America East Preview
Team to Beat: Binghamton.
The Bearcats have won either the conference’s regular-season or tournament title in four of the last five years and they have won 30 games and topped the America East standings in back-to-back years. Binghamton again takes aim at the top of the conference and a return to the NCAA Tournament after it was upset last year in the America East Tournament. The Bearcats are strong and experienced up the middle, with catcher Jason Agresti (.320/.358/.517), shortstop Paul Rufo (.347/.398/.505) and center fielder C.J. Krowiak (.326/.390/.480, 13 SB), all seniors, returning. Additionally, Binghamton’s weekend rotation of junior righthander Nick Gallagher, the 2017 America East pitcher of the year, senior righthander Jacob Wloczewski and senior lefthander Nick Wegmann, is back for another season. The trio combined to go 16-10, 3.03 last season, which helped Binghamton lead the conference with a team ERA of 3.50, half a run better than second-best Massachusetts-Lowell. The Bearcats will have to find a replacement for closer Dylan Stock (2-0, 1.44, 6 SV), who graduated last year, but have options to turn to in high-leverage situations among righthanders Ben Anderson, Jake Miller and Joe Orlando. Binghamton’s talent and experience around the diamond gives it a good chance to become the first team to win three straight regular season America East titles since it won four straight from 2007-10.
Player of the Year: Jeremy Pena, SS, Maine.
The son of former big league second baseman Geronimo Pena, Jeremy Pena has started every game during his career at Maine. He hit .319/.371/.491 as a sophomore last season and led the team in slugging, hits (72), runs (39) and home runs (6). He followed that up with an all-star summer in the Cape Cod League, where he established himself as a premium defensive shortstop with above-average speed. He hits for more power than his 6-foot, 183-pound frame would suggest, but scouts are unsure how well that will play in pro ball. Pena’s offensive ability will be key for the Black Bears as they try to take advantage of home-field advantage in the conference tournament and get back to regionals for the first time since 2011.
Pitcher of the Year: Nick Gallagher, RHP, Binghamton.
Gallagher moved into Binghamton’s rotation as a sophomore and emerged as the Bearcats’ ace. He went 8-3, 2.67 with 58 strikeouts and 32 walks in 70.2 innings and became the second straight Bearcat to be named conference pitcher of the year, following in Mike Bunal’s footsteps. Gallagher doesn’t have overpowering stuff but locates his upper-80s fastball well and mixes in a good changeup and developing breaking ball.
Freshman of the Year: Joey Castellanos, SS, Massachusetts-Lowell.
Castellanos was a standout prep in New Jersey and had a solid summer in the New York Collegiate League, where he hit .348/.426/.402. His feel for the barrel helps him consistently put the bat on the ball and should help him adjust to the college game. Castellanos is ready to step right into the River Hawks’ starting lineup and take on a key role.
The America East has quietly made some big strides in recent seasons and is now as strong and deep as it has been as a conference in years. It ranked No. 15 last year in conference RPI, its highest mark in at least decade, buoyed in part because Binghamton posted a top-100 RPI. But all seven teams in the conference ranked in the top 200 and won at least 20 games, illustrating the depth the conference has developed. Binghamton and Stony Brook, the conference’s powers in recent years, remain at the front of the pack, but the rest of the America East presents an increasingly difficult challenge.
UMass-Lowell has completed its four-year transition period as it moved to Division I from Division II and will be eligible for the postseason for the first time this season. Coach Ken Harring has the River Hawks in a good position for their first season as fully-fledged members of Division I. UMass-Lowell went 22-26 overall last year and finished tied for fourth in the conference with a 10-13 mark. Righthanders Andrew Ryan (5-3, 2.91) and Collin Duffley (5-3, 2.74) return to lead the rotation and make the River Hawks tough on weekends. Duffley is the team’s top prospect and could be the program’s highest drafted player since the Mets selected Jack Leathersich in the fifth round in 2011. Duffley, listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, throws his fastball in the low 90s and pairs it with a hard slider. Senior outfielder Colby Maiola (.331/.406/.521) was the team’s leading hitter last year and brings some dynamism to the River Hawks’ lineup. After years of not being able to compete in the postseason, UMass-Lowell will be hungry this spring.
Maryland-Baltimore County went 23-25 last season and finished third in the regular season, but sprung an upset in last year’s America East Tournament to claim its first championship since moving to the conference in 2004 and advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001. The Retrievers return 18 players from that team, including outfielders Raven Beeman (.305/.386/.445) and Collin Stack (.318/.373/.364) and righthanders Matt Chanin (4-6, 4.87) and Mitchell Wilson (5-3, 6.46), who pitched well down the stretch. UMBC will have a new look to its roster, but it should be solid offensively. If some of its young pitchers can step up, it can again contend this spring.
Stony Brook advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2015 but has been a .500 team overall the last two years. The Sea Wolves will have a chance to break out and make more noise this spring. They need a bounceback junior season from righthander Bret Clarke, who was the conference’s 2016 freshman of the year, but went 3-3, 6.30 last year. If he can be a true Friday starter, Stony Brook has all the makings of a solid pitching staff, with sophomore righthanders Brian Herrmann (4-3, 3.46) and Greg Marino (2-3, 4.18) following him in the rotation and senior closer Aaron Pinto (5-5, 2.88) anchoring the bullpen. Stony Brook must replace outfielder Toby Handley, the 2017 conference player of the year. If talented sophomores such as shortstop Nick Grande (.262/.358/.346) and outfielder Michael Wilson (.262/.347/.400) take a step forward, the Sea Wolves should be able to produce enough runs to support their pitching staff.
Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Jeremy Pena, SS, Maine
2. Collin Duffley, RHP, Massachusetts-Lowell
3. Jake Wloczewski, RHP, Binghamton
4. Colby Maiola, OF, Massachusetts-Lowell
5. Nick Gallagher, RHP, Binghamton
6. Greg Marino, RHP, Stony Brook
7. Chris Bec, C, Maine
8. Jason Agresti, C, Binghamton
9. Aaron Pinto, RHP, Stony Brook
10. Paul Rufo, SS, Binghamton