2021 Colonial Athletic Association Preview
The Colonial Athletic Association is consistently one of the toughest mid-major conferences and it did nothing to buck that trend in 2020, as four teams started out with winning records, including Charleston at 12-2, which included an 11-2 win over Clemson on March 4.
It’s also a league that hasn’t been dominated by one or two teams over the last decade, with UNC Wilmington leading the way with three regular-season championships in that timeframe, James Madison and Northeastern with two and Elon, College of Charleston and William & Mary with one apiece.
This season there will be plenty of competition again, albeit in a different format. The conference will consist of a North and South Division, with Northeastern, Delaware, Hofstra and Towson in the North and UNCW, Charleston, Elon, James Madison and William & Mary in the South. Each team will play 24 games within its own division, in addition to the non-conference schedule, with the top two teams and two at-large teams advancing to the conference tournament, being held May 26-30 at UNCW’s Brooks Field.
The format may be different this season, but the CAA will once again be one of the most exciting conferences in the sport.
Player of the Year: Cole Weiss, 3B, UNC Wilmington
A first-team all-CAA selection in 2019 after hitting .305/.387/.434 with 21 extra-base hits, Weiss, who has a strong hit tool and produces gap power, was off to an even better start in 2020. In 16 games, he hit .305/.397/.441 with two homers and six RBIs while playing plus defense at third base. As a fifth-year senior Weiss will be one of the more experienced players in the conference and the leader in the heart of the Seahawks’ lineup.
Pitcher of the Year: Sebastian Keane, RHP, Northeastern
An 11th-round pick to the Red Sox out of high school in 2019, Keane instead honored his commitment to Northeastern and was immediately tabbed as the conference’s freshman of the year. He made just four starts in 2020, pitching to a 3-1, 4.50 mark with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings compared to just six walks. Keane has a projectable 6-foot-3, 187-pound frame to go with a fastball that has shown an uptick in velocity, now sitting 92-95 mph and topping out at 96, a slider that’s his best offspeed offering and gets swings and misses and a curveball and changeup that he’s worked to improve since stepping on campus, giving him all the makings of a frontline starter.
Newcomer of the Year: Ryan Calvert, RHP, UNC Wilmington
Fellow true freshman righthander Ethan Chenault might have better stuff, but Calvert will be trusted with the Sunday starter role, giving him the outside edge on winning this award. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder has great size and throws a low-90s fastball, a mid-70s slider and changeup, but it’s his pitchability for his age that stands out.
Predicted Order of Finish (2020 record)
1. Northeastern (10-5)
After getting swept in a tough opening series at Alabama, Northeastern won 10 of its next 12 games to end the 2020 season. The Huskies return a veteran group in the lineup from that team that should be strong defensively and has plenty of speed, led by fifth-year senior second baseman Scott Holzwasser (.293/.438/.414), who led the team with five stolen bases in 2020. He’s anchored by fifth-year junior catcher Teddy Beaudet (.378/.477/.541), who was excellent in his first season as starter after an encouraging summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, third-year sophomore right fielder Jared Dupere (.359/.394/.578), outfielder Ben Malgeri, whose plus speed and power make him an intriguing draft prospect, and fifth-year junior third baseman Ian Fair (.258/.343/.290), the 2020 CAA Preseason Player of the Year who should be able to return to his strong 2019 form. On the mound, the Huskies are hurt by the loss of starter Sam Jacobsak, who signed a nondrafted free agent deal with the Phillies, but still return a talented group led by Keane (3-1, 4.50) and Friday starter fifth-year senior righthander Kyle Murphy (2-2, 3.00), who ranks fifth all-time in Northeastern history with 68 appearances. Sunday starter second-year freshman righthander Cam Schlittler (1-0, 1.32) gives the team a third weekend starter who can throw in the mid 90s, and fourth-year junior righthander Brandon Dufault (0.96, 4 SV) returns to close, giving Northeastern a potent mix of talent and experience.
