2020 Northeast Conference College Baseball Preview
The Northeast Conference went through an offseason of change last summer. Bryant, the conference’s powerhouse, lost coach Steve Owens to Rutgers and Fairleigh Dickinson also went through a coaching change. Merrimack joined the conference as it reclassifies from Division II to Division I and the Long Island-Brooklyn Blackbirds became the Long Island Sharks after its athletic department merged with Long Island-Post.
Fittingly, all that change is reflected in these projections. After a decade of Bryant’s dominance atop the conference, Central Connecticut State enters 2020 as the team to beat in the NEC. The Bulldogs will still be formidable, but they have something to prove with so many new faces.
Introductions will be necessary throughout the NEC this season, but the shakeup should make things interesting in the conference race.
Player of the Year: TT Bowens, 1B, Central Connecticut State
Bowens had an impressive freshman year and was named the MVP of the 2017 NEC Tournament. An injury cost him almost all of the 2018 season and delayed his start in 2019. He quickly made up for lost time, however, and hit .376/.459/.640 with five home runs in 32 games, including one against Arkansas in regionals. He carried that momentum into the summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where he hit .331/.420/.694 with 16 home runs. Listed at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he has big raw power and has the strength to carry the CCSU lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: Tyler Mattison, RHP, Bryant
Mattison was the Bulldogs’ Opening Day starter in 2019 and turned in a strong season, going 9-1, 3.47, including a 5-0, 1.79 mark in eight conference starts. He followed that performance up with a solid summer in the Cape Cod League, establishing himself as the conference’s top prospect. Mattison has a big arm and can run his fastball up to 96 mph, while mixing in a good changeup as well.
Freshman of the Year: Tommy DiTullio, SS, Bryant
Last year snapped a streak of seven straight years of a Bryant player winning NEC freshman of the year. The Bulldogs have a few potential candidates for the award this season, with DiTullio at the top of the list. The New Jersey native has good athleticism, feel for hitting and defensive ability that will help him contribute right away.
2019 Cape Cod League Top Prospects: 11-30
The rankings include a national champion at Vanderbilt, a rightander who hit 101 mph, a possible 2021 first-rounder and more.
Predicted Order of Finish (2019 record)
1. Central Connecticut State (31-23, 16-8)
While Bryant has ruled the NEC during the regular season for the last decade, CCSU last year won the NEC Tournament—its second in the last three years. The Blue Devils beat the Bulldogs twice in the NEC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where they eliminated California in the Fayetteville Regional. CCSU returns all nine regulars from that team, including Bowens (.376/.459/.640, 5 HR) and senior outfielder Dave Matthews (.303/.405/.508, 7 HR). The Blue Devils’ offense last year was middle-of-the-pack in the NEC but with so much experience returning, it has the potential to take a big step forward. CCSU does have some holes to fill on the mound. It lost starters Tom Curtin and Patrick Mitchell, as well as top relievers Mike Appel and Jared Gallagher. Senior righthander Brandon Fox (3-6, 4.25), who started the opener in the Fayetteville Regional, takes over at the front of the rotation. Redshirt sophomore lefthander Ron Grant hasn’t pitched for the last two years due to injury but pitched well in 2017 as a freshman and can help in the rotation. Third baseman Brandon Dewaine and outfielder Peyton Stephens both have big arms and can help on the mound this spring as well. CCSU hasn’t won the regular season title since 2006, but with so much experience back in the lineup and upside on the mound, it has enough to break Bryant’s monopoly atop the conference.
2. Bryant (40-20, 19-5)
The Bulldogs have been the bullies of the NEC since joining the conference in 2010. They’ve won eight straight regular season titles and nine overall. Those eight straight titles, however, all came under coach Steve Owens, who after last season was hired away by Rutgers. Bryant hired Ryan Klosterman, who spent the last eight years as an assistant coach at Central Florida. Klosterman was well regarded as UCF’s recruiting coordinator and inherits a solid program for his first head coaching job. But in addition to Owens, the Bulldogs lost several key contributors including leading hitter Ryan Ward, shortstop Jimmy Titus, first baseman/closer Chris Wright, ace Steven Theetge and reliable righthander Nathan Wrighter. There’s still solid talent on hand, however. Mattison (9-1, 3.47) is ready to move to the front of the rotation and gives the Bulldogs the best pitcher in the conference. There’s solid depth behind him and powerful redshirt freshman righthander Luke Garofalo is back from an elbow injury that sidelined him all of last year. Seniors James Cilento (.278/.373/.460, 10 HR, 11 SB) and Gaby Cruz (.354/.449/.592, 9 HR) will anchor the lineup. Bryant has a talented, exciting freshman class, including DiTullio and catcher Alex Lane. If that group comes along quickly, Bryant can continue its success into the new decade.
3. Sacred Heart (19-34-1, 11-13)
The Pioneers return all but one regular from last year’s team, including leading hitter Jake Frasca (.332/.403/.439). The redshirt senior third baseman was the team’s leading source of power as well—he hit a team-high 13 doubles and led SHU in slugging percentage. Senior outfielder Elijah Brown (.262/.361/.388, 16 SB) and sophomore outfielder Justin Jordan (.314/.416/.407, 12 SB) will again be asked to be offensive catalysts. The Pioneers are similarly experienced on the mound. They return nine of the 11 pitchers who threw at least 20 innings last year. Junior righthander Ryan LaMay (3-5, 5.38) proved to be a workhorse last season, leading the team with 77 innings. Sophomore lefthander Michael Attonito (1-2, 4.81) proved to be a dependable reliever, as did redshirt senior John Cerretani (4-1, 4.08) and they’ll be counted on again. With so much experience on this year’s roster, the Pioneers will have high hopes for 2020.
