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2020 NC State Baseball Preview - Part II: Who’s Back

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We’re closing in on the start of the college baseball season, so let’s take a look at the team

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With the 2020 season within sight, now is as good of a time as any to take a look at the NC State Wolfpack squad that will hit the diamond this spring.

  • Part I of this series was a look back at the 2019 season and the players who are now gone.
  • Part II will be a look at the returnees from that 2019 team.
  • Part III will look at the newcomers for 2020.
  • Part IV will take a look at the schedule and opponents for the Wolfpack this season.

So let’s get started!

Who’s back

As touched on in Part I of this preview series, NC State doesn’t have a lot of faces to replace this year (just look at all those dudes bolded below), but the ones they do need to replace played fairly significant roles. Thankfully, there are 20 returnees (11 hitters, 9 pitchers) who were starters or key contributors a year ago (compare that to just 14 that returned in 2019 from the 2018 team). That will help to ease the sting of some of the personnel losses.

  • Patrick Bailey (C - Jr)
  • Devonte Brown (3B/OF - Jr)
  • Jonny Butler (OF - Jr)
  • Marek Chlup (OF - So)
  • Cameron Cotter (RHP - rSo)
  • Brad Debo (C/1B/DH - Sr)
  • Dalton Feeney (RHP - rJr)
  • James Ferguson (LHP - rJr)
  • David Harrison (LHP - Jr)
  • J.T. Jarrett (2B/3B - Jr)
  • Reid Johnston (RHP - Jr)
  • Evan Justice (LHP - Jr)
  • Kent Klyman (LHP - Sr)
  • Lawson McArthur (OF - Sr)
  • Tyler McDonough (2B/OF - So)
  • Vojtech Mensik (3B - So)
  • Baker Nelson (RHP - So)
  • Josh Pike (RHP - rSo)
  • Canaan Silver (LHP - Jr)
  • Nick Swiney (LHP - Jr)
  • Terrell Tatum (OF - Jr)
  • Thayer Thomas (OF/WR - rSo)
  • Andrew Tillery (RHP - So)
  • Luca Tresh (C/OF - So)
  • David Vazquez (INF - Jr)
  • Logan Whitaker (RHP - rFr)

(Starters/Key Contributors in bold)

Patrick Bailey (.288/.390/.513, 17 2B, 10 HR, 50 R, 46 RBI), who has been named a preseason All-American by pretty much every publication - as well as being ranked #22 on MLB Pipeline’s list of 2020 MLB Draft prospects - returns to lead the team this year. Dude is an offensive machine at a position that typically isn’t the strongest with the bat, and he has the defensive abilities that make him a truly complete player.

Like Bailey, Tyler McDonough and Jonny Butler each started 60 games a year ago. McDonough (.320/.392/.452, 14 2B, 5 HR, 38 R, 47 RBI, 10-12 SB) burst onto the scene as a freshman leading the team in hits and garnering a slew of postseason honors, including 2nd Team All-ACC and Freshman All-American nods. After being a well-regarded catcher in high school, McDonough manned center field in 2019, but very well could move into the infield this season to second base - a more natural defensive home for him (not that he wasn’t any good in the outfield).

Butler (.267/.378/.359, 10 2B, 3 HR, 69 R, 29 RBI, 3-3 SB) came in from junior college and immediately locked down one of the corner outfield spots for a club that was replacing the entire outfield from the year prior. While he didn’t flash much of the pop in the bat that he displayed in the JUCO ranks, Butler was an on-base machine (42 BB) who provided stability at the top of the order. He projects to slide over to CF is McDonough moves into the infield.

Brad Debo (.242/.353/.397, 16 2B, 4 HR, 28 R, 39 RBI, 2-2 SB) will likely slot in again as the DH this year, although he could see time at first base, and likely will get some innings behind the dish to spell Bailey (all three catchers on this team will likely be drafted in the next two years - they’re all really good). Don’t let the 4 HRs fool you; Debo has serious power and clanged more balls off the wall last year than probably anyone in college baseball.

David Vazquez (.231/.364/.346, 9 2B, 2 HR, 22 R, 23 RBI) started 40 games as a sophomore in 2019, at times flashing the skills that enticed the Diamondbacks to select him out of high school in the 2017 MLB Draft. He’ll get a shot to replace Will Wilson’s now vacated spot at shortstop, but will face heavy competition from some notable freshmen (more to come in Part III), and possibly also...

Vojtech Mensik (.250/.366/.367, 7 2B, 2 HR, 27 R, 14 RBI, 9-9 SB) came over from the Czech Republic and nobody really knew what to expect of him. All he did was end up hitting pretty well for an extended period of time and flashing some leather at third base that made you think he could very well be Wilson’s replacement up the middle of the infield. Most likely, he returns to the hot corner for his sophomore year.

J.T. Jarrett (.228/.328/.297, 4 2B, 1 HR, 19 R, 17 RBI, 2-3 SB) also returns to the infield and will likely compete for the starting spot at second base, even if he’s not likely to win the job. The 5’10 (ha!!) junior has made 77 starts over his first two seasons, but despite being as technically sound in the field as anyone you’ll find, he isn’t as proficient with the bat as some of the guys he’ll be battling for playing time this spring.

The battle for the outfield spots (or maybe just singular “spot”, depending on where McDonough lands) not manned by Butler will be heavy this spring. There are six returning players with experience who all provide different dimensions to the lineup. All six players started games in right field in 2019 in what ended up being a rotational position as nobody could lock it down once and for all.

