By Justin Chen
The Huskies ran through a weaker CAA North Division and then won the tournament en-route to a 20-3 conference record during the 2021 season. With the conference schedule returning to the regular slate this season, Northeastern will see more matchups when CAA play rolls around in April.
The CAA runner-up will be returning with a vengeance this year, however, it will not be easy with the amount of talent they lost to graduation and the draft. That said, don’t expect the Seahawks to go down easily as they are “the class of the CAA,” as Northeastern head coach Mike Glavine puts it.
One of the biggest challenges the Seahawks will face is having to replace their entire starting rotation. The hard-throwing freshman Marty Gair will probably slide into a starting spot alongside some combination of sophomores Jacob Shafer, Ryan Calvert, and Carter Holjes. Their rotation candidates are all relatively unproven but there’s confidence that UNCW will find a winning formula by the time conference play rolls around.
The good news for the Seahawks is that they are returning the bulk of their deep bullpen which lessens the pressure on the starting rotation. Sophomore right-handers Ethan Chenault and Hunter Hodges both look to build off of outstanding rookie seasons while southpaws Bryce Cota and Cole Benton will be lefty complements to the back-end of the bullpen.
Anchoring their offense are redshirt juniors outfielder Brooks Baldwin and catcher Matt Suggs. Baldwin was selected by the Giants in the 15th round in last year’s draft but chose to return to Wilmington for his senior season. Suggs was one of the top defensive catchers in the conference and while leading UNCW in OPS. Other players to look out for are redshirt sophomore Trevor Marsh, who broke out late last season; redshirt junior Taber Mongero, an on-base machine; and redshirt sophomore Ron Evans, looking to take a big step after coming off a strong summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.
The Phoenix had an up-and-down season last year and struggled with injuries but finished third in the CAA. After a tournament and season ending loss to Charleston, head coach Mike Kennedy was encouraged by the season his team put together: “If we can get healthy on the mound, our future is bright,” he remarked, after their 2021 season ended in the CAA Tournament.
Some of the inconsistencies Elon faced could be seen with the pitching staff. Redshirt sophomore Joe Savino had a rough start to his 2021 season but found his stride as conference play picked up and finished his season with a masterpiece in the CAA Tournament against UNCW: 7.1 innings, eight strikeouts, and only one earned run allowed. He is Elon’s best Friday night starter option. Also returning to the rotation is redshirt senior Brian Edgington, who had an up-and-down 2021 season. Despite his inconsistencies, Edgington led the team in innings pitched. The third starter will probably be redshirt sophomore Spencer Bauer if can remain healthy; he started off last season hot but was shut down in April after a pair of rough starts.
In the bullpen, Elon will be getting key pieces back for the 2022 campaign. Redshirt junior Joe Sprake was Elon’s most consistent reliever and an All-CAA first team honoree. Sprake allowed 10 runs over 28.1 innings last year, but six of those runs were surrendered over 1.1 innings in an early season dud. Trevor Kirk and Kyle Greenler will complement Sprake in the relief core, but there are still a lot of bullpen spots up for grabs going into the season.
Contrary to the pitching staff, there is a lot of turnover within the Phoenix offense which put up exceptional numbers in conference play. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Alex Iadisernia was named to the All-CAA first team and won CAA Co-Rookie of the Year. Joining Iadisernia in the outfield is sophomore Justin Cassella, who hit his way into the starting lineup and then later the All-CAA rookie team. Sophomore first baseman Cole Reynolds will be a key producer from the infielders and redshirt sophomore catcher Parker Haskin will continue to be a rock behind the dish and provide occasional big games at the plate. It will be interesting to see how Elon transitions an experienced, veteran-heavy lineup of 2021 to a younger, underclassmen-based one.
The College of Charleston Cougars put together a strong start in conference play, but a late season skid had them finish fourth in the CAA and ultimately dropped a pair to Northeastern in the conference tournament to finish their 2021 campaign.
Junior Ty Good and senior Connor Campbell will spearhead the Cougars’ rotation. Good had a 3.71 ERA, struck out almost 10 per nine innings, and demonstrated great control of his pitches. Expect freshman Daniel Brooks to slide into the rotation — the righty was likely an early-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft but ultimately decided that the projected signing bonuses were not enough to sway from his commitment to the CofC. Sophomore William Privette and junior Trey Pooser look to be in the mix as well.
The Cougars return the bulk of their bullpen in senior Ryan Smith, junior Guillermo Granier, and graduate student Zach Williams. Privette also made eight relief appearances last year and considering the depth of the rotation, don’t be surprised if he starts out in relief.
Despite the solid pitching, the Charleston lineup — which was one of the best in the conference — is where they’ll turn to win games. Junior infielders Joseph Mershon and Trotter Harlan look to improve on their first full collegiate seasons. Something to look out for is how the Cougars rotate their catchers, seniors Landon Choboy and Tanner Steffy. Despite both having outstanding seasons at the plate, they ended up splitting playing time evenly. It should be interesting to see if or how Charleston tries to get both of their bats in the lineup more often.
Towson made the CAA Tournament after coming in second in the North Division but went two-and-out to see their 2021 season end. The Tigers struggled mightily both offensively and defensively, and with their high roster turnover this season, a lot of pieces need to step up in order for them to make it back to the tournament.
