2020 Juco Baseball Season Preview
2020 Division I
|Projected Finish||2019 Record|
|1. Iowa Western JC||52||11|
|2. Central Arizona JC||50||20|
|3. McLennan (Texas) JC||42||17|
|4. State College (Fla.) JC||34||22|
|5. San Jacinto (Texas) JC||42||12|
|6. Walters State (Tenn) JC||54||11|
|7. Chipola (Fla.) JC||38||20|
|8. Cowley (Kan.) JC||47||14|
|9. Central Fla. JC||44||9|
|10. Northwest Fla. JC||44||12|
Player of the Year: Jalen Battles, SS, McLennan (Texas) JC
Pitcher of the Year: Franco Aleman, RHP, St. John's River (Fla.) JC
2020 Top Draft Prospects
1. Franco Aleman, RHP, St. Johns River (Fla.) JC
2. Luke Little, LHP, San Jacinto (Texas) JC
3. Brandon Birdsell, RHP, San Jacinto (Texas) JC
4. Hunter Ruth, RHP, Palm Beach State (Fla.) JC
5. Connor Phillips, RHP, McLennan (Texas) JC
6. Joshua Day, SS, Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) JC
7. Beck Way, RHP, Northwest Florida State JC
8. Jermaine Vanheyningen, RHP, Florence-Darlington Tech (S.C.) JC
9. Bryson Ware, SS, Pearl River (Miss.) JC
10. Ryan Ritter, SS, John A. Logan (Ill.) JC
11. Jalen Battles, SS, McLennan (Texas) JC
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* Iowa Western JC already had an extremely talented roster, but the question heading into January was how well a talented but very freshmen-heavy pitching staff could handle the jump to JUCO ball. The addition of Tanner Kohlhepp (a kickback from Tennessee) and Jack Neely, a transfer from San Jacinto (Texas) JC, gives the Reivers a pair of experienced arms to help bolster the pitching staff. Righthander Braedyn McLaughlin and lefthander Jared Simpson are two sophomores to watch and both are very projectable young pitchers. McLaughlin sits in the high 80s currently, and touches the low 90s, while doing a good job of hiding the ball in his delivery. His slider and changeup are both developing but show good promise. Simpson was a starter during the fall and sits at 85-88 mph right now on his fastball, with the projection to add significant velocity. The combination of his cutter and slider gives him a potential weapon down the line. Louisville signee shortstop Cooper Bowman, who hit .412/.520/.557 as a freshman, will help lead the lineup.
* After winning the NJCAA Division I national championship last year, Central Arizona JC has to largely start over again—which is normal for the juco level. Only six players from last year’s team return for coach Anthony Gilich, but fortunately that includes righthander Mitchell DeCovich, the winning pitcher in last year’s title game. The Washington State commit will likely continue to fill out, but he’s already at 91-93 mph with plenty of sink on his fasball. Lefthander Ky Bush, a St. Mary’s commit who transferred in from Washington State, is 6-foot-5 with a low-90s fastball and decent secondary offerings. He had some control issues last year that he should be able to tame with more innings under his belt. Outfielder Kiko Romero and third baseman Brandham Ponce are names to watch in a potentially deep lineup. Lefthander Calvin Schapira, a Purdue commit, righthander Bradley Collins, a San Diego State commit, and redshirt freshman righthander Mat Olsen are three other arms to keep an eye on.
* This has a chance to be one of McLennan (Texas) JC Highlanders best teams. Coach Mitch Thompson feels very comfortable with his pitching staff—he said that 13 different pitchers touched 90 mph or better during fall ball, and a majority of them also showed solid strike-throwing ability as well. Righthander Connor Phillips should be one of the best arms in JUCO ball. He has a 94-98 mph fastball and complements it with a hard breaking ball. Lefthander Dawson Sweatt, a kickback from Auburn, also has a chance to be a solid draft pick. The lineup is stacked with Division I signees. Sophomore shortstop Jalen Battles, an Arkansas signee, will step into a larger role after hitting .320 with six home runs and 17 doubles last season. He’s joined by catcher/third baseman Cole Moore (Dallas Baptist signee), outfielder/third baseman Garrett Martin (Auburn) and outfielder/third baseman Brett Squires (Oklahoma).
* State College (Fla.) JC brings back only one starter from last year’s team—second baseman Nick Winkelmeyer—but the team should still be stacked thanks to a very healthy group of talented transfers. Three of the transfers have already been drafted in lefthander Justin Wrobleski, a transfer from Clemson who was a 2018 36th-round pick; righthander Jake Smith, a transfer from Chipola (Fla.) JC who was a 21st-round pick in 2018; and shortstop Richard Rodriguez, a 25th-round pick of the Giants last year. Righthander Cole Ayers, a transfer from Kentucky, joins them as a player to watch. Wrobleski and Ayers both have above-average fastballs and curveballs.
* San Jacinto (Texas) JC is back eligible for the national championship after being ineligible last year for violating scholarship rules. Just like past years, San Jacinto has a very talented roster. Lefthander Luke Little should be one of the best pitchers in juco ball and he will have plenty of help from lefthander Mitchell Parker and righthander Brandon Birdsell. Shortstop Armani Sanchez will help pace the lineup.
