This is the second part of our two part 2012 Sun Belt Preview. You can check out the first part by clicking here.
Louisiana- Lafayette: 31-27; 18-12
After finishing third in the conference last season, the Ragin’ Cajuns are ready for another strong year, although may have trouble due to the loss of key players Taylor Hubbell, T. J. Geith and Joey Satriano.
Senior RHP Jordan Nicholson (2.51 ERA) will be key in the rotation, allowing only 65 hits in 71.2 innings of work last season. Senior RHP Joe Zimmerman (4.71 ERA) could also emerge as a leader in the pitching staff this season, improving greatly after an inconsistent season last spring.
Freshmen Cord Cockrell and Austin Robichaux (son of head coach Tony Robichaux), both RHP, should see some starts this season after making very good impressions during fall ball.
Sophomore catcher Michael Stentz (.216 avg.) and junior third baseman Tyler Frederick (.241) are expected to lead the hitting. Frederick had a .441 slugging percentage and .991 fielding percentage last season.
Sophomore shortstop Ryan Leonards (.900 fld%) and senior catcher Chris Sinclair (.323 avg.) will add much-needed depth to a young offense.
South Alabama: 30-28; 15-15
Change is in the air for this year’s Jaguars, with Mark Calvi taking over as head coach, after spending last season at South Alabama as associate head coach.
Senior LHP Phillip Byrd will once again be a leader in the bullpen, after recording a 2.55 ERA last season. Byrd did not allow a run earned in 16 out of his 18 appearances, and limited opponents to a team-best .190 avg. Junior RHP Payton Gardner, who ranked 11th nationally with a 1.77 ERA last season, will be a huge addition to the bullpen this spring.
Juniors RHP Jarron Cito (first team All-Mid-Florida Conference) and LHP Kyle Bartsch will add to the depth of pitching for the team. Junior RHP Jaime Dennis (second team All-Region, first team All-Northern League) will be a strong force for the Jaguars, after recording a 1.59 ERA in 24 appearances, with 16 saves.
Sophomore Jordan Patterson will be key in the offense this year for the team. Patterson batted .284 as a freshman, with 38 runs scored and 32 RBI. Junior catcher J.T. Files (Preston Walker Award, two-time all-conference honors) hit .311 last year, with 16 doubles and 4 RBI, and will be a welcome force offensively and behind the plate.
Sophomore shortstop Logan Kirkland (second team Freshman All-American, Preseason All-Sun Belt team) will be a key asset to the offense, after scoring 43 runs last year with 27 RBI. Freshman Colin Bray (Mississippi Boys Athlete of the Year) will also be one to watch. Bray scored 32 runs last year, batting .364 with 17 RBI.
Arkansas State: 27-31-1; 13-16-1
Senior RHP Jacob Lee (Preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year, Preseason All-Sun Belt team) will be a leading force in the rotation for ASU, after maintaining a 3.80 ERA last season in 92.1 innings, and allowing only 39 runs.
Junior RHP Daniel Wright (4.10 ERA) will be a key player in the bullpen, after finishing last season with 30 strike-outs allowed in 41.2 innings of work. Senior RHP Cory Kyle (Academic All-Region, Academic All-Conference) will also be an important addition to the bullpen this spring.
Junior outfielder and power hitter Ryan Emery is expected to have a strong season, after finishing last spring with a .313 avg., with 34 RBI and 25 runs scored.
Junior outfielder Michael Faulkner (Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament team) will be a key in the offense, after batting .336 last season, and leading the team with 55 runs scored, 23 stolen bases and 241 at-bats.
Western Kentucky: 33-24; 17-13
Western Kentucky is another team hoping to kick off the season with a bang, with new head coach Matt Myers.
Junior RHP Tanner Perkins (second team All-Sun Belt Conference) will once again lead the rotation after a league-best 2.32 ERA last season, and a 2.13 ERA in 10 conference starts. Sophomore RHP Justin Hageman (Sun Belt Freshman of the Year, SBC Pitcher of the Week, Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team) will also be a key to the Hilltopper rotation. Hageman was ranked among the top 10 in the league in ERA (3.22), wins (8), innings pitched (100.2), strikeouts (85) and opponent batting average (.256) last season.
Junior LHP Tim Bado (All-Region selection, Academic All-Region team, All-Region honors) will fill the third spot in the rotation, and sophomore LHP Austin Clay will also add depth to the pitching staff for WKU.
