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2022 NC State Baseball Preview - Part II: Who’s Back

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

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-NC State v Vanderbilt Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

With the calendar getting ready to turn over to February and the 2022 baseball season quickly approaching, let’s take a look at the NC State Wolfpack team that will take the field this season. We’ll attempt to do this in a four-part series again:

  • In Part I of this series, we took a look back at the 2021 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
  • In Part II, we will look at the returnees from that 2021 team.
  • Part III will look at the newcomers for 2022.
  • Part IV will take a look at the schedule and opponents for the Wolfpack this season.

So let’s get started!

Who’s back

NC State will return half the roster from its 2021 College World Series team. Technically, the Wolfpack return 20 players from this time a year ago, although two of those players (David Harrison, Logan Whitaker) were not on the roster by the time the calendar hit April.

While the overall number of returning players seems high, it’s still a significant amount of turnover for a college baseball team. To an even greater extent, as you’ll see below, there are very few starters and key contributors returning. That doesn’t mean there’s not talent coming back, just limited on proven experience in a Wolfpack uniform.

Below are the players returning in 2022 from the 2021 team:

  • Devonte Brown JR - 3B/OF
  • Trey Cooper - rFR - LHP
  • Eddie Eisert - SO - UTIL
  • Carson Falsken - SO - INF
  • DeAngelo Giles - SO - INF
  • David Harrison - SR - LHP
  • Sam Highfill - SO - RHP/1B
  • J.T. Jarrett - SR - INF
  • Cooper King - SO - RHP
  • John Miralia - SO - LHP
  • Baker Nelson - JR - RHP
  • Garrett Payne - SO - RHP
  • Canaan Silver - SR - LHP
  • Tristan Sipple - SO - LHP
  • Noah Soles - SO - OF
  • Andrew Tillery - JR - RHP
  • Trey Truitt - SO - OF
  • Chris Villaman - SO - LHP
  • Logan Whitaker - rSO - RHP
  • Matt Willadsen - SO - RHP

(Starters/Key Contributors in bold)

For comparison, in 2021 NC State returned 27 players from the 2020 season, including 22 players who were starters or could be considered key contributors. This is a talented group of returners, but the 2022 Wolfpack will need to rely on newcomers to supplement this group if the team hopes to match or exceed the 2021 team’s production. We’ll touch on that in Part III of the preview series, but first let’s look at each of the returnees.

Somehow - and I still don’t get it - Devonte Brown did not hear his name called in the 2021 MLB Draft. Thankfully for the Wolfpack, Brown opted not to sign a UDFA deal and will return to the State lineup again in 2022. Although he’s played mostly right field during his Wolfpack tenure, Brown has the ability to play third base and could be a candidate to slide to one of the other two outfield positions this year; he certainly has the athleticism to play center field. Brown had a monster effort in the abbreviated 2020 season when he slashed .338/.429/.692 with 6 2B and 5 HR over 17 games, and on the surface it would appear he regressed during 2021, hitting .252/.363/.500 with 11 2B and 13 HR in 56 games. However, looking closely at the numbers shows that Brown just had a rough and mostly unlucky start to the year, slashing just .163/.268.245 with 1 2B and 1 HR over the first 13 games (you know, during that 4-9 start for the team) with a .206 BABIP. The BABIP across all NC State games last year, for both the Wolfpack and their opponents, was .307, so that should tell you just how unlucky Brown was to start the season. From that point on, he hit .281/.391/.582. For the season, he put up a line of .252/.363/.500 with 11 2B, 13 HR, 45 R, 40 RBI, 34 BB (14.0 BB%), 2 HBP, 49 K (20.2 K%), and 4-of-6 SB. For his career, Brown has a line of .265/.378/.493 with 18 2B, 3 3B, 18 HR, 82 R, 65 RBI, 60 BB (14.6 BB%), 4 HBP, 95 K (23.1 K%), and 10-of-13 SB.

Trey Cooper unfortunately missed all of last year while working back from an injury sustained in high school. The stocky lefty was back on the mound this fall showing more velocity in his pitches than he had in high school, so hopefully he can carve out a nice role as a harder-throwing lefty relief option. His slider can be very good when it’s locating.

Among the returnees, Eddie Eisert is likely to play the role of a pure utility guy on this team - that flex role that’s become popular at the MLB level of late. Despite coming in as a pretty highly touted guy, the switch-hitter found himself behind some veterans last year and will have an uphill battle to a starting spot this year thanks to some very good newcomers (more on that in Part III). Eisert was a high school shortstop who was projected as a college third baseman. He has the athleticism to play the outfield, too. He managed just 11 PA last year.

