Pack Nine Have Top Talents, Lots of Questions Heading Into 2014

Time for Fincher and the Pack to dive into 2014. - USA TODAY Sports

N.C. State has a firm foundation but lots of holes to fill to fulfill Omaha expectations.

N.C. State won 50 games a year ago and advanced to the College World Series for the first time since 1968. Baseball America hails Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner as the nation's best pitcher and position player, respectively, so it's no surprise to see the Pack tabbed fifth in BA's preseason poll.

But the Pack nine have a lot of question marks for a team with such a lofty preseason ranking. In a four-part preview, BTP will pop the hood on the club by examining position groups, breaking it down thusly: outfielders/DH, infield/catcher, starting rotation, and the bullpen. Though the rotation is still blissfully anchored by Rodon and the infield has its captain in Turner, each group promises to undergo a significant overhaul in 2014. In our first installment, we look at the largely up-for-grabs outfield and designated hitter spots.

Who's gone:

  • CF Brett Williams: .251/.331/.349, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 19/26 SB
  • LF Bryan Adametz: .303/.355/.368, 0 HR, 32 RBI, 3/3 SB

Williams was drafted in the 25th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks after his junior season but opted to return to school. This did not work out well, as Williams tore up his knee in the first game of his senior season and, after redshirting to rehab, never fully recovered at the plate. He started 2013 hot but slumped basically from the time conference play started until the final out was recorded in the CWS. His defense will be missed--he not only made spectacular catches that got millions of youtube views, he also made all the routine plays--but State may well prove able to offset that gold glove with increased production at the plate.

Adametz could grind out an at-bat with the best of ‘em, as evidenced by his paltry sum of 18 strikeouts in 228 at-bats. Of players will over 200 at-bats, Turner was the next most difficult to fan but struck out 13 more times than Adametz. His contact ability helped him finish as one of just three Wolfpackers with a .300+ average, and he got on base at a decent clip as well (.355 OBP). But Adametz was basically a one-tool player taking up a position on the diamond that is usually reserved for a middle-of-the-order power hitter. He had little speed or power to speak of, meaning replacing or even exceeding his production seems plausible.

Who's back:

  • RF Jake Fincher: .313/.399/.355, 0 HR, 29 RBI, 14/20 SB
  • DH Jake Armstrong: .266/.440/.370, 1 HR, 30 RBI, 7/7 SB

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you table setters. Fincher, who will slide back over to centerfield, where he played in an injured Williams's stead as a freshman, is also a more than capable defender. At the plate, he offers similar production to Adametz but with a better walk rate and more speed. A season after reaching base in 62 of 66 games, Fincher may bat first with Turner third, or Fincher will slot in the two-hole if Elliot Avent opts to maximize T.T.'s at-bats and have him lead off.

Armstrong was brutal defensively--11 errors in just 73 chances--wherever Avent tried him a year ago, thus his relegation to DHing duties. Armstrong seemed to think "designated hitter" meant he was the one designated to get hit by the ball, as his 21 times hit by a pitch tripled the total of any of his teammates. His OBP drops over 60 points without all the HBPs, so Armstrong may have to spend a lot of time in the trainer's room if he is going to remain valuable offensively, as he is another player that hasn't shown much in the way of pop. If he is going to continue to reach base at a rate that is exceeded only by Turner (.455 OBP), hopefully Avent doesn't bury him down in the order as he did a season ago. If Armstrong doesn't DH, he is a candidate to play RF since he has a strong arm and solid athleticism. Potentially, he could also get another shot at 3B.

Who's got next?

  • Bubby Riley: .311/.445/.556, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 16/19 SB (@ Delgado Community College)
  • Brian Taylor: .130/.310/.217, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 1/1 SB
  • Will Nance: .205/.266/.274, HR, 8 RBI, 0/2 SB
  • Freshmen Nathan Hood, Will Raynor, and Garrett Suggs

After destroying JUCO pitching, Riley seems like a sure bet to flank Fincher in either left or right field. He doesn't have huge home run power, but his six dingers led a Delgado team that scored nearly seven runs a game en route to a 47-11 record. Riley added 10 doubles and a team-high eight triples; those three baggers, coupled with his success rate swiping bags, suggest that Riley is a good athlete for a man with some size (6-3, 192 pounds). He was selected in the 40th round by the Chicago Cubs after his sophomore season at Delgado; if a Theo Epstein-led front office that boasts one of MLB's deepest and most talented farm systems wanted Riley, that's a good sign for State.

Speaking of size, Avent would probably love to see Taylor take the RF job. The former Pack backup QB and honor roll student tips the scales at 213 pounds and has prodigious power potential to go with the requisite arm strength for RF. Though he flopped in a brief trial last season, Taylor, who was also an all-state caliber hurler in high school, mashed 18 home runs over his final two seasons as a prep. Dude was also a four-year varsity starter at QB and a 1,000-point scorer on the hardwood. I'd love to see what he could do with a genuine chance at playing time, and the team needs power. Kris Bryant hit two more home runs than the entire N.C. State team last season, and 18 of the 29 it did manage came off bats that won't be back.

Nance, another large young'un at 6-2, 205, was Avent's favorite at the DH to start last season but couldn't hold the job. Another honor roll student, Nance blasted 10 bombs as a high school junior but has gone yard just twice since, once as a high school senior and once last year.

My gut tells me that, despite the team's power outage, Avent will opt for gritty over power potential in the long run, and that means that the sleight Suggs (6-0, 165) will end up getting a lot of run. The freshman from Fuquay-Varina hit .449 as a senior for the state 4A runner-up Bengals. Suggs was named all state as well as his conference's player of the year, and he was also a two-sport star, picking off a total of 19 passes over his final three prep seasons. The lefty swinger might make sense slotted between the righty bats of Fincher and Turner if his on-base skills translate to the next level.

The remaining freshmen, Hood and Raynor, seem like longshots to play right away, though Hood was ranked as a top 100 outfielder nationally by Perfect Game and the third best outfield prospect in North Carolina.

It will definitely be exciting to see how this position group shakes out, though you might not be able to see it in person, as the full allotment of Pack nine season tickets have already sold out. Get to the gate early for whatever scraps remain (or just stay tuned to BTP for all the latest).

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