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.
- In Part I of this series, we’ll take a look back at the 2019 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
- 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!
2019 Season Review
First, let’s take a look back at the 2019 season so we can give ourselves a little perspective on the season to come.
How did things go in 2019?
Well, they certainly couldn’t have started any better, that’s for sure. The 2019 Wolfpack squad opened the season with 19 consecutive wins and was sitting pretty with a 27-2 overall record (including a 10-2 ACC mark) and a #1 overall ranking in the country as the calendar flipped over to April. And that’s about when the fun ended.
A team that through the end of March was 10-1 in one-run games would get walked-off on in Charlotte by South Carolina to start April, marking the start of a finishing two-plus months that would see the team post an overall record of just 15-17 (and 8-10 in conference).
Despite struggling down the stretch, the Wolfpack were able to cap off the regular season with back-to-back series wins at home versus Clemson and on the road at a top-15 North Carolina squad. The Pack9 followed this up with a dramatic and unforgettable win over Wake Forest in the ACC Tournament. Unfortunately, it was all down from there as State lost their last four games of the season, including both games in the Greenville regional. So it goes.
Who’s gone from the 2019 squad?
Compared to what the 2019 team had to replace from the 2018 team (where they lost 15 players from year-to-year), the 2020 squad has a relatively small number of players to replace (three position players, six pitchers). That’s a little misleading, though, when you start to look at who exactly comprises that list of now-gone players. Six of the nine players left via the MLB Draft (compared to five of the 15 from the season before). The three position players accounted for a total of 135 starts and 621 at-bats in 2019. The six pitchers accounted for a combined 87 appearances (27 starts) covering 170.1 innings.
- Alec Barger (RHP - RP) - MLB Draft (17th round, Braves)
- Michael Bienlien (RHP - RP) - MLB Draft (24th round, Tigers)
- Andrew Blake (RHP - RP) - MLB Draft (21st round, Angels)
- Nolan Clenney (RHP - RP) - Graduation
- Dillon Cooper (2B/3B) - Graduation
- Evan Edwards (1B) - Graduation/MLB Draft (4th round, Marlins)
- Mathieu Gauthier (RHP - RP) - Transfer
- Jason Parker (RHP - SP) - MLB Draft (16th round, Reds)
- Will Wilson (SS) - MLB Draft (1st round, Angels)
(Starters/Key Contributors in bold)
While each of the nine players listed above will leave their own holes to fill, the two biggest are likely those of Evan Edwards and Will Wilson. Comprising two-thirds of the three-headed monster (with Patrick Bailey) in the middle of the Wolfpack batting order for the last two years, Edwards (.330/.455/.604, 17 2B, 14 HR, 59 R, 60 RBI, 51 BB, 7 SB) and Wilson (.335/.425/.661, 20 2B, 16 HR, 55 R, 57 RBI) will leave massive holes not only due to their offensive abilities, but also because of the defensive chops they flashed during their respective times at NC State.
Wilson was an offensive and defensive showman from the first day of his three year run in a Wolfpack uniform, ultimately resulting in the Angles using their 1st round pick on him in the 2019 MLB Draft (he’s since been traded to the Giants). Edwards, meanwhile, raked at the plate from the get-go after transferring in from the junior college ranks, but it was his defensive development which was even more astounding and took him from going undrafted as a junior to a 4th round pick after his senior season.
While not the offensive force of Edwards or Wilson, the team will still feel the absence of Dillon Cooper, who graduated with a year of eligibility remaining. Cooper (.229/.289/.300, 2 3B, 2 SB) was a defensive rock who started 61 games over the last two seasons. It’s unclear if the .247 career hitter will play out his final year elsewhere.
On the mound, the biggest loss for the Pack will be Jason Parker. The junior college transfer combined with Reid Johnston to mark the first time since 2012 that the Wolfpack had a pair of pitchers each throw over 75.0 innings in a season. Parker (4-4, 4.38 ERA, 1.42 WHIP) provided a consistent presence from the Friday night slot in the rotation, starting every series opener for the Pack on the season.
Alec Barger and Andrew Blake were two more of the five JUCO pitchers brought in for the 2019 season. The two combined to start eight games, but were primarily used in relief. While Barger’s (2-2, 6.14 ERA, 1.84 WHIP) and Blake’s (1-0, 4.79 ERA, 1.79 WHIP) production won’t be overly hard to replace, they were both physically gifted pitchers (thus their being drafted even after ho-hum results on the season) who had the potential for breakout 2020 campaigns.
Michael Bienlien (3-1, 6.23 ERA, 1.94 WHIP) had a solid freshman season in 2017 that earned him All-ACC Freshman Team honors. Unfortunately, he seemed to regress in each of the subsequent two seasons and wouldn’t match his freshman year innings total (58.0) in his sophomore (33.2) and junior (21.2) years combined. Like Barger and Blake, though, the solidly built righty still possessed the requisite skills to develop into a formidable piece of the Wolfpack rotation in 2020.
Nolan Clenney’s name might not be bolded above, but that should probably also come with an asterisk. Clenney (1-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.50 WHIP) only appeared in a handful of games and innings in 2019 after leading the team in appearances as a junior, where he was one of the most relied-upon and effective relief options for the team. His light usage in 2019 (12.0 IP) will always be a head-scratcher.
Similar to Clenney, Mathieu Gauthier (0-0, 2.53 ERA, 1.41 WHIP) went from a more often used pitcher in 2018 (42.2 IP) to barely seeing the mound in 2019 (10.2 IP). Goat Cheese was a slender project pitcher from Canada who always appeared to have the base level skills to develop into a dominant pitcher if he put on the weight and muscle. He has transferred to Division II West Texas A&M where he will compete in his final year of collegiate eligibility.