Omaha, Neb. — While the holiday season is in full swing, Creighton Baseball started unwrapping presents and expectations for 2019 as junior Will Robertsonwas named the BIG EAST Preseason Co-Player of the Year and the Bluejays will picked to finish second as the conference announced its preseason poll and All-BIG EAST squad on Tuesday, Dec. 18.
The reigning BIG EAST regular season and tournament champions, St. John’s are the preseason favorite to win the league a ninth time in the annual December poll conducted by the league’s seven head coaches. Along with the poll, the coaches selected Robertson and Xavier junior designated hitter Conor Grammes as the Co-Preseason Players of the Year. Seton Hall junior right-hander Ricky DeVito as the Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Along with the poll, the Preseason All-BIG EAST team was also announced. Grammes and DeVito were unanimous selections at their respective positions. Of the 15-member team, six received unanimous votes by the coaches, who could not cast ballots for their own players or team. Seven players honored earned 2018 BIG EAST First Team accolades.
All seven teams are represented on the preseason all-conference team. St. John’s first-place selection was bolstered by a league-best players selected to the preseason All-BIG EAST team.
Creighton received the final first place vote and tied with 2018 BIG EAST Tournament runner up Seton Hall for second in the poll with 25 points. Xavier was picked fourth with 24 points, followed by Butler with 17, Georgetown with 13 and Villanova with seven.
Robertson, a lefty from Loose Creak, Mo., was a BIG EAST First Team honoree from 2018. He batted in 16 runs for Creighton in league action with 37 total bases, six doubles. Overall, Robertson was the BIG EAST leader in slugging percentage with .641, RBI with 59 and total bases with 127. The junior outfielder led Creighton last year in batting with a .333 average. Robertson tied for second on the BIG EAST leaderboard with 17 doubles and four triples in 50 games played. Nationally, Robertson was an ABCA/Rawlings Second Team All-Region selection.
In addition to Robertson, second-place pick Creighton’s Ryan Mantle and Isaac Collins were selected to the preseason all-conference team. Mantle, a senior outfielder, was a first team all-conference pick in 2018. He made the team as a designated hitter, with a Creighton-best .315 (17-for-54) in 17 BIG EAST games played, walking 11 times for a.439 on-base percentage. Overall, Mantle scored 26 times, had 12 doubles, a pair of triples and three homers with 22 RBI. Collins, a junior second baseman, was a 2017 All-BIG EAST Second Team honoree. Last season, Collins batted .266, with 44 runs, 53 hits and 11 doubles. He drove in 24 RBI and stole 12 bases. The Bluejays also just missed the BIG EAST Tournament, finishing 34-16 and 8-9 in league action.
Grammes, a junior designated hitter and infielder for the Musketeers, was second in batting for Xavier with a .330 average last season. He played 51 games, starting 50, and also ranked second for Xavier in hits (69), homers (10) and total bases (108) and led the Musketeers with a .517 slugging percentage. On the BIG EAST leaderboard for league games, Grammes was third in slugging (.597) and fourth in batting (.377) and led the league in hits (29) and total bases (46) and was second in home runs (5). In 2017, when Xavier won the BIG EAST Tournament in Omaha, Neb., the McLean, Va., native was named the Jack Kaiser Most Outstanding Player in the Tournament as a rookie.
Joining Grammes on the preseason squad from Xavier was unanimous pick Chris Givin at shortstop and sophomore outfielder/pitcher Allbry Major. Givin was a 2017 All-BIG EAST Second Team honoree as a sophomore, last year, he led Xavier with a .342 batting average and 45 RBI. The ABCA/Rawlings All-Region Second Team player led the league in triples (6) and in BIG EAST play had a BIG EAST best 16 runs scored. Major was the 2018 BIG EAST Freshman of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball News Freshman All-American. He finished his rookie campaign second on Xavier in batting (.276) with 46 hits for the year, nine of them doubles, two home runs with 21 RBI. Xavier finished just outside BIG EAST Tournament contention last season with a 7-11 league record, 20-35 overall.
Seton Hall’s DeVito is the reigning BIG EAST Pitcher of the Year and was a 2018 Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Second Team All-American and All-BIG EAST First Teamer. As the Saturday starter in 2018, DeVito made six BIG EAST appearances, going for 36.0 innings and allowing only three earned runs. In league appearances, he led the BIG EAST in ERA (0.75), and wins (four), while ranking second in opposing batting average (0.176), third in strikeouts (40) and fourth in innings pitched. Going into the postseason, the Staten Island, N.Y., native made 10 starts and has allowed more than one earned run only twice. For the year, DeVito pitched to a 6-3 record with a 1.88 ERA and 67 strikeouts with 22 walks in 62.1 innings pitched. Also garnering preseason honors from Seton Hall was sophomore third baseman Casey Dana. Dana batted .225 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs and led the Pirates in home runs. He ranked third on the team in slugging percentage and led Seton Hall with nine multi-RBI games.
First-place St. John’s had four players receive preseason honors including returning All-BIG EAST First Team honorees Wyatt Mascarella and Sean Mooney, righty reliever Gavin Hollowell and outfielder Mike Antico. St. John’s won the league Mascarella, a unanimous preseason selection at catcher, made 15 starts in league play last season and led the Red Storm in batting with a .382 average which ranked third in the league rankings. Behind the plate, the senior threw nine to prevent a steal, five in league action. Mooney, St. John’s junior ace was an ABCA/Rawlings, NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball Second Team All-American, A Perfect Game Third Team All-American and one of five finalists for National Pitcher of the Year. He went 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA in 16 appearances with 104 strikeouts and just 28 walks in 95.0 innings of work. Hollowell received Second Team All-BIG EAST honors in 2018. He made 25 appearances, all in relief, and went 3-0 with five saves with a 2.16 ERA, limiting opponents to a .138 batting average. Antico, a junior, made 37 starts and hit .308 with five home runs, six doubles and 21 RBIs. He was named to the Clemson Regional All-Tournament team. St. John’s won its second BIG EAST Championship title in the last four years, ninth overall in 2018. The Red Storm entered the tournament with a 15-3 league record, the best by a BIG EAST team since realignment in 2014. St. John’s went 1-2 in the Clemson Regional.
Rounding out the 2019 Preseason All-BIG EAST Team was Butler junior ace Ryan Pepiot, Georgetown lefty starter Brent Killam and Villanova infielder Ryan Toohers. Both Pepiot and Killam were unanimous selections. Pepiot was a 2018 Mideast All-Region Second Team selection and First Team All-BIG EAST honoree for the Bulldogs. He went 6-0 on the mound, ranking fourth in the conference in wins. Pepiot recorded a .262 ERA, the fourth-best ERA in the BIG EAST and 76th-best in the NCAA. He also tallied 101 strikeouts and led all BIG EAST pitchers with 12.01 strikeouts per nine innings. Hoya hurler Killam posted a 3.06 ERA and a 6-4 record in 2018 with 97 strikeouts, third best in the league, in 82.1 innings pitched. He held batters to a .211 average against him. Killam earned Second Team All-BIG EAST honors. In league play, Killam topped the leaderboard with a .157 opponent batting average. Toohers, a junior playing first base, led Villanova in batting in 18 BIG EAST games with a .324 average, 23 hits, six doubles, three home runs and 15 RBI. Toohers made 115 outs at first, 11 assists and fielding percentage of just .984 in league action.
Follow all the action for BIG EAST baseball this season with the hashtag #BIGEASTbase.