By: John Sullivan, Rice Athletics Dept. (email@example.com)
IRVING, Texas -- With the top two individual preseason all-conference honors, including Glenn Otto as the 2017 Preseason Pitcher of the Year and Ford Proctor as the 2017 Preseason Player of the Year, the Rice baseball team was picked to finish first in the league in the annual Conference USA head coaches' poll the C-USA office announced on Wednesday (Jan. 25). A total of four Owls were honored overall, the most of any league school.
Five of the twelve C-USA head coaches voted Rice as the preseason favorite to help the Owls secure the top spot for 2017. Since joining the conference in 2006 Rice baseball has been the league favorite every year there has been a poll (officially 11-of-the-last-12 years as there was no coaches poll conducted in 2010). This season the Owls return seven offensive starters in the batting order and a host of veteran pitchers who helped lead last year's squad to a 38-24 overall record and to a NCAA Regional appearance. A year ago the Blue & Gray was the last team to be eliminated before the NCAA's Super Regional round.
Rice's veteran standouts have the full attention of the C-USA head coaches. Under the direction of head coach Wayne Graham, Rice Baseball has won or shared a conference regular season or tournament title 20 times in the last 21 years. The team has been to the NCAA Tournament 22-straight years, the fourth-longest active streak in the nation.
In his debut season of Division I baseball, Ford Proctor started 61 of Rice's 62 games at shortstop, earning C-USA Freshman of the Year honors and multiple Freshman All-America honors. He batted a steady .336 for the full season and was electric in the Owls' run to the final game of the C-USA Tournament, hitting two home runs and totaling seven RBI with a .700 slugging percentage. Proctor ranked among the C-USA leaders in batting average (.336) and hits (75). He finished as high as eighth in the league in on-base percentage (.428) and tied for ninth in walks (34). The Beaumont, Texas, native also led the Owls in RBI (41), slugging (.471) and multiple-hit games (19), tallying a career-high three hits in a game on six different occasions, while hitting safely in 18 consecutive games at one point.
Otto posted a sensational season with the Owls in 2016, earning first team All-Conference USA honors as a relief pitcher. The junior right-hander tallied eight saves as well as a 9-2 record in 33 appearances out of the bullpen. He maintained a 2.26 ERA in 71.2 innings and held opposing hitters to a composite .209 batting average. The Spring, Texas, native averaged 9.5 strikeouts per 9.0 innings with a 2.5-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio, and was named to the watch list for the national Stopper of the Year Award.
Proctor and Otto were joined by junior RHP Ricardo Salinas and senior OF Charlie Warren on the preseason All-Conference USA team, giving Rice a league-high four selections. Salinas grew into a role as a weekend starter last spring, particularly the second half of the season, posting a 9-2 overall record with a 3.39 ERA. He tied for the conference lead in wins with teammate Glenn Otto, while finishing third on the team, and tied for sixth in the league in games started (14). The Houston native ranked seventh in C-USA in opponents' batting average (.226), ninth in ERA, tenth in innings (82.1), and eleventh in strikeouts (64). Warren led the team and finished eighth in Conference USA in batting average at .341. He finished second on the Owls in on-base percentage (.408), and reached base in a team-leading 21-consecutive games during one stretch. He drew at least one walk in 19 different games and tied for second on the team in hits (62) despite being sidelined for four weeks of the season.
The 2017 Rice baseball season begins Friday, February 17, on the road against longtime rival Texas. For season ticket information including seating options, pricing levels and parking, link here or call the Rice Ticket Office at 713-348-OWLS (6957). Don't miss any of the excitement; get your 2017 season tickets now!
2017 PRESEASON BASEBALL AWARDS/POLL (as selected by C-USA's head coaches)
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
1. Rice (5)
2. Florida Atlantic (4)
3. Southern Miss (3)
4. Old Dominion
5. Louisiana Tech
10. Middle Tennessee
(first place votes in parentheses)
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Ford Proctor, Rice (Sophomore, IF)
PITCHER OF THE YEAR
Glenn Otto, Rice (Junior, Right-hander)
P: Kirk McCarty, Jr., Southern Miss
P: Ricardo Salinas, Jr., Rice
P: Casey Sutton, Sr., Louisiana Tech
RP: Glenn Otto, Jr., Rice
C: Brent Diaz, Jr., Louisiana Tech
IF: Taylor Braley, Jr., Southern Miss
IF: Dylan Burdeaux, Sr., Southern Miss
IF: Brett Netzer, Jr., Charlotte
IF: Ford Proctor, So., Rice
IF: Logan Sherer, Sr., Charlotte
OF: Jesse Baker, Sr., UTSA
OF: T.J. Nichting, Sr., Charlotte
OF: Charlie Warren, Sr., Rice
DH/UT: Jonathan Washam, Sr., Louisiana Tech
DH/UT: Sean Labsan, Sr., Florida Atlantic