2020 CAA College Baseball Preview
The 2019 season in the CAA looked like it was going to be headlined by Elon. The Phoenix not only won the regular-season title, but advanced to the CAA Conference Tournament championship game with their 36th win of the season. It was there that the team’s run ended, however.
UNC Wilmington upset the top seed in the title game with a thrilling 6-5 win in 10 innings to advance to the NCAA Tournament in the final season of longtime coach Mark Scalf’s tenure.
The offseason that followed that run was not kind to the Seahawks, or other teams in the conference. Not only did 2019 CAA player of the year Greg Jones get drafted in the first round by the Rays, but two other key Seahawks—lefthander Blake Morgan and righthander Justin Crump—said goodbye to the school. Elon, meanwhile, lost the 2019 CAA pitcher of the year George Kirby in the first round to the Mariners, and righthander Kyle Brnovich and hitters Ty Adcock and Cam Devanney also moved on. College of Charleston won’t have Danny Wondrack, the 2019 CAA home run leader, and five other top hitters.
The losses leave holes in the rosters of three of the conference’s top teams. Coming into the 2020 season, UNCW has the strongest combination of depth and talent to offset its losses, but will have to hold off a determined Northeastern team in its pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid.
Player of the Year: Ian Fair, 3B, Northeastern
Fair has put together an impressive resume in his two seasons suiting up for the Huskies. As a redshirt freshman, he was named CAA co-rookie of the year and a second-team all-CAA selection. As a redshirt sophomore, he was even better, leading the league in average (.357), hitting eight home runs and driving in 33 runs and earning a first-team all-CAA selection. As a redshirt junior, there’s every reason to think that Fair should take another step forward and earn player of the year honors as the leader for a Northeastern team looking to bounce back from a tough season. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Fair has good size and speed, evidenced by his 14 stolen bases in two seasons, and he will continue to wreak havoc with his bat in 2020.
Pitcher of the Year: Jared Wetherbee, LHP, Elon
After spending his freshman season primarily in the bullpen, Wetherbee moved to the rotation as a sophomore and went 7-4, 3.00 with 98 strikeouts in 84 innings. He should follow in the footsteps of former Elon righthander George Kirby, the 2019 CAA pitcher of the year, as the next Phoenix pitcher to take home the award. With both Kirby and righthander Kyle Brnovich having been selected in the 2019 draft, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Wetherbee, who possesses a three-pitch mix headlined by a low-90s fastball, will be the undisputed ace of Elon’s staff and should take another step forward with an impressive junior campaign.
Freshman of the Year: Sebastian Keane, RHP, Northeastern
Keane became the first Northeastern player in program history to honor his commitment after being selected in the MLB draft. The Red Sox 11th-round selection was the top high school prospect in Massachusetts and brings a projectable 6-foot-3, 170-pound frame to campus. Keane relies on a fastball that sits at 90-92 mph to go along with an improving low-80s slider, a curveball and a changeup. Keane should take little time in getting comfortable with his new surroundings before putting the rest of the conference on notice.
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Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. UNC Wilmington (32-31, 12-12)
There will be a different feel around UNCW this spring. Coach Mark Scalf retired following last season, his 28th at the program’s helm, and Randy Hood, his longtime assistant, was promoted to take his place. Hood has been on staff at UNCW since 2001 and played a key role in the program’s growth over the last two decades. Now, his task is to keep it rolling in 2020, after losing 2019 CAA player of the year Greg Jones and key relievers Blake Morgan and Justin Crump. Despite those losses, the Seahawks return much of their core from last year’s roster. Back to lead the lineup is senior third baseman Cole Weiss (.305/.387/.434, 49 RBI), junior center fielder Noah Bridges (.263/.324/.390, 17 SB) and senior DH Kep Brown (.273/.343/.449, 8 HR). Two-way player Adam Smith steps up to take over the reins for Jones at shortstop and provides solid defense and a strong arm at the position. Meanwhile, talented freshmen Trevor Marsh and Jac Croom will slide in at left fielder and second base, respectively, to give the Seahawks a talented lineup to lead them back to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. Their real strength, though, is on the mound. All three starters that pitched at least 50 innings are back to lead the way, starting with Friday starter Luke Gesell (5.5, 3.59). He’s joined by junior lefthander Zarion Sharpe (3-3, 4.21), who was drafted in the 19th round in 2019, but decided to return to school for his senior season, and junior righthander Landon Rouppe (6-3, 3.47). Rounding out the pitching staff is Smith (0-0, 1.64), who will be asked to take on the closer role. With quality bats in the lineup and three quality starters returning to lead the pitching staff, the Seahawks should capture the CAA regular-season title for the first time since 2016.
