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2024 NC State Baseball Preview - Part I: Who’s Gone

A first look at the 2024 Wolfpack baseball season

NC State v Duke Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The 2024 college baseball season will be here before you know it, and so we’re all properly prepared, let’s take a look at the group that will be the 2024 Wolfpack Baseball team. Here’s how we’ll try to do this:

  • Part I will take a look back at the 2023 season and the players who are no longer with the program.
  • Part II will look at the returnees from that 2023 team.
  • Part III will look at the newcomers for 2024.
  • Part IV will look at the non-conference schedule.
  • Part V will look at ACC opponents.

Let’s go!

2023 Season Review

First, let’s take a look back at the 2023 season so we can give ourselves a little perspective on the season to come.

How did things go in 2023?

Not as good as 2021, slightly better than 2022.

Oh, you wanted a bit more than that? Fine.

After finishing 36-21 and getting shafted by being left out of the NCAA postseason in 2022, NC State supplemented a solid core of returning players with some key transfer additions and impact freshman to... finish 2023 with a 36-21 record.

The ACC record also worsened from a 14-15 mark in 2022 to a 13-16 mark in 2023.

The devil is in the details, though, and while that 2022 squad finished 7-8 over their last 15 games on the way to being left out of the NCAA field, the 2023 squad finished 10-5 and snuck into the Columbia Regional as the #3 seed. Whether or not that finish, which included three wins against a bad Citadel team in non-conference play, should have been enough to get State in is a moot point because the selection committee obviously felt so.

A 13-0 start to the year had the team feeling good, but ACC play hit like a ton of bricks and the Pack lost their first three conference series. Injuries also