We’re inching closer to February, and with February comes the start of baseball season. Everything from the professional ranks on down to the high school levels (well, unless you live up north) kick off their baseball seasons in the lovely, wonderful, always too dang cold month of February. I’m not complaining, though. I love baseball and will gladly bear the frigid temperatures for it.
But you’re not here to hear about the rest of the baseball world; you’re here for the Wolfpack. So let’s take a look at the 2019 NC State Baseball team and begin to get a feel for the squad that will kick off their season at home against Bucknell on Friday, February 15, at 3:00pm.
In Part I of this series, we’ll take a look back at the 2018 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
Part II will be a look at who all is back from that 2018 team.
Part III will look at the fresh new faces of the 2019 squad.
Part IV will take a look at the schedule and the opponents on deck for the Wolfpack this season.
And if I can get the band back together, maybe we’ll do a nice little BTP roundtable. I don’t know! I don’t know if we’ll have enough time!
On to Part I...
2018 Season Review
First, let’s take a look back at the 2018 season so we can give ourselves a little perspective on the season to come.
How did things go in 2018?
Overall, pretty good. The Pack Nine finished 42-18 overall and 19-11 in conference, finishing 2nd in the Atlantic Division and finishing the season ranked in the Top 25 polls. That marked the most wins, both overall and in conference, and the highest division finish for the Wolfpack since the 2013 team that made it to the College World Series. The team also finished in the RPI Top 30 for the fourth straight season, the sixth time in the last seven seasons, and the 12th time in the last 16 seasons.
The Wolfpack put together some memorable performances, such as a series sweep at then-#2 Clemson and road series wins over Louisville and Duke squads that were ranked #11 and #3, respectively, at the time. Overall, NC State won 8-of-10 ACC series, including the first seven straight.
Unfortunately, the Pack made a quick exit in the ACC Tournament and then bowed out of the NCAA Tournament in the Regional round for the fourth straight year, a fate made even more frustrating by the fact that NC State was the Regional host in 2018.
Who’s gone from the 2018 squad?
Five players from last year’s squad were selected in the 2018 MLB Draft, including three seniors. Four other players exhausted their eligibility, while six players either transferred out or hung up their cleats. In all, 15 members of the 2018 Wolfpack baseball squad will be gone from this year’s team.
- Hunter Baker (OF) - Transfer (TBD)
- Brian Brown (LHP - SP) - Graduation/MLB Draft (9th round, Red Sox)
- Connor Centala (LHP - RP) - Transfer (TBD)
- Jack Conley (C) - MLB Draft (27th round, Phillies)
- Brock Deatherage \m/ (RF) - Graduation/MLB Draft (10th round, Tigers)
- Brady Gulakowski (C) - Transfer (Polk State CC; Liberty University commit)
- Cole Hooper (LHP, RP) - Transfer (Appalachian State)
- Brett Kinneman (LF) - MLB Draft (7th round, Pirates)
- Josh McLain (CF) - Graduation/MLB Draft (9th round, Dodgers)
- Joe O’Donnell (RHP - RP) - Graduation
- Steven Oakley (1B/3B) - Graduation (transfer?)
- Johnny Piedmonte (RHP - SP) - Graduation
- Stephen Pitarra (2B) - Graduation
- Shane Shepard (1B/DH) - Graduation
- James Vaughan (RHP - RP) - Transfer (TBD)
- Scott Foxhall (Pitching Coach) - Left for same role at Mississippi State
(Starters/Key Contributors in bold)
Brian Brown (7-2, 2.74 ERA) wrapped up a fantastic career at NC State by being named the 2018 ACC Pitcher of the year. He put together some fantastic performances his senior year, including gutting out complete games against Notre Dame and in the Raleigh Regional against Northeastern when the Pack bullpen was depleted and needed him to eat innings. Brown finished with career marks of a 25-11 record, 3.03 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and .243 OBA.
Along with Brown, Johnny Piedmonte (5-3, 4.12 ERA) was set to be another anchor of the starting rotation in 2018. Unfortunately, injuries derailed what was shaping up to be a fantastic season (he was 4-0 through his first six starts). Piedmonte finished his 15-year NC State career with a 14-8 record, 3.72 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and .232 OBA.
Joe O’Donnell (1.48 ERA, 11 SV) was the stud closer for the ‘Pack bullpen for the second straight year, earning 3rd Team All-ACC recognition. O’Donnell, the rubber-armed righty with the impressive hair flow, set an NC State record with 95 career appearances. The crafty O’Donnell wrapped up his Wolfpack playing days with an 18-8 overall record, 18 saves, a 3.07 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and .212 OBA.
