2016 College Conference Preview: Colonial Athletic Association

BA breaks down the Colonial Athletic Association, including our projections for player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

Members: College of Charleston, Delaware, Elon, Hofstra, James Madison, Northeastern, Towson, UNC Wilmington, William & Mary.
Team to Beat: UNC Wilmington. The Seahawks built their pitching staff back to front last year, so the return of hard-throwing righthander Jared Gesell (2-1, 2.27, five saves) lays a solid foundation, while competitive senior righthander Ryan Foster (7-1, 4.08 with 66 strikeouts in 88 innings) fronts an otherwise inexperienced rotation that has a potential breakout talent in sophomore righthander Josh Roberson (34 strikeouts in 40 innings). UNCW has the team speed and experience to be a strong defensive team behind the pitching, and athletes such as outfielders Steven Linkous (.315/.405/.394), a 70 runner who led the CAA with 30 steals last year, and Casey Golden (.283/.346/.435) provide the offensive punch. Redshirt-junior catcher Gavin Stupienski (.344/.415/.516) provides the power and a steady hand behind the plate.
Player of the Year: Bradley Jones, 1b/of, College of Charleston. An all-star in the Valley League last summer saw Jones not only tie for the league lead with six homers but also play shortstop. He's slated to carry a heavy load for the Cougars' 2016 offense.
Pitcher of the Year: Nathan Helvey, rhp, College of Charleston: Using a standard fastball-changeup-slider mix, Helvey shined after moving from the bullpen to a starting role in 2015 thanks to his ability to keep the ball in the ballpark (two homers allowed in 74 innings).
Freshman of the Year: Ryan Jeffers, c, UNC Wilmington. Showing plus arm strength and present physicality, Jeffers should get playing time even with the presence of holdover Gavin Stupienski.
Notable Storylines: College of Charleston had to replace coach Monte Lee when Clemson tabbed him to replace Jack Leggett; the Cougars tabbed assistant Matt Heath to replace Lee. A former LSU catcher and ex-scout, Heath lost CAA pitcher of the year Taylor Clarke to the draft but has an advantage that Lee lacked last season—righthander Bailey Ober. The 6-foot-8 redshirt sophomore missed last season after Tommy John surgery but was the team's ace in 2014, going 10-3, 1.52 and ranking seventh in the nation with a 0.86 WHIP. Ober doesn't overpower hitters but pitches downhill well and, at his best, locates his changeup and downer curveball effectively, so he'll have to prove his location is back post-surgery. He may not be full-bore until the conference season starts. The Cougars also must replace first baseman Nick Pappas, whose 12 homers last season led the team; he left the program last September, putting more lineup pressure on junior Bradley Jones (.309/.394/.586, 11 HR), who moves from left field to replace Pappas at first. Jones was an all-star last summer in the Valley League as a shortstop, so even though he doesn't run well, scouts may project him at other infield spots rather than limiting him to the bottom of the defensive spectrum. … In his first season as head coach replacing the retired Neil McPhee, Northeastern's Mike Glavine (brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom) got off to a great start, piloting the Huskies to a third-place league finish. The Huskies have confidence in closer Aaron Civale (7-2, 3.24, six saves), whose fastball has reached 95 mph, as well as junior righthander Dustin Hunt (5-5, 4.96), whose fastball reaches 94-95 at his best. However, Northeastern has to replace first baseman Rob Fonseca, whose 15 homers led the CAA; he was drafted by the Mariners and signed. Junior outfielder Pat Madigan (.313/.383/.463 with five homers), sophomore third baseman Max Burt (.238/..310/.328) and senior catcher Josh Treff (.206/.321/.280), a strong catch-and-throw defender, bring leadership and experience to the lineup. … James Madison turns the page on the Spanky McFarland era, hiring Marlin Ikenberry from Virginia Military Institute to take over the program. Ikenberry inherited a veteran lineup, including fifth-year senior shortstop Chad Carroll (.339/.445/.497 with 27 stolen bases), as well as last year's home runs leaders, juniors Brett Johnson (.274/.344/.488 and 8 home runs) and Ky Parrott (.288/.385/.531 and eight home runs). … Hofstra is excited about adding ex-big league pitcher John Habyan to the staff as pitching coach, and Habyan's first test will be shifting last year's starting catcher, Chris Weiss, from a part-time relief role to the weekend rotation. Weiss pitched 18 innings last spring and had four saves.
Tournament: Six teams, May 25-28 at Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

 

TOP 10 PROSPECTS FOR 2016 DRAFT
1. Bradley Jones, of/1b, College of Charleston
2. Nick Zammarelli, 3b, Elon
3. Bailey Ober, rhp, College of Charleston
4. Gavin Stupienski, c, UNC Wilmington
5. Steven Linkous, of, UNC Wilmington
6. Jered Gessell, rhp, UNC Wilmington
7. Casey Golden, of, UNC Wilmington
8. Aaron Civale, rhp, Northeastern
9. Chad Carroll, ss, James Madison
10. Dustin Hunt, rhp, Northeastern

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