2022 Colonial Athletic Association College Baseball Preview
Last season was Northeastern’s year from start to finish as the Huskies went 20-3 in conference play and claimed their first Colonial Athletic Association title. However, it took a pair of dramatic extra-inning victories over UNC-Wilmington in the finals to win that title, setting the stage for what will surely be a dramatic conference race in 2022.
The Huskies are the preseason favorites, but the Seahawks aren’t far behind. There are plenty of teams lurking, too, whether it’s experienced rosters at College of Charleston or Elon, or a James Madison team looking to get into a rhythm over the course of a full season.
In a league that will soon welcome Stony Brook—a powerhouse in the America East—to the fold, this year’s campaign figures to be a tightly-fought one.
Player of the Year: Chase DeLauter, OF, James Madison
A projected first-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, DeLauter has played just 42 total games in his first two years on campus. This spring will be the last chance to get a full collegiate season out of the slugging center fielder and it has the makings of a huge year. DeLauter, who slashed .386/.508/.723 in 2021, had a big summer on the Cape with Orleans. The 20-year-old hit nine home runs in 34 games with more walks (21) than strikeouts (18) and a .986 OPS. DeLauter is a plus hitter with plenty of raw power and hasn’t missed a step offensively at any level.
Pitcher of the Year: Cam Schlittler, RHP, Northeastern
Schlittler will look to add to his trophy cabinet this spring, aiming to build on his CAA co-rookie of the year honors. One could make the argument that Schlittler deserved the pitcher of the year title last season, going 8-1 with a 1.88 ERA across 13 starts with a 10.0 K/9, but he lost out to UNCW’s Landen Roupp (who threw 25 more innings). Schlittler throws a mid-90s fastball, has a strong changeup as a strikeout pitch and boasts a slider and curveball. The four-pitch mix was on full display last spring, and he found success with the Cape’s Harwich Mariners this summer, making five starts and posting a 21-11 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 25 innings.
Freshman of the Year: Daniel Brooks, RHP, College of Charleston
A top-300 prospect out of Bishop England (S.C.) High, Brooks is the projected Saturday starter for the Cougars and could have an immediate impact. Standing 6-foot-8, 245 pounds, Brooks runs his fastball up to 94 mph and rounds out a three-pitch mix with a curveball and a changeup. His curveball, which he developed and took a big step forward with, has plenty of bite in the mid 70s and impresses scouts. While Northeastern freshman outfielder Michael Sirota could be poised for a big year, Brooks’ weekend rotation billing is hard to ignore.
Predicted Order of Finish (2021 Record)
1. Northeastern (36-12, 20-3)
The Huskies are coming off a prolific season in which they won their first CAA championship, set a program record for wins (36), and rattled off a 20-game win streak at one point. They were two-and-out at the NCAA Tournament, though, and lost the bulk of their outfield—CAA player of the year Jared Dupere and Ben Malgeri—as well as lineup regulars Ian Fair, Scott Holzwasser, starting pitcher Kyle Murphy and key relievers Brian Rodriguez and Brandon Dufault. That’s a lot for any team to overcome, but the Huskies do have the benefit of leaning on what will be the conference’s top rotation. The new-look lineup might take a bit to settle in, but the Huskies pitching staff can keep them in any game.
The weekend rotation of Cam Schlittler (8-1, 1.88 ERA), Sebastian Keane (6-1, 4.09), and Wyatt Scotti (4-2, 2.82) is a potent one. Schlittler was the CAA co-rookie of the year, Keane is a former 11th-round draft pick, and Scotti posted a sparkling 39-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio as a true freshman. There’s also Jordy Allard, a transfer from Division III Babson (Mass.), who had a spectacular career there, incoming freshman Dennis Colleran, who runs his fastball up to 97 mph and returning reliever Eric Yost (4 SV, 4.57 ERA). Offensively, first baseman Danny Crossen (.336/.411/.473), second baseman Max Viera (.348/.394/.589, 6 HR), and outfielder Jeff Costello (.329/.405/.449, 13 SB) are a strong group of returnees. Newcomers to the lineup include Kansas State transfer Luke Beckstein, freshman Mike Sirota, and redshirt freshman Jack Thorbahn.
