Coastal Plain League: East Division Preview
Coastal Plain League: East Division Preview
Some of the most decorated teams in CPL history call the East Division home, and they're ready to make statements during the upcoming 2022 season.
As the Coastal Plain League season nears its opening day, there's much to like about the teams this summer.
And, though the East Division didn't end up with a Pettit Cup a season ago, there's plenty of teams in the running yet again.
Some of the most decorated teams in league history call the East home, and they're ready to make sure they make statements for 2022, but plenty of upstarts and clubs looking for better fortunes have had an offseason to develop, leaving plenty up in the air for what's to come in the division.
Here's a preview of the CPL's East Division for the upcoming 2022 season—the league's first in partnership all season with FloBaseball:
Peninsula Pilots (Hampton, Virginia)
Last season: 32-11 overall, lost in East Divisional Championship Series
The lowdown: The Pilots didn't really light up the Coastal Plain League with a smashmouth offense and shutdown pitching last summer, sitting around the middle of the pack across the league in most major statistical categories.
But, they were East Division champs for a reason, only losing consecutive games once in the regular season, before running into a red-hot Marlins team in the Pettit Cup playoffs.
Club vice president, manager and all-time CPL wins leader Hank Morgan returned for what will be his 15th season in charge this summer, and he'll have a team dead set on redemption and getting the club its third league championship. The trick is doing it with what appears to be a mostly-revamped roster.
As of now, only right-handed pitcher Lance Hinton (3.60 ERA in nine appearances) is listed as a returner from last season, but league newcomers with plenty of potential, including Valparaiso star (and former Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year) Kaleb Hannahs, easily could make an impact as the Pilots' undermanned roster still looks like it has some room to grow, as well.
With the winningest manager in league history still in the dugout, too, expect the Pilots to be a tough out once again.
Morehead City Marlins (Morehead City, North Carolina)
Last season: 29-14 overall, lost in Pettit Cup Championship Series
The lowdown: The Marlins got the better of the aforementioned division winners in the postseason, but no one was stopping the eventual league champion Savannah Bananas from romping their way to the CPL title.
Still, Morehead City has won two of the league's past four Pettit Cups (back-to-back in 2018 and 2019) as a frequent force in CPL play. However, the Marlins will need to find a way to get back to the top without the manager that got them there, Jesse Lancaster, who left his position in the offseason.
Former manager Sam Carel, who coached the team in 2014, is back leading the charge for 2022, and some key returners, including two-year CPL vet and left-hander Ty Bothwell (3.57 ERA over three seasons with Indiana) and catcher Zach Miller (.328 average in 34 games for Morehead City in 2021) will help him readjust to the summer grind once again.
The production of former outfielder Jack Harris, who was one of the CPL's top offensive producers (14 home runs, 39 RBIs) a year ago, needs to be replaced somehow. The Marlins have the pedigree to be right in the thick of the fight for another Pettit Cup once again.
Wilmington Sharks (Wilmington, North Carolina)
Last season: 23-19 overall
The lowdown: The middle teams in the CPL East Division last summer weren't separated by much, but it was the Sharks who appeared most consistently like contenders. Still, there's been no Pettit Cup championship in over two decades (since 1999), and the trophy cabinet is getting lonely.
The return of one of the top dealers in the rotation in right-hander and hometown boy Austin Skipper (2.39 ERA in a team-high 16 appearances in 2021) will help matters as the Sharks attempt to break up the Marlins and Pilots duopoly.
The Wilmington lineup looks largely retooled for 2022, and features, as of this week, a selection of small-college and local talent that could change as the summer goes along. But, those names will need to produce if the Sharks want to get out of the jumble in the middle of the division—something they haven't done since 2017, the last time the team made the playoffs.
Wilson Tobs (Wilson, North Carolina)
Last season: 23-19 overall
The lowdown: No CPL team in 2021, outside the champion Bananas, had a higher team batting average (.277) and lower ERA (4.05) than the Tobs, making it especially painful for the team to miss out on the playoffs.
Looking for vengeance after the near-miss, bringing back one of the CPL's top hitters from last year in third baseman Dylan Scaranda—who hit .340 with a team-high nine home runs and 28 RBIs—surely will help the cause.
The rotation may be the bigger question, as many of the Tobs' most active hurlers by innings pitched did not return for the upcoming summer, but with a rotation that appears to be full of college upperclassmen, it'll be sure to be an experienced unit for manager Harry Markotay to manage.
Keep an eye on 6-foot-7 tower Brent Francisco, who played CPL ball for Asheboro last summer and has recorded 87 strikeouts to just 10 walks for Division II school East Stroudsburg this spring.
Holly Springs Salamanders (Holly Springs, North Carolina)
Last season: 24-20 overall
The lowdown: The hosts of this summer's CPL All-Star Game, Holly Springs is aiming to have some hometown members representing the club, as it looks to make some headway toward a division title for the first time since it entered the league in 2015.
As one of the CPL's most inconsistent offensive units last summer, hitting just .238 as a team, despite 50 home runs and nearly 200 RBIs, the Salamanders need a bit more pep in their step.
See you soon 👀 pic.twitter.com/UI3Mlrs1w6— Holly Springs Salamanders (@HSSalamanders) May 9, 2022
Brett Callahan could be of assistance. The sophomore from Saint Joseph's has been on a ridiculous run this spring for the Hawks, solidifying himself as one of the Atlantic 10 Conference's top talents with a .388 average and 23 stolen bases.
He might just be the jump start Holly Springs needs to break into the East Division's top half and flirt with playoff contention, though a mostly new rotation may have to give him and the rest of the lineup some extra insurance.
Florence Flamingos (Florence, South Carolina)
Last season: 11-30 overall
The lowdown: Change has been the name of the game recently for the CPL original and the first Pettit Cup champion way back in the league's inaugural season in 1997.
Formerly known as the RedWolves, Florence rebranded last summer ahead of its move to the sparkling new Carolina Bank Field in town.
Maybe a refresh is just what the team needs, because Florence needs a bit of a boost after much of last summer went awry. The then-RedWolves finished the year losing nine of their final 10 as the wheels fell off late, leaving Florence with one of the CPL's worst records by year's end.
Former Holly Springs and Macon Bacon assistant Lane Harvey has come in as manager to try and right the ship. The return of outfielder Will Hardee (.306 average) from last summer, should also help Florence play more winning baseball in 2022.
Tri-City Chili Peppers (Colonial Heights, Virginia)
Last season: 7-34 overall
The lowdown: The Chili Peppers, who joined the CPL in 2020 but didn't play that summer due to COVID-19, finally managed to get a season under their belts last year.
Success was hard to come by in Tri-City's inaugural season, as the team finished with the CPL's fewest wins and struggled all over the field.
The 6.89 team ERA from a year ago had the Chili Peppers playing from behind in most games, and the .233 team average meant Tri-City often didn't come back when it was indeed behind.
Manager James Bierlein will replace the outgoing Taylor Lockhart, bringing in one of the top performers from Randolph-Macon College—his alma mater—in the process, along with outfielder Ethan Iannuzzi, who is a career .347 hitter with the nearby Division III school.
Hoping they got through all the kinks and adjustments in Year 1, there's nowhere to go but up for the Chili Peppers in Year 2.
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