As if February and ACC basketball weren’t already unsettling enough for the NCSU faithful, along comes baseball.
For those unaware, the Pack’s 2015 baseball season gets underway this weekend as they welcome the trio of Villanova(16-34 (5-13), t6th Big East), Davidson(29-19 (17-8), 2nd SoCon) and App State(21-34 (12-14), t5th SoCon) to Raleigh for an NCSU Invitational round robin tournament featuring 2 games each day.
More (but not much more) on this weekend’s games and opponents can be found at the bottom of this entry.
Previewing the Pack9
Wolfpack Baseball will be approaching things from a slightly different perspective in 2015. Gone are early round MLB draftees Carlos Rodon, Trea Turner and Brett Austin. And gone along with them is the burden of lofty pre-season expectations which were palpable leading up to both of the past two seasons.
After a trip to Omaha for the CWS in ’13, the burden proved too much to bear in ’14 as the Pack seemed disjointed for most of the year and had to rally late in the season just to secure the 10th and final seed of the ACC tournament (where they promptly fell to Carolina in one of two play-in games…thanks at least in part to a home plate umpire who opted not to watch the game as Trea Turner attempted to steal home), and failed to reach the NCAA tournament for only the 2nd time in the past dozen seasons.
But even though Rodon, Turner and Austin (and others) have taken their games to the professional ranks, the Pack’s cupboard isn’t totally bare and they might just surprise some folks if some regulars can put ’14 squarely in the rear view and return to form, and if a top 15 recruiting class can mature quickly.
Important note: I said “might“….and “if” (twice).
The Pack has a lot of big question marks facing the ’15 team, with the biggest and most numerous, at least early on, coming from the mound and behind the plate.
While the Pack’s ace for the past three years, Carlos Rodon, will possibly open his first full professional season in the bigs as a member of the Chicago White Sox, the #3 overall pick in last year’s June draft is far from the only pitcher missing from last year’s staff. Gone too are Logan Jernigan (15th rd, SD), Patrick Peterson (23rd rd, Sea), Andrew Woeck (31st round, TB) and Eric Peterson (37th rd, Hou). Not to mention the graduation of DJ Thomas.
All told, that’s 80% of last year’s starts and 50% of the saves.
Junior Brad Stone (#26,JR,LHP) was 4-2 with a 3.02ERA a year ago and is nearly a shoe-in to take one of the weekend starting spots in ’15, but after that it becomes a bit
unknown. Sophomores Ryan Williamson (#3,SO,LHP) and Corey Wilder (#35,SO,RHP), or Junior Karl Keglovits (#25,JR,RHP) could be in the mix as well, but it’s very possible that some newcomers will need to step up quickly.
A couple of new names that might be called upon early are freshmen Brian Brown (#37,FR,LHP) and Austin Staley (#20,FR,RHP). Both carried their respective HS teams with sub 1.00ERAs and 100+ Ks.
Evan Mendoza (#18,FR,RHP), who also carried a 2 digit ERA as a HS senior, is another capable freshman arm. Though he might take a little longer to gethis feet under him he appears to have the talent and a competitor’s temperament.
The Pack returns most of a bullpen which proved fairly reliable the past two seasons, including Jon Olczak (#17,JR,RHP), Will Gilbert (#51,JR,LHP) and Joe O’Donnell (#41,SO,RHP). Redshirt Junior Travis Orwig (#39,JR,LHP), who missed the ’14 season with elbow issues and ended up having Tommy John surgery, also returns in ’15.
Two new faces who will probably have meaningful innings out of the pen before the year is over are freshman Tommy DeJuneas (#42,FR,RHP) and junior Curt Britt (#50,JR,RHP).
Britt is a transfer from South Carolina who will have immediate eligibility due to an NCAA hardship waiver. He was very highly rated out of HS, but for various reasons (read: off the field, out of his control) he never lived up to the hype in Columbia. If a new start in Raleigh gets him back to his old self, he could make an immediate impact and be a tremendous piece of the puzzle.
Short reliever DeJuneas also has the potential to become overpowering once he gets going.
Behind the plate, the only player returning with any meaningful catching experience is junior Chance Shepard (#24,JR,C/OF). And while normally the job might be his to lose, his unsteady offense has resulted in an experiment of sorts.
A year ago, Wolfpack All-ACC freshman third baseman Andrew Knizner (#11,SO,3B/C?) led the Pack with 47RBI and had a batting line of .330/.373/.450. Leading up to ’15,
he has reportedly been asked to make the shift away from the hot corner and, at least for the moment, he looks to be the plan as everyday backstop in ’15.
On the other hand, if he’s not able to make the position change work and/or his offense suffers as a result of increased rigors behind the plate, look for a change to come sooner rather than later, probably in the form of a platoon at catcher.
In addition to Knizner and Shepard, the Pack has two incoming freshmen catchers in Scott Manea (#32,FR,C) and Harris Yett (#14,FR,C), as well as JC transfer Luke Voiron (#31,JR,C) who redshirted in ’14. While Voiron, who is a longtime teammate of Bubby Riley (both HS and JC), would normally be the odds on favorite to emerge because of his experience and his superior offense, Manea is probably the better game caller. This could become a very important issue for the handling of this year’s less than seasoned pitching staff.
Time will tell.
