2020 Patriot League College Baseball Preview
The Patriot League has become increasingly prominent in the national college baseball conversation over the last few years. Its tournament champion has won at least one game in the NCAA Tournament in three of the last four years. Former Navy ace Noah Song last year was a 2019 Golden Spikes Award finalist. The Army-Navy rivalry has been played in Camden Yards and Fenway Park and this year a whole series between the two service academies will be hosted by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Ballpark.
This league doesn’t look to be taking a step back this season. In addition to the Army-Navy series in Philadelphia that figures to be a special weekend, Army outfielder Jacob Hurtubise gives the conference another strong draft prospect and Lehigh ace Mason Black is coming off a summer that saw him start the Cape Cod League All-Star Game.
So, fire up the drum and fife. The Patriot League is ready to play ball.
Player of the Year: Jacob Hurtubise, OF, Army.
Hurtubise last season took a big step forward as a junior and hit a team-high .375/.541/.445, stole 45 bases (third most in the nation), scored 71 runs and walked 69 times (third most in the nation). He’s always stood out for his well above-average speed and he’s now added about 15 pounds to his 6-foot frame, which hasn’t hurt his speed at all and should help him drive the ball more. Hurtubise, a senior, will lead the Black Knights’ lineup this spring and is a legitimate pro prospect as well.
Pitcher of the Year: Mason Black, RHP, Lehigh.
Black (3-0, 4.36) last year came to Lehigh as a highly-touted recruit but was slow to start last season due to injury. He had hit his stride by the end of the season and then carried that momentum into the summer in the Cape Cod League, where he went 3-0, 1.48, led the league in ERA and started the All-Star Game. Listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Black has a powerful fastball that gets up to 95 mph and two good secondary pitches in his slider and changeup.
Freshman of the Year: Robbie Buecker, RHP, Army.
Listed at 5-foot-8, 156 pounds, Buecker is not the most physically imposing pitcher. But he has a good feel for his three-pitch arsenal and can run his fastball up to 90 mph. He comes right after hitters and will likely fill an important role somewhere on the Black Knights’ staff.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Army (35-26, 15-10)
Under coach Jim Foster, who is entering his fourth season at Army, the Black Knights have quickly become one of the league’s best programs. They have won back-to-back Patriot League Tournaments – beating archrival Navy in the championship series each time – and advanced to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons for just the third time in program history. This year, Army will aim to make it three straight regionals, which the program has never done before. Outfielder Jacob Hurtubise (.375/.541/.445, 45 SB) is the offense’s catalyst and is the conference’s best prospect. In addition to Hurtubise, Army returns outfielder Andre Walden (.275/.398/.420, 25 SB) and third baseman Anthony Giachin (.316/.405/.509, 25 2B), giving it a strong lineup core. Army is less experienced on the mound but has the talent to build a strong staff. Righthander Ray Bartoli (2-2, 2.63), who has one of the biggest arms in the league, and righthander Logan Smith (2-3, 3.74) will move from the bullpen to the rotation. If a couple freshmen like righthanders Robbie Buecker, Joe Garcia and Patrick Melampy can step into important roles right away, Army should again have a solid pitching staff. The Black Knights have the most talented team in the league and while they may take some lumps early due to an ambitious schedule, the path to the Patriot League championship goes through West Point.
2. Navy (39-17, 18-7)
Last season was a special one for the Midshipmen. They finished in first place in the Patriot League standings for the fifth straight year and ace Noah Song was named a Golden Spikes Award finalist after a spectacular season. Song has now graduated, leaving Navy with a big hole to fill at the front of the rotation. It’s done a good job at developing pitching in recent years and have a strong junior class of righthanders who should be ready to shoulder more of the load. Charlie Connolly (4-3, 3.69) and Jared Liens (3-1, 3.27) are experienced starters, while Tommy Goodridge (4-0, 3.78) will likely move to the rotation and closer Trey Braithwaite (1-2, 3.10, 10 SV) is ready to reprise his role. Offensively, sophomore first baseman Zach Stevens (.319/.409/.519) and senior second baseman Zach Biggers (.295/.369/.405) are back to lead the offense. Navy will have to account for the losses of Christian Hodge and Liam Lowery, who combined to hit 19 of its 36 home runs last season but should still have enough firepower to support a solid pitching staff and make a run at another title.
