I cut it pretty close, but I still managed to get to the baseball team before Friday’s opener against Appalachian State. I’ll add to this periodically; I only had about an hour to throw in tonight. 2013 should be a fun year for the Wolfpack, who return a solid nucleus from last year’s squad that made it to a super regional appearance that came up short in Gainesville (despite the horrid weather, I’m not yet convinced God does indeed hate us). Expectations for this year’s edition are off the charts (well, by our standards anyway) and preseason top ten rankings abound (including a #8 slot in Baseball America’s rankings) along with CWS expectations. First and foremost, let me remind folks that this is BASEBALL. So don’t get bent out of shape if the team loses 10, 15 heck even 20 games. For those who have followed the baseball team in the years that I have been contributing here, welcome back! For those who are just getting interested, here is a look at what we can expect in 2013 (apologies in advance to players who I miss discussing!):
Who we lost: First baseman Andrew Ciencin, a disciplined hitter who I liked a lot, graduated and will be missed. Danny Canela left the team, which leaves us a little thin behind the plate and does remove a potent left-handed bat from the lineup, but it shouldn’t turn into an epic disaster. Also missing is shortstop Chris Diaz who went to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the draft, and was an outstanding defensive player during his NC State tenure and last year proved to be one of our best bats. Of the departures, I’m worried most about losing Diaz but Turner should be just fine (I would have simply liked to have a left side of Diaz and Turner again). Another important loss is thumper Ryan Mathews- however, I think that we can overcome the loss of his power with the expected increase in power production from our rising Sophomores.
Offense: Last year the offense was outstanding, and there should not be too much of a let down this season. Trea Turner (R), Brett Austin (S), Jake Fincher (R) and Logan Ratledge (R) are sophomores who will form the nucleus of this years attack and they will be helped by the return of Brett Williams (S) from injury as well as veterans Tarran Senay (L, 6 HRs, 32 RBI, 171 AB), Grant Clyde (R) and Matt Bergquist (R). Turner is an absolute beast on the base paths, as in his debut year he obliterated the school single season stolen base record with 57 swipes in 61 attempts. He showed a little pop at the plate as well with 13 doubles and 5 homers. Turner isn’t the only returning stolen base threat either, as Fincher was successful in 16 of 23 attempts. Austin is still looking for his first collegiate long ball, however he showed good power (17 doubles) and should make strides offensively this season (in fact, I would expect a little more in the HR department from all of our sophomores). Carlos Rodon should see some at-bats this year and he has nice power potential from the left side of the plate.
Pitching/Defense: Carlos Rodon, a flame throwing lefty with filthy breaking stuff, anchors the rotation. He’s scary good, and will likely be the #1 selection in the 2014 MLB draft. He is both the reigning ACC pitcher of the year and NCAA freshman pitcher of the year. One thing I would like to see him do is pitch a little more to contact and try to get a first or second pitch out here and there simply to keep his pitch count down. There is plenty more pitching depth behind him, as Logan Jernigan, Ethan Ogburn and Anthony Tzamtzis all return and are capable starters. Ogburn is the most steady of the aforementioned trio due to his control. Jernigan and Tzamtzis both struggled with walks at times, but have good stuff. Jernigan could be a dynamite #2 starter if he could cut the walks down (a lot!). Tzamtzis is no slouch either. The good news is that neither should feel overwhelmed by pressure to perform due to the steadying presence of both Rodon and Ogburn. Closer Chris Overman anchors the bullpen and this year we get lefty Grant Sasser back as well. Also returning in the bullpen are 2012 contributors Ryan Wilkins (had some HUGE innings last year), Dillon Frye, DJ Thomas, Travis Orwig and Danny Healey. Josh Easley returns from injury as well, leaving the pack fairly deep on the mound. Defensively the team should be OK. Turner moves to SS but seems to have good hands and an accurate arm. Austin has been working on his passed ball problems and has Avent’s confidence behind the plate. The OF defense should be more than adequate, with Williams being a superior defender (provided there are no lingering effects from the knee injury) and Fincher is well above average as well.
Newcomers: Leading the newcomers is JC transfer Sam Morgan who should see plenty of time in the infield, providing some much needed depth. He handles the bat well and should be an immediate offensive contributor as well. Karl Keglovits is a tall right-handed pitcher and was a highly ranked high schooler; I’m anxious to see him in action and most interested in whether he can keep the ball down in the zone (a big problem for pitchers the taller they get). There are two freshman catchers, John Mangum and Chance Shepard. That’s the catching depth behind Austin, and we will need at least one to be able to contribute right away, as Austin will need a break from time to time behind the plate. There are some guys I haven’t mentioned as outside of these 4 newcomers, it’s hard to guess who out of the group will have the biggest impact. Note that it’s not because it’s a weak class (it’s not the same level of the previous class, of course, but that’s hard to duplicate) but rather I like a lot of the players but we have players entrenched who will allow the freshmen time to develop.
What’s going to happen?: Time for DBP to prognosticate. I think the FLOOR this year is second in the Atlantic and winning the division is attainable as well. A 17-13 conference record is about as bad as we will do, barring disaster, and it should be more like a 20+ win season in ACC play. What I’m really excited for is tournament time. This squad has the pitching depth that wins in a college post-season format. The ACC title is attainable and we should be a regional host in the NCAA tournament (and have a good shot at being a top 8 seed). I really like this team’s chances at Omaha but I’m not ready to say that’s where we are headed, simply because I’d like to see how the new talent meshes before making the grandiose prediction. It’s going to be a fun year and I suggest for everyone who has a chance to watch as much as possible. Go Wolfpack!