My All-Sun Belt Conference Baseball Team – From the Bird’s Nest
Because there are some teams in this league who are ignored by the media (if you ever find someone from the Little Rock paper covering UALR in person, let me know) we don't get to vote on the All-Conference team. That's too bad. Because, more often than not, my team looks better than the one that the league releases.
This year will probably be no exception.
I'm not one of those guys that just goes by the numbers, unless the numbers knock me out. Having seen all the players in person there are intangibles that enter into my decisions...including the ability to play defense. Sometimes the player is so good defense doesn't matter in my thinking. But if it's close in my mind, defensive ability will mean plenty.
With all that said, here are my choices for the 2012 All Sun Belt Team
PLAYER OF THE YEAR--SEAN BIGNALL--UALR
Detractors will point out UALR didn't make the conference tournament. My answer: This is not the Most Valuable Player award...it's player of the year. And no one had a better year than Bignall, who not only leads the league in many offensive categories, he's in the NCAA top ten in homers, rbi, runs scored, slugging percentage and total bases. Yes, he plays in a ball park conducive to good offensive numbers. But no one on that club has ever put up these kind of numbers. In my mind, Bignall can't be penalized for where his team finished in the league.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR--R. J. ALVAREZ--FLORIDA ATLANTIC
It's not very often you see a reliever get this award (although Matt Willhite got it at WKU a few years ago). But Alvarez was the most feared and most dominant pitcher in the league. Alvarez was 5-0 with eight saves and an incredible 0.53 ERA. He gave up only 18 hits (only one for extra bases) in 33.2 innings of work. He walked only nine and struck out 45. He's got filthy stuff and his consistency was amazing.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR--DYLAN BUTLER--LOUISIANA
When you consider he led all Sun Belt Freshmen in RBI playing on a team that didn't score many runs, that's pretty impressive. He didn't hit for a great average, but slugged eight home runs playing most of his games in a pitcher's park. And, the most impressive thing about his numbers is, his league numbers and overall numbers were about the same, which means he was pretty consistent. There were several freshmen who could have gotten my vote here, but I'm going with Butler.
COACH OF THE YEAR--JOHN McCORMACK--FLORIDA ATLANTIC
It's very possible ASU's Tommy Raffo may win this award when the team is announced and he'd certainly be deserving. ASU was picked to finish low in the standings, but there they are in second place. Let me tell you why McCormack gets my vote: His anticipated closer, Pre-season All-SBC Hugh Adams, didn't throw a pitch this season. His #2 starter, Jeremy Strawn, went down for the year two weeks into the season. His replacement, Kevin Alexander, missed two league starts due to arm trouble. His best power guy, Alex Hudek, missed almost seven weeks with a broken ankle. His fastest player, Nathan Pittman missed eleven games with a pulled hammy. And, with all that, they won the league title. Had we known all those things were going to happen before the year started, FAU would have been picked low, too.
STARTING PITCHERS (3) JACOB LEE--ARKANSAS STATE, RYAN GARTON--FLORIDA ATLANTIC, CHANCE CLEVELAND--UALR
Lee was nearly perfect on the season, going 8-1 with a 2.99 ERA. Opponents hit just .234 against him. His only loss was a Friday night loss to Louisiana when his mates only scored two runs for him. Garton led the league in wins with 9 and had an ERA barely over 3. Opponents hit .230 against him. Cleveland tied for the league lead in wins with nine, and led the league in strikeouts with 98. He kept his ERA under four, pretty tough to do in that ballpark. He probably had the best finish-pitch in the league with a GREAT slider.
Second Team--Kevin Alexander-FAU, Randy Zeigler-ULM, Mike Ellis-FIU
Alexander was thrown into the weekend rotation when Jeremy Strawn went down and went 5-1 despite battling arm problems. Don't let Zeigler's won-loss record (5-6) fool you. He was frequently a victim of non-support by his teammates. He was the league's best lefty. Ellis didn't figure in a lot of decisions, but his ERA was in the league's top five among starting pitchers.
RELIEF PITCHER--R. J. ALVAREZ--FAU
I listed his numbers under his Pitcher of the Year award. In a league that has some pretty salty late inning guys, this fella is far and away the best of the bunch.
Second Team--John Koch--Arkansas State
Koch was 0-1 with eleven saves on the year and a 2.12 ERA overall. He did not have a blown save on the season.
