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2023 NC State Baseball Preview - Part III: Who’s New

A first look at the 2023 Wolfpack baseball season

COLLEGE BASEBALL: MAY 24 ACC Championship - NC State v Wake Forest Photo by David Jensen/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re less than a month out from the 2023 college baseball season, so 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 (just trying to cover my rear in case life gets in the way):

Let’s get this thing started!

Who’s new

With the roster now whittled down to it’s final 38-man version for the 2023 season, let’s look at the 18 newcomers for the Wolfpack:

  • Isaiah Barkett (INF - FR)
  • Rio Britton (LHP - JR)
  • Trevor Candelaria (OF - SR)
  • Zac Flontek (RHP - SO)
  • Dom Fritton (LHP - FR)
  • Michael Gupton (OF - FR)
  • Everette Harris (RHP - FR)
  • Kalae Harrison (INF - JR)
  • Matt Heavner (INF - FR)
  • P.J. Labriola (LHP - JR)
  • Drew Lanphere (INF - FR)
  • Parker Nolan (OF - SR)
  • Cannon Peebles (C - FR)
  • Eli Serrano (1B/OF - FR)
  • Andrew Shaffner (RHP - FR)
  • Derrick Smith (RHP - FR)
  • Carter Trice (OF - JR)
  • Creed Watkins (RHP - rJR)

NC State will welcome 7 transfers (no JUCO transfers among those, by the way) and 10 freshmen to campus this spring as newcomers to the baseball program, as well as adding a sophomore who hadn’t previously played for the Wolfpack but has been on campus for a bit now. Let’s take a look at the transfers first; a group ranked as the 11th best transfer class in the country by D1 Baseball.

Old Dominion transfer Carter Trice gets the billing as the biggest transfer addition this year for the Wolfpack. Trice earned 2nd Team All-CUSA honors in 2022 after earning 2nd Team All-American, 1st Team Freshman All-American, 1st Team All-CUSA, and CUSA Freshman-of-the-Year honors in 2021. Over 515 PA with the Monarchs, the righty outfielder slashed .324/.411/.620 with 30 2B, 4 3B, 31 HR, 111 R, and 103 RBI while registering 62 BB (12.0 BB%) and 122 K (23.7 K%) and going 26-of-32 on stolen bases. The concern for Trice is that strikeout rate as well as some nagging injuries that hampered him in the fall and likely contributed to his down (compared to his freshman year) last season at ODU. Overall, he’s a power-hitting on-base machine with speed and defensive flexibility. There are far worse pieces to add to a team than a guy ranked by D1 Baseball as one of the top 20 ACC players eligible for the 2023 MLB draft.

With Trice being tabbed the biggest offensive transfer addition for State, Rio Britton will hold the honor of the top transfer addition to the pitching staff. The lefty from California spent his first two years of college at Oregon where he tallied a 4-1 record with 1 save and a 3.29 ERA over 54.2 IP. He walked 28 (12.7 BB%) and struck out 53 (24.0 K%). Britton made all 49 of his appearances for the Ducks in relief, but you can consider him a Chris Villaman fill-in as a guy with the flexibility to work either as a starter, a closer, or anything in between. He can’t pump the fastball velo that Villaman could hit (he’s a low-90’s guy instead of a mid-90’s arm), and he doesn’t have nearly the control either (his 2022 walk rate was over double Villaman’s last year), but he is that sinker-slider combo lefty who brings a bulldog mentality to the mound and can make hitters look silly.

Did you know Davidson College doesn’t have a graduate school? Well, that’s a good thing for NC State as the Pack landed a pair of 2022 1st Team All-A10 transfers from the Wildcats thanks the school going all Semisonic on them after they earned their degrees. The Davidson team mashed last year on their way to the program’s first regular season Atlantic-10 Conference championship, with Trevor Candelaria and Parker Nolan being two of the five hitters that primarily powered that effort.

Candelaria was a starter from pretty much the moment he stepped on the Wildcats campus, starting 163 games over four years and hitting .287/.393/.515 across 713 PA with 47 2B, 3 3B, 28 HR, 129 R, 131 RBI, 74 BB (10.4 BB%), 156 K (21.9 K%), and wearing 34 HBP. For good measure - and a nice statement to his athleticism - he was also 33-of-37 on stolen bases. Candelaria earned 1st Team All-A10 honors in both 2021 and 2022, but last year was his best as he knocked the cover off the ball with a .342/.452/.607 slash line over 281 PA with 19 2B, 2 3B, 13 HR, 62 R, 62 RBI, 36 BB (12.8 BB%), and 49 K (17.4 K%) while nabbing 13-of-15 stolen bases and getting plunked 11 times. The righty played primarily right field over his last three seasons at Davidson after being the team’s primary centerfielder as a freshman.

