KINGSTON, R.I. - The Rhode Island baseball team has been picked to finish third in the Atlantic 10 this season, in voting conducted among the conference's head coaches. It marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Rams are predicted to finish among the league's top three teams.
Saint Louis was the preseason favorite, receiving six of a possible 13 first-place votes and 157 points overall. VCU came in just behind the Billikens with 153 points and three first-place votes. Rhode Island received two first-place votes and collected a total of 146 points in the poll. George Mason (107 points) and 2018 NCAA Super Regional participant Davidson (106 points, two first-place votes) rounded out the top-5.
Despite losing a bulk of the offensive power from last year's 31-22 campaign, the Rams return all nine pitchers who combined to make 53 starts in 2017. Most notable will be the return of the program's most decorated pitcher, redshirt junior Tyler Wilson. A four-time Preseason All-American in 2017 - the 6-foot-4 southpaw missed the majority of the his junior year with a shoulder injury. He will return to the weekend rotation looking to pick up where he left off as the A-10's Pitcher of the Year in both 2016 and 2015.
Sophomore Vitaly Jangols and redshirt senior Matt Murphy should be back in the weekend rotation as well. Jangols put together a freshman season similar to Wilson's in 2015, going 7-1 with two saves. His 2.23 ERA - with just 15 walks - over 60.2 innings pitched earned him respect on a national level as he was named to the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America squad. Murphy ended his first year at URI as Rhody's Friday starter, going 5-4 with a 3.96 ERA in his first full season as a pitcher.
Seniors Tyler Barss, Dom Grillo, Nick Johnson and Taso Stathopoulos will bolster the Rams' veteran-laden staff. Already the program's career leader in saves (26), Barss posted a 1.38 ERA over 24 relief appearances last season. Grillo emerged as one of the most consistent arms out of the bullpen, holding opponents to a .183 average over 27.0 innings of relief work. He finished his junior campaign 3-1 with one save and 27 strike outs opposite just seven walks. Johnson - who saw time as both a starter and reliever - led the team in strikeouts (61) and was second in innings pitched (62.2). He finished with a 3-3 record and one save. Stathopoulos missed the first half of the season with an injury, but returned as a starter and went 2-2 with a team-best .165 opposing average over 24.1 innings.
The Rams will undoubtedly miss the power-hitting quartet of Mike Corin, Martin Figueroa, Chris Hess and Matt O'Neil, which combined for 42 of the team's 51 home runs last season. Senior center fielder Jordan Powell - a career .336 hitter - will be called on to lead the Rhody offense, alongside sophomore catcher Sonny Ulliana, whose time behind the plate was limited due to injury a year ago. Senior Mike Foley and juniors Kevin Heiss, Laurence Hill and Brett McManus will also add a veteran presence in the field and at the plate.
Led by two-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year Raphael Cerrato, Rhode Island opens the 2018 season with a three game set at Texas A&M (Feb. 16-18). The Aggies - who advanced to Omaha for the College World Series last season after defeating Rhody's A-10 rival Davidson twice in Super Regionals - are ranked as high as No. 9 in the nation in the 2018 preseason polls.
2018 Atlantic 10 Conference Baseball Poll
Team - Total Voting Points (first-place votes)
1. Saint Louis - 157 (6)
2. VCU - 153 (3)
3. Rhode Island - 146 (2)
4. George Mason - 107
5. Davidson - 106 (2)
6. George Washington - 105
7. Saint Joseph's - 95
8. Fordham - 92
9. Richmond - 67
10. St. Bonaventure - 56
11. Dayton - 46
12. Massachusetts - 26
13. La Salle - 20