Returning to the rotation will be seniors Nick Janowicz and Nick Ramanjulu who both struggled last year. Janowicz, the Tiger’s second starter in 2021, did not fare well against out-of-conference opponents but turned in a couple of respectable starts against CAA foes. On the other hand, Ramanjulu had trouble finding length in his starts and went four or more innings in only four starts as a member of Towson’s weekend rotation. Sophomore Andalo Santangelo is a rotation candidate despite making all of his appearances out of the bullpen in 2021; the righty made eight starts with decent results in the Expedition League over the summer.
The good news for the Tigers is that they will retain a few veterans from their 2021 bullpen. Seniors Nolan Bolt, Cam Clark, and graduate student Jake Pecilunas were among the team leaders in appearances and each will have a bigger role in the upcoming season. Santangelo, despite a shaky 2021 season, showed signs of brilliance in his relief outings and is also an option for the Tiger bullpen.
Towson will be going into the season with an entirely new-looking offense. Top hitters Danny Becerra and Nolan Young will look to lead the charge, but there will be a lot of question marks down the rest of the lineup. The rest of their starters from last season have either graduated or did not perform up to expectations — it wouldn’t be surprising to see a variety of lineups being tested before the CAA season starts.
William & Mary
The Tribe will be under new head coach Mike McRae for the upcoming season and look to use this opportunity to put a disappointing 2021 in the rearview.
The William & Mary rotation will be led by senior lefthander Zach Tsakounis, who consistently dominated opposing lineups. Joining him will be graduate student southpaw Justin Pearson, who joined the rotation late last season with mixed but encouraging results. Their third starter will likely be Ben Greenspon, who started last season in the rotation but transitioned to a long-reliever role.
Leading the bullpen will be junior Matt Howat, who often got the ball in late-inning situations and will be McRae’s most trusted reliever. Unfortunately, Howat doesn’t have much of a supporting cast. Greenspon was solid out of the bullpen, but unless a starter emerges he will probably be slotted in the rotation. The relief core will be crucial if W&M wants to return to their past glories.
On the other hand, the offense has plenty to look forward to. Junior infielder Ben Williamson, who was on the All-CAA rookie team last season, and senior outfielder Jack Cone were both named to the preseason All-CAA team and will continue to pace the Tribe offense. Senior outfielder Matt Thomas, who finished 2021 on a hot streak, will be another name to look out for.
The James Madison Dukes missed a big chunk of their conference schedule and the tournament last season because of COVID-19. Though the pandemic will be less of a factor this year, the Dukes will not be playing in the CAA Tournament again due to their move to the Sun Belt Conference.
JMU’s rotation will be led by graduate student Justin Showalter and redshirt sophomore Donovan Burke, both of which pitched with mixed results last year. There is no doubt their rhythm was disturbed by the numerous cancellations in the Dukes’ schedule and hopefully they won’t have to battle that this year. Currently there isn’t a clear candidate for their third starting spot and how they fill that spot will have a big impact on the team’s performance.
The Dukes’ bullpen will be led by redshirt junior Lliam Grubbs, who was lights out all year and will be a headache for opposing lineups this year. Another important piece will be graduate student Anthony Piccolino, who thrived in long relief.
There is a lot of uncertainty in JMU’s pitching staff, but they should be confident with how their offense is looking. They will be led by redshirt sophomore outfielder Chase DeLauter, who projects to be a top 10 pick in this year’s MLB Draft. Redshirt junior catcher Travis Reifsnider will also provide firepower while handling the pitching staff and redshirt juniors infielders Kyle Novak and Carson Bell will round out the top of the lineup.
The Hofstra Pride will be led by first-year head coach Frank Catalanotto, who was a 14-year Major League veteran, following John Russo who retired after 12 seasons with the program. With only three incoming freshmen, Hofstra will need a lot of returners to step up this season.
Last season, the Pride had now-Mariner Jimmy Joyce and the graduated Jack Jett leading their rotation and those are big shoes to fill. Mark Faello and Ryan Rue will be returning as starters, though both were inconsistent last year, and it will be up to Catalanotto and his staff to find someone to fill the third spot, where senior Brad Camarda is a likely candidate.
Contrary to the turnover in their rotation, the Pride have much to look forward to in their bullpen. Though both only appeared in a handful of innings, sophomores Tristan Nemjo and Michael O’Hanlon were outstanding in their first collegiate seasons. Senior John Mikolaicyk, who excelled in a relief role but struggled as a starter, will also give the bullpen a boost if he stays there full-time.
On the offensive side of things, the Pride will rely a lot on the production of seniors infielder Ryan Morash and catcher Nick Marrero, as well as junior outfielder Will Kennedy. Hofstra was also fortunate to land senior outfielder Brian Morrell from the transfer portal; he was solid in his first full Division 1 season at St. John’s last year. Someone else to look out for is junior outfielder and former Husky Zack Bailey, who missed last season with an arm injury.
The Blue Hens look to give head coach Jim Sherman a memorable season, who will be retiring after his 22nd season with Delaware.
Delaware will be one of the few teams to return a complete starting rotation, headlined by graduate student Chris Ludman and sophomore Dom Velazquez. Having junior Joey Silan ready for the start of the season will also be a plus: the right-hander didn’t make his season debut until May last year.
The Blue Hen relief core will be led by graduate student Mike Biasiello, who thrived in a long-relief role last year. However, there aren’t other reliable pieces behind him and that will be a challenge for Delaware, who’s bullpen struggled mightily last season.
Returning to the Delaware lineup will be infielders junior Joseph Carpenter, sophomore Joey Loynd, and redshirt sophomore Jake Dunion; the trio combined for a chunk of the Blue Hen offense last season and will only improve. Sophomore outfielder Aidan Kane is also coming off a solid debut year and got better as the season went on.