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2019 Colonial Athletic Association College Baseball Preview

Brnovich, Kyle (Courtesy of USA Baseball).jpg
Elon righthander Kyle Brnovich (Courtesy of USA Baseball)

Projected Standings
(2018 Records)

1.Elon (36-23, 16-8)
2. Northeastern (36-21, 17-6)

3. UNC Wilmington (39-23, 14-9)
4. College of Charleston (36-19, 15-8)
5. James Madison (26-26, 11-13)
6. Delaware (31-27, 12-11)
7. William & Mary (15-39, 3-21)
8. Towson (13-42, 6-18)
9. Hofstra (23-23, 12-12)

Team to Beat: Elon

Elon enters 2019 with one of the most talented starting rotations in the country, which should carry the Phoenix in its pursuit for the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013. Junior righthander Kyle Brnovich (8-2, 1.71, 147 SO) was an All-American last season and finished fourth in the nation in strikeouts, while rotation-mate George Kirby (10-3, 2.89, 96 SO) is considered the conference’s top 2019 draft prospect and a potential first-round pick this June. Both Kirby (No. 38) and Brnovich (No. 105) rank among Baseball America’s Top 200 Draft Prospects and were voted Preseason All-Americans by MLB scouting directors, while sophomore lefthander Jared Wetherbee (2-1, 4.07) could transition into the Sunday starter’s role after an effective freshman campaign in the bullpen. Righthanded relievers Brandon Justice (0-3, 1.08) and Ty Adcock (0-0, 6.94) should step into larger roles and anchor the back of the bullpen after the graduation of Robbie Welhaf, who was Elon’s top reliever in 2018. Offensively, Elon will have to replace some key pieces up the middle, as shortstop Ryne Ogren (.338/.451/.457), a 12th-round pick by the Mariners, and center fielder Zach Evers (.297/.401/.431) are gone. The Phoenix seem to have ready-made replacements, however, as junior Cam Devanney (.287/.411/.433) will slide from second base to shortstop after a second-team all-CAA season a year ago, and junior speedster Tyler Stanley (.189/.348/.351) takes over in center field with the ability to steal 20-plus bases. In total, Elon will have to rely more on elite pitching and solid defense, but the pieces are there for Elon to win its first conference title since joining the CAA in 2014.

Player of the Year: Greg Jones, SS, UNCW

A 17th-round draft pick by the Orioles in 2017, Jones is a draft-eligible sophomore who could be a potential first-round pick this June. The switch-hitter has elite speed, which helps his range at shortstop but could also give him a future in center field, if needed. As a freshman in 2018, Jones was selected to the CAA all-rookie team after hitting .278/.412/.370 with 16 stolen bases, and he stole 20 bases in 37 games in the Cape Cod League this summer. If Jones’ hit tool takes a step forward this spring, he could be an offensive nightmare for opposing coaches, and his collection of raw tools is unrivaled in the CAA.

Pitcher of the Year: Kyle Brnovich, RHP, Elon

An argument can be made for either Brnovich or Kirby as the conference’s pitcher of the year, but Brnovich was the better of the two pitchers last year and therefore has the inside track to this award as it stands. Armed with an 89-93 mph fastball, a plus slider and above-average changeup, Brnovich racked up 147 strikeouts in 105 innings last season, and he limited opponents to a miniscule .159 average. It may be hard for Brnovich to improve upon his 1.71 ERA and 0.89 WHIP from a season ago, but even if he can just match those numbers it will be hard for anyone to best him as this year’s CAA pitcher of the year.

Freshman of the Year: Brody Lawson, RHP, UNCW

UNCW should have a number of candidates for freshman of the year honors, including versatile infielder Brooks Baldwin, who can play all over the infield and will likely get the starting nod at first base, and outfielder Chris Thorburn, who is an above-average defender with the ability to grind out at-bats. Unlike Baldwin and Thorburn, Lawson is a redshirt freshman who sat out all of 2018, and he has the chance to earn a spot in the Seahawks’ rotation. Sitting mostly 88-91 mph with his fastball, Lawson has some of the best pitchability on UNCW’s staff and shows good control of both his slider and changeup.

Top 25 Teams: None.

