So…@D1Baseball states that the conference is loaded at the top…and then ranks only 1 team. Strange
Anyway, Houston is projected to finish 2nd behind ECU and 4 teams are projected to make the regional round (ECU, Houston, UCONN, and UCF).
Top 2019 prospects for the conference are Triolo (2), Villarreal (13), Lockhart (17), Henry (21), Bayless (22), Davis (32 ), and Roedahl (34). Top 2020 prospects are Minter (2) and Brown (4). Top 2021 prospects are Burckel (4), Cherry (5), McDonough (12)
In the the first five seasons of the American Athletic Conference, Houston has been the league’s most consistent winner, making four regionals in those five years, although they haven’t been to super regionals since 2014. The Cougars finished as runner-up in the Chapel Hill Regional last spring, and most of the everyday regulars are back from that squad, but the key for UH in 2019 will be finding replacements for star weekend starters Trey Cumbie (a three-year stalwart) and Aaron Fletcher (7-3, 2.19). Six-foot-7 junior righthander Ryan Randel (5-4, 4.58) made 14 starts among his 17 appearances as a juco transfer last year, so he’s an obvious favorite for a rotation spot, especially after his velocity jumped into the 88-93 range in the fall. The UH coaches think he has the best changeup in the AAC, and they expect him to take a major step forward in his second season at the D-I level. Randel could wind up pitching on Saturdays behind fellow Jr. RHP Fred Villarreal, a sturdily built 5-foot-11 bulldog who figures to make the transition from reliever to starter after turning a big corner last summer in the Valley League, where he showed 91-94 mph heat, a very good short slider at 85-86 and some feel for a low-80s changeup. Righty Devon Roedahl, a bounceback from TCU via juco power San Jacinto College, is the favorite for the Sunday job thanks to a quality arsenal of power offerings: 89-93 heater, hard mid-80s slider and nasty 85-86 splitter. Jr. LHP Brayson Hurdsman, who made seven starts a year ago, is a fourth starting option who gives hitters a dramatically different look, as a finesse lefty with an 84-88 fastball, changeup and slider.
So there’s no established ace on this staff, but there is plenty of depth, and the bullpen should be a strength. Jr. RHP Carter Henry (5-1, 2.09, 51 K in 47 IP, 6 saves) is back to anchor the bullpen as a power-armed shutdown closer with an 89-93 fastball and a devastating slider. Tristen Bayless, a bounceback from Texas A&M by way of McLennan CC, can run his fastball up to 94 from the left side and made progress with his command, giving him a chance to team with Henry to form a dynamite duo at the back end. Freshmen Derrick Cherry and Tristan McDonough plus juco transfer Sean Bretz can all run their heaters into the low 90s from the right side with tough angle.
Houston’s offense should be anchored by burly senior slugger Joe Davis (a .316 career hitter with 35 homers in three years) and corner infielders Jared Triolo (.344/.434/.457) and Lael Lockhart Jr. (.297/.425/.419), who both look primed for power surges as juniors. Triolo is an imposing 6-foot-4 righthanded hitter who led the team in batting last year and began to unlock his intriguing raw power potential during a strong summer in the Cape Cod League. Lockhart, a two-way player who should also see action as a bullpen lefty, is a switch-hitter with a compact line-drive stroke and emerging strength of his own. A major key for Houston is the middle infield, where freshman Brad Burckel and juco transfer Kobe Hyland must prove themselves against D-I competition — but the Cougars were very encouraged by what they saw from both in the fall. Burckel is polished enough at the plate and on defense to make a run at conference freshman of the year honors, and Hyland will provide a significant offensive upgrade over Cooper Coldiron at short, where he’s a solid enough defender. Jr. OF Tyler Bielamowicz (.309/.449/.456) provided a major spark in the second half last year, and his plate discipline and high on-base ability make him a valuable table-setter atop the order. The pick to click is So. OF Drew Minter, who has the biggest raw tools on the team but was still learning to harness them as a freshman. He had a monster fall and could emerge as another valuable righthanded power source.