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 took a look back at the 2018 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
In Part II, we will be taking 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 II...
While there are significant departures, as discussed in Part I of the 2019 Season Preview, the Wolfpack return a core group of players from a year ago who should help to form the basis of a productive offensive lineup and, at the least, a consistent and deep bullpen.
- Patrick Bailey (C - So)
- Michael Bienlien (RHP, SP/RP - Jr)
- Devonte Brown (3B - So)
- Nolan Clenney (RHP, RP - R-Sr)
- Dillon Cooper (INF - R-Jr)
- Cameron Cotter (RHP - R-Fr)
- Brad Debo (C/DH - Jr)
- Evan Edwards (1B - Sr)
- Dalton Feeney (RHP, SP/RP - R-So)
- Mathieu Gauthier (RHP, SP/RP - Jr)
- David Harrison (LHP, SP/RP - So)
- JT Jarrett (2B/3B - So)
- Reid Johnston (RHP, SP - So)
- Evan Justice (LHP, SP/RP - So)
- Kent Klyman (LHP, RP - Jr)
- Lawson McArthur (OF - Jr)
- Josh Pike (RHP, RP - R-Fr)
- Austin Staley (RHP, RP - R-Sr)
- Nick Swiney (LHP, SP/RP - So)
- Terrell Tatum (OF - So)
- David Vazquez (INF - So)
- Will Wilson (SS - Jr)
(Starters/Key Contributors in bold)
Patrick Bailey (.321 AVG/.419 OBP/.604 SLG, 13 HR, 45 R, 40 RBI), Evan Edwards (.297/.419/.564, 15 HR, 44 R, 48 RBI), and Will Wilson (.307/.376/.588, 16 2B, 15 HR, 50 R, 53 RBI) return to the Wolfpack and will form the heart of the batting order for the 2019 Wolfpack. Bailey and Wilson were recently named preseason All-Americans by D1Baseball.
Wilson, who is ranked #28 on MLB.com’s 2019 Draft Prospect Ranking, has been an offensive production machine over his first two years in the red and white and will lock down the shortstop position for one final season before turning pro. Bailey, the 2018 ACC Freshman of the Year, is one of the best catchers in all of college baseball. The switch-hitting backstop should find himself in a similar draft projection situation as Wilson heading into the 2020 season (it’s a treat to have him for two more years, folks!). Edwards was a surprise non-draftee in 2018, but that’s a pleasant surprise for Wolfpack fans as the first baseman provides a load of power from the left side of the plate and should put up great numbers again this year.
Dillon Cooper (.356/.338/.286, 20 R, 24 RBI, 5 SB) and JT Jarrett (.225/.306/.225, 16 R, 20 SACB(!!!)) return after starting a combined 86 games in the infield a year ago. Each had their moments along the way, but faded significantly down the closing stretch of the year. Both guys have the ability to play either 2B or 3B, and they are about as fundamentally sound in the field as you’re going to find at this level, but their limitations offensively might open the door for other players to step in.
Among those players who will be nipping at the heels of Cooper and Jarrett for playing time in 2019 are Devonte Brown (.148/.343/.222, 27 AB) and David Vazquez (.263/.302/.447, 38 AB). Brown (primarily a third baseman) and Vazquez (primarily a middle infielder) both have significantly higher upside than Cooper and Jarrett, but will need to display significant improvement (especially in the K% department) if they are to wrestle away the starting gigs from the incumbents (I think at least one of them will).
Terrell Tatum (.271/.427/.341, 25 R, 9 SB) is the closest thing that NC State has to a returning OF with starting experience - he made 22 starts last year, but all were at DH (okay, okay... Dillon Cooper has one start in LF from the 2017 season). Tatum is a lanky, left-handed hitting athletic freak who should have the inside track on a starting job. Joining Tatum as the only other returning OF is Lawson McArthur (4 PA, .500 OBP, 2 SB), another speedster who has been used almost exclusively as a pinch runner to this point in his career. McArthur reminds me a bit of Josh McLain, a player who was viewed a bit as a one-trick pony (speed) before the backlog of established starters cleared and allowed him an opportunity to shine.
As much as NC State has been QBU on the football field, it’s been even more of a CatcherU on the baseball diamond. Brad Debo (.253/.361/.337, 14 RBI) returns as Bailey’s backstop backup for 2019, and just goes to show the embarrassment of riches that the Wolfpack has been afforded at the position over the years. Debo, a former top prep catching prospect coming out of high school and a player still on MLB draft radars, has started more than a handful of games behind the dish in his NC State career; however, he will compete for the starting DH role and look to return to his 2017 Freshman All-American form.