2. Northeastern (28-29, 12-12)
Coming off a disappointing season in 2019, coach Mike Glavine and his squad will be out to prove the season was an aberration for a program that consistently finishes near the top of the conference. The Huskies will have to do so without key players from last year’s team, including leading home run threat Jake Farrell and Friday starter Sean Mellen. Fortunately, the Huskies do return a lot of speed from a lineup that stole 101 bases last season, good for the third-best mark in the conference. Redshirt-junior third baseman Ian Fair (.357/.419/.520, 8 HR) has gotten better every year on the diamond and should be the conference’s best hitter this season. He’s joined in the lineup by three seniors in DH Jake Rosen (.237.,380/.356, 9 SB), left fielder Kyle Peterson (.167/.321/.182) and second baseman Scott Holzwasser (.254/.394/.402, 27 SB). Junior right fielder Jeff Costello (.267/.348/.351, 19 SB) will also prove to be an integral part of the lineup and redshirt junior Teddy Beaudet (.200/.333/.200) provides quality defense behind the plate. The loss of Mellen in the rotation should be offset by the arrival of the conference’s top freshman in righthander Sebastian Keane, who bypassed a chance to sign with the Red Sox as an 11th-round draft pick in order to honor his commitment. Keane brings a strong four-pitch mix led by a fastball that can top out at 95 mph. Redshirt-senior righthander Kyle Murphy (5-4, 4.66) provides experience at the top of the rotation, and junior righthander Sam Jacobsak (2-6, 5.34) converted from a reliever to the team’s Saturday starter and is expected to have a strong year. Even with heavy losses from last year’s squad, the Huskies have enough talent to challenge the Seahawks at the top of the conference.
3. College of Charleston (36-21, 16-8)
For the second consecutive season, College of Charleston finished with 35 or more wins and 15 or more conference victories, but it could be tough to accomplish that feat in 2020. Losing leading hitter Danny Wondrack is tough, but he’s far from the only player from last year’s team who won’t return this season. Of the team’s top seven hitters, only senior outfielder Chris Graham (.291/.352/.346, 13 SB) will this spring take the field for the Cougars. He will need help from other returning hitters in seniors Harrison Hawkins (.220/.305/.364) and Ari Sechopoulos (.202/.312/.327). With many more questions than answers, it’s tough to envision the Cougars leading the league in hitting once again. On the mound, Charleston faces more heavy losses with the departure of dominant righthander Griffin McLarty and closer Nathan Ocker. Fortunately, senior righthander Tradd James (3-0, 2.77) and junior lefthander Zach Williams (3-3, 4.58) return to school. It could be a rebuilding year in Charleston, but it’s tough to count out the program after seeing the results from Chad Holbrook’s first two seasons at the helm.
4. Willam & Mary (33-22, 12-11)
Even with the loss of lefthander Bodie Sheehan, the Tribe returns a strong core of pitchers to once again features one of the better staffs in the league. Senior righthander Wadee Strain (6-4, 3.61) will be the team’s Friday starter and fellow senior righthander Chris Farrell (5-2, 2.58) brings a strong fastball/slider combo to the Saturday starter role. Sophomore lefthander Zach Tsakounis (4-2, 3.60) should continue to get better after being a CAA all-rookie selection in 2019. Junior righthander Randy Prosperi (3-2, 3.52) will take over in the closer role after striking out 42 batters in 38.1 innings last year. The real question for the team lies with the Tribe’s hitting after losing catcher Hunter Smith, Zach Pearson and Kyle Wrighte. If other hitters can step up to help senior left fielder Brandon Raquet (.269/.402/.531, 8 HR), a third-team all-CAA selection last season, and junior second baseman Matt McDermott (.251/.292/.330, 35 RBI), then the Tribe can reach its ceiling and potentially make it to a regional after a three-year absence.
5. Elon (33-24, 19-5)
After taking home the CAA regular-season title in 2019, Elon looked like it was on its way to its first regional bid since 2013. The Phoenix got all the way to the CAA Tournament championship game before losing in heartbreaking fashion in a 6-5 extra-innings loss to UNC Wilmington. Elon will be determined to avenge that defeat in 2020, but perhaps no CAA team lost more of its core from last season than the Phoenix. Not only did the 1-2 combo of starting pitchers George Kirby and Kyle Brnovich leave in the draft, but catcher Cam Devanney and outfielder/closer Ty Adcock also must be replaced. With the return of senior third baseman Joe Satterfield (.325/.438/.476), senior outfielder Tyler Stanley (28 SB) and sophomore DH Matt Oldham (.224/.320/.362, 5 HR), Elon still retains a strong lineup, however. On the mound, junior lefthander Jared Wetherbee (7-4, 3.00) is the easy choice for the team’s Friday starter and will be aided by freshman righthander Spencer Bauer and senior lefthander Dean McCarthy (2-3, 3.70) who transitions to a role as a starter after appearing in 27 games as a reliever in 2019. Sophomore righthander Joe Sprake (0-2, 4.91) will take over the closer role for Adcock after earning one save as a freshman. Elon faces a tough test after losing so much talent to remain in the conference’s top tier.
