Team to Beat: Virginia Commonwealth.
At 35-22 (19-5 A-10), VCU took home the regular season conference title last season before falling to red-hot Davidson in the tournament final. The Rams will unquestionably miss conference player of the year Logan Farrar, powerful first baseman Darian Carpenter and pitchers Brooks Vial and Sam Donko, but they should still be in position to contend again for the league crown. VCU has a strong weekend unit fronted by senior righthander Sean Thompson (7-4, 3.46) and junior college transfer Curtis Bafus, and the Rams should be able to trot out a largely veteran lineup anchored by shortstop Paul Witt and smooth-fielding second baseman Zach Ching up the middle. The lineup won't have quite as much punch as it did a year ago but should be solid defensively and be able to create runs through team speed and high-contact hitters.
Player of the Year: Paul Witt, SS, VCU.
Witt won the league's rookie of the year honors last season on the strength of a .361/.429/.425 season. He ranked second in the league--behind teammate Farrar--in hitting. A 5-foot-11, 170-pound lefthanded hitter, Witt possesses great feel for the barrel and a knack for finding holes and could grow into a little more power at the plate this spring, although power isn't his game. Regardless, he's one of the conference's most challenging hitters to get out.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Wilson, LHP, Rhode Island.
Wilson went 13-1, 2.29 as a sophomore in 2016--including a perfect 8-0 in A-10 play--and helped lead the Rams to their first-ever regional win as a No. 4 seed at South Carolina. Wilson missed most of last season due to injury but is scheduled to return this season and has a sparkling college pedigree. The lefthander is 20-5, 2.53 over his career, including five complete games and 209 strikeouts to 75 walks in 206.2 innings. If Wilson is at full health, URI will be a tough assignment on Fridays.
Freshman of the Year: Riley Tirotta, 3B, Dayton.
A physical 6-foot-2, 190-pound shortstop out of South Bend, Ind., Tirotta projects to start at the hot corner for the Flyers. Though raw, Tirotta may possess the best raw tools on the Dayton roster, and with some seasoning, could develop into a key middle-of-the-order bat.
The 2017 Davidson team was one for the record books. The Wildcats first stunned the A-10 by winning the conference tournament as a No. 6 seed, then they shocked the country by taking down No. 2 overall seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill to advance to a super regional at Texas A&M. Without question, the Wildcats made their first postseason trip in 115 years as a program a memorable one. Though Davidson will no longer have now-iconic ace Durin O'Linger or All-American outfielder Will Robertson--both in pro ball--the Wildcats retain an experienced core and could ride last season's momentum. Davidson should be among the most offensive teams in the conference, thanks to the return of senior outfielder Cam Johnson and juniors Eric Jones and Justin Lebek. The addition of powerful juco transfer Walker Imwalle provides added juice. And the rotation will be fronted by crafty lefthander Evan Roberts, who had an excellent postseason in his own right behind O'Linger.
Led by the healthy return of ace Tyler Wilson and senior center fielder Jordan Powell, Rhode Island is among a handful of teams at the top of the conference that could unseat VCU. Saint Louis is another. No team in the conference returns quite as much as the Billikens do--eight out of nine position player starters, two out of three weekend starters and their closer. Ace righthander Miller Hogan (8-3, 2.70) and Saturday starter Jackson Wark (5-5, 4.66) have some of the best pure stuff in the conference and will form a dangerous one-two punch.
Three teams in the conference have made coaching changes heading into this season. Jayson King, formerly the recruiting coordinator at Army, takes the helm at Dayton. Matt Reynolds, an alum of Massachusetts, takes over at his alma mater. David Miller--a former Clemson standout and first-rounder--is the new head coach at La Salle.
Tournament: Seven teams, May 23-26 in Arlington, Va.
Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects:
1. Miller Hogan, RHP, Saint Louis
2. Tyler Wilson, LHP, Rhode Island
3. Eric Jones, C, Davidson
4. Jackson Wark, RHP, Saint Louis
5. Tim Brennan, RHP, Saint Joseph's
6. Sean Thompson, RHP, Virginia Commonwealth
7. Jordan Powell, OF, Rhode Island
8. Parker Sniatynski, OF, Saint Louis
9. Cam Johnson, OF, Davidson
10. Walker Imwalle, 1B, Davidson