Whereas Candelaria was a mainstay in the Wildcats lineup for several years, Nolan was a surprise breakout player in 2022. While being the man who pushed Candelaria out of centerfield (he actually did that in 2020), Nolan snagged his own 1st Team All-A10 honors. Last year, the righty Wilmington native hit .310/.442/.663 across 235 PA with 11 2B, 5 3B, 15 HR, 58 R, and 50 RBI with 40 BB (17.0 BB%) and 60 K (25.5 K%), while also being a perfect 12-of-12 on stolen bases. Compare that to his .211/.315/.389 line with a 11.2 BB% and 29.5 K% over the 224 PA prior to that and you can see what a breakout season it truly was. While there are going to be concerns about the step up in competition for both players, adding a pair of experienced and decorated college players is a welcome addition to any roster.

The final offensive transfer addition comes in the form of former Texas A&M infielder Kalae Harrison. A native of Honolulu, Harrison started 69 games (all at shortstop) over two seasons for the Aggies, hitting a combined .214/.308/.273 over 257 PA with 7 2B, 2 HR, 29 R, and 30 RBI with 29 BB (11.3 BB%) and 77 K (30.0 K%) while registering 7 SB on 8 SBA. Fifty-six of those starts came as a freshman in 2021, as he missed almost two months of 2022 due to a back injury. When Harrison did return in 2022, it was almost primarily as a late-inning defensive specialist. That slash line and K% don’t exactly inspire confidence, but across 64 PA in the Cape Cod League this past summer, Harrison hit .278/.381/.278 with 8 BB (12.5 BB%) and 17 K (26.5 K%). That BA and OBP are encouraging signs coupled with an improved (although still not great) K% considering how players production typically declines in the top wood bat summer league. Harrison’s ceiling is a junior year J.T. Jarrett (.251/.341/.333 for those wondering), although with a better arm.

In addition to Britton, NC State added another pair of P5 arms to the pitching staff, albeit with less experience. Creed Watkins is a big (6’5, 215 lbs) righty with a big arm that can touch the upper 90’s with the fastball, but sits more comfortably in the mid-90’s. He’s a former JUCO player (although he threw just 24.0 IP over two years) who joins the Wolfpack after a single year at Oklahoma where he saw the mound for enough time to face just two batters on the year. Watkins is a textbook lotto ticket with a high ceiling and a low floor, completely dependent upon control.

P.J. Labriola comes to State after three years at ACC foe Clemson (no, he never faced the Wolfpack). Labriola appeared in a total of 25 games for the Tigers with 16 of those appearances coming in 2022. All told, he pitched just 19.2 innings of 8.69 ERA ball, posting a 1-0 record with 8 BB (8.2 BB%) and 24 K (24.5 K%). Like Watkins, Labriola has a big frame (6’7, 220 lbs), but unlike Watkins he does not have the same big velo. The lefty will sit mostly in the upper 80’s and occasionally low 90’s. He fits more into the “crafty lefty” category, mixing in his off-speed offerings to keep hitters off balance. While he was close to being a LOOGY (lefty one out guy) at Clemson, I’d expect to see him get longer looks for the Pack, possibly even as a midweek starter.

NC State will again welcome a consensus Top 25 freshman recruiting class to Raleigh for 2023, with the class being ranked as high as 18th (Perfect Game).

Depending on your source, there’s a debate among who the best recruit is in this class, but we’ll discuss the one generally regarded as the best and with the most likely immediate playing time first. Eli Serrano is a lanky 6’5, 193 lbs lefty outfielder from Fuquay-Varina. Like Payton Green and Will Marcy, Serrano finished out his prep career at Pro5 Academy in Raleigh. With a loaded veteran outfield this season, Serrano may get his first crack with the Pack at either first base or DH. The defense has upside and the bat absolutely will play, with MLB’s draft profile of him making the upside comp to Christian Yelich. D1 Baseball listed Serrano as the #2 “Impact Freshman” in the ACC for 2023, and he was the #2 rated North Carolina prep player in his class by Perfect Game, second only to...

