And so we come to them. Our seniors and those on their victory lap, or in Piedmonte's case, Van Wilder approach to higher education. I am not sure if another Power 5 conference team will have so much dependence on a bunch of last leggers, but this group is our major support and we thank a good number of them for returning for another chance.
Again these will be taken by jersey number (information derived from Perfect Game, unless otherwise noted).
7 - Stephen Pitarra, 2B, Bats left, Throws right, Cary, NC
Dare I say, Pitarra may be the most over-achieving player on our team? He came in ranked the 250th best SS prospect in the country, did not even crack the top-50 in NC overall and was the 10th best SS. Nothing about that line says he should be playing for a Power 5 school, but that is just it, they had him pegged at the wrong position. Since then, he has been a staple in the lineup, regardless of position on the right side of the infield and was an OBP machine even through extremely tough times at the plate last year.
Likelihood to play: High; if Pitarra is not our 2B on Friday, then we must have a rock star at hand in the freshmen ranks. Pitarra lost 2B to Wilson last year and somehow he prevailed to take over 1B (all 5' 10" and right-handed throwing portions of him). This kid has shown a grit and determination that you can only expect from a constantly dismissed individual. Want to know why I hate participation ribbon cronies, because they would never allow a Stephen Pitarra to make it. Had he not be told, "You're not good enough" he would not be here, and the struggle makes you a better player. Ok, I do not know if that really happened, that is what I am imagining, because I love Pitarra, UNDERDOG SUPREME. And do not let anyone ever give your kid a participation ribbon.
13 - Brock Deatherage, RF, Bats left, Throws right, Burlington, NC
Brock came out of high school a middling prospect but has a good amount of tools that can push him ahead to a Major League career, maybe. He was rated the 146th best OF, 32nd overall in the state and and 6th best OF. All that and a truly unremarkable junior year, he was drafted by the Pirates in the 27th round this past summer. Not sure if he is really improving anything by coming back, but time will tell if a stellar senior year can push him up a few draft boards for some more money.
Likelihood to play: High; I have not hid my dismay in the past with Deatherage as a defensive liability. He, much like Kinneman, have never seemed to develop at his position and it has put a lot of strain on McLain in CF. Brock has speed and speed. He did not ground into a double play because he really is that fast. That and he was striking out too many of those chances. He was second on the team in stolen bases, and one would expect him to get another fair chance to finish high on the team list again this year. His problems last year, a terrible year at the plate where he hit below .220, struck out nearly three more time than he walked and earned an OPS below .650. His struggles at the plate only seemed to magnify his deficiencies in RF. But let me take you back to 2016, Brock hit nearly 100 points higher and had an OPS of nearly .880. Something obviously does not jive here. The only thing consistent between his sophomore and junior campaign is that he did not hit into a double play either year. Brock will also need to learn how to hit a breaking pitch this year if he wants to improve at the plate. It was obvious other teams had figured him out last year and threw him a pretty consistent diet of off speed and breaking pitches to screw with his timing.
15 - Josh McLain, CF, Bats right, Throws right, Hiddenite, NC
Could Josh be every coaches dream for a player at every single position? So get this, McLain was thought to be a collegiate SS recruit. He was ranked 127th overall SS in the country and placed at 30th best player in NC and 6th best SS. Move him to CF and watch the kid just take care of his job. You may say there is nothing spectacular about Josh, and you would not be wrong, he just does his job every day and does it quietly. Another kid I just love and even more so after he spurned the Dodgers when they took him in the 14th round overall last summer. He probably is losing a good chunk of cash by coming back, but he wanted his degree. Kudos to you kid, there are not many like you out there.
Likelihood to play: High; this is about as much of a no-brainer as Wilson or Debo. McLain has been about as steady as you could ask in CF and in our lineup. He followed up a great sophomore campaign with an even better junior campaign. He plays good defense and just does about everything you would want on the base path. Maybe the thing I am most anxious come Friday is where he stands in the batting order. Do you move him to the top? Some would argue you should, but let me say this, he has been 20 points lower in OBP than Pitarra the last two years. Does anyone remember how Pitarra started last year at the plate? I would expect he stands up our second half of the lineup at 5 or 6 in the order and we give him the RBI chances.
16 - Shane Shepard, 1B, Bats left, Throws right, Wilmington, NC
For everything Pitarra did with his lackluster rankings out of high school, Shepard has kind of been the mirror. Coming to college he was an OF and rated the 288th best OF prospect while being the 68th best overall player and 12th best OF in NC. Shane followed big brother and fellow whomper Chance to NC State with expectations of mashing balls out of the Dail. He was moved to 1B and has never found traction beyond a part-timer or pinch hitter.