Notable Storylines

Regular season conference champions in each of the past two seasons, Northeastern has yet to win a CAA tournament title but was selected as an at-large team to last year’s NCAA Tournament on the strength of a program-record 36-win season. The Huskies lost two key position players to the draft from last year’s team in 2018 CAA player of the year Charlie McConnell (.347/.425/.470, 37 SB) and shortstop Max Burt (.272/.327/.362, 11 SB), but they return a good mix of experienced talent that should be able to fill the gaps. Sophomore Ian Fair (.305/.386/.418) will take over for Burt at shortstop after winning CAA rookie of the year honors in 2018, and senior Cam Walsh (.265/.345/.305) will take on a bigger role in the outfield after leading the New England Collegiate Baseball League in hitting over the summer. Senior first baseman Jake Farrell (.342/.412/.631, 11 HR) is Northeastern’s best proven power hitter, while senior third baseman Ryan Solomon (.238/.345/.428, 8 HR) could provide coach Mike Glavine with yet another double-digit home run threat in the middle of the lineup. Pitching-wise, Glavine’s group has a chance to run 10-12 deep, led by senior righthander Tyler Brown (8-4, 4.68, 61 SO) and junior lefthander Sean Mellen (10-3, 2.28, 81 SO) at the front of the rotation. Senior lefthander Andrew Misiaszek (2-2, 2.70, 12 SV) brings stability to the back-end of the bullpen as a Cape Cod League all-star over the summer and is looking to build off a junior season in which he set a single-season program record for saves. Redshirt junior righthander Kyle Murphy (3-3, 3.33) last season was second on the team in appearances and gives the Huskies another proven option out of the bullpen.

UNCW lost four pitches to last year’s draft—Austin Warren (sixth round, Angels), Alex Royalty (eighth round, Indians), Clark Cota (10th round, Athletics) and Austin Easter (31st round, Blue Jays)—as well as a pair of important power hitters in catcher Ryan Jeffers (second round, Twins) and first baseman Mason Berne (32nd round, Braves). Despite the losses on the mound, coach Mark Scalf’s club is expected to be deep with pitchers. The Seahawks return sophomore righthanders Gage Herring (2-1, 2.68) and Landen Roupp (0-3, 3.58), both of whom gained weekend starting experience as freshman, as well as junior righthander Luke Gesell (3-2, 3.37) who could transition from the bullpen to the front of the rotation in 2019. The loss of Jeffers and Berne, who combined to hit 28 of the team’s 54 home runs last season, likely means the Seahawks will have to rely more on speed and contact ability to score runs. While that offensive philosophy aligns nicely with the skill set of Jones, UNCW will also rely heavily on the likes of junior infielders Jackson Meadows (.252/.302/.272) and Cole Weiss (.264/.335/.357) taking a step forward, as well as outfielders Noah Bridges (.247/.307/.313, 14 SB) and Kep Brown (.267/.323/.459, 7 HR).

Entering year two of the Chad Holbrook-era, College of Charleston must replace major production from pitchers Evan Sisk (10-3, 2.96), Carter Love (7-0, 1.38) and Justin Baker (1-2, 1.59), who combined to throw more than 200 innings in 2018. However, senior righthanders Griffin McLarty (7-2, 3.32) and Jakob Frishmuth (4-4, 3.68) both have extensive starting experience, and senior righthander Nathan Ocker (4-0, 2.38, 10 SV) is an experienced weapon in the back of the bullpen. The Cougars lost outfielder Luke Morgan (.326/.393/.496, 20 SB) to the draft, but senior Dupree Hart (.326/.402/.434, 15 SB) is a dynamic offensive player and a plus defender at second base. Hart’s double-play partner, senior Luke Manzo (.241/.333/.299) is also strong with the glove, and the Cougars, in total, should be a strong defensive team. Senior catcher Danny Wondrack (.253/.367/.516, 12 HR) and junior first baseman Ari Sechopolous (.273/.370/.591, 9 HR) combined for 21 home runs a year ago, giving Charleston some much-needed power in the middle of its lineup.

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Roundup: Georgia Tech, Miami, Southern Miss All Score Key Wins

Key wins for Georgia Tech, Miami and Southern Miss highlighted Friday night's college baseball action.

Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects

1. George Kirby, RHP, Elon
2.
Greg Jones, SS, UNCW
3.
Kyle Brnovich, RHP, Elon
4. Sean Mellen, LHP, Northeastern
5. Kevin Kelly, RHP, James Madison
6. Nick Robertson, RHP, James Madison
7. Ty Adcock, RHP, Elon
8. Griffin McLarty, RHP, Charleston
9. Andrew Misiaszek, LHP, Northeastern
10. Jamie Sara, RHP, William & Mary

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