In a year where no catcher really had a standout season, Garcia, who had a chance to go pro out of high school, had a solid freshman season with five homers and a .282 batting average. He also made just one error behind the plate (remember what I said about defense?)
Second Team--Blake Johnson, UALR--Johnson put up some nice offensive numbers, hitting .315 with six homers on the season. On my ballot, barely noses out Jake Harrell of Troy for the second team spot.
FIRST BASE--LOGAN PIERCE--TROY
This position was tough. I'm going with Pierce, who was solid all season for the Trojans. Pierce .341 with five homers and 45 RBI. What impresses me most about him is his walk/strikeout ratio. The sweet swinging lefty walked 41 times and struck out just 26.
Second team--Joey Rapp--ULM
He had more homers and RBI than Pierce, but hit nearly 20 points lower and struck out twenty times more than he walked. That was enough for me to give Pierce the edge, but this guy can swing it.
SECOND BASE--MIKE ALBALADEJO--FAU
Not a doubt about this one. Albaladejo is, in my mind, the league's Most Valuable Player. He moved from behind the plate to second base this year and made only five errors. He struck out only 18 times all season. Hit .354 and was, as always, the spiritual leader of this team. If he's named Player of the Year when the official team is announced, you won't hear a squawk out of me.
Second team--Johnny Thomas--Middle Tennessee
A solid season for the UNO transfer, who slugged seven homers, while making only four errors at second base.
His offensive numbers are so good I've got to overlook the fact he's not at all great defensively. Sy hit .342 on the season but in conference games was the league's leading hitter. Had a little power and would have driven in a lot more runs if he hadn't hit second in the order most of the year. Sy had 22 extra base hits and stole 14 bases.
Second team--Dustin Jones--Arkansas State
Shook off a dismal start with the bat to hit .341 in Sun Belt games. Very solid defensive shortstop who was a bit of an offensive surprise.
THIRD BASE--MIKE MARTINEZ--FIU
There's a lot of talent at this position around the league with five players probably worthy of consideration for the two slots. I personally thought Martinez should have been nominated in the utility category, since he played some first base as well. Martinez is just a professional hitter whose defensive shortcomings have to be overlooked. He hits, hits with power, can run a little and leads the league in on base percentage. Probably the most feared hitter in the Sun Belt.
Second team--Claude Johnson--Arkansas State
Not a power guy, but a good gap hitter who was consistent throughout the year, hitting .355 overall and .360 in league play. When you consider he's beating out Hank LaRue and Danny Collins on my team, well, that tells you how highly I think of this guy.
OUTFIELD--SEAN BIGNALL-UALR, JABARI HENRY-FIU AND JUSTIN GUIDRY-MIDDLE TENNESSEE
This one wasn't easy at all. Bignall had the best numbers and it was a no brainer to have him on this list. Henry has been consistent all season and is a feared hitter with really good pop (12 HR). Some might have Guidry's teammate, Trent Miller on the first team, but Guidry is a really really good hitter. Guidry hit .380 in league games and led the league in hits.
Second team--Trent Miller-Middle Tennessee, Cameron Bentley-UALR and Boone Shear-Troy
You know, there are some awfully good outfielders that won't make the all-conference team. Miller hit 12 bombs for the Blue Raidersand hit .350, Bentley hit .330 with six homers at the leadoff spot, stole 22 bases and was one of the league's best defensive outfielders. Shear drove in 55 runs, among the league's leaders. Any of these three guys could be on the first team.
DESIGNATED HITTER--WHITT DORSEY--SOUTH ALABAMA
Dorsey has been among the league leaders in batting average all season and struck out just 17 times all year in a potent South Alabama offense. Not a power guy, but gets on base.
Second team-Adam Kirsch-FIU
Kirsch played some at 1B this year for FIU but has been a DH as well. He hit six homers on the year.
UTILITY PLAYER--SCOTT WILCOX--WESTERN KENTUCKY
He's been in the starting lineup every day, but at four different positions, including three infield spots. He hit .300 and is second in the SBC in walks.
Second Team-Myles Parma-UALR
Led the league in walks but actually had a bit of a down year for UALR, hitting .280 and slugged under .400. Played mostly first base, but also played the outfield.
It should be noted I went off the nomination list of the coaches. If they didn't nominate their guy, I couldn't vote for him.