Defending champion Wingate tops DII baseball preseason Power 10 rankings

The 2022 DII baseball season is right around the corner. With teams preparing to take the field the first week of February, now is an opportune time to jump into the first DII baseball Power 10 rankings of the year.

2021 RANKINGS: The final DII baseball Power 10 from last season

The 2021 season ended with a first-time champion as the Wingate Bulldogs took down Central Missouri — one of the winningest programs in DII baseball — to take home the title. While the Bulldogs did lose some key pieces, they will return nearly their entire lineup in their quest to be the first repeat champion since Tampa in 2006 and 2007. That very same Spartans program may be the team that stands in their way in 2022.

The rankings below are mine, and mine alone. This Power 10 is a result of deep roster dives, conversations with coaches, SIDs and insiders, and recent history of the programs. As the season progresses, the criteria the NCAA DII baseball tournament selection committee uses come May — strength of schedule, RPI, in-region wins and metrics of that nature — will come into play.

DRAFT MEMORIES: 2021 draftees | 2019: Getting drafted WHILE PLAYING

Keep in mind, DII baseball is a different beast. With the colder weather up in the northern parts of the country, it is more of a rolling start to the season lacking a true “DII baseball opening day.” While many teams will begin the first week of February, there are a slew of conferences that don’t start until later. Because of this, the first DII baseball Power 10 rankings of the regular season will not launch until sometime in March at which point, they will come out on a weekly basis.

The 2022 DII baseball preseason Power 10

No. 1 Wingate

Typically, winning the DII baseball national championship doesn’t secure a team the No. 1 spot the following preseason. This gets a bit trickier in 2022, when you can argue that the Bulldogs may not have been the best team in Cary, N.C. last year, but a very talented team that played the best at the right time. All this said, with coach Jeff Gregory getting the experience he has returning, Wingate gets to enter the season in the No. 1 spot.

RECAP: How Wingate won the 2021 DII baseball championship

Offensively, Wingate loses big pieces in McCann Mellett — who led the team in home runs and on-base percentage — and Hunter Dula — who split time in the lineup and on the mound — but returns eight of the nine hitters that were in the lineup of the national championship game last June. That doesn’t include Ricky Clark, who missed last season with injury after finishing second on the team in RBIs and third in home runs in 2020. Brody McCullough and Sam Brodersen return to lead an experienced rotation and bullpen. Last time we saw Brodersen, he went five no-hit innings against Central Missouri’s ridiculous lineup to clinch Wingate’s title.

No. 2 Tampa

Tampa was so close to having a chance to repeat as national champions (again) last year but fell to Central Missouri in a memorable two-game semifinals showdown. Eight starting position players and all three weekend starters from that team return and you can be sure they all remember just how close they were. That includes E.J. Cumbo, who led the team in batting average and home runs, and Friday-night starter Michael Paul. Replacing All-American closer Jordan Leasure is coach Joe Urso’s toughest challenge, but it shouldn’t take him long to find the right person. This team is loaded once again and a national championship contender.

No. 3 Colorado Mesa

The Mavericks didn’t make it to Cary last year, but still deserve to be this high. Haydn McGeary, NCAA.com’s first-ever DII baseball player of the year in 2021, is back in the lineup yet again. McGeary hit .481 with 26 doubles, 20 home runs and just 20 strikeouts in 183 at-bats as one of the most lethal weapons in the division. Five starters from the 2019 DII baseball championship game against Tampa are also back as is Matthew Turner who belted 23 home runs last season. The pitching staff will have a different look with ace Andrew Morris now at Texas Tech, but they believe they have more depth on the mound now. Keep an eye on freshman pitcher Cole Seward who could be the difference maker.

No. 4 Angelo State

The Rams made it to Cary last season behind the fourth-best hitting and third-best scoring offense in DII baseball. While they do lose perennial player-of-the-year candidate Josh Elvir, Aaron Walters — who I expect to put up player-of-the-year numbers himself after hitting .410 with 26 extra-base hits and 67 RBIs last season — returns with five others from that potent lineup. Coach Kevin Brooks will also have to replace ace Trent Baker, who was one of the best DII had to offer, but four of the top arms are back, including Lone Star Conference preseason pitcher of the year Carson Childers who could return to the starting rotation full time in 2022.