* Chipola (Fla.) JC can be expected to be part of the national conversation each and every year. Coach Jeff Johnson should have the Indians in the mix again this year. The team will be led by righthander Andrew Moore and lefthander Robert Bennett.
* Twin righthanders Ben Joyce and Zach Joyce will have Walters State (Tenn.) JC opponents seeing double. Ben touched 94 mph during fall ball while Zach touched 98. The Tennessee signings are battling for spots in the club’s rotation, although Ben may end up as the team’s top reliever. Catcher/designated hitter Matthew Ellis, a transfer from Tennessee, could step right into the middle of the lineup. First baseman Bryce Hodge (.414-14-68) and 2B Jerry Hammons (.387-12-59) are two of five returning starters in the lineup. RHP Andrew Lindsey (5-0, 1.89) is the lone returning starting pitcher.
* Cowley (Kan.) JC should do an excellent job of preventing runs. The question the Tigers will face is how many runs they will score this season. Righthander Miguel Obeso, a Texas Tech signing, has a low-to-mid 90s fastball and solid secondary offerings. He was a 40th-round pick of the Blue Jays last year. Shortstop Logan Steenstra, a Tennessee signing, was a 40th-round pick of the Twins last year. He’s a big (6-foot-5) shortstop with a strong arm. Third baseman George Specht, a Dallas Baptist signing, brings a good glove while center fielder Tyler Halstead, a Campbell signee, is a plus runner. Lefthander Adam Stephenson should be a big help on the mound. The Wichita State signee sits 88-91 with a good slider. The lineup will need some young players to step up and produce however.
* Barton (Kan.) JC brings back a solid group of hitters, although the best of the group, shortstop Andrew Stewart, a Wichita State signee, is best known for his glove. The pitching staff is a little more of a work in progress, but Lamar signee, righthander Joe Richter, has an effective cutter/slider combination. If his velocity jumps from its current 87-91 mph range he could be a draft prospect.
* Catawba Valley (N.C.) JC has one of its deepest teams to date, with an impressive pitching staff led by righthander Blake Dockery, a UNC-Charlotte signee. Dockery was 6-2, 0.92 last year thanks to his ability to manipulate his breaking ball and rear back for an 89-93 mph fastball. Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) signee righthander Andrew Patrick sits 88-91 mph right now, but his 6-foot-4 frame may help him eventually add more velocity. He was 4-1, 3.48 last season. Outfielder Noah Love, a transfer from UNC-Asheville, has a chance to be the club’s best power threat.
* Cisco (Texas) JC has a deep pitching staff that will be helped by a pair of potential plus defenders in catcher Jake Wyeth and shortstop Edward Ortiz.
* Tyler (Texas) JC needs to produce more at the plate than it did last year. The lineup has a chance to be significantly better thanks to talented freshmen like catcher Mike Schrab, infielder Dalton Davis, and outfielder Alec Williams. Those three will join returning outfielder Heath Hood. The pitching staff should be the team’s strength, led by righthanders Cooper Rawls, Gabe Craig and Zach Williams.
* Northwest Mississippi JC lefthander Dalton Fowler was a 27th-round pick of the Mets last year. He could go higher in the draft this year if his velocity continues to tick up. He’s signed with Oklahoma for the time being. Outfielder Brayland Skinner is a speedy center fielder who has some feel to hit. Righthander Parker Stinnett, a Mississippi State signee, could rival Fowler for draft interest. Stinnett sits in the low 90s and currently touches 94 with his fastball.
* Herkimer (Ill.) JC should once again be one of the best teams in NJCAA Division III, and the team will be led by a top-notch group of arms. Lefthander Dale Stanavich is coming off of a freshman season that will be hard to top—he was 2-0, 0.59 with 64 strikeouts in 30.2 innings last year. He should get a chance to take on a heavier workload this year.
* Hutchinson (Kan.) JC is going to have to rely on a lot of new faces, but righthander L.J. McDonough is one to watch. He attacks hitters with an 88-92 mph fastball and a promising slider, but he needs to improve his strike-throwing ability.
* Niagara County (N.Y.) JC should have one of the better infields in NJCAA Division III. Third baseman Nick Spyropoulos, a Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) signee, hit .353/.413/.397 last year and is joined by Bryce Moore and Casey Gillis. Lefthander Erik Johnson, a Coastal Carolina signee, and righthander James Filippelli, a transfer from Mercyhurst (Pa.), will be the team’s aces.
* The life of JUCO baseball requires reworking the roster every year. But Kankakee (Ill.) JC brings back four starting pitchers from last year’s 39-17 team. The returning talent should have the 2017 Division II champions back in the middle of the national championship hunt again. Righthander Aaron Ball (5-4, 4.85), Nick Laxner (5-2, 5.65), Owen Behrens (6-1, 4.39), and Tyler Jasmin (2-2, 6.54) will have to battle for innings because last year’s closer Nolan Lebamoff (2-2, 2.81) is also expected to start this year.