2. UNC Wilmington (32-22, 13-8)
While Northeastern dominated the North Division in 2021, UNCW gave the Huskies all they could handle in the CAA Tournament final. It took a pair of extra-inning games for Northeastern to claim the crown, so UNCW enters 2022 attempting to bounce back. While the Seahawks lost Kip Brandenburg and Cole Weiss from the lineup, they do return potential player of the year candidate Brooks Baldwin (.325/.353/.580, 15 HR), who will make the move from the outfield to second base. Catcher Matt Suggs (.287/.403/.541, 11 HR), shortstop Taber Mongero (.307/.395/.368) and outfielder Dillon Lifrieri (.305/.355/.407) are all key pieces returning. The lineup will hinge on big seasons from Noah Bridges (.238/.305/.406, 11 HR) and Trevor Marsh (.259/.354/.393).
While the lineup returns many of its key pieces, the same can’t be said about the pitching staff. Experience will be lacking in the rotation as the top two starters from a season ago—CAA pitcher of the year Landen Roupp and Luke Gesell—departed, as did Adam Smith (third in innings pitched). Add in the fact that Ryan Calvert will miss the 2022 campaign due to injury and the Seahawks are looking at a completely new rotation. Jacob Shafer (1-1, 5.29), junior college transfer Matt Gaither and Ethan Chenault (3-1, 4.03) are the probable starters. Shafer made the most starts last season of that group with five, with Chenault—the team’s top draft prospect—working as a reliever. Closer Hunter Hodges (2-3, 4.38), who struggled with walks as a freshman but still posted 12 strikeouts per nine innings, is back. Another intriguing arm is Luke Craig, a hard-throwing southpaw who only threw seven innings as a freshman but struck out 23 across 16 innings in the Coastal Plain League.
3. College of Charleston (27-25, 12-12)
Another title challenger could be the College of Charleston, which hasn’t appeared in the CAA title game since 2014. The Cougars will miss Harrison Hawkins and Ari Sechopoulos but return a talented and experienced offensive group. Tanner Steffy (.333/.403/.500), Joe Mershon (.314/.425/.468, 11 SB), Trotter Harlan (.291/.338/.427, 10 SB) and Jared Kirven (.299/.338/.422) were preseason all-CAA selections. Outfielder Landon Choboy (.300/.356/.444) impressed in 29 games as a true sophomore, and he’ll likely be joined by freshman Tyler Sorrentino and junior college transfers Luke Wood and JT Marr. The latter two arrive from Florence-Darlington Tech (S.C.) CC, where they had big seasons, while Sorrentino is a speedster. Hawkins and Sechopoulos combined to drive in 94 runs last season, but the Cougars finished sixth in the conference in OPS and have room to improve without the two big bats in the lineup.
The depth is stronger on the mound, where Daniel Brooks figures to be an impact freshman as a Saturday starter. Righthander Ty Good (7-5, 3.71) projects to anchor the rotation as the top returning starter, while the Cougars have several options to round out the staff. It could be lefthander Connor Campbell (6-4, 4.07) or William Privette (1-3, 3.60), who split time between the bullpen and rotation a season ago. The bullpen is well-rounded, with Trey Pooser (4-2, 4.67) moving from the rotation and joining Old Dominion transfer Luke Vaks and junior righthander Caswell Smith (0-1, 6.00). Charleston has the arms to make some noise, but will need to take steps forward offensively.
4. Elon (22-22, 10-8)
After a runner-up finish in the 2019 CAA Tournament, Elon took a step backward in 2021. The Phoenix got off to a 3-8 start prior to conference play, then went through ups and downs in conference play. Elon has the potential to improve this season, though, despite losing Jared Weatherbee as well as lineup regulars Anthony Galason, Nick Cicci, Garrett Stonehouse, Adam Spurlin and Matt Oldham. Throw in the fact that all-CAA first team closer Joe Sprake is out for the season due to injury, and it does seem like an uphill battle for the Phoenix.
However, Elon could challenge for one of the top rotations in the league. Righthander Trevor Kirk (4-1, 3.28) is making the jump from the bullpen—where he posted 12.9 strikeouts per nine innings—and has seen a spike in his velocity, running his fastball up to 95 mph. He’ll be joined by Joe Savino (0-3, 3.02) and Brian Edgington (4-3, 4.08), with Savino posting a gaudy 70-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio last season while Edgington is a pitchability righthander. Ben Simon (1-4, 8.44) is expected to assume Sprake’s closer role, and the back end of the bullpen is an area where the Phoenix have more questions. Offensively, it’s the outfield duo of Justin Cassella (.276/.364/.466) and Alex Iadisernia (.368/.448/.326, 10 HR), along with first baseman Cole Reynolds (.292/.398/.444), that form the core of a new-look lineup. Pitt transfer Sam Frontino figures to take over at third, while freshman Alex Duffey’s lefthanded bat impressed and earned him the designated hitter role. For Elon to have success, it’ll need bigger offensive contributions from the likes of Carlos Marte (.163), Willie Havens (.241) and Parker Haskin (.241) as they step into full-time roles.
