Team to Beat: Bethune-Cookman.
The Wildcats had a banner season in 2017. They went 36-25, won the MEAC Tournament and earned a No. 3 seed in the Gainesville Regional, their highest seeding in program history. B-CU then advanced to the regional final, becoming the first MEAC program ever to do so, before losing to Florida, the eventual national champion. The Wildcats return the bulk of that team but have a new coach this spring. Jason Beverlin in November resigned as head coach after six seasons to take a job as a scout for the Blue Jays. Assistant coach Barrett Shaft was promoted to interim head coach and will be tasked with leading B-CU back to the NCAA Tournament. Shaft has the good fortune of inheriting a veteran team that gets four of its top five hitters back, as well as its top two starters and its closer. B-CU does have to replace shortstop Demetrius Sims, who was drafted in the 14th round by the Marlins. Nate Sterijevski (.310/.376/.458) will slide over from second base and has the defensive skills required for the position. Meanwhile, with outfielder Adonis Lao (.366/.390/.421) and first baseman Danny Rodriguez (.330/.382/.555, 11 HR) returning, the lineup will still have plenty of punch. B-CU has the best 1-2 punch atop its rotation in righthanders Tyler Norris (9-1, 3.42) and Anthony Maldonado (8-4, 3.02), and closer Ivan Coutinho (2-2, 3.22, 7 SV) provides a reliable stopper at the back of the bullpen. Replicating last year's postseason success will be a tall task for the Wildcats, but they're well positioned to win their 20th conference title and return to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.
Player of the Year: Danny Rodriguez, 1B, Bethune-Cookman.
Rodriguez had an outstanding sophomore season that saw him hit .330/.382/.555 with 18 doubles and 11 home runs. He led the conference in home runs, slugging percentage and total bases (126) and ranked second in hits (75). He played an integral part in B-CU's postseason success and was named the MEAC Tournament's most outstanding player. Rodriguez will again anchor the heart of the Wildcats' order this spring.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Norris, RHP, Bethune-Cookman.
Norris is entering his fourth season as a member of the Wildcats' rotation. He went 9-1, 3.42 last season as B-CU's ace and earned second-team all-MEAC honors for the second year in a row. Experienced and battle-tested, Norris will lead the Wildcats' staff again this season.
Freshman of the Year: Marcos Castillo, OF, Coppin State
A native of Texas, Castillo stood out this fall for Coppin State. He led the team in batting and showed solid tools in the outfield. Castillo projects to start in center field for the Eagles, which are trying to bounce back from a last-place finish in 2017.
Norfolk State won its third-straight MEAC North Division title in 2017 and went 26-22. The Spartans have become the division's powerhouse but will have a different look this season. Claudell Clark in October resigned after 13 seasons as head coach and left the coaching profession. Keith Shumate, who was hired as an assistant coach in September, was named interim head coach. He spent 16 years as head coach of North Carolina A&T, which he led to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 and a program-record 31 wins in 2010, giving him plenty of familiarity with the MEAC. Norfolk State swept the MEAC player and pitcher of the year awards last year, but both Alex Mauricio, a two-way star, and righthander Devin Hemmerich have since moved on to pro ball. Fifth-year senior third baseman Justin Burrell (.327/.378/.444) and junior righthander Chase Anderson (6-2, 2.82) will be counted on to lead the Spartans into a new era.
In addition to Shaft at B-CU and Shumate at Norfolk State, the conference will have a third new coach this spring. Maryland-Eastern Shore in August hired Brian Hollamon as its new head coach following the firing of Charlie Goens after just one season. Hollamon previously served as a graduate assistant for UMES from 1996-99 and spent the last 14 seasons as coach of Parkside High in Salisbury, Md. Hollamon will now try to turn around the Shorehawks following a 12-40 season.
2021 NCAA Baseball Tournament Friday Regionals Scores, Results, Analysis, TV & more
Baseball America's home for scores and analysis from the opening day of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Top 10 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Danny Rodriguez, 1B, Bethune-Cookman
2. Brandon Melendez, SS, North Carolina A&T
3. Jordan Curtis, OF, Florida A&M
4. Willis McDaniel, OF, Florida A&M
5. Devin Sweet, RHP, North Carolina Central
6. Ivan Coutinho, RHP, Bethune-Cookman
7. Adonis Lao, OF, Bethune-Cookman
8. Justice Sampson, LHP, North Carolina Central
9. Tyler Norris, RHP, Bethune-Cookman
10. Nate Sterijevski, SS, Bethune-Cookman