Another athletic switch-hitting second year guy, Carson Falsken will unfortunately miss the 2022 season due to a knee injury he suffered in the fall. Keep an eye out for him next fall as he makes his way back. The kid can play. He slashed .200/.250/200 last year in just 16 PA.

DeAngelo Giles is back for his third year on campus, and with openings at first base and third base, will finally get a shot to earn a significant role on this year’s team. That shot is still a long one for the sophomore with only 17 career plate appearances to his credit. The hit tool is his calling card, but he’s yet to have much of an opportunity to display it.

We won’t touch on the situations that led to it, but David Harrison returns as a fifth-year senior after not finishing the 2021 season on the roster. The lefty has always had a lot of potential and has the versatility to slot in as either a key reliever or a starting option. He may well serve both as a midweek starter and middle relief weekend arm. For his career, Harrison owns a 3-6 record with a 3.96 ERA over 44 appearances, including 17 starts. He’s tossed 102.1 innings, allowed 99 hits (.256 Batting Average Against (BAA)) and 36 walks (8.1 BB%) while striking out 94 (21.1 K%).

Sam Highfill’s excellent 2021 season, culminating with his excellent NCAA Tournament showing (he was snubbed from the All-CWS Team!) and selection to the 2021 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, has garnered him a lot of praise heading into 2022. The preseason All-American should slot in as the Friday starter. The righty has a career 12-3 record on the mound with a 3.61 ERA over 22 appearances (16 starts). He’s tossed 107.1 innings, allowing 95 hits (.237 BAA) and 28 walks (6.3 BB%) while notching 99 strikeouts (22.3 K%). He’s also 4-of-9 as a hitter, with three of those hits coming the 10th overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Kumar Rocker.

Another fifth-year senior in 2022, J.T. Jarrett should again man the second base spot for the Wolfpack (he started the fall scrimmage versus Duke in centerfield, but that ain’t happening). Known primarily for his defense (a .977 career fielding percentage) and being the son of Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett (bet you didn’t know that! drink), Jarrett is a career .248/.334/.325 hitter over 550 PA with 21 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 73 R, 63 RBI, 48 BB (8.7 BB%), 12 HBP, 83 K (15.1 K%), and an absurd 35 sacrifice bunts to his credit. He’s also 6-of-10 on stolen bases. Jarrett has also started a large number of games at third base in his career, so he does have some defensive flexibility.

Cooper King is a high-80’s/low-90’s righty who saw action in nine contests last year, putting together a line of: 1-0, 4.50 ERA, 8.0 IP, 5 H (.185 BAA), 8 BB (21.6 BB%), 4 K (10.8 K%). Obviously those walk numbers are concerning, although his walks came at just a single one each in eight of his appearances, so control might not be the issue it presents itself as. King slots in as a relief arm in 2022.

John Miralia is a big - and I mean big (6’7, 245 lbs) - lefty with a boatload of potential. Had 2020 played out to a full season, he’s a guy who may well have been drafted, but instead found his way to campus in Raleigh. For 2022, Miralia will likely be a bullpen arm - and you can never have too many lefty bullpen arms.

Anyone who watched Baker Nelson on the mound in 2019 and 2020 could tell something wasn’t quite right with him early in the 2021 season. Turned out the righty needed elbow surgery. He was back throwing in the fall, but we’ll have to wait to see to what level he returns in 2022. The righty was an oft-used one-inning guy in the bullpen his first two years on campus and holds a career line of: 2-0, 1 SV, 5.95 ERA, 39.1 IP, 40 H (.267 BAA), 12 BB (6.9 BB%), 33 K (19.0 K%).

Garrett Payne enters 2022 with a good shot at being the Wolfpack’s Sunday starter. Payne is a lanky 6’7 righty who you will remember as the starting pitcher in the #Pack13 game against Vanderbilt, his first career start, where he tossed 5.0 innings of two-hit ball. If he can’t win the Sunday job, Payne is a strong candidate as a midweek starter. He’s added 14 pounds to his frame since last year with plenty more room to grow. He has incredibly high potential. Last year he went 0-1 with a 5.27 ERA over seven appearances (one start) and 13.2 innings, allowing 14 hits (.259 BAA) and 9 walks (13.4 BB%) with 15 strikeouts (22.4 K%).