Brock Deatherage \m/ (.307 BA, 14 HR, 18 SB), Brett Kinneman (.274, 13 2B, 17 HR), and Josh McLain (.344, 13 2B, 12 SB) formed the starting outfield for the Wolfpack in 2018 and they delivered all year. Deatherage \m/ bounced back from an awful junior year to earn 2nd Team All-ACC honors before taking the minors by storm in his first professional foray. He finished his NC State career with an overall triple slash line of .286/.372/.447 with 30 2B, 12 3B, 24 HR, 159 R, 109 RBI, and 47 SB. Kinneman murdered baseballs all spring and on into the summer, blasting some ridiculous head-turning home runs and being named 1st Team All-ACC. He ended his Wolfpack career slashing an overall .282/.388/.540 with 40 2B, 5 3B, 33 HR, 121 R, 134 RBI and 16 SB. McLain, like Kinneman, was a 1st Team All-ACC selection. He provided a steady bat at the top of the order and solid defense in centerfield. The Meteorite from Hiddenite slashed .313/.355/.450 over his four seasons in the red and white with 54 2B, 5 3B, 14 HR, 152 R, 111 RBI, and 37 SB.
Stephen Pitarra (.271 BA, .446 OBP) battled through a hamstring injury that required surgery early in the season to provide his typical high-OBP performance and steady defense. The scrappy Pitarra, who really pulled a quick one on the NC State Sports Media folks getting himself listed at 6-feet tall, slashed .275/.388/.336 in his career with 24 2B, 92 R, 51 RBI, and an impressive 79:71 BB:K ratio.
Shane Shepard (.200, 5 HR, 23 RBI) had his moments as a high risk, high reward hitter in 2018, primarily serving as a pinch hitter over the latter half of the season. Shepard, who cranked a 3-run HR in his final collegiate plate appearance, finished his career with an overall .205/.355/.378 slash line and 17 2B, 11 HR, 41 R, 49 RBI, and 71 BB.
Jack Conley (.333 BA, .476 OBP, 2 HR) was a bit of a surprise MLB Draft selection, as he wasn’t State’s starting catcher and only had 33 AB on the year. MLB orgs love guys with tools, though, and Conley has that in spades. Conley finished his 51-game Wolfpack career with a slash line of .307/.413/.432. His may be a “why didn’t he play more?” story looking back.
Oakley (.222 BA, 9 AB) graduated back in August, and indications are that he entered the workforce; however, he still has two years of eligibility remaining, so the possibility exists that he goes on to grad school and continues to play elsewhere.
Of the transfers, Hunter Baker, Connor Centala, and Cole Hooper are the biggest losses. Baker never saw the field as a true freshman in 2018, but was expected to push for a starting job in the outfield this year after the departure of all three 2018 starting OFs. Centala (1-0, 3.65 ERA, 12.1 IP) showed some promise at times, especially late in the regular season, but with a lot of good, proven arms returning and the influx of a bunch of new quality arms, this isn’t a shock to see him leave. Interestingly, Baker and Centala are still listed as active NC State students.
Hooper (18.00 ERA, 1.0 IP) is a tall/lanky lefty with a projectable frame who was expected to compete for innings in the bullpen this year or maybe even a midweek starter gig; he’s a nice addition for Appalachian State, although he’ll have to sit out this year.
Brady Gulakowski (.000 BA, 5 AB) has transferred to play JUCO ball for a year at Polk State College, and has already committed to Liberty University for the 2020 season. Vaughan is likely also heading the JUCO route, but that cannot be confirmed at this moment.
We’d also be remiss to not mention the departure of Pitching Coach Scott Foxhall. Foxhall left to join Mississippi State in the same role after spending four years with the Wolfpack, producing some very productive pitching staffs; however, Foxhall’s performance as NC State’s Pitching Coach wasn’t without its criticisms. Chief among those were the inability to establish a consistent weekend starting rotation, the reliance of the bullpen on too few arms during ACC play (which resulted in reduced performance down the closing stretch of the season and into postseason play), and the overall lack of development of talented pitchers. Cases can be made both ways for each of those criticisms, but they still exist. Either way, there’s no doubting Foxhall’s ability to produce pitching staffs that put up very good numbers, and his ability as a recruiting coordinator was top notch.