After an accomplished season last year, SIU men’s baseball is a strong favorite to contend for the conference championship.
The Salukis finished with a record of 12-46 (6-15 MVC) in 2015, but turned it around in 2016 to go 31-25-1 (11-10 MVC) — the most wins for the program since 2012 and the largest turnaround in the NCAA from 2015 to 2016 — which gained them a lot of respect coming into the 2017 season.
Southern received 53 points and three of the eight possible first-place votes, the program’s highest spot in the preseason poll since 2006. SIU is even garnering national attention as the Salukis received a vote in the USA Today Coaches’ Top-25 Poll.
Dallas Baptist is the preseason favorite after hosting its first-ever NCAA tournament regional last year, garnering 59 points and five first-place votes.
All of SIU’s nine starting position players return this season, as well as three of its four starting pitchers.. Of those nine, junior pitcher Michael Baird, senior pitcher Chad Whitmer and junior first baseman Logan Blackfan were selected to the All-MVC preseason teams.
SIU is one of two schools to have at least three players on the all-conference team, with Dallas Baptist having five.
Baird led the MVC with a 1.76 ERA in 2016, the best of any returning starter in the nation this year. He was also named the MVC Preseason Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America on Wednesday.
Whitmer went 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA, the fifth-best in the Valley, and Blackfan led the league with 23 doubles, batting .296.
SIU opens its season on Feb. 17 at Stetson. Southern’s home opener is March 3 vs. Western Illinois.