Likelihood to play: Medium; Shane got the chance at 1B and was not bad defensively. He struggled mightily at the plate however and eventually lost the right corner to Pitarra. I would expect this season to go much the same this year as his sophomore year, and maybe that is a good thing. In his sophomore year, his plate appearances were much more meaningful and helpful as he put out very similar numbers and had a batting average that was 70 points higher than his junior year.
33 - Johnny Piedmonte, RHP, Davidson, NC
Johnny graduated in 2012 from high school. Yes, you heard that right, he will be collecting retirement five years after he finally graduates from college and he earned it last year. John was ranked the 306th best RHP option coming into college and was ranked 29th overall and the 15th best RHP out of NC. He can carry a fastball in the low 90s but control has been the name of his game on the mound.
Likelihood to play: High; this... eh... senior citizen? will probably get the ball Friday night to start our season. He deserves it after how he finished last year. Piedmonte came out of the bullpen until an unGodly hour in the season and just won ballgames to the tune of a 7-0 record in 9 starts. He did everything he did not do his sophomore year, and did it in impressive fashion. Do I expect Johnny to be as good as he was last year? No, but I do expect him to be more than 75% of that return. He should nearly double his start totals and if he can get to double-digit wins, it will be a great year for him. Not sure you are going to find a bigger swing for a pitcher between two years and let us hope that it was part of a trend and not a fluke.
38 - Brian Brown, LHP, Glenmoore, PA
Brown was rated the 85th best LHP option out of high school in the country. Not bad, right? Yeah, that did not even crack the top-500 players overall. This is why good to decent left-handed pitching is so coveted. In PA, he was the 14th best overall and 4th best LHP.
Likelihood to play: High; it is rather convenient that Brown follows Piedmonte on this list as he will follow him on weekends, too. At this point, Brown will probably be our Saturday starter and you kind of know what you are getting from him. Not much speed, but command and longevity. Or that was until last year. I will write off last year as an anomaly and you can understand why. He did not get a start until it felt like mid way through the season and the pitching never seemed to gel for Brown. He did not seem to have the same control and walked as many as he did his sophomore year all while pitching in 20 less innings. Having him warm up on guppies will be a lot better than starting him off getting into ACC play.
41 - Joe O'Donnell, RHP, Wilmington, NC
Finally, we come to it, our last player on the team and our only red-shirt senior. Joe came out of high school as the 172nd RHP in the nation, 11th best overall and 5th best RHP in NC. The fact that he was not drafted at all last year, still boggles me. Oh well, we will take him for the victory lap.
Likelihood to play: High; Joe will be coming out of the bullpen unless things really go sideways and we are that desperate for starting pitching. Once Joe got to the bullpen he has been a rock and someone we have relied on in the closing innings. Last year, he gave up only 2 HRs in nearly 50 innings worked and had an excellent .211 opponent batting average. He is not perfect (3.91 ERA last year) but he has steadily improved every year he has been at State. He also greatly improved his SO numbers between the previous two years going from a 0.8 SOs/inning to a 1.23 SO/inning last year. If he can continue to improve this year, an ERA around 3.75 is not out of question with better than a 1.4 SO/inning ratio. Not sure if he will get drafted, regardless, but that is something they cannot overlook.
Highs - 6 Mediums - 1 Lows - 0
These numbers are probably about right for our senior class. I think we are in a very unique position with Piedmonte and O'Donnell but otherwise, these numbers probably average with most of the other Power 5 conference teams. It is always interesting to see how a team develops and the transition from upperclassmen to freshmen will be the story of this year. This is a great group of seniors and I hope we get to send them out on a winning note.
The season starts next Friday, February 16 at 3:00 pm. If I have to set any expectations, I would believe this offense will be better than last years as 1-9 should all be fighting for RBIs. The big swings could be Deatherage and Edwards. If Brock can get closer to his sophomore form, could he increase by 20 RBIs? Most definitely. If Edwards is 3/4s of what we hope he is, could he lead the team in HRs? Without a doubt. Pitching will be the most telling plot line of our season. None of our weekend starters are going to scare the opposing team like Rodon did, but if they can control the strike zone this team could compete for an ACC title and a host regional spot. The great thing about college baseball is the new faces. And the new faces may be the biggest difference on the Wolfpack this year.