Ohio State, Indiana State Headline Strong Snowbird Classic Field

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While the temperatures in the locales of teams participating in this year’s Snowbird Classic are dipping into the single digits, these literal snowbirds will be getting out the bats and balls in sunny Florida and getting their season underway. 

There is some legit talent that will be on display in Port Charlotte this coming weekend, as Ohio State and Indiana State were NCAA Tournament teams a year ago. 

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But even though those two programs will again have eyes on a return to the Big Dance, they are not going to breeze through this weekend's six team field. 

Iowa should be much improved and Pitt has shown signs of life in ACC play the last two seasons. And never underestimate the Kent State Golden Flashes, a perennial favorite in the Mid-American Conference. 

Here is how the field breaks down.

Ohio State

Conference: Big 10

2019 Record: 36-27, 12-12 Big 10

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • C Dillon Dingler (.291)
  • LHP Seth Lonsway (8-4, 3.70)
  • LHP Griffan Smith (7-5, 4.66)
  • RHP Garrett Burhenn (6-4, 3.96)

4 Things To Watch

  1. The Buckeyes have made a significant step up as a program under 10-year head coach Greg Beals, having been to the NCAA Tournament in three of the past four seasons and also having developed 22 MLB draft picks in the last nine seasons. 
  2. Dillon Dingler is one of the top catching prospects in the country, ranking at No. 6 on the catcher power rankings on D1baseball.com. Dingler is looking to heat up this spring after posting rather ordinary numbers last season (hit .291 with just three home runs and 19 RBI). But the potential is there to be a game-changer. Not just for the Buckeyes, but for an MLB team in the years to come. 
  3. Fellow battery mate Seth Lonsway is also one of the top pitchers in the country and a big time Friday starter in the Big 10 after leading all Freshman in Division I with 126 Ks. Since it’s early in the season, his stint will no doubt be short regardless of his effectiveness. Be sure to catch his 94mph heater and highly-effective off-speed stuff while it’s on display.
  4. The Buckeyes went 3-0 in last year’s Snowbird Classic, which catapulted them into a 36-win season. The Silver and Red also got hot and won the Big 10 Tournament in Omaha.

Indiana State

Conference: Missouri Valley Conference

2019 Record: 43-18, 13-8 MVC

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • RHP Collin Liberatore (10-2, 2.96)
  • LHP Tyler Grauer (2-3, 1.91, 9 saves)
  • RHP Lane Miller (Indiana transfer)
  • C Max Wright (.296-4-36)

3 Things To Watch

  1. The Sycamores lost a ton of experience off last year’s NCAA Tourney team and come into this 2020 season picked fourth in the MVC preseason coaches poll. The 43 wins for ISU last year was the most in a single season for the program since 1989.
  2. MLB scouts are abuzz over Collin Liberatore (10-2, 2.96), who is ranked in the top 25 of the upcoming Major League pitching prospect rankings by D1baseball.com. He made 16 starts for the Sycamores last year and went at least five innings in 15 of them. He also held opposing batters to a .208 average.  
  3. Liberatore along with Lane Miller (transfer from Indiana who can hit 94 on the radar) and Tyler Grauer (who could move into the starting rotation) lead an experienced arms corps who posted a 3.76 team ERA. While the pitching will be a strength, there will be an all-new infield and batting order. Look for plenty of freshmen and JC transfers to fill those holes.

Iowa

Conference: Big 10

2019 Record: 31-24, 12-12 Big 10

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • 2B Izaya Fullard (.307-5-31)
  • C Austin Martin (.294)
  • RHP Grant Judkins (4-7, 2.72)
  • LHP Jack Dreyer (7.1 inns. in 2019)

4 Things To Watch

  1. Coach Rick Heller says that the pitching staff should be a particular strength of this year’s squad, led by the top of the rotation guys Grant Judkins and Jack Dreyer, who returns after sitting out all but seven innings of last season. But in 2018 Dreyer went 5-2, 3.65 in 31.1 innings. 
  2. Sophomore LHP Duncan Davitt (2-1, 5.22, 39.2 inns.) and RHP Grant Leonard (14 saves) will also be huge keys to this year’s staff. Also look for JC transfer RHP Jack Guzek, who comes to campus with high acclaim and hits the mid-90s on his fastball with good movement. 
  3. All Big 10 candidates like 2B Izaya Fullard and C Austin Martin will hope to help the Hawks hit better than the .267 they hit as a team last year. Part-timers who will be leaned on this year will be OF Tanner Padgett (.310) and 3B Brendan Sher (.301). 
  4. The incoming class is pretty solid, especially JC All American SS Dylan Nedved, who hit .331 at Hutchinson CC.

