Freshmen Step Up to the Plate

USA TODAY Sports

A look at three freshmen who have made significant contributions on the diamond.

The Pack 9 is taking a break from ACC competition to host the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers in a three-game series this weekend. I have no idea what a Chanticleer is, but Coastal Carolina is a very accomplished program that has had a disappointing season. Their record currently sits below .500. However, it should be a very competitive series, as they will be fired up to take on an ACC program. As we near the end of the season, it's a good time to take a look at three of the freshmen who have made significant contributions this season and how they project to help the program in the future.

The name everyone knows is third baseman Andrew Knizner. Knizner started from game one and has been a force in the Wolfpack lineup. Knizner is hitting .335/.381/.477 and has also slugged four home runs while driving in 31 runs. He has been the Pack's most consistent hitter all season and has played solid defense at third base. Next season, he should slide over to shortstop replacing Trea Turner. Expect Knizner to bat in the middle of the Wolfpack lineup for the next two seasons and be a big part in whatever success they may have.

Across the diamond, Preston Palmeiro has solidified the first base position. Palmeiro is batting .265/.378/.324, with 9 RBI. Palmeiro is a patient hitter who is not afraid to take a walk, though he has struck out 21 times in only 68 at bats. He has a beautiful line drive swing, reminiscent of his father Rafael who played in the big leagues for 20 years. As he develops and cuts down on his strikeouts, I expect him to become a high average and high on-base percentage hitter who would slot in nicely at the two spot in the lineup. I have not seen enough of him on defense to get an accurate reading of his overall defensive ability, but he has yet to be charged with an error.

Left-handed pitcher Ryan Williamson made quite an impression with his first start this season when he came on in relief against East Carolina. Williamson led NC State to a win over the Pirates by allowing one hit and striking out seven in 4-1/3 innings pitched. He has also struggled with control, as he has walked 12 batters in 17-2/3 innings, but he has still managed to compile a respectable 3.06 ERA, striking out nearly one batter per inning. Depending on what happens with the MLB draft, look for Williamson to become either the primary midweek starter or a weekend starter next season. Several pitchers have a good chance to be drafted, so if I had to guess, I'd say Williamson starts out next season in the weekend rotation. In his small sample, he has shown flashes of what it takes to be a successful ACC starting pitcher, but he will need to develop better command for his full potential to be realized.

These three may not have had freshmen seasons on the level of Trea Turner, Carlos Rodon and Brett Austin, but so far, they have had their own level of success. It is encouraging to see these positive signs early in their careers, as next season they will step into leadership roles with the likely departure of several starting upperclassmen. If their development continues on this path, the future for these three is very bright.

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