Michael Gupton is the fastest player to ever put on an NC State baseball uniform. The 5’10, 188 lbs righty ran an absurdly ridiculous 5.96 second 60-yard dash in 2021, an unofficial world record. The Rolesville product played in the MLB Draft League this past summer where he made hard contact, but struggled overall (.143/.273/.250 over 33 PA) against generally older competition. He has a powerful and stocky build with present gap power and the potential for more, while having the speed to track down any fly ball anywhere in the park. If his bat can adjust, Gupton has Top 10 overall pick level talent. He can be a stronger, faster version of Enrique Bradfield, which is exciting.

The Wolfpack will welcome a legacy player onboard this year in Isaiah Barkett, the son of former NC State player and current White Sox hitting coordinator Andy Barkett. In the younger Barkett, State is getting a solid middle infielder who is a bit of a late bloomer. It’ll be interesting to see how many looks he gets early, and that may be dependent upon how well a guy like Harrison hits in front of him. Barkett has solid long-term potential.

Matt Heavner is another freshman middle infielder for the Pack. He has a compact, contact-oriented approach at the plate and smooth mechanics in the field. Heavner gives off definite J.T. Jarrett vibes out there. Like Barkett, his looks this year may be dependent upon the veterans on the roster who will likely get first crack ahead of him, but like Jarrett, his all-around solid game could force his way into playing time sooner than later.

Drew Lanphere is a lefty-hitting corner infielder from East Wake Academy. He has a decent build with some pop in the bat and room for added power with maturation. This will likely be a year to sit back, develop, and learn for Lanphere, but he’s got a good base to build on for future success.

Rounding out the freshman position players is catcher Cannon Peebles. A stocky yet athletic switch-hitter, Peebles lives up to his first name with a strong arm from behind the plate. His defensive abilities are legit and the bat has some great potential, and he should be able to maintain hitting from both sides of the plate in college. The top rated catcher from the state of Virginia is blocked by Jacob Cozart, but as the only other catcher on the roster, he should get some playing time as a midweek starter.

Heading back to freshman pitchers, Dom Fritton has impressed since getting to campus. The lefty from Fuquay-Varina is starting to build some hype, including being ranked by D1 Baseball as the #16 “Impact Freshman” in the ACC this year. Without high-end velocity, he works multiple pitches into an effective arsenal rather than being a one-trick pony. With a lack of experienced lefty arms beyond Britton, Fritton (hmm) will get some opportunities to work his way in as a regular out of the bullpen.

Everette Harris is likely looking at a developmental year in 2023, whether or not that means a redshirt. The righty has a solid frame to build off of and a good three pitch mix base, but some added muscle - and subsequent velo - would allow his pitches to play up, including a curve that needs some more bite. He mixes in a splitter which buries in on righties and could develop into a great out pitch.

Like Fritton, Andrew Shaffner has impressed since arriving in Raleigh. Shaffner, who was a beast of a high school hitter in addition to being an ace on the mound, has seen his velo jump since joining the Wolfpack as he sat in the mid-90’s in the fall while still getting great movement on his fastball. D1 Baseball ranked him at #35 on the list of the ACC’s 2023 Impact Freshmen. If his off-speed offerings can also make the jump, Shaffner could be in line for a workload similar to that of Carson Kelly last year.

Derrick Smith is a big-bodied (6’2, 221 lbs) righty with a low-to-mid 90’s fastball that gets some solid run. He was the top ranked pitcher in the state of Minnesota last year and has a solid foundation with which to work, but will need some adjustment to the college game. The development of his off-speed pitches will dictate how much playing time he gets this year, especially with a deep number of righty arms on the team.

And now for the one guy who doesn’t fit into either of the transfer or freshman buckets. Zac Flontek was a multi-sport athlete at NCHSAA 1A member school Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy in Mooresboro... no, not Mooresville. Mooresboro. Keep going past Charlotte, Gastonia, Kings Mountain, and Shelby, then you’ll get there. Flontek played for the NC State Club Baseball team in 2021 and has impressed the coaching staff enough to earn a roster spot this year with the varsity club. I really have nothing on this kid, so it’ll be interesting to see what Flontek can bring to the Pack in 2023.