2. Delaware (8-7)
Losing Billy Sullivan, who was excellent as a freshman in 2018 before missing the majority of the next two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, is a big loss, especially considering the Blue Hens posted a 5.91 team ERA in 2020. The good news, however, is the pitching staff otherwise returns intact. Fourth-year junior righthander Chris Ludman (1-2, 6.27) returns as the Friday starter after struggling in 2020 and he’s followed by third-year sophomore righthander Joey Silan (2-1, 6.41) as the Saturday starter and former juco transfer righthander Mike Biasiello (0-1, 6.75) will take the mound on Sundays with second-year freshman lefthander Reece Bolton (0-0, 8.10) serving as the midweek starter. Righthander Derek Wakeley (3-1, 2 SV) will handle closing duties. The Blue Hens posted a .290 team average in 2020, good for third-best in the conference, and return their lineup completely intact. Outfielder Aidan Riley (.389/.421/.472) excelled as a freshman and led the team in hitting, fifth-year catcher Jack Goan (.333/.355/.596) ranked second in the conference in home runs (4) and fourth-year sophomore outfielder Tyler Juhl (.348/.559/.435) and second-year freshman third baseman Joey Loynd (.342/.479/.605) both had breakout campaigns in 2020, giving the Blue Hens a dangerous lineup.
3. Hofstra (4-10)
The Pride led the conference in all three slash categories in 2020 (.302/.399/.466) and could very well do it again this season with the same core of hitters in the lineup. Fourth-year junior shortstop Austin Gauthier (.411/.515/.714, 3 HR) was well on his way to winning player of the year honors before the season was canceled and should get drafted in July, third-year sophomore center fielder Anthony D’Onofrio (.407/.508/.519, 5 SB) brings speed and a strong hit tool, sixth-year senior left fielder Brian Goulard (.298/.400/.489, 7 SB) should again wreak havoc when on base and second-year freshman second baseman Santino Rosso (.293/.383/.390) came into the fall even better after an encouraging debut season. It’s clear Hofstra can hit with anyone, but it remains to be seen if its pitching staff can improve upon its 7.26 team ERA in 2020. The Pride feel like they’ve improved their bullpen by adding junior college transfer righthander John Mikolaicyk, who leads the way with a hard fastball. The rotation consists of veteran arms in sixth-year righthander Jack Jett (0-0, 3.97), third-year sophomore lefthander Ryan Rue (1-1, 3.91) and fourth-year junior righthander Jimmy Joyce (1-2, 5.68).
4. Towson (7-8)
After the 2020 season ended, Towson lost three of its most experienced hitters to graduation—Brad Powers, Dirk Masters and Colin Conroy—and wasted no time in hitting the transfer market to bring in four new starters. Second baseman Nolan Young comes over from Illinois State, third baseman Jack McLaughlin put up solid numbers at Barstow (Calif.) JC, shortstop Danny Becerra excelled at San Diego Mesa JC in 2020 and right fielder Billy Godrick stole eight bases last season at Fordham. They’ll be joined in the lineup by third-year sophomore left fielder Matt Arceo (.395/.490/.442), the team’s leading hitter in 2020, and third-year sophomore center fielder Javon Fields (.293/.400/.310, 7 SB). On the mound, hard-throwing fourth-year junior righthander Josh Seils (0-3, 5.03) will lead the rotation, with third-year sophomore righthander Nick Ramanjulu (1-3, 3.22) and righthander Nick Janowicz, who missed the 2020 season due to injury. Fourth-year junior lefthander Austin Weber (2-0, 2.93) was impressive in relief in 2020 and will be the team’s closer this season.
1. UNC Wilmington (11-5)
The Seahawks got off to a strong start to the season that included a three-game sweep at Kentucky and a midweek win over East Carolina in what ended up as the last game of their 2020 campaign. Even with personnel losses on the pitching staff—Zarion Sharpe signed a nondrafted free agent deal with the Twins and Blake Deatherage and Nick Bruno graduated—UNCW still returns ace righthander Landen Roupp (3-1, 2.00), who could see himself become the first player in the conference drafted in July. Behind Roupp are fifth-year senior righthander Luke Gesell (3-1, 4.71) and true freshman righthander Ryan Calvert, who mixes a low-90s fastball with a mid-70s slider and a changeup. Fellow true freshman Ethan Chenault will take over the fourth starter role, with third-year sophomore righthander Adam Smith (2.38, 3 SV) handling closing duties. The Seahawks strength should be their pitching and defense, but there are still some solid bats in the lineup, including preseason player of the year third baseman Cole Weiss (.305/.397/.441) and fourth-year junior center fielder Noah Bridges (.290/.371/.387, 8 SB). Second-year freshman DH Ron Evans (.200/.345/.467, 3 HR) should help provide some pop in the middle of the lineup.
