SPARTANBURG, S.C. – UNCG junior third baseman Caleb Webster and Samford sophomore left-hander Sam Strickland have been voted the Southern Conference baseball preseason player and pitcher of the year, respectively, in voting of the nine league head coaches. The coaches also selected a pair of preseason all-conference teams.
All nine SoCon baseball schools were represented on the preseason teams. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. Both the first and second team feature 12 players.
Samford and Mercer all lead the way with three preseason all-conference first-team selections each. Samford, which was picked by the league’s coaches and media to win the league in 2019, was the 2018 SoCon tournament champion and finished second in the regular-season standings, while Mercer finished third in both the media and coaches’ polls this season and fifth in the 2018 regular season.
The Citadel, which finished eighth in the coaches’ poll and ninth in the media poll, and defending regular-season champion UNCG, which was picked second in both preseason polls, had two first-team preseason all-conference picks each. ETSU and Wofford rounded out this year’s first team win one selection each.
The Samford Bulldogs are led by preseason first-team selection, Strickland, the media’s SoCon Freshman of the Year last season. The sophomore earned the maximum number of votes at his position and was named to the 2019 Collegiate Baseball Preseason All-America third team. During his freshman campaign, he posted an 8-2 record with a 2.33 ERA and a team-best 87 strikeouts while holding opposing hitters to a conference-best .177 batting average and only allowing 15 walks over 81 innings of work. He is joined on this season’s preseason first team by junior Anthony Mulrine (catcher) and sophomore Brooks Carlson (first base). Mulrine led Samford in RBIs (49) while Carlson led the Bulldogs in hits (79), doubles (16) and home runs (10) while holding the team’s highest batting average (.343). He was recently named to the NCBWA Preseason All-America third team.
The Bears have representation on this year’s first team in Nick Spears (relief pitcher), RJ Yeager (shortstop) and Le Bassett (designated hitter).
Bassett had a breakout freshman campaign, being awarded Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA and Baseball America after he set Mercer’s program freshman record with 17 home runs and 60 RBIs while batting .282 with 42 hits and 33 runs. He was named to this season’s Collegiate Baseball Preseason All-America third team. Spears led the Bears in saves (five) during the 2018 season and Yeager finished the season top-five on the team in 13 separate categories and was the coaches’ pick for SoCon Freshman of the Year.
UNCG is represented on the first team by the Spartans’ 2018 team assists leader (140) Austin Embler (second base) and preseason player of the year, Webster (third base). Embler, a redshirt senior, finished his 2018 campaign tied for first on the team in runs scored (57) while driving in 57 himself on 81 hits. Two-time player of the week Webster led the Spartans in at bats (237).
ETSU’s David Beam (outfield), Wofford’s Colin Davis (outfield) and The Citadel’s Jeffrey Brown (outfield) and Dylan Spence (starting pitcher) round out the first team.
Beam and Davis were both selected to the 2018 Southern Conference All-Freshman team. Brown appeared in 47 games for the Bulldogs, hitting .325 with four doubles, two triples and 11 RBIs. Spence posted a 4.00 ERA last season and led the team in innings pitched (92 1/3) and strikeouts (62).
Wofford headlines the second team with three selections, while Furman and Western Carolina each have a pair. The Terriers are represented by starting pitcher Austin Higginbotham, relief pitcher Anthony Garcia and designated hitter Lawson Hill. Furman’s Nik Verbeke (starting pitcher) and Jabari Richards (outfield); and Western Carolina’s Justice Bigbie (third base) and Matthew Koehler (outfield) all represent their respective teams.
The Citadel’s Bryce Leasure (catcher), VMI’s Jacob Huggins (first base), ETSU’s Cullen Smith (outfield), Samford’s Branden Fryman (shortstop) and Mercer’s Kel Johnson (outfield) round out the second team.
The 2019 season opens for all nine league teams on Friday, Feb. 15. This season’s SoCon Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases will return to Fluor Field in Greenville, South Carolina, from May 21-26 and will include all nine teams.
2019 Preseason All-Southern Conference
Preseason Player of the Year
Caleb Webster, Jr. UNCG
Preseason Pitcher of the Year
Sam Strickland, So., Samford
SP Dylan Spence, The Citadel
SP Sam Strickland, Samford
RP Nick Spear, Mercer
C Anthony Mulrine, Samford
1B Brooks Carlson, Samford
2B Austin Embler, UNCG
SS RJ Yeager, Mercer
3B Caleb Webster, UNCG
OF Jeffrey Brown, The Citadel
OF David Beam, ETSU
OF Colin Davis, Wofford
DH Le Bassett, Mercer
SP Nik Verbeke, Furman
SP Austin Higginbotham, Wofford
RP Anthony Garcia, Wofford
C Bryce Leasure, The Citadel
1B Jacob Huggins, VMI
2B Cullen Smith, ETSU
SS Branden Fryman, Samford
3B Justice Bigbie, Western Carolina
OF Jabari Richards, Furman
OF Matthew Koehler, Western Carolina
OF Kel Johnson, Mercer
DH Lawson Hill, Wofford