5. James Madison (11-17, 6-9)
It was a stop-and-start season for the Dukes, who played just 28 games, including 15 in CAA play. They had long gaps—up to three-plus weeks—without games and never really got going. The lineup wasn’t an issue, as they finished second to Northeastern in OPS (.802), but the pitching staff allowed more than eight runs a game. There’s reason to hope for a much-improved campaign in 2022, though. Fewer disruptions to the schedule would surely help, but so will an experienced roster. The major departure of the offseason was outfielder Conor Hartigan, who led the team in RBIs, but the Dukes have enough firepower to overcome that loss.
It starts with Chase DeLauter (.386/.508/.723, 6 HR), who is poised for a monster year in what will be his first full season, but there’s plenty of depth in the lineup. Outfielder Carson Bell (.346/.386/.513), designated hitter Kyle Novak (.315/.374/.438) and catcher Travis Reifsnider (.314/.448/.514) make up a strong core. Junior college transfer Jacob Steinberg and Radford’s Jalen Buster are two key additions, while Tre Dabney (.274/.370/.339) is a potential breakout player. Of course, offense wasn’t the issue last season. JMU needs more from its pitching staff, and it’ll start with the top-of-the-rotation duo of Justin Showalter (1-2, 4.37) and Donovan Burke (4-1, 3.00). The Dukes also added CJ Czerwinski (1-0, 9.26) from rival Charleston, and expect him and Joe Vogatsky (0-2, 9.82) to take steps forward. The back end of the bullpen is intriguing, as Steinberg is a two-way player who can run it up to 94 mph and will feature as a closer, while Liam Grubbs (1-0, 4.42) had a strong 2021 campaign and will throw plenty of innings.
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6. Towson (21-36, 11-12)
Last season, Towson finished second to Northeastern in the CAA North Division, but was quickly eliminated from the CAA Tournament. It was a sign of progress under coach Matt Tyner, though, as the Tigers haven’t been above .500 since 2008. The 2022 season might not be the one that gets them over the hump, though, as they are replacing two weekend starters—Danny Madden and Josh Seils—as well as key reliever Kody Reeser and outfielders Javon Fields and Billy Godrick. That’s a lot to overcome for a team that finished last in the CAA in OPS (.668) and posted a 5.62 ERA.
The rotation will feature Nick Janowicz (3-3, 5.94), Nick Ramanjulu (1-5, 6.60) and East Carolina transfer Nate Nabholz. Janowicz will need to cut down on walks if he’s to evolve into a Friday starter—he issued 33 in 66.2 innings last season. La Salle transfer Luis Rivera is projected to be the closer after impressing in the fall, while freshman righthander Doug Marose could also have a strong debut season. Offensively, shortstop Danny Becerra (.258/.381/.335) is the top returning regular, but outfielder Bryce Frederick (.273/.371/.416) could break out after just 91 plate appearances last season. Nolan Young (.256/.388/.313) had a patient eye at the plate last season and is shifting over to third from second. He’s making room for Jordan Peyton, a Radford transfer, while the likes of Chandler Castleberry (Division II Anderson (S.C.)), Elijah Dickerson (La Salle) and James Moses (Lamar (Colo.) CC) round out the lineup. Castleberry could be the gem of the group if he makes the jump from D-II seamlessly—he has a career .274 average with 30 home runs.
7. William & Mary (14-29, 10-14)
With coach Brian Murphy off to Merrimack, former Virginia Commonwealth pitching coach Mike McRae takes over after a shaky 2021 season. William & Mary’s schedule did it no favors—it went 0-12 against RPI Quadrant I opponents in non-conference play—but it also finished four games under .500 in the CAA. The Tribe hasn’t had a winning record in the CAA since 2017, but returns a veteran lineup and the bulk of its pitching staff. CAA defensive player of the year Matt McDermott is gone, as is innings-eater Wade Strain, but the rest of the lineup and pitching staff is intact.