Senior left fielder Jared Andreoli (second team All-Sun Belt Conference, SBC Player of the Week, second team Capital One Academic All-District ) is expected to dominate the offense once again after batting .352 last season. Senior right fielder Ryan Hutchison will be a team leader for WKU this spring, boasting a .976 fielding percentage as well as a .279 avg., driving in 41 runs and had a .433 slugging percentage.
Ivan Hartle, senior second baseman, will be key in the lineup, after hitting .272 with 33 RBI. Senior infielder Casey Dykes finished last season with a .281 avg. and 27 RBI, and will be one to watch this spring.
Florida International: 40-20-1; 20-9-1
After finishing second in the conference last season, FIU has high hopes for finishing at the top this spring.
Senior LHP RJ Fondon (Sun Belt All-Conference team) will be a dominant force in the rotation after a phenomenal 2011 season, finishing with a 3.05 ERA in 97 innings of work, and a 2.92 ERA in conference play.
Redshirt junior LHP Mason McVay (Preseason All-Sun Belt team) is expected to be a key part of the bullpen, finishing last season with a 3.56 ERA in 30.1 innings. Redshirt senior RHP Logan Dodds will also add depth to the pitching after finishing with a 4.73 ERA last season in 32.1 innings of work.
Freshman RHP John Costa will be an important addition to FIU this season. Costa was drafted in the 31st round by the Baltimore Orioles.
Senior outfielder Pablo Bermudez (Sun Belt Conference All-Tournament team, SBC Co-Player of the Year, first team All-Sun Belt, ABCA South Central All-Region Second Team, Preseason All-Sun Belt team) is expected to once again lead the scoring batting a team-high .373 avg., 63 runs scored, 37 RBI, 17 stolen bases and 51 walks. Bermudez was also the only starter with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
Senior power hitter Mike Martinez (second team ABCA South Central All-Region, second team All-Sun Belt, Preseason All-Sun Belt team) will be invaluable for the offense this season after finishing last spring with a team-high 15 home runs and 60 RBI while batting .294. Adding to the order for the Panthers will be junior DH Rudy Flores (Preseason All-Sun Belt team). Flores ended last season batting .291, with 36 runs scored and 52 RBI.
Troy: 43-19; 21-9 (Sun Belt Conference Champions)
Senior RHP Tyler Ray (Sun Belt Preseason Pitcher of the Year, Preseason All-Sunbelt team, first team NCBWA Preseason All-America, second team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America, second team Louisville Slugger All-America, third team ABCA / Rawlings All-America, Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, first team All-Sun Belt, Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year) will once again lead the team’s pitching after an unbelievable spring. Ray finished his 12-0 season with a 2.39 ERA over 116.2 innings of work. Ray comes into this season needing only eight wins to set both the Troy and Sun Belt Conference records for most career wins (35).
Sophomore LHP Jimmy Hodgskin (4.68 ERA) will be key in the rotation for Troy. Hodgskin ended last season with 58 strikeouts over 77.0 innings pitched and held batters to a .253 avg. Junior RHP Ryan Sorce (5.57 ERA) will also add depth to the pitching, after finishing the year with 49 strikeouts and a 5-5 record.
Senior shortstop Tyler Hannah (Preseason All-Sun Belt team, first team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American, Sun Belt Conference Hitter of the Week, third team NCBWA Preseason All-America, third team ABCA / Rawlings All-America, first team All-Sun Belt) will be a force to reckon for the Trojans again this season, after batting a team-high .370 last spring, with a .592 slugging percentage and 62 runs scored.
Sophomore outfielder Hayden Hillyer will add to the offense after finishing last season with a .294 avg. and 11 RBI, and was 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts. Senior Tyson Workman (.286 avg.) and junior Logan Pierce (.235 avg.) will also be huge in the lineup, with a combined 56 RBI.
2012 Preseason All-Sun Belt Baseball Team
Tyler Ray (Troy, Senior, SP)
Justin Hageman (WKU, Sophomore, SP)
Tanner Perkins (WKU, Junior, SP)
Hugh Adams (Florida Atlantic, Senior, RP)
Mason McVay (FIU, RS-Junior, RP)
Mike Albaladejo (Florida Atlantic, Senior, Catcher)
Mike Martinez (FIU, Senior, 1B)
Caleb Clowers (Louisiana-Monroe, Senior, 2B)
Logan Kirkland (South Alabama, Sophomore, 2B)
Tyler Hannah (Troy, Senior, SS)
Hank LaRue (Middle Tennessee, Sophomore, 3B)
Alex Hudak (Florida Atlantic, Senior, OF)
Pablo Bermudez (FIU, Senior, OF)
Justin Guidry (Middle Tennessee, Senior, OF)
Rudy Flores (FIU, Junior, DH)