3. Holy Cross (22-32, 15-10)
The Crusaders have been one of the league’s most consistent teams over the last decade but enter 2020 facing uncertainty after Greg DiCenzo last week stepped down after 12 seasons as coach to become a minor league manager in the Indians system. Assistant coach Ed Kahovec was promoted to interim head coach and takes over a solid roster. Senior outfielder Austin Masel (.312/.352/.454, 12 SB) has earned all-Patriot League honors in each of his first three seasons at Holy Cross and this summer was a surprise standout in the Cape Cod League. On the mound, junior righthanders Liam Dvorak (6-5, 3.58) and Eric Lopes (1-1, 3.13, 4 SV) are back to lead the pitching staff. Dvorak is one of the conference’s most reliable starters and can be a difference maker for Holy Cross. It’s impossible to know how the Crusaders will respond to a coaching change so soon before Opening Day but they have the solid, all-around talent to compete at the top of the league with the service academies.
4. Lehigh (21-28, 9-16)
The Mountain Hawks had a disappointing 2019 and missed the four-team Patriot League Tournament but there’s reason for optimism going into 2020. Sophomore righthander Mason Black (3-0, 4.36) is coming off an excellent summer in the Cape Cod League, where he won the ERA title (1.48), and will lead the rotation. Lefthander Luke Rettig (2-4, 4.68) joins his classmate in the rotation and will look to take a step forward after an uneven freshman year. That duo has the potential to be the best 1-2 punch in the conference, which would go a long way to returning the Mountain Hawks to contention, but they’ll need to find some depth behind them. Senior first baseman Tony Gallo (.321/.413/.509, 7 HR) and senior shortstop Matt Hand (.262/.404/.403) are back to anchor the lineup. Lehigh will need some inexperienced players to step forward, especially with freshmen like catcher Adam Retzbach and second baseman Zack Miles expected to be everyday players. If they can, Lehigh can take a step forward this spring.
5. Lafayette (19-33, 12-13)
The Leopards finished fourth in the league last season, earning a Patriot League Tournament berth for the first time since 2015. That team got a boost from shortstop Justin Johnson (.284/.371/.407, 9 SB), who was named 2019 Patriot League rookie of the year. He’s back to anchor the lineup again, along with senior outfielder Trey Durrah (.273/.358/.409). On the mound, senior righthander Brett Kreyer (4-5, 4.58) and junior lefthander JP Woodward (5-7, 5.90) give the Leopards an experienced pair of starters. Woodward has upside as a 6-foot-6 lefty with a fastball that can get into the mid-90s, but he’ll need to refine his command to make the most of that promise. After posting a 7.00 team ERA, however, Lafayette will need to find more depth behind that duo. The Leopards will be playing with extra motivation in 2020 as Joe Kinney has already announced he will retire after the season, his 21st at the program’s helm.
6. Bucknell (14-33, 6-19)
The Bison endured a tough 2019 season and finished in last place. They’ll try to bounce back with a roster that combines veterans (nine seniors) with a large freshman class (12 newcomers). Among the returning seniors are outfielder JohnPaul Bell (.316/.421/.496) and outfielder/first baseman Tyler Wincig (.348/.500/.643, 8 HR), the team’s top two hitters and power threats in 2019. Wincig led the league in slugging percentage, ranked second in hitting and third in on-base percentage and provides the engine of Bucknell’s offense. On the mound, the Bison will need to find a way to improve their 6.89 team ERA. Senior righthander Nate Grisius (2-6, 5.01) has been one of the team’s most important pitchers throughout his three seasons and will again be counted on this spring. Junior Brenden Tuttle (2-3, 6.53) has the most upside on the staff but will need to improve his control to unlock his potential. If Bucknell can find some reliable pitchers, it should make strides as a team in 2020.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
- Jacob Hurtubise, OF, Army
- Austin Masel, OF, Holy Cross
- Andre Walden, OF, Army
- Anthony Giachin, 3B, Army
- Zach Biggers, 2B, Navy
- JP Woodward, LHP, Lafayette
- Ray Bartoli, RHP, Army
- Trey Braithwaite, RHP, Navy
- Chris Rinaldi, SS, Holy Cross
- Brenden Tuttle, RHP, Bucknell