Note: This is about, oh, 3 weeks late- but it is still relevant I suppose as a â€œgetting to know youâ€ for those not as attached to baseball as I.
In an effort to expand coverage a bit here at Statefansnation I have volunteered to try my hand at providing some baseball commentary (as has vtpackfan, I shall try not to step on your toes!), as this is my favorite sport and my sporting area of purported expertise. In the interests of full disclosure, I never played baseball past the age of 11 (disability, and we shall leave it at that), however instead of moping about it I switched my focus to coaching. Iâ€™ve coached all levels of Babe Ruth league baseball, and even a couple of years of high school ball (while attending that high school, interestingly enough). Iâ€™ve probably watched 20,000 baseball games (perhaps an underestimate) and read virtually everything ever written on the subject. Every once in a while I still hit the batting cages and, despite limited physical ability, can still catch up to a 90 mph pitch from both sides of the plate. So, I humbly think I have a bit to offer on the subject of hardball. This is ample background and now it is time to foray into what you probably clicked on this article forâ€¦ some NC State baseball!
Opening day comes around February 22 this year against Appalachian State in Raleigh as part of a three game series (took 2 of 3! Thatâ€™s what you do in baseball, win the series). Baseball is a nice sport as far as scheduling goes; one doesnâ€™t have to look to hard to find quality opponents to play as there are a plethora of smaller, unheard of schools (to some) with outstanding baseball programs. East Carolina is usually a very good team, for example (not surprising given the talent in the eastern part of the state, from Greenville to Wilmington) so we as State fans, at least in this particular sport, canâ€™t piss and moan too much about playing them annually. Iâ€™ll provide a brief outline now of the season to come as well as some roster notes, with more specific notes hopefully to follow.
The Pack has a chance to start out strong this year, with 14 of the first 17 slated games scheduled to take place in Raleigh, including the first 6 conference games (Virginia and Miami). Conference play features 3-game series against 10 opponents, and we catch a break this year as Georgia Techâ€”a perennial powerâ€”is the team left off of the docket. Out of conference, in addition to East Carolina, we have games against UNC Wilmington, a matchup with Louisville and sets with Towson, Elon and Marshall amongst others. Historically, UNC-W and ECU are pretty darn good and depending on the pitcher taking the mound, any other team on a given day can be quite the worthy adversary.
Speaking of pitching, as has been the case the past several seasons, Stateâ€™s strength once again should reside on the mound. The ninth inning of the ballgame used to belong to Eryk McConnell, a tenth round selection by the Baltimore Orioles who eschewed the majors (well, minors) to come back for his last season at state. McConnell, a preseason All-American selection, was 3-2 last season with 11 saves and sported a spiffy 1.72 ERA. Control is a plus for McConnell, who only walked 11 batters last year in 52 1/3 innings pitched. McConnell is now slotted as a weekend starter, hopefully the transition will go smoothly- there is a HUGE difference in bullpen vs. starting work). Walks will absolutely kill a pitcher and this is especially true in levels where the aluminum bat is in play (thatâ€™s for you vtpackfan). Pitchers have to be a bit more careful on the inside part of the plate and even the best pitches (jamming the hitter for example) can often be handled as there is more â€œactiveâ€ area of the bat. You canâ€™t really saw off a hitter who is wielding an adamantium club, unlike the wooden bat which will typically shatter on those jam shots.
The rotation this year is to be anchored by Eric Surkamp, a lefthanded pitcher who went 4-5 last season with a 3.72 ERA in 16 starts. Jeff Stallings, Jimmy Gillheeney and Clayton Shunick should also see plenty of time on the hill this year; we mentioned McConnell before. Additionally, there are some talented freshmen in the mix, several of whom were selections in the latter rounds of the MLB draft (of course, as long as this draft is, Iâ€™m surprised I didnâ€™t get selected at some point). Missed from last yearâ€™s rotation will be Andrew Brackman, a first round selection by the New York Yankees (preemptive strike: letâ€™s leave the baseball/basketball debate for another thread). Brackman had what could be considered a disappointing season, but was still 6-4 with an ERA under 4. A year earlier, Andrew was a top pitching prospect in the Cape Cod (wooden bat) league and was touching the upper 90s with his fastball.
At the plate, Dallas Poulk, Marcus Jones, Ryan Pond, Jeremy Synan, Tommy Foschi and Ryan Ferguson should be major contributors. Poulk is coming off of a freshman campaign that saw him hit a team leading .394 (second highest ever for a State freshman) and earn several Freshman All-American honors along the way. The other returning players were solid last season and should provide a decent hitting attack, although one that will lag behind some of the powerhouse teams in the conference. Freshman Russell Wilson (yes, THAT Russell Wilson who some wanted to see at QB) may find himself an immediate contributor at shortstop this year. It seems this kid has leader written all over him, as he plays the â€œleader positionâ€ in both of his sports. Missing from last years offense will be Mike Roskopf, Caleb Mangum and Ramon Corona, the latter two of which were taken in last yearâ€™s MLB draft. Roskopf provided a lot of pop last season with a team high 13 home runs and the power production will be missed. The leading returning bopper is Ryan Pond, who finished the year with 7 home runs although he flashed potential for better power with 13 doubles and 3 triples. Pond also had an outstanding eye at the plate, drawing a team leading 46 walks and also pacing the nine with a .464 on base percentage (for those who enjoy the OPS metricâ€”on base + slugging percentageâ€”Pond was an even 1.000 in that department, which is pretty dang good). Expect Poulk to slot in one of the upper two spots in the batting order in a table setter role, with Pond and Jones expected to fill the role of run-producer in the middle of the lineup when the season gets started.
So, thatâ€™s the brief outline of what to expect when the season kicks off. Iâ€™d guess Surkamp takes the mound in the opener, but you never know with matchups or whether the rotation needs to be tweaked to allow him to start a game down the road. Based on the reception that baseball coverage receives here, Iâ€™ll go more in depth as the season approaches. For now, we shall leave it at this. Feel free to chime in with suggestions, commentary, criticisms and any topics you might want addressed or explainedâ€”Iâ€™ll try my best to do so. Thanks for taking the time to read this (if you made it this far) and GO PACK!