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 took 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!
The Wolfpack welcome a relatively small 12 person class of newcomers for 2020 (the 2019 team featured 15 newcomers). Unlike last year’s class that featured seven transfers from the junior college ranks, this year’s group features only two - although those two should be immediate impact players.
The lack of JUCO transfers says a lot about the state of the players already in the program. It also may very well be necessary as there will be as many as 23 draft-eligible players on the 2020 squad. While there are only three seniors on this years team, you can pretty much bet on about three times that number being gone by the summer.
We talked about how talent was not lacking in Part II of this series, but let’s get a look at the new faces that will officially don the Red & White for the first time this spring.
- Logan Bender (RHP - rJr)
- Will Butcher (1B/DH - Fr)
- Tim Cao (RHP - Fr)
- DeAngelo Giles (INF - Fr)
- Sam Highfill (RHP/INF - Fr)
- Austin Murr (1B/OF/DH - Jr)
- C.J. Neese (RHP/INF - Fr)
- Austin Pace (RHP - Fr)
- Noah Soles (OF - Fr)
- Jose Torres (SS - Fr)
- Chris Villaman (LHP/1B - Fr)
- Matt Willadsen (RHP/INF - Fr)
The two JUCO transfers are expected to step into prominent roles immediately. Logan Bender is a Campbell University transfer by way of Catawba Valley CC. After sitting out his freshman year at Campbell with an injury, Bender went on to be named a Freshman All-American and the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2018. He left the Camels and went to CVCC where he transitioned from the bullpen to a starting role and parlayed that into Junior College All-American honors after posting video game numbers (7-0, 0.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 57.2 IP, 114 K). Bender has electric stuff and most likely slots in as a key reliever, but could get a look as a weekend rotation starter.
The other JUCO transfer is Austin Murr, who comes to State from Des Moines Area CC in Iowa where he was a NJCAA 3rd Team All-American last year. In two seasons of JUCO ball, Murr put up an impressively versatile stat line (104 G, .440/.521/.710, 38 2B, 12 3B, 11 HR, 112 R, 106 RBI, 53 BB, 40 K, 25-33 SB), and his bat should push its way into the lineup in one way or another. While he doesn’t have the power that Evan Edwards had (Edwards hit 39 HR in JUCO ball), the lefty will most likely take over for Edwards at first base this year, but he also has the athleticism to play in the outfield, if and when needed.
Chris Villaman is one of three players on NC State’s roster from Ledford High School in Thomasville, NC. The highest ranked player to actually make it to campus from State’s 2019 recruiting class, Villaman has great stuff to go along with a low-to-mid-90’s fastball. He should grab a weekend rotation job immediately and will also get a look at first base, DH, and/or pinch-hit duties as he’s an athlete who can swing the bat, too.
Jose Torres was a 24th round pick by the Brewers in last year’s MLB Draft and - if the results of the fall scrimmages are any indication - appears to have already locked up the starting shortstop job for the Pack this spring. Torres is a five tool player who will be loads of fun to watch over the next few years.
Austin Pace (Currituck County HS) may be the tallest pitcher for NC State since Andrew Brackman was on campus. The 6’10 righty brings a low-90’s heater. He appeared to be more of a long-term project, but the early returns in fall camp were encouraging. He (obviously) has tons of potential, especially as he adds muscle to his frame.
A true two-way player, C.J. Neese (Grimsley HS) will contribute this year on the mound and with his bat (and, you know, in the field). Featuring a low-to-mid-90’s fastball with good arm-side run, Neese has electric stuff on the mound and should contribute as a reliever immediately. In the field, he profiles more as a third baseman, but has the ability to play anywhere in the infield.
Along with the group of outfielders mentioned in Part II yesterday and with Murr above, another guy who will push for playing time in the outfield this year is Noah Soles. Another of the three Ledford HS grads on the team, Soles was a 19th round draft pick by the Diamondbacks last year. The left-handed throwing and hitting Soles has the tools to make an immediate impact this year.
Will Butcher (T.C. Roberson HS) is your prototypical big, homer-mashing first baseman. With the opening at first base, it will be interesting to see if Butcher (awesome name for a first baseman, by the way) can carve out some opportunities for himself there.
Tim Cao (Northwest Guilford HS... not to be confused with one of the 17 players currently on the team from Northern Guilford HS) is a smaller, but very athletic right-handed pitcher who has a good feel for multiple pitches. His fastball sits in the low-90’s and sets up his breaking pitches very well. He should get an opportunity to contribute early.
Vickers Giles is an infielder from High Point Central HS. Giles is likely more of a long-term project guy, but could take on a similar role to what Dillon Cooper played for the last couple years.
Sam Highfill (Apex HS) is another two-way player who could see time in the field or on the mound. He projects more as a third baseman in the field and (at least for the time being) as a reliever on the mound. As a pitcher, Highfill mixes several arm slots to keep hitters off-balance, including a sidearm delivery. His fastball sits in the high-80’s.
Matt Willadsen (Holly Springs HS) is an intriguing two-way prospect for State. A bit of a late bloomer, Willadsen’s future is most likely on the mound, but he could also contribute in the field and at the plate for the Pack in the future. He absolutely dominated as a senior, especially on the mound, where he mixed his low-90’s fastball with some great velocity-differential off-speed pitches to fool hitters all year. Willadsen will find some innings to showcase his skills this year for State.