Kent State

Conference: Mid American 

2019 Record: 30-24, 17-8

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • C Michael Turner (.369-4-42)
  • 1B Ben Carew (.406-3-31)
  • OF Justin Kirby (.313-7-30)
  • RHP Luke Albright (4-1, 2.81, 4 saves)

3 Things To Watch

  1. Though there were plenty of losses on the mound, the Flashes will still be strong again in the arms corps with the return of RHP Ryan Lane (24.2 innings,  2.25 ERA in 2018) and LHP Collin Romel (18.2 innings, 1.45 ERA, 7 saves, 1st Team All-MAC, Freshman All American in 2018), who both missed last season due to injury. 
  2. While Dillon Dingler for OSU is a top ten ranked catcher nationally, KSU’s Michael Turner isn’t far behind, ranked at No 26 at his position. But Turner actually posted better numbers than Dingler and his catch-and-throw skills are among the best in the country. 
  3. 1B Ben Carew is one of only four returnees in Divison I baseball who hit over .400 last year, posting a hearty .406 average for the Flashes. 

Pittsburgh

Conference: ACC 

2019 Record: 21-34, 8-22

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • OF Nico Popa (.353-8-39)
  • RHP Chase Smith (4-6, 2.72, 5 saves)
  • DH Ron Washington (.306)
  • RHP Billy Corcoran (2-6, 3.80)

4 Things To Watch

  1. The Panthers still haven’t had a winning mark in their six seasons of ACC play, posting an 11-19 mark twice as their best seasons. On top of that it’s been since 1995 that they last played in the Big Dance.
  2. Ace reliever Chase Smith had a number of solid outings last year, including closing out wins over Florida State, North Carolina and Georgia Tech in the final three weekends.
  3. The Panthers hit just .254 as a team a year ago, but they do have their top two batters returning as building blocks for the offense. Nico Popa supplements his ample power with a good amount of speed, going 14-of-15 in stolen bases. Also, Ron Washington was the only other .300-plus hitter and should be a valuable bat after an injury-shortened 2019 season. 
  4. A lot of JC transfers will need to step up big in 2020 for the Panthers to be competitive. Head coach Mike Bell and his staff are high on CF Jordan Anderson (a 6.29 60-yard dash), RHP Mitch Meyers (90-93mph) and 3B Samuel Frontino (a sharp power bat).

St. Joseph’s

Conference: Atlantic 10

2019 Record: 21-28, 13-11

Preseason Ranking: NA

Top Players:

  • RHP Jordan DiValerio (5-5, 3.80)
  • RHP Cole Stetzar (3-2, 2.92)
  • C Andrew Cossetti (.289-8-42)
  • CF Brendan Hueth (.308)

3 Things To Watch

  1. Senior Jordan DiValerio is one of the top starting pitchers in the A-10, going 5-5, 3.80 in 12 starts a year ago. He also had a standout summer in the New England Collegiate League posting a 48-to-7 K-to-BB ratio in 39.2 innings.
  2. The Hawks might not have as many high-profile players like the other teams in the Snowbird Classic do, but keep an eye on any early leads they may get since they have junior Cole Stetzar in the ‘pen. He posted solid numbers (3-2, 2.92, 3 saves) and also pitched in the Cape Cod League last summer.
  3. The offense will be bolstered by the return of catcher Andrew Cossetti, who hit .289. But also, CF Brendan Hueth is a firestarter at the top of the order after he hit over .300 and added 24 stolen bases. His speed also is helpful in the meadow on defense.


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