ST. LOUIS – Dallas Baptist, which returns several key position players and pitchers and a wealth of depth from last year's NCAA Regional squad, has been tabbed as the league favorite in the annual coaches' preseason poll, receiving five of eight first-place votes.
The Patriots tallied 59 points and were named the favorite over second-place pick Southern Illinois (53 points), as the Salukis tallied three first-place votes. Missouri State (51 points) finished third, while Indiana State and Wichita State finished tied for fourth with 36 points.
Bradley was selected in sixth place with 25 points, followed by Evansville (20 points) in the seventh slot and Illinois State eighth (8 points).
The Valley demonstrates a depth of talent and experience returning to the league this season, returning 27 players from the 2016 all-MVC teams. The coaches have voted 14 players representing six teams to the 2017 preseason all-MVC baseball squad.
Dallas Baptist welcomes back six position players with over 100 at-bats and four key pitchers from a team that finished the season with a 44-19 record, en route to capturing both the MVC regular-season and conference tournament titles. The Patriots ended the season in the NCAA Regionals with a loss to in-state rival Texas Tech. Sophomore outfielder Jameson Hannah (.332 BA, 64 hits, 40 runs scored, 8 doubles, 4 home runs, 37 RBI) was named the conference's co-Freshman of the Year and earned Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America accolades a year ago and will be joined in the lineup by two other returning second team all-MVC honorees. Junior Matt Duce (C) and senior Camden Duzenack (SS) will join Hannah in the heart of the Patriots' order in 2017. Duce hit .321 with 43 hits, 30 runs scored, 11 doubles, four home runs and 30 RBI last season, while Duzenack added a .287 average at the plate with 51 hits, 40 runs scored, seven doubles, six home runs and 35 RBI. On the mound, Dallas Baptist welcomes back starters Jordan Martinson (3-2, 3.68 ERA, 59 K) and MD Johnson (5-3, 5.60 ERA, 31 K), as well as relievers Seth Elledge and Dalton Higgins. Elledge, a preseason Collegiate Baseball first team All-American, led the MVC with 14 saves to go along with a 1.61 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 28 innings of work. Higgins appeared in 27 games for the Patriots, going 9-4 with 45 strikeouts and a 3.79 ERA in 71.1 innings of work. Both Elledge and Higgins were first team all-MVC selections last spring.
Southern Illinois returns all nine position starters and the core of the pitching staff from last season's 31-25-1 squad that finished 11-10 in conference play. The Salukis had the biggest turnaround in the NCAA from 2015 to 2016 and sees everyone return for the 2017 campaign. SIU's 31 wins a year ago were the most since 2012 and junior Logan Blackfan (.296, 64 hits, 26 runs, 50 RBI, 23 doubles, 6 home runs) will return to pace the offensive attack. Juniors Connor Kopach (.287, 70 hits, 37 runs, 36 RBI, 14 doubles, 3 home runs) and Greg Lambert (.312, 72 hits, 31 runs, 30 RBI, 16 doubles) also return to the Salukis' lineup. Blackfan (1B) was a first team all-MVC choice last season, while Kopach (2B) and Lambert (OF) were honorable mention selections. On the mound, Southern Illinois welcomes back junior Michael Baird (9-4, 1.76 ERA, 3 CG, 58 K), senior Chad Whitmer (7-4, 2.77 ERA, 66 K) and senior Joey Marciano (3.78 ERA, 59 K) to the starting rotation. Baird was a first team all-MVC selection last season, while Whitmer was named a second team honoree. Baird's 1.76 ERA is the best in the nation among 2017 returning starters (min. 85 innings). SIU also returns its closer from a year ago as junior Ryan Netemeyer (1.95 ERA, 12 saves, 25 K) will look to improve upon his second team all-MVC honor as a sophomore.
Missouri State returns eight position starters and key pitchers from last season's 38-21 team. The Bears will be led at the plate by junior third-baseman Jake Burger, a second team Louisville Slugger All-American and MVC Defensive Player of the Year honoree a season ago. Burger (.349. 82 hits, 59 runs, 72 RBI, 13 doubles, 21 home runs) was selected as a preseason All-American by Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and the NCBWA, and will look to provide the pop in the middle of the Bears' order this spring. His 21 home runs a year ago ranked second nationally, while his 72 RBI stood fifth in Division I. Sophomore Hunter Steinmetz (.317, 78 hits, 57 runs, 14 doubles, 27 RBI) and senior Justin Paulsen (.300, 63 hits, 41 runs, 16 doubles, 7 home runs, 48 RBI) both earned honorable mention all-MVC honors in 2016 and will join Burger in the heart of the order. Seniors Aaron Meyer (.315, 64 hits, 35 runs, 17 doubles, 32 RBI) and Blake Graham (.300, 61 hits, 41 runs, nine doubles, five home runs, 37 RBI) and sophomore Jeremy Eierman (.296, 68 hits, 45 runs, 13 doubles, nine home runs, 37 RBI) also return to the field for MSU after registering over 200 at-bats a year ago. The Bears also return their top two starters and key bullpen arms in 2017. Jordan Knutson (7-6, 4.61 ERA, 88 K) and Dylan Coleman (6-4, 4.98 ERA, 82 K) are back in the rotation, while Jake Fromson (6-2, 3.71 ERA, 24 appearances) and Bryan Young (1.31 ERA, 11 saves, 41 K) return after earning all-MVC honors last spring.