2. College of Charleston (12-2)
Charleston returns its entire team from the club that won 12 of 14 games, including an 11-2 win over Clemson. Back to lead the lineup is fifth-year senior first baseman Ari Sechopoulos (.360/.475/.680), who has plus power and contributed 10 extra-base hits in 14 games. Fourth-year junior right fielder Donald Hansis (.289/.358/.667, 5 HR) is the team’s other masher, with fifth-year senior left fielder Harrison Hawkins (.333/.365/.483) back to hit in the middle of the lineup and third-year sophomore DH Landon Choboy (.371/.463/.514) will look to build on his encouraging season. The Cougars’ pitching staff was as potent as any in the conference last year, posting a 2.13 ERA and sixth-year senior lefthander Jordan Carr (1-0, 3.60) is back to lead the way, with second-year freshman righthander Caswell Smith (3-0, 1.35) and fourth-year junior lefthander Zach Williams (0.00, 11 IP) rounding out the weekend rotation and second-year freshman righthander Ty Good (2 SV, 0.00) closing games.
3. James Madison (10-6)
The Dukes bring back a trio of impact hitters in second-year freshman Chase Delauter (.382/.455/.559), third-year sophomore shortstop Nick Zona (.370/.433/.426), who also provides quality defense at short, and third-year sophomore DH Kyle Novak (.317/.361/.460), but will need to see another consistent power hitter step up. The pitching staff struggled to a 4.18 team ERA, but returns fourth-year junior righthander Nick Stewart (0-2, 5.95) to lead the rotation, with fourth-year junior righthander Justin Showalter (4-0, 0.68) and second-year freshman Hunter Entsminger (1-0, 6.75) behind him and Delauter (7.98, 14.2 IP) expected to close.
4. Elon (7-10)
The Phoenix lineup struggled in the truncated season, posting a .232 team average, but do return fourth-year junior first baseman Jack Roberts (.311/.404/.444), who was in the midst of a breakout campaign, and third-year sophomore outfielder Anthony Galason (.292/.338/.431), who should be one of the better hitters in the conference again this season. On the mound, fourth-year junior lefthander Jared Wetherbee (1-1, 3.54) will likely be one of the first players in the conference drafted in July. He should be joined in the weekend rotation by righthander Spencer Bauer (1-1, 4.61) and second-year freshman righthander Ian Evans (0-4, 6.75) with fourth-year sophomore righthander Joe Sprake (3 SV, 5.14) closing games.
5. William & Mary (8-9)
William & Mary was perhaps hurt more than any other team by offseason losses, with reliever Nick Butts and left fielder Brandon Raquet graduating and top starter Chris Farrell transferring to Texas A&M. Farrell’s production will be the toughest to replace but the Tribe does have back fifth-year senior righthander Wade Strain, who posted a 6-4, 3.61 mark in 2019 but made just one appearance in 2020, along with fourth-year junior righthander Randy Prosperi (4.00, 9 IP) and second-year freshman righthander Ben Greenspon (4.50, 8 IP). Third-year sophomore righthander Jack Cone (3-1, 2.86) will move from the starting rotation to become the team’s closer in addition to being the team’s starting center fielder. Even without Raquet, the lineup still has some solid bats such as Cone (.326/.453/.465), third-year sophomore left fielder Hunter Hart (.417/.500/.500), who should hit in the middle of the order and fifth-year senior catcher Matt Trehub (.325/.491/.450). The Tribe will need someone to step up to replace Raquet’s power, whether that be Hart or fourth-year junior first baseman Tyler Solomon, who finished second on the team with three home runs in 2020.
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