My favorite time of year is fast approaching- baseball season is upon us!Â We open next Friday against Marshall.Â Iâ€™m particularly excited about this yearâ€™s edition of the Pack Nine as we have a good mix of talented veterans and newcomers this season.Â The new arrivals should be very, as evidenced by a recruiting class ranking of fourth by Baseball America (Oct 20, 2011).Â The detailed ranking is subscription, but I link the free release here.Â Unfortunately, with youth comes uncertainty so Iâ€™ll temper my expectations somewhat.Â As with last season, the floor for this team should be third in the Atlantic division.Â If the freshmen live up to their billing, we could challenge Clemson and Florida State for the division crown, which would certainly be a refreshing change of pace from previous seasons.
Who will be missed?
Gone from last season are Pratt Maynard (Dodgers) and Cory Mazzoni (Mets) as well as Harold Riggins (Rockies).Â Riggins was a good power bat that will be missed, but I think that can be made up for.Â What will be sorely missed offensively is the consistency and disciplined approach of Maynard.Â I said last year he was a critical component of the offense- a good, patient hitter who will take his walks, make solid contact and force the opposing pitcher to work.Â I think his approach rubbed off on some of the other players, and hopefully that sticks this season.Â I do love me some plate discipline.Â We lose our Friday starter in Cory Mazzoni as well.Â He could be frustrating at times- particularly in the second inning (WTF?!)- but stepped up in big games and was a big time strikeout pitcher.Â Although Crash Davis will tell you strikeouts are fascist, I like â€˜em in bunches from my pitchers; itâ€™s a bitch to get a hit if you donâ€™t put the ball in play.Â Yes, the pitch count gets higher for volume strikeout pitchers, but the K is the biggest weapon a pitcher has for keeping runners off base.Â Innings eater Rob Chamra (Dodgers) is gone as well.Â So we have some rotation spots up for grabs.Â My apologies to those Wolfpack players I havenâ€™t discussed here; you will all be missed as well; I appreciate all of your contributions and if I had the time you would all get a writeup.
So whoâ€™s back?
Brett Williams and John Gianis said â€œNo, thanksâ€ to MLB after being drafted last season and will be back for their senior seasons.Â Williams was a nice offensive piece last season (.286/.368/.445) who contributed 6 homeruns, 35 RBI and was a perfect 9-9 in stolen bases.Â The aforementioned Gianis and Chris Diaz each added six stolen bases, and these three players were basically the running game.Â Avent doesnâ€™t run much, but I donâ€™t particularly mind that except in crucial spots, or with guys you know are going to be 75% successful.Â Andrew Ciencin and Danny Canela are two more returning bats that are expected to contribute in the middle of the lineup.Â Ciencin is my â€œguy thatâ€™s really important to the lineupâ€ player for this season.Â His numbers last year were down from his first two seasons and the hope is that the hitter weâ€™ve seen before emerges once again.Â His early season slump may have been bat related (weâ€™ve discussed the new bats before) and if that was the case, chances are heâ€™ll be more consistent this year.Â Tarran Senay and Ryan Mathews are back as well, so we have some returning sticks that will hopefully take the pressure off the new guys (who we will get to momentarily).
On the pitching side, closer Chris Overman (7 saves) and Grant Sasser (3 saves) return and Anthony Tzamtzis is back from injury.Â If Tzamtzis comes back strong, we have a very nice start to the bullpen and I would hope that we can get a structured seventh, eighth and ninth inning approach this season.Â I like bullpen structure too (somewhere COWDOG is smiling while reading this) and think having some defined roles in the pen is very helpful for the relievers.Â On the starting front, Danny Healey (11 starts), Ethan Ogburn (8 starts) and Josh Easley (7 starts) return from last season.Â Vance Williams will factor into the pitching mix as well.Â The subject of much discussion last year, D.J. Thomas, returns as well.Â This discussion was about his removal during the ACC tournament last year, although we wonâ€™t revisit that here (it was the right call).Â This is a nice group of returning arms, and the fantastic news is that we supplement this group with our new class.
Who are these freaking guys?
OK, so I had to slip a Major League reference in.Â Writerâ€™s prerogative.Â I mentioned before we had a nice (OK, stellar) recruiting class last season and in fact it was the best class to arrive at NC State, fourth nationally by Baseball America and tops in the ACC.Â There are two headliners here in Brett Austin and Carlos Rodon.Â Austin was taken in the supplemental first round by the San Diego Padres but stunned EVERYONE by turning the Pads down to join the Wolfpack (and weâ€™re glad to have you!).Â Austin is a switch hitting catcher with a good bat.Â He could start from day one.Â With the returning offense he shouldnâ€™t feel too much pressure at the plate right away, which is good because there will a steep learning curve regarding his behind the plate duties (heâ€™s more than capable of handling this, by all accounts Iâ€™ve read and heard).Â Rodon will make an impact as well.Â Iâ€™ve mentioned some things I like in a baseball team, and what makes me wet-in-the-pants happy as a manager is a lefty that brings the heat.Â Thatâ€™s Carlos Rodon- heâ€™s a 6â€™3â€ lefty who can hit 96-97 mph on the heater.Â The Brewers drafted him in the sixteenth round but, like Austin, he turned down over-slot money (signability concerns saw him slide from a fourth/fifth round pick).Â We have veteran starters who can take a little of the pressure off of him, but I would not be in the least bit surprised if he becomes the staff ace sooner rather than later.Â He is THAT good.Â Trea Turner is another highly regarded newcomer.Â I like Travis Orwig and Dillon Frye as well.Â Again, there are many more new faces this year and I donâ€™t have time or space to cover them all.Â Suffice it to say expect to see good things from the young guys this season, and the next two for that matter as barring transfer these guys are here for at least three years.
What to expect?
As I said before, third in the Atlantic is probably the floor for this crew.Â If the freshmen make the impact that they are more than capable of, we can challenge for higher in the division.Â However, I expect there to be an acclimation period and this team will be a better edition in April and May than early on.Â The team is deep in offense and should be deep in pitching, so Iâ€™m optimistic about the ACC tournament and NCAA tournament (I expect they will play in both; no sweat).Â Rodon or Austin will probably snag ACC newcomer honors or at a minimum be in the conversation.Â I expect recruiting to continue strong as well.Â Somebody correct me if I do not remember this correctly, but NC State has not given baseball players full per diem in the past, which changed when Yow got in (or perhaps the year before).Â I donâ€™t think itâ€™s coincidence that this changed and we snagged a monster recruiting class, as the per diem could not be used as a negative recruiting tool.Â It should be a fun season, and I and Iâ€™m sure others will try to be active in the forums on this team during the course of the season.Â GO PACK!