4. Wagner (19-32, 11-13)
After winning a program-record 38 games in 2018, Wagner took a step back in 2019 and saw its win total cut in half. The Seahawks still made the NEC Tournament, however, and will look to get back to a high level in 2020. Seniors Freddy Sabido (.317/.396/.477), Tyler Sanfilippo (.295/.423/.455) and Griffin Schneider (.264/.287/.350) will lead the lineup, which has to replace its leading hitter (Will Johnson) and leading power hitter (Anthony Pecora). On the mound, Wagner lost ace Neil Abbatiello and closer Nick Robino, but again has some seniors it can rely on. Righthanders McCae Allen (4-6, 4.53) and Justin Beyer (3-4, 4.24) threw significant innings last year and will now be counted on to lead the staff. The Seahawks will need some new pitchers to step up, but their experience can anchor the staff.
5. Long Island (20-33, 10-14)
Long Island University merged the athletic programs at its Brooklyn and Post campuses this school year and created a new look for the combined program. What was once the LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds is now the Long Island Sharks. In addition to a new name and colors, the Sharks will have a new look to their lineup. Senior second baseman Rob Griswold (.294/.391/.355, 11 SB) returns to anchor the lineup, but the Sharks must replace six regulars from last year’s team. Griswold also pitches (4-6, 3.18) and he’s one of the top returners to the pitching staff as well, but he’ll have a little bit more help there. Sophomore righthander Alec Huertas (4-4, 4.58) and senior righthander Jackson Svete (1-5, 4.57) are back to help the Sharks’ rotation. Coach Dan Pirillo is entering his fourth season at the program’s helm and has done a good job since returning to his alma mater. He’ll need to rely on some new faces this year to keep the Sharks swimming.
6. Fairleigh Dickinson (15-37-1, 9-15)
FDU reached the 2016 NEC Tournament championship game bu has been stuck in the bottom half of the league the last three years. Now, after one season under interim coach Justin McKay, the Knights will look to reverse their fortune under the direction of new head coach Rob DiToma. Hired away from Fordham, where he was associate head coach, DiToma brings an up-tempo offense to FDU. At Fordham, DiToma helped develop an offense that led the nation in stolen bases in each of the last two seasons. FDU last season stole just 35 bases, so it has a long way to go to reach that level, but it will no doubt see an uptick this spring. Sophomore second baseman Nate Brodsky (.318/.373/.495), sophomore outfielder Tom Ruscitti (.263/.384/.537, 14 HR, 8 SB) and senior center fielder Mike Veit (.271/.338/.322) are the only regulars back from last year’s lineup but form a solid nucleus. Sophomore catcher George Rosales (.228/.271/.307) didn’t play much as a freshman but has emerged as a strong defender and is ready to step into the starting lineup. On the mound, FDU needs to find some answers after posting an 8.33 team ERA last season. With some improvements on the mound and the help of the new coaching staff, the Knights can quickly make strides.
7. Merrimack (N/A)
The Warriors this year are beginning the reclassification process from Division II. They made the Division II NCAA Tournament in 2018 after winning the Northeast 10 Conference and were runners-up in the conference last season. They’ll have a new challenge this spring, however. The good news is Merrimack has 10 seniors on its roster, including its three leading hitters from 2019. First baseman Thomas Joyce (.306/.409/.421, 15 SB), third baseman Joey Porricelli (.317/.395/.551, 9 HR, 33 SB) and shortstop Nick Shumski (.297/.396/.406, 17 SB) give the Warriors a solid core in the lineup and a good defensive infield. On the mound, Merrimack returns junior righthanders Timmy Kalantzakos (7-2, 1.98) and Vin Zappulla (7-1, 2.45) in its rotation. With so much experience back in the fold, Merrimack should be able to manage its first year in Division I well, though it’s going to be a step up for the whole team.
8. Mount St. Mary’s (15-35, 8-16)
Shortstop Patrick Causa last season was named NEC player of the year as a senior after hitting .402/.521/.710 with 12 home runs to lead the Mountaineers. Replacing him is an unenviable task. The Mount does return some key pieces, including sophomore second baseman Ryan Fisher (.306/.414/.441) and junior outfielder Myles Nicholson (.365/.444/.514, 37 SB). Nicholson will again be asked to be the offensive catalyst for a lineup that last year ranked second in the league in runs (335) and first in stolen bases (89). The Mount will need to improve on the mound, however, after compiling a 6.93 team ERA. Redshirt senior righthander Michael Kuypers (3-5, 4.79) will lead the rotation, but he’ll need some help behind him. To climb out of the cellar, the Mount will need to find a replacement for Casey and build more pitching depth.
Top 2020 Draft Prospects
- Tyler Mattison, RHP, Bryant
- T.T. Bowens, OF, Central Connecticut State
- Will Treuel, RHP, Bryant
- Bryan Hart, 3B, Bryant
- Buddy Dewaine, 3B, Central Connecticut State
- Dave Matthews, OF, Central Connecticut State
- James Cilento, OF, Bryant
- Jake Frasca, 3B/RHP, Sacred Heart
- Brandon Fox, RHP, Central Connecticut State
- Rob Griswold, 2B/RHP, Long Island