dany Ryan (.354 AVG, 32 RBI) and Justin Wilson (.340 AVG, 12 HR). They won’t lose much in their pitching staff, but will need quick improvement from a team that gave up eight runs a game and a .336 opponents batting average in 2009 in order to make up for the lost offense.
7. Western Illinois – Western Illinois will have a new head coach in 2010 after tragically losing Stan Hyman to Leukemia in the off-season. Former Central Michigan associate head coach and pitching guru Mike Villano will have some hitters to work with, but will need to go to work quickly to improve a pitching staff that gave up 10.27 runs per game in 2009 en route to a 13-33 record.
8. IPFW – IPFW has a couple solid arms to build their 2010 club around in 2009 hard-luck starter Samuel Walker (0-5 despite 4.17 ERA) and 2009 Prospect League Closer of the Year Matt Antos, who had a sub 1.00 ERA in the summer after seeing his ERA balloon over ten in the spring. Offensively, they will depend on 6’4″ slugger Shaun VanDriessche (.314 AVG, 39 RBI) to give a boost to a team that hit just .261 as a team last season.
Top 10 Draft Eligible Prospects
1. Boone Whiting, JR RHP, Centenary
2. Jesse Sawyer, JR 3B, South Dakota State
3. Tyler Saldino, JR SS, Oral Roberts
4. Justin Kraft, JR RHP, Centenary
5. Joey Blake, JR C, South Dakota State
6. Seth Frumanek, SR C, Oral Roberts
7. Tyler Garewall, SR OF, Oral Roberts
8. Michael Tompkins, SR 1B/LHP, Centenary
9. Steve Johnson, SR RHP, Southern Utah
10. Colby Price, SR INF, Oral Roberts