baseball-d2 flag | March 1, 2018

5 DII baseball players off to red-hot starts

West Chester crowned the 2017 DII Baseball Champions

We are finally a few weeks into the long-awaited Division II baseball season. Batting averages are rising and home runs are launching as the stats begin to pile up.

RELATED: Complete NCBWA rankings

It is still really early, but these five bats wasted little time getting started. Keep in mind, these aren't necessarily the best hitters in the division, but the way they are taking advantage of pitching to start the season deserves recognition.

Zack Shannon, 1B, Delta State

It's no surprise Shannon leads the list of red-hot sluggers. The Statesmen's senior leader is the reigning 2017 Tino Martinez Award winner, coming off of a season that he posted video game-like numbers. His stats through his first 12 games of 2018 are eerily similar.

Shannon is slashing a remarkable .423/.500/.962 with five doubles and seven home runs already. Throw in a triple and he's averaging more than one extra base hit per game. Shannon is also responsible for 37 (20 RBI, 17 runs scored) of Delta State's 107 runs scored this season. He's one of the premier power bats in the division, already recording two multi-homer games on the young season.

After dropping the season opener, the Statesmen have reeled off 11 straight wins. They were early favorites to make it to Cary, NC this May, and Shannon was a large reason why. He's showing that right out of the gates.

Alex Eliopulos, 3B, UC San Diego

Eliopulos put himself on the national map after an impressive showing in Grand Prairie, TX. in last season's DII Baseball Championship. He got big hit after big hit, and made big stop after big stop in leading UC San Diego all the way to the final game. 

He's been even better this season.

The redshirt-junior is slashing .426/500/.870 with a California Collegiate Athletic Association-best seven home runs. He's driven in 23 runs for the CCAA's top scoring offense and is tied for the team-lead with 14 runs scored.

The Tritons had a newer looking pitching staff and was going to have to rely heavily on their returning bats early on in 2018. He, and his hot-hitting teammate Tyler Durna, have certainly delivered. 

Sean Aspinall, OF, Azusa Pacific

Statistically speaking, there may be better starts this season. But the hottest hitter for one of the hottest teams in the land certainly deserves recognition.

The Cougars are 14-0 and the No. 1 team in the land. Azusa Pacific had plenty of fire power to be a good team this season, but this good has been a bit of a pleasant surprise.

The senior outfielder is hitting .357, with 12 of his 20 hits going for extra bases. Aspinall's six doubles and six home runs both are team-bests, as are his 18 RBI. Considering he hit .248 with three home runs and 36 RBI in 2017, Aspinall's start is as equally surpising as Azusa Pacific's.

The Cougars play in the tough PacWest with matchups against Dixie State and California Baptist on the horizon, so the hot start is much needed. Aspinall will have to keep it going if they hope to contend for the crown. 

Joseph Pena, SS, St. Thomas Aquinas

  Pena is a dangerous asset at the plate, showing above average skills in every facet of the game.
Giovanni Dingcong became a DII baseball favorite in Grand Prairie last season. His enormous power may be the best in the division, and of his five hits to start the season, two have left the park.

But Pena was equally impressive on the Spartans run to the final three teams left standing in the DII Baseball Championship. He's as consistent a hitter as they come, with a hit-tool that sees him excel in every aspect of the game.

The senior is slashing .615/.737/1.462, with seven of his eight hits going for extra bases (four doubles, two triples and a home run). He has an advanced plate discipline, walking four more times than he's struck out, allowing him extra chances to show off his big-time speed, already a perfect 5-for-5 on the season.

The Spartans are a stacked team and should be amongst the favorites to come out of the East Region. At the very least, Pena and Dingcong will make this team fun to watch every week.

Zach Howard, OF, Embry-Riddle

This last spot was a tough one to narrow down, especially with Cade Marlowe fueling West Georgia's hot start. But Howard's power has been a thing to watch, and earns him the final spot on the list.

Howard is leading DII in home runs, blasting eight in just 13 games. While he'll strike out a bit more than some of the other hot hitters, he still makes enough contact to generate a .311 average. His 13 runs lead the team and his 18 RBI are second in the Sunshine State Conference. 

Since he strikes out close to 20 percent of his plate appearances, it is reasonable to assume the average will drop. But the power seems for real. After swatting two long balls on opening day, Howard has already logged two multi-game home run streaks on the season.

Also considered:

Cade Marlowe: West Georgia's outfielder has solid numbers across the board: .456 average, four doubles, and 12-for-13 in stolen bases through 14 games.

Jake Anchia: Nova Southeastern's catcher may be the best in DII. Six of his 10 hits this season have left the park.

Dom Lawson: Kentucky State's pitcher and outfielder only has eight at bats so far this year, but he already has six hits, six RBI and seven runs scored.

Logan Mattix: Georgia College's outfielder, quietly one of the best hitters in the divsion, is off to another stellar start hitting .397, leading the team in runs (19) and chipping in 14 RBI.

Kyle Smith: Catawba has a tendency to pump out under-the-radar hitters. Kyle Smith has been just that hitting .426, second in DII with nine doubles with three home runs as well.

Eric Fairman: The Vulcans junior has 10 hits in his first 14 at bats, with an insane 1.286 slugging percentage.

(All stats through February 27, 2018)

DII women's basketball programs with the most NCAA DII national championships

Here's a look at the programs that have won multiple DII women's basketball championships.