Third baseman Ben Williamson (.303/.371/.429) and outfielders Jack Cone (.301/.385/.447) and Matt Thomas (.270/.354/.459, 5 HR) all return. The rest of the lineup—including Tyler Solomon, David Hogarth, Mark Trotta and Hunter Hart—all finished last season with a batting average below .230, however. If William & Mary is to improve, it’ll have to improve on a league-worst 4.47 runs scored per game from a season ago. On the mound, the Tribe have a lot of experience that should help reduce a 5.88 ERA from 2021. Strain led the team in innings pitched last season, but lefthander Zach Tsakounis (3-2, 3.62) could have a big year in assuming that mantle. Justin Pearson (4-7, 6.19) and Ben Greenspon (0-3, 4.96) are two other important returnees, while Matt Howat (1-2, 3.64) figures to help close out games alongside the two-way player Cone (0-1, 7.36). Righthanders Carter Lovasz and Tom Mayer are other names to know on the staff.
8. Delaware (17-22, 8-16)
In what will be Jim Sherman’s 22nd and final year at the helm, the Blue Hens will need to improve on the mound if they want to avoid a fourth straight losing season. Delaware won the CAA Tournament back in 2017 on the strength of the conference’s best pitching staff, but finished 2021 last in the conference in ERA (6.43) and among the worst in walks per nine innings (5.8) and WHIP (1.76). The Blue Hens return Chris Ludman (3-5, 4.62) and Dom Velazquez (2-7, 6.45), their only two pitchers to make double-digit starts a season ago, but will need improvement up and down the staff. Ludman and Mike Biasiello (3-4, 4.86) were the only two regular members of the staff to finish with a sub-5.00 ERA in 2021. Wyatt Nelson (0-1, 6.35) threw quite a few innings as a true freshman but will need to take a step forward with a year under his belt. Sherman hopes that the transfer portal additions can help revamp the staff’s numbers. Austin Elliot (North Carolina), Gavin Hinchcliffe (Kansas State) and Matt Kennedy (Saint Joseph’s) are all graduate transfers.
Offensively, Kyle Baker and Jack Goan have graduated, but Delaware returns the rest of its lineup. The Blue Hens will miss that duo after finishing fourth in the conference in runs—with Goan and Baker combining to drive in a fourth of them—but should have enough to overcome that. First baseman Joseph Carpenter (.260/.360/.435) and designated hitter Jake Dunion (.397/.433/.587) pack a punch. Third baseman Joey Loynd (.294/.392/.44) and outfielder Aidan Kane (.271/.349/.427) are other key pieces, while transfers Bryce Greenly (Virginia) and JJ Freeman (Division III Franklin & Marshall (Penn.)) should contribute quickly.
9. Hofstra (17-22, 8-16)
After one winning season and a 1-4 record at the CAA Tournament in the last decade, the Pride have entrusted the task of rebuilding to former major leaguer Frank Catalanotto. A raft of key players departed this offseason, including all-CAA first-team selections Rob Weissheier and Austin Gauthier as well as starting pitchers Jimmy Joyce and Jack Juett. With righthander Ryan Rue out for the season due to injury, Catalanotto is looking at a rotation that returns just one arm and a lineup that will feature four newcomers. Still, there’s talent in the Pride lineup. Third baseman Ryan Morash (.339/.392/.440) is an experienced veteran, while outfielder Will Kennedy (.284/.365/.431) and second baseman Santino Rosso (.278/.409/.435) were impressive in their first full seasons on campus. Catcher Nick Marrero (.339/.453/.509) should see more time after playing 19 games a season ago, while it’s hoped that transfers Anthony Fontana (Monroe (N.Y) College), Mikey Florides (Division II Felician (N.J.)) and Brian Morrell (St. John’s) can add stability as well.
On the mound, righthander Mark Faello (2-1, 6.21) assumes the Friday role, with Brad Camarada (2-1, 4.22) and Tristan Nemjo (1-1, 4.22) slated to follow. The latter two both spent last season primarily as relievers, but Catalanotto will be counting on the fifth-year Camarada and the sophomore Nemjo to step up into the vacant starting roles. Closer John Mikolaicyk (0-5, 7.41) showed improved command over stints at three summer ball leagues—he posted an 18-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 19 innings. Mikolaicyk will be needed to anchor the bullpen while Michael O’Hanlon (1-0, 3.18) figures to have an expanded role as well.
Top 2022 Draft Prospects
1. Chase DeLauter, OF, James Madison
2. Cam Schlittler, RHP, Northeastern
3. Sebastian Keane, RHP Northeastern
4. Trevor Kirk, RHP, Elon
5. Ethan Chenault, RHP, UNC Wilmington
6. Caswell Smith, RHP, College of Charleston
7. Max Viera, 2B, Northeastern
8. Alex Iadiserna, OF, Elon
9. Ty Good, RHP, College of Charleston
10. Brooks Baldwin, 3B/OF, UNC Wilmington