So… I’m ridiculously slow. You can thank 90 hour work weeks for that. However, as promised, I have this year’s glimpse at the NC State baseball squad, and we’ll focus first on the offense. Why the offense? Well, let’s face it- it’s sexy. Pitching and defense win championships, but unless you’re a hard-core baseball person, like, say, COWDog or myself, you want to see guys out there mashing the ball.
Which brings me to my first point- there will probably be a lot less mashing this season with the new NCAA bat regulations in place. It has been mentioned in the threads on the Forums, I know COWDog for one has mentioned a premium will now be placed on base running and station to station ball, for example. The Wolfpack should be well ahead of the game in one area, and that is advancing runners. For all who lamented Avent’s proclivity for bunting the last eleventy billion seasons, it will come in handy. Let’s be real- if he focuses on it in games, he focuses on it in practice, so we should have plenty of guys who are adept at this. The team as a whole won’t be completely derelict in the power department though, we return plenty of guys with power. Some of the homers may become doubles, but other than that it will probably be a wash in terms of hits. The homers that become flyouts will be offset by the routine flies that are now “Texas-leaguers”.
So, what do we lose from last year’s offense? Well, a lot. Dallas Poulk, Drew Poulk and Kyle Wilson (when healthy) were excellent. This trio accounted for 32 home runs (the team managed 98 dingers last year, so plenty of pop returns) and 191 runs scored. That’s nice production. The team stole 42 bases last year- we run, well, not-so-well to be nice- and Dallas Poulk and the two Wilson’s (the aforementioned Kyle and Russell) accounted for 27 of that total. I think we have some guys coming back that will be able to run, but they need to prove it. To be perfectly honest, you don’t need to run wild to win ball games. However, there are situations where you really do need a critical steal, and someone will need to step up. Gianis is a possibility, and I think Bergquist will be able to run a bit as well.
Despite all the talent we lost on offense, we have plenty of weapons coming back. It starts with who I think is the most important guy for this year, and that is Pratt Maynard. His average was down last year, as only hit .273, and yet he still managed an outstanding .452 on base percentage, aided by his ridiculous 64 walks. I like walks. A lot. They accomplish a couple of things. First, DUH, you get on base. The second, subtle thing, is the pitch count. You put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers when they throw 4, 5, 6 and often more pitches without recording an out. With a three game series, this can add up in a hurry, and if you force a team to use valuable bullpen innings in game one of a series, it sets things up quite nicely. As one of the veterans on this team, I hope his disciplined approach rubs off on some of the new and even the less experienced guys. Get guys on base, work pitch counts, and let the mashers do there work.
And we do have some mashers, starting with Harold Riggins. He has a very potent bat, hitting 12 homers last season, with a total of 25 extra base hits out of his 55 safeties. Andrew Ciencin, Pratt Maynard and Chris Schaeffer are the other returning players who had double digit homers, with Canela and Senay chipping in 6 apiece. Ciencin is an RBI machine as well- he had a team high 77 last year (and a few grand slams, the number escapes me at the moment- but I think it was or tied a team record… someone with a better set of google skills than I can look into that).
There are some new faces this year, and Cameron Conner (a toolsy outfielder who Holliday has been very high on) returns as well. The newcomers include catcher Peter Bako, who had some pretty darn solid JUCO numbers out in Oklahoma, hitting .413 or something close to that with double digit bombs. Dylan Brown and Brett Williams are new to the outfield mix this season, which is good from a depth standpoint as we lost a two of the starters from last year, and Russell Wilson who saw some time there as well.
We have a nice mix of right and left handed bats, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Overall, offense shouldn’t be a problem for this squad, despite the new bat regulations. They should get on base, and should score enough runs. The question marks are finding the players to fill out the pitching staff (bullpen and starting questions to be answered), as well as shoring up the defense. More on that later.
I was going to project a lineup, but for the most part I like what fvpack (I think I remembered that name right) posted in the forums, so I won’t repeat that. I don’t think Riggins end up at third, however- my only point of contention there. Bako, Canela, Schaeffer and Maynard can all catch- we have a wealth of catchers, and the good part of this is we know 3 of the 4 are proven offensive commodities who can also play other positions. I’m interested in seeing how Schaeffer returns from that brutal concussion against FSU in the title game last season; hopefully everything is OK there. Hand-eye coordination is so important to hitting that even the slightest problem can be career destroying, so we always take a deep breath when it comes to head injuries (well, two deep breaths- first and foremost is the player’s safety, then when that is cleared up, we look ahead at what he can do between the foul lines).
I pointed to this season last year as the season where State has built for a big conference run. We have a veteran offense with a mix of very talented youngsters (and, by the way, the early recruiting for next year is VERY good). The ACC coaches picked us third in the division this year, and really that should be the floor for this team. We’ll go where the pitching takes us, and we’ll focus on that next. This, at least should whet your appetites some what, and provide a nice overview of what to expect. I’ll try to get to pitching as soon as possible, as we open against Elon next Friday. Until then… GO PACK!
For stat heads, the link to last year’s stats is below.