No. 5 Minnesota State

Northern Sun baseball is always fun, and the Mavericks could be the best of the bunch in 2022. That’s impressive when you have consistent programs like Augustana (SD) and St. Cloud State chasing you. The Mavericks lose their top three hitters from a 39-win team but return enough experience to make this team scary at the plate. Newcomer Ryan Wickman, son of former MLB pitcher Bob Wickman, should make an impact defensively in the outfield after winning a gold glove on the JUCO circuit last year. Minnesota State is strong on the mound with Collin Denk (10-0, 2.22 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 69 innings) and Nick Altermatt (5-2, 1.90 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 53 innings. Altermatt is so gifted — he was the 2019 NSIC freshman of the year as a shortstop and will be pivotal to the Mavericks’ success in 2022.

No. 6 Southern New Hampshire

Heading into 2021, head coach Scott Loiseau told me it was one of his best squads he ever had. That’s quite a statement considering the history of this program, including trips to Cary in two of the past three championship seasons. Seven hitters from the lineup that reached the DII baseball championship last year are back. The pitching staff is where there will be some learning curves, but Loiseau feels it is deeper than last year. Joshua Roberge is a hard-throwing transfer pitcher that could be in the rotation and Taylor Lepard made a big jump this fall with his three-pitch mix highlighted by a 90s fastball.

No. 7 Northwest Nazarene

What a story the Nighthawks were last year. They not only made it to their first NCAA DII baseball tournament — they rode the wave all the way to Cary where they even won a game before being eliminated by Tampa. Here’s the thing: That may have been just the first chapter of the story. The Nighthawks lose some pop, but the top three hitters in batting average return to the lineup, including All-American Grant Kerry. The top four in ERA return to the bump, highlighted by All-Region pitcher Kyle Ethridge. Add Duke Pahukoa to the mix, who transferred from UNLV, and this team is deep once again. This time around, the Nighthawks are also experienced.

No. 8 Millersville

Bloomsburg was the 2021 PSAC tournament champion, and it was Seton Hill that escaped the Atlantic Region to represent the PSAC in Cary. You may expect Seton Hill to be ranked higher due to that playoff push, and understandably so, but the Griffins lost 18 players to graduation. Millersville has Jeff Taylor — the 2021 PSAC East pitcher of the year — returning as the ace, along with Conor Cook — the 2021 PSAC East freshman of the year — for a tough 1-2 punch atop the rotation. Bren Taylor — the 2021 PSAC East player of the year — leads an offense that finished second in the conference in hitting and runs scored, and six of those bats are returning. The PSAC will always be a grind with five legitimate contenders in Bloomsburg, Seton Hill, Mercyhurst, Millersville and West Chester, but this seems like it may be the Marauders’ year.

No. 9 Augustana (SD)

The Vikings are always a tough team, and this year they return a ton of talent. The top three hitters — Carter Howell, Will Olson and Jordan Barth — are back and they are all studs: each hit over .340 with at least 10 home runs and 46 RBI. Plenty of firepower returns on the mound as well where Ryan Jares will lead the rotation. Jares is a smart pitcher, able to use four pitches to attack hitters. Keep your eyes on redshirt-freshman Kai Taylor who could push for a rotation spot with his stuff.

No. 10 Illinois Springfield

This team has the potential to be a juggernaut in 2022 and I am going to be much higher than most. Expect Zion Pettigrew to contend for national player of the year. The third baseman hit .440 last year with 20 doubles, 17 home runs and an absurd 1.454 OPS, but isn’t alone. First baseman Kal Youngquist hit .420 with 34 extra-base hits and a team-high 58 RBI. They are just two of seven returning hitters in a lineup that finished No. 2 in batting average and No. 4 in both slugging percentage and runs scored. When you add in all four weekend starters and 93 percent of last year’s innings pitched returning from a 37-win team, you have a real threat on your hands. Keep an eye on transfer Quinn Gudaitis. The pitcher is huge — 6-foot-7 and 240 pounds — and throws in the 90s.