6. James Madison (31-26, 11-15)
The Dukes return their nine most productive hitters from last year’s team, led by speedy left fielder Trevon Dabney (.306/.457/494, 17 SB). Joining Dabney in the outfield is freshman Chase Delauter, who impressed coaches in fall ball, and junior Conor Hartigan (.280/.383/.420). Power threat Brady Harju (.295/.358/.479, 9 HR) will slide in at first base opposite 2018 CAA all-rookie team selection Josh Jones, who missed last season. Shortstop Nick Zona (.337/.387/.388) will take on a bigger role this season after starting 30 games as a freshman. The team’s pitching staff doesn’t have quite the same continuity. Friday starter Kevin Kelly was drafted in the 19th round by the Indians and Joe Williams exhausted his eligibility. But 6-foot-5 righthander Nick Stewart (4-5, 2.74) will slide into the Friday role and will be joined in the weekend rotation by righthanders Michael Bechtold (2-2, 5.67) and Justin Showalter (1-3, 3.72). Redshirt senior lefthander Brett Ayer (4-1, 2.52) takes over the closer role after the departure of Nick Robertson (5-1, 1.01, 8 SV). If the Dukes can again boast the top ERA of the conference, they will finish higher than this ranking, but that will be a tough task after losing key pitchers.
7. Delaware (21-33, 9-15)
Even though Delaware finished with just 21 wins last season, the fewest by the program since 2003, there were reasons for optimism. Freshman first baseman Joseph Carpenter (.300/.368/.459) was named the 2019 CAA rookie of the year and should be even better as a sophomore. The Blue Hens also added redshirt junior third baseman John Marti, who was a first-team all-Patriot League selection in 2018 before transferring to Delaware. The two hitters will be joined by first-team all-CAA selection in center fielder Jordan Hutchins (.272/.375/.421, 4 HR) and left fielder Austin Colmery (.262/.413/.352), a CAA all-rookie team honoree in 2019, to form a strong lineup. That stability extends to the pitching staff. Even without Friday starter Brandon Walter, the Blue Hens boast plenty of familiar faces, including junior righthander Chris Ludman (3-8, 5.82). Sophomore righthander Jack Dubecq (2-5, 3.44) should be the team’s Saturday starter as a sophomore and righthander Joey Silan (3-5, 5.53) should retain a spot in the rotation, as well. Closer Derek Wakeley (2-3, 3.91, 6 SV) retains his role after a nice junior season. The Blue Hens might not have the talent to compete at the top of the conference, but they will certainly improve upon last season’s results.
8. Hofstra (18-31-1, 10-14)
It will be tough for the Pride to replace the big bat of catcher Vito Friscia, who led the team in nearly every offensive category from a season ago. The good news is that the Pride still bring back 27 lettermen from last year’s team, headlined by senior first baseman Rob Weissheier (.258/.371/.509, 8 HR), junior shortstop Austin Gauthier (.269/.373/.374, 12 SB) and sophomore center fielder Anthony D’Onofrio (.253/.320/.400, 10 SB). On the mound, starters Jack Jett (2-3, 5.52) and Ryan Rue (3-4, 4.48) return to lead the rotation. Jimmy Joyce (2-4, 8.35) slides in to become the team’s Sunday starter after pitching mostly in a relief role. Although high-leverage reliever Daniel Page (2.19, 4 SV) graduated, Andrew Mundy (1-2, 4.78, 5 SV) is back to reprise his role as closer. Even with so much of the team’s core back, the Pride must figure out a way to both manufacture runs and tighten up run prevention after finishing at or near the bottom in the CAA in runs and ERA last season.
9. Towson (7-17, 14-39)
Towson finished last in the conference in runs scored (211) and seventh in ERA (5.59) and it will be tough for the team to get much better in 2020 with the losses of third baseman Zach Piazza and Friday starter Gavin Weyman. Senior first baseman Brad Powers (.267/.391/.478, 7 HR) will be the key cog in the Tigers’ lineup, along with sophomore center fielder Javon Fields (.272/.366/.371, 15 SB). Junior righthander Josh Seils (2-8, 4.00) will take over Weyman’s role as Friday starter and junior college transfer Shayne Clowar will be the team’s Saturday starter. Junior righthander Jake Pecilunas (2-5, 5.14, 1 SV) takes over the closer job this season.