Every baseball team needs a veteran crafty pitcher, and Canaan Silver is NC State’s. While the lefty’s fastball won’t blow by anyone, he throws a bunch of pitches and can locate all of them for strikes. The former JUCO transfer was a starter for eight games for the Pack in 2019 and has appeared now in 28 games over three seasons. He’s an obvious candidate to be the Wolfpack’s midweek starter, but can also be a long relief option out of the bullpen. For his career, Silver has a line of: 1-4, 1 SV, 4.88 ERA, 62.2 IP, 66 H (.275 BAA), 22 BB (8.0 BB%), 38 K (13.9 K%).

Tristan Sipple, like Trey Cooper, is another stocky lefty, although the sophomore has shed 13 pounds from a year ago, which will hopefully add to some smoother arm motion and increased effectiveness of his pitches. Sipple will slot in as a reliever this year. He made six appearances in that role a year ago, tossing 5.2 innings of 4.76 ERA ball, allowing 3 hits (.150 BAA) and 2 walks (8.7 BB%) while striking out 7 (30.4 K%).

With centerfield open following Tyler McDonough being drafted by the Red Sox, Noah Soles seems a prime candidate to take over the position. Soles, one of three players from Ledford High School on the 2022 roster, was a 19th round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks out of high school who opted to attend NC State instead. He got off to a hot start in his first year, the abbreviated 2020 season, hitting .600/.625/.733 in 16 PA, but cooled off to a .207/.324/.241 line over 34 PA in 2021. For his career, Soles has a line of .341/.420/.409 with 3 2B, 9 R, 7 RBI, 6 BB (12.0 BB%), 12 K (24.0 K%), and 1-of-1 SB. With a stacked lineup and veterans producing ahead of him, Soles never really got a chance to get going last year. He should get a crack at either left field or center field to begin 2022.

Andrew Tillery returns for his fourth year on campus. After logging just 5.1 innings over six appearances in his first two years with the Pack, the big righty got a little more run last year with mixed results. Tillery appeared in 10 games, starting one of those, and notching a 13.50 ERA over 10.2 innings. There were some glimpses of the pitcher that he could be, though, including a 5.0 inning, two-hit effort against an always hitting-happy Wake Forest squad. Tillery’s objective will be consistency each time he’s on the mound.

Trey Truitt is a bit of a wildcard for the Wolfpack in 2022 as we’ve yet to really see him. The athletic, hard-hitting lefty outfielder transferred to NC State last spring after spending just a single semester at East Carolina, and sat out the season as a transfer. He started in left field during the Wolfpack’s fall scrimmage against Duke, and would thus seem to have a strong case to earn that job outright heading into the season. He’s also plenty athletic enough to cover center field. This kid can hit for average and power, has a good eye, and is a threat on the bases.

Whether as the third weekend starter or the closer/stopper to replace Evan Justice, Chris Villaman will have a prominent role on this year’s squad. The lefty from Ledford HS checks in as the #75 draft-eligible college player for 2022 according to D1 Baseball. Villaman has done it all in a Wolfpack uniform despite only being on campus for two years. Over that time, the 2021 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team member has racked up a 6-2 record with 2 saves and a 4.27 ERA. Over 71.2 innings, he’s allowed just 53 hits (.202 BAA) and 20 walks (6.9 BB%) while striking out 85 batters (29.4 K%). Among his efforts last year was a complete game, one-hit shutout of UNC-Greensboro.

Although technically just a redshirt sophomore, righty Logan Whitaker will return for his fourth season in Raleigh. Unfortunately, Whitaker has never appeared in a game for the Wolfpack and was off the rosters in 2020 and 2021. Before coming to Raleigh, Whitaker was part of a 1-2 punch with Villaman at Ledford HS that helped lead the program to the final round of the state playoffs as a senior. If the injury issues are finally behind him, Whitaker could carve out a role as a key contributor for the Wolfpack.

Before coming to NC State, Matt Willadsen was a bit of a local legend in the Triangle after tossing three no-hitters as a senior at Holly Springs HS. The 6’3 righty got some run - and took some lumps - as a true freshman in 2020, but turned around and put forth a fantastic 2021 campaign. Highlighted by a herculean effort against rival North Carolina where he finished off one game and then started the next, tossing a combined 9.1 innings across two Wolfpack wins, Willadsen cemented himself as a fixture in the weekend rotation. Since last season ended, he’s worked to add muscle to his frame and velo and spin to his pitches. He now sits comfortably in the low-90’s. For his career, Willadsen is 6-3 with a 5.22 ERA over 24 appearances (15 starts). He’s tossed 91.1 innings, allowing 88 hits (.254 BAA) and 32 walks (8.2 BB%) with 79 strikeouts (20.4 K%).