Indiana State returns four position starters and six key pitchers from its 2016 team that finished 35-21. The Sycamores will be led offensively by junior Tyler Friis (.293, 58 hits, 30 runs, 4 doubles, 20 RBI) and senior Tony Rosselli (.281, 50 hits, 44 runs, 10 home runs, 34 RBI). Sophomores Dane Giesler (.273, 45 hits, 8 doubles, 25 RBI) and Clay Dungan (.271, 39 hits, 8 doubles, 26 RBI) will add to the offensive firepower for the Sycamores. On the pitching side, Indiana State brings back starters Ryan Keaffaber (6-4, 3.48 ERA, 46 K), Tyler Ward (6-5, 3.81 ERA, 40 K) and Justin Hill (5-2, 4.27 ERA, 48 K), while junior closer Jeremy McKinney (6-4, 3.26 ERA, 46 K, 7 saves), an honorable mention all-MVC choice, also returns to the mound for the Sycamores.
Wichita State welcomes back seven position starters and 10 pitchers from last year's 21-37 team. The Shockers will be led offensively by a host of underclassmen, including three sophomores and two juniors. Sophomores Greyson Jenista (.326, 56 hits, 36 runs, 8 doubles, 5 home runs, 32 RBI), MVC co-Freshman of the Year), Dayton Dugas (.304, 49 hits, 28 runs, 11 doubles, 4 home runs, 24 RBI) and Alec Bohm (.303, 54 hits, 20 runs, 13 doubles, six home runs, 30 RBI) each were named second team all-MVC and Louisville Slugger Freshman All-Americans in 2016. Junior shortstop Trey Vickers (.306, 49 hits, 27 runs, six doubles and 19 RBI) was a first team all-MVC selection, while junior catcher Gunnar Troutwine (.278, 55 hits, 37 runs, 9 doubles, 7 home runs, 37 RBI) claimed a spot on the honorable mention all-MVC squad. On the mound, the Shockers bring back several key pieces of their pitching staff. Junior Cody Tyler returns after earning second team all-MVC accolades a year ago, posting a 3-5 mark with 57 strikeouts and a 4.46 ERA in 78.2 innings of work.
Bradley returns five position starters and three pitchers with over 30 innings of work from last year's 29-21 squad. The Braves welcome back senior outfielder Spencer Gaa, a three-time all-MVC performer, who ranked fifth in the league in batting average (.333), while adding 62 hits, 36 runs, 14 doubles, three triples, five home runs and 31 RBI. Gaa will be joined by Luke Mangieri (.322, 48 hits, 31 runs, 15 RBI), Ian Kristan (.292, 40 hits, 20 RBI), Evan Gruener (.275, 49 hits, 31 runs, 15 doubles, 4 home runs, 30 RBI) and Andy Shadid (.276, 47 hits, 28 runs, 15 doubles, 7 home runs and 34 RBI) who will add punch to the Braves' offense. Mangieri was an honorable mention all-MVC selection, while Shadid earned a nod on the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America team. On the mound, Bradley welcomes back seniors Eric Scheuermann and Nathan Stong and sophomore lefty Ben Olson. Scheuermann posted an ERA of 1.98 in 21 appearances, while Stong finished 2-0 with a 5.05 ERA in 26 appearances out of the bullpen. Olson started eight games for the Braves, going 1-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 40.2 innings of work.
Evansville returns three position players and its entire rotation from last season's 29-27 squad. Senior Trey Hair is a preseason Collegiate Baseball All-American after hitting .340 with 73 hits, 41 runs, 20 doubles, 10 home runs and 42 RBI a year ago. Hair will be joined in the Aces lineup by juniors Korbin Williams (.268, 53 hits, 36 runs, 15 doubles, 10 home runs, 29 RBI) and Stewart Nelson (.232, 44 hits, 23 runs, 18 RBI). Evansville will welcome back its entire starting rotation from 2016 as well as closer Ryan Brady. Brady finished the season with five saves, 22 strikeouts and a 1.99 ERA in 28 appearances to lead the Aces bullpen. Sophomores Austin Allinger (5-3, 3.82 ERA, 49 K), Alex Weigand (3-4, 5.16 ERA, 46 K) and Brandon Gomer (1-7, 7.66 ERA, 34 K) and senior Patrick Schnieders (4-6, 4.23 ERA, 56 K) all return to the Aces' rotation for the 2017 season.
Illinois State returns two position starters and eight pitchers from last year's 17-37 squad. The Redbirds will be led at the plate by sophomores Owen Miller (.328, 77 hits, 25 runs, 44 RBI, 23 doubles and five home runs) and Ryan Hutchinson (.253, 49 hits, 32 runs, 17 RBI). Miller earned a spot on the honorable mention all-MVC team and was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, ranking seventh in The Valley in batting average, fourth in hits and tied for first in doubles. On the mound, Illinois State returns three key arms to help the Redbirds climb up the MVC standings in 2017. Senior Jack Landwehr appeared in 32 games for ISU a year ago, posting a 4-3 record with five saves, 33 strikeouts and a 2.89 ERA in 37.1 innings of work. Senior David Meade also returns after a solid season a year ago. Meade started 14 games, posting a 2-4 record with 63 strikeouts and a 4.84 ERA for the Redbirds.
All eight Missouri Valley Conference baseball teams begin action the third week of February with tournament play and non-conference games, while league battles will heat up starting Friday, March 31.
Missouri State will host the 2017 Missouri Valley Conference Championship, May 24-27, in Springfield, Missouri. All games will be played at Hammons Field and will be shown live on The Valley on ESPN3.