With the move of Knizner from third base to catcher and the departure of Trea Turner, the left side of the infield will be in new hands this season. It’s a good bet that freshmen Nick Owens (#7,FR,SS/3B) and Joe Dunand (#10,FR,SS/3B) will man at least one of those spots and quite possibly both.
Owens is a bit of a wildcard. After his HS junior season, in which he batted .410 with 9 doubles and 27RBI, he was rated the top HS SS in NC. Unfortunately, he then missed a good portion of his senior season due to a “mystery illness”. Despite the missed time however, he still managed to bat .318 and knock in 27 runs once again.
Dunand is a good hitter with power (to say the least), batting .392 with 11HR and 33RBI as a HS senior. Then last spring he made headlines at the Horizon Prep Tourney (AZ) where he batted .833 (10 for 12) with 9 of his 10 hits being HRs, including homering in 8 consecutive at bats. He was a 35th round pick of Cleveland in this past June’s MLB amateur draft. Oh, and he’s also ARod’s nephew.
Any concern about the right side of the infield probably (and rightfully) has more to do with offense than defense. Preston Palmeiro (#12,SO,1B) was steady at first base a year ago, but his offensive production, while not putrid, was far from consistent. He finished the year at .284/.359/.343 with only 14RBI. If he can improve upon those numbers even slightly, especially his slgpct and RBI production, the job will continue to be his.
At second base, Logan Ratledge (#6,SR,2B) has become a fixture for the Pack. The senior finally showed some hitting prowess at times last year (.274/.367/.375, 5HR, 30RBI) but was still less consistent than the Pack needs him to be.
After a shaky junior season at the plate, senior Jake Armstrong (#23,SR,INF/OF) will likely also be in the infield (or outfield) mix as well, especially if he can return more to his sophomore form. JC transfer Ryne Willard (#8,JR,INF) might also have something to say about the matter.
In the outfield, State returns a pretty good amount of experience in Jake Fincher (#30,SR,RF/CF), Bubby Riley (#2,SR,OF/LF) and Garrett Suggs (#15,SO,OF/LF).
Fincher is a no-brainer in the outfield, either in center or right. Though he had a bit of a down year at the plate last year overall (.267/.342/.317), he still managed to hit very well with runners on base, plating 25 runs in the process.
Riley and Suggs both proved to be capable in the outfield more often than not, however their combined lack of offense was more than a little troubling. If that trend continues, it could open the door for some new faces. Brock Deatherage (#13,FR,OF) might be first in line when that door opens.
Deatherage is a very good hitter with very good speed. As a senior in Burlington (W.Alamance) he batted a school record .455 with a slgpct of .768, while scoring 50 runs and stealing 31 bases. He could be a very prototypical leadoff man for the Pack, and with his speed he might end up settling in CF if he proves capable.
Storm Edwards (#1,FR,OF) could also see significant time in the outfield before all is said and done. A very good hitter, Edwards batted .515 his Sr season (.418 career HS) with 5 HR and 18 RBI.
And depending what happens at catcher, Chance Shepard will also be available for some spot duty in the outfield as well.
ACC head coaches have come to the conclusion that the Pack is worthy of a fourth place pick in the ACC’s Atlantic division, 8th overall in conference, and that’s probably a pretty reasonable pre-season prognostication given all of the question marks facing the ’15 Wolfpack.
No surprise, UVa and FSU are picked to take the Coastal and Atlantic division crowns respectively, with the ‘Hoos the outright favorite in league play.
A year ago, Villanova finished tied for last in a conference which merited only one invite to the the NCAA tournament. This year, they have their sights set on 5th according to the Big East pre-season poll.
Baseball Season Preview: Wildcats Ready to Take a Step Forward (Villanova.com)
Wildcats Head to NC State to Open Season on Friday Afternoon (Villanova.com)
Davidson finished 2nd in the Southern Conference a year ago, but a poor showing in the conference tourney left them out in the cold. This year they have a change of scenery as they begin conference play in the Atlantic10, where they’re picked to finish 7th in the now 13 team A10.
Davidson Wildcats Baseball (DavidsonWildcats.com)
A conference-mate of Davidson in the Southern Conference through last year, the Appalachian State Mountaineers limped through a lackluster season. They were also 0-3 in Raleigh vs NCSU. Like Davidson, AppState begins play in a new conference this year, The Sun Belt, where they are picked to finish 11th.
Appalachian State Mountaineers Baseball (AppStateSports.com)
Current Game Schedule*
- Friday, February 13
2pm – Villanova vs NC State
6pm – App State vs Davidson
- Saturday, February 14
11am – App State vs Villanova
3pm – Davidson vs NC State
- Sunday, February 15
11am – Davidson vs Villanova
3pm – App State vs NC State
*Game times are subject to change or cancellation, especially given the very cold temps forecast for Friday and Sunday.
Looking ahead, State will welcome UNC-W to The Doak on Tuesday 2/17, and then they hit the road to Myrtle Beach next weekend to face U.Albany, Coastal Carolina and Florida International.
For the full 2015 Schedule, go here.
Some other Stuff…
Head Coach Elliott Avent, who begins his 19th season as the Pack9’s skipper, begins the 2015 slate of his recorded show “Around the Bases” on Thursday at 12:15pm at Backyard Bistro, along with Tony Haynes. If you can’t get there in person, you can tweet your questions to @PackRadio.
Daily Doak Video Series