The top player in the Wolfpack’s 2019 freshman class is likely also the guy with the best chances to earn a starting spot in the outfield this year. Sophomore Luca Tresh (.224/.372/.522, 2 2B, 6 HR, 12 R, 17 RBI) will be Bailey’s successor behind the plate in 2021, but his bat will force his way into the lineup in one way or another in 2020. He pounded 6 HR in just 67 AB as a freshman last year.

Terrell Tatum (.207/.305/.293, 2 2B, 2 HR, 16 R, 16 RBI, 6-6 SB) started 23 games in the outfield a year ago and just oozes potential left and right. The only issue for the slight-framed, left-handed hitting junior is a penchant for struggling with off-speed pitches. He has the speed and arm strength to lock down a starting gig if he can make consistent enough contact.

Devonte Brown (.286/.397/.347, 10 R, 5 RBI) began his career as a third basemen, but made 13 starts in the outfield a year ago. I’ve always been a huge fan of Brown’s potential and believe if given enough opportunities at the dish, he could turn into a monster with the bat.

Thayer Thomas appears set to do double-duty again this spring between playing for the Wolfpack baseball team and participating in spring workouts with the football program. Thomas (.222/.364/.500, 2 2B, 1 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI) was a surprise draft pick of the Red Sox in last year’s MLB Draft, as the club obviously values his athleticism and can see the potential he possesses - although that true potential may not be fully possessed until/unless Thomas turns his full attention to baseball.

While Mensik found almost immediate success with the Wolfpack in 2019, it was Marek Chlup who was expected to the be the Czech freshman who produced out of the gate. With a more college-built body, Chlup (.185/.324/.444, 2 2B, 1 HR, 4 R, 6 RBI) has the natural raw power to be a double-digit home run threat in any given season. He started six games last year.

Lawson McArthur will be the elder statesman of the outfield group this year. The speedy senior made 16 starts a year ago in seeing the first real playing time of his career. McArthur (.183/.370/.338, 6 2B, 1 HR, 11 R, 12 RBI) flashed some pop in his bat and an ability to work walks, but also struggled at times to make contact. Given that he had only 11 PAs in his career before 2019, an expected jump in productivity is not out of the question.

On the mound, the Wolfpack returns an abundance of proven arms. Reid Johnston (6-2, 3.71 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 77.2 IP, 65 K) will undoubtedly man one weekend rotation spot. A 2018 Freshman All-American, Johnston is one of the top arms in the ACC.

Among returning pitchers, there are several potential options to join Johnston in the weekend rotation. Nick Swiney, Dalton Feeney, David Harrison, Canaan Silver, and Cameron Cotter all have starting experience and have all experienced at least some level of success in an NC State uniform.

Swiney (7-1, 1 SV, 4.61 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 56.2 IP, 95 K) was the most often used reliever for the Wolfpack in 2019, and he also has quite possibly the best curveball in college baseball. He has made four starts in his career, but has not been overly successful in that role to date. With his skills, though, the coaching staff will - and rightfully should - give Swiney every opportunity to earn a starting gig.

Feeney (1-1, 7 SV, 1.86 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 29.0 IP, 23 K) has made three starts in each of his two seasons at State. He settled in nicely as the Wolfpack’s closer last year after coming back from Tommy John Surgery. Probably the most highly touted pro prospect on the Wolfpack’s pitching staff, it’s unclear if Feeney will look to move back into the starting rotation or if the coaching staff will prefer to keep him in the closer role.

Of the five pitchers mentioned above, Harrison actually has the most career starts to his name. Despite only starting three games last year, Harrison (0-1, 2.67 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 33.2 IP, 33 K) has 12 starts to his credit in his two years in Raleigh, including being an opening weekend starter as a freshman.

Speaking of being an opening weekend starter for their first series as an NC State player, that’s exactly what Silver did last year for State. After coming to campus via the JUCO route, Silver (1-2, 1 SV, 3.83 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 42.1 IP, 24 K) earned a weekend starting gig right out of the gate before later moving into a relief role. The crafty lefty is most likely set for either a midweek starting role and/or weekend relief in 2020.

Cotter (5-3, 3 SV, 3.00 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 39.0 IP, 36 K), like Feeney, missed all of the 2018 season while recovering from Tommy John Surgery. While the staff tried to ease him back onto the mound, Cotter came on strong late and became a more go-to option out of the bullpen for State, making 16 of his 22 appearances in April and May. Cotter flashed some really good stuff and has great potential.

One of just three seniors on this year’s team, Kent Klyman (5-2, 2 SV, 3.41 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 29.0 IP, 30 K) will look to return to full health and return again to one of the stalwarts of the Wolfpack bullpen. Klyman was a preseason All-American in 2019 after posting an 8-2 record and 2.34 ERA over 61.2 IP in 2018. If the 6’7 lefty can return to that form, he’ll also find himself playing professional ball in the summer months.

Evan Justice is another lefty who will likely be playing professional ball come summer 2020. His efforts in the 2019 season resulted in Justice (4-0, 4.66 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 36.2 IP, 36 K) hearing his named called in the 2019 MLB Draft as a draft-eligible sophomore. He turned down the professional ranks to come back for one more year and improve his stock. He and Klyman should combine with a few of the above mentioned names to provide the basis of a formidable bullpen.

Baker Nelson (2-0, 6.59 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 27.1 IP, 23 K) showed some real promise as a freshman last year and should see an expanded role in 2020. Andrew Tillery (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 0.66 WHIP, 3.0 IP, 4 K) also showed well in his very brief outings as a freshman.

Neither James Ferguson, Josh Pike, nor Logan Whitaker made an appearance on the mound for the Wolfpack in 2019. Of the three, only Pike has ever seen the mound for NC State, and even then has only faced one batter in his career. It’s unclear what role - if any - these three will have for the team this year.