On the mound, the Wolfpack return 11 hurlers from a year ago, seven of whom have starting experience to their credit. Among these returners are a 2018 Freshman All-American (Reid Johnston) and a 2019 preseason All-American (Kent Klyman).
Johnston (7-1, 4 SV, 3.06 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, .222 OBA) is the only clear-cut member of the starting rotation heading into the 2019 season. The 6’3 righty was incredibly steady for a freshman in 2018 and flashed glimpses of future greatness. Klyman (8-2, 4 SV, 2.34 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .204 OBA) was among the most dominant - and the most heavily used - relievers in college baseball a year ago. With two open positions in the weekend starting rotation, he could very well slide into one of those rotation slots. Klyman threw over 2.0 innings in 14 of his 31 relief appearances a year ago; he’s no LOOGY, and he certainly has the stuff to move back to a shut-down relief role should a starting gig not work out.
Michael Bienlien, Mathieu Gauthier, David Harrison, Nick Swiney, and Evan Justice all started games a year ago and are candidates to push for a starting role of some kind this season. Bienlien (3-3, 5.35 ERA, 1.84 WHIP, .354 OBA) pitched incredibly well as a freshman in 2017 before regressing substantially in his sophomore year. He still flashed some of that potential that had people so excited for his future, such as his 5.0 IP of shutout ball at then-#2 Clemson.
Gauthier (0-0, 1 SV, 4.01 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, .248 OBA) has been exclusively a weekend reliever and midweek starter to this point in his career. The lanky righty from Canada has always had the potential to break out into a star, but has yet to see it materialize. Harrison (1-4, 5.72 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, .275 OBA), on the other hand, made a bunch of weekend starts a year ago as a freshman; however, he only worked out of the 4th inning on two of those nine starts. (As an aside, probably my favorite roster tidbit from 2018 to 2019 is that David Harrison went from being a 6’5, 189 lbs freshman to a 6’2, 208 lbs sophomore. Most people don’t start shrinking til their old, David!)
Swiney (4-0, 3.52 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, .223 OBA) had some downright disgustingly dominant displays in 2018. His curveball was easily the best on the team last year. Unfortunately for Swiney, his lone start of the year was a disaster, but it was in a game at Clemson (a game that State eventually won), so that can be excused. Swiney is a breakout candidate for the pitching staff in 2019. Justice (2-0, 6.83 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, .296 OBA) made three starts on the year, but the lefty is likely to slot in as a weekend reliever and potential midweek starter this season rather than a weekend rotation figure.
While Klyman and O’Donnell got most of the bullpen notoriety last year, Nolan Clenney (3-0, 3.43 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, .206 OBA) put together an impressive season helping to provide some vital stability to the bullpen and make up for a starting staff that routinely failed to pitch deep into games. Clenney, who was a starting pitcher in JUCO ball before coming to State, is another candidate to potentially move to the starting rotation this year.
Looking to return back to (and build on) pre-2018 form are a pair of pitchers who missed essentially all of last year due to injury: Dalton Feeney and Austin Staley. Feeney (3-2, 1 SV, 2.53 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .187 OBA in 2017) is a big, powerful righty who is coming off of Tommy John Surgery. After flashing potential as a freshman in 2017, the North Dakota native will look to regain his previous MLB draft stock with a solid 2019 campaign. Prior to injury, Feeney had the best stuff of the entire pitching staff and - should he return to form - could end up as the staff ace by the end of the season. It is important, however, to temper expectations and expect a long and slow ramp-up curve for a guy coming off of TJS.
Staley (2-3, 5 SV, 3.59 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, .264 OBA in 2017) was expected to pair with Joe O’Donnell as the key pieces to the back-end of the 2018 Wolfpack bullpen, but a preseason arm injury derailed those plans and Staley ended up making just one late season appearance (1.0 IP) during a redshirt year. In that one appearance, Staley appeared to be in a great deal of discomfort and looked nothing like his prior self in terms of velocity, movement, and arm angle. It’s unclear what, if anything, Staley will be able to provide to the staff this year. If he returns to his 2017 form, it’ll only help to bolster what should be an incredibly deep Pack bullpen, but like Feeney, expectations need to be tempered accordingly. Even if Staley is able to get back to 100%, with the depth of this pitching staff, there’s no way he comes close to reaching the 47.2 IP he threw in 2017.
Cameron Cotter is another pitcher who is coming off a redshirt season due to injury. Josh Pike, too, took a redshirt season a year ago, but his redshirt doesn’t appear to be due to injury. Cotter and Pike were high school teammates at Northern Guilford (along with JT Jarrett) on a state championship squad. Both are righties who were dominant in high school, but expectations are unclear for them heading into this year.