First five out (in alphabetical order)

  • Ashland: If the Eagles get to Perry Bewley with the lead, they will win a lot of ball games as he is arguably the best closer in the land. This is a senior laden team and Austin Eifrid should lead a balanced lineup.
  • Azusa Pacific: New head coach Kirk Nieuwenhuis has a lot of big names to replace, but with the likes of Casey Dykstra and Omar Lopez back in the lineup and AJ Woodall on the mound, he has enough. We will know a lot quickly: The Cougars’ first 12 games are against teams on this list (Northwest Nazarene, Colorado Mesa and Cal State Monterey Bay).
  • Davenport: Nolan Anspaugh is on my short list of player-of-the-year candidates, but the Panthers have a monster lineup with four hitters back that hit better than .350 last season.
  • Southern Arkansas: Catcher Brett McGee and starting pitcher Jacob Womack were two of the best players in the GAC last year. Both are back to make the Muleriders strong favorites for the conference crown.
  • Trevecca Nazarene: The Trojans made program history last season, making it all the way to Cary for the first time. A bevy of returners will keep this team solid, but keep an eye on transfer pitchers Caleb Bly and Justin Campbell.

Also considered (in alphabetical order): Bloomsburg, Cal State Monterey Bay, Central Missouri, Columbus State, Goldey-Beacom, Lee, Mercyhurst, North Greenville, Seton Hill, West Florida, West Texas A&M

Five teams that will fly under the radar: Charleston (WV), Delta State, Northwood, Quincy, Wheeling

Here are the former DII baseball stars in the 2021 MLB playoffs

The 2021 MLB postseason begins Tuesday, Oct. 5, pitting the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox in the first wild card game. We will have to wait until the N.L. Wild Card game on Oct. 6 for the first former DII baseball players to take the field. That’s when St. Louis Cardinals’ teammates Miles Mikolas and Kodi Whitley take on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

DRAFT MEMORIES: 2021 draftees | 2019: Getting drafted WHILE PLAYING

They are just a few DII baseball alums heading to this year’s MLB playoffs. Let’s take a quick look at each of them.

These are active rosters as of Oct. 4, 2021, per MLB.com. Some players — like J.D. Martinez (Nova Southeastern, Boston Red Sox), DJ Johnson (Western Oregon, Tampa Bay Rays), Tommy Kahnle (Lynn, Los Angeles Dodgers) and Scott Alexander (Sonoma State, Los Angeles Dodgers) — who are on the IL were not considered for this list. Some teams have not confirmed their playoff rosters and any updates will be made accordingly. Rosters can change before each round due to injury.

FINAL RANKINGS: The final DII baseball Power 10 of the 2021 season

Miles Mikolas, St. Louis Cardinals — Nova Southeastern

Nova Southeastern Athletics Miles Mikolas was an ace for Nova Southeastern in 2009.

Mikolas has had an interesting journey to this season’s MLB playoffs. He was actually the highest selection of the three teammates (Mike Fiers and J.D. Martinez), taken by the San Diego Padres in the seventh round after that 2009 season. His career has included early ups and downs, some play across seas, a 2018 rebirth in St. Louis and an injury-plagued 2020 and 2021 season. In between was a 2019 All-Star appearance in a season that he led the league with 18 wins.

Mikolas was superb during his Sharks’ career finishing with a 2.06 ERA and 10-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His former head baseball coach — and current Athletic Director — Michael Mominey told us: “He showed remarkable growth as an athlete and pitcher in three years’ time. He came into the program as somewhat of a ‘project’ given his size and abilities as a freshman, but as a junior became one of the most dominant pitchers in program history. Physically dominant, great teammate, fun and a free spirit.”

Chas McCormick, Houston Astros — Millersville

MIllersville Athletics Millersville's Chas McCormick ended his DII baseball career as the PSAC's all-time hits leader. Millersville’s Chas McCormick ended his DII baseball career as the PSAC’s all-time hits leader.

McCormick had a special career in Millersville, Pennsylvania. He ended his career as the only Marauder to earn All-PSAC East honors in each of his four seasons and was named the PSAC Eastern Division athlete of the year in 2017. Before the Astros chose him in the 21st round that year, McCormick became the PSAC’s all-time hit leader and was second all-time in runs scored.

McCormick’s 2021 rookie season was a solid one. He was a jack-of-all-trades for the Astros this season, playing 51 games in left field, 33 games in center and 22 games in right. He hit 14 home runs with a .766 OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) and had some big, memorable hits. His former Millersville coach Jon Shehan told me: “Chas is an incredible competitor. I think I read that he was 14-for-18 driving a man in with a man on third and less than two outs this season. He drives in runs selflessly because he absolutely hates to lose. I think that’s why he fits so well in a historically competitive big-league clubhouse. I’m hoping he gets a shot to play in the postseason because I think you’re going to see a guy that has poise under pressure and loves to play when the game is on the line.”

Kodi Whitley, St. Louis Cardinals — Mount Olive

Mount Olive Athletics Kodi Whitley was 2014 Conference Carolinas freshman of the year. Kodi Whitley was 2014 Conference Carolinas freshman of the year.

Whitley had a sensational start to his Trojans’ career, earning Conference Carolinas freshman of the year honors in 2014 and making the All-Region Gold Glove team that same season. He had a stellar follow-up season with Mount Olive but would pitch sparingly over his final two years after undergoing Tommy John surgery prior to the 2016 campaign.

Whitley is a terrific story of perseverance. He fought back from Tommy John surgery and became a key cog in the Cardinals’ minor-league bullpens. After a strong showing in the 2019 Arizona Fall League — which is a launching pad that puts the best of the best prospects together on one field following the regular MiLB season — Whitley earned a spot on the 2020 40-man roster for the Cardinals. This season, he’s posted a 2.49 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 25 big-league appearances.

Whitley’s former head coach Rob Watt told me: “Outside of being extremely talented, Kodi checks every box for the intangibles. He’s an incredible person and teammate, he is a fierce competitor that attacks everything in a calm calculated manner, and he will always choose to do what is right and not necessarily what is easy. He has worked so hard to get where he is at but he never forgets where he came from and he would never assume that he is entitled to anything because of what he has accomplished on the baseball field. He is one of the finest people I know.”

Alex Vesia, Los Angeles Dodgers — Cal State East Bay

Cal State East Bay Athletics Alex Vesia was the top pitcher for Cal State East Bay in 2018. Alex Vesia was the top pitcher for Cal State East Bay in 2018.

Vesia was drafted by the Miami Marlins in 2018 and traded to the Dodgers prior to this season. After making his MLB debut last year with the Marlins, he’s now pitched for two different MLB-postseason teams. Not a bad start to a career, don’t you think?

“It was such an amazing feeling to hear my named get called,” Vesia recalled to Cal State East Bay on his draft day experience. “I was just looking for an opportunity to continue playing baseball. It didn’t matter what pick I was. It had been a huge goal of mine since my sophomore year and to achieve such a major goal was very emotional for me and my family. Truthfully, it wasn’t an easy process and it was a long three days waiting to see where I would go. But one thing I knew was that I was ready to challenge myself on the next level.”

The left-hander split time in the rotation and bullpen in his final 2018 season with the Pioneers. He pitched to a stunning 1.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 78.2 innings, striking out 82 and walking 28. He went in the 17th round following that season and while his 2020 MLB debut was not a memorable one, he’s put it together this season. Vesia has a 2.25 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 40 appearances out of the Dodgers’ bullpen.

Joey Wendle, Tampa Bay Rays  — West Chester

West Chester Athletics Joey Wendle was an All-PSAC East player at West Chester. Joey Wendle was an All-PSAC East player at West Chester.

Wendle was another PSAC superstar who earned All-PSAC East honors in his time with the Golden Rams. His final season with West Chester was a big one as the Golden Rams won the DII baseball championship. He slashed .399/.479/.768 with 19 doubles and 12 home runs. That all added up to a sixth-round selection by the Cleveland Indians in the 2012 MLB draft.

Wendle has a smooth, left-handed swing that finds the gaps well. It was nice to see him set a career high with 11 home runs in 2021 in earning his first MLB All-Star appearance. Wendle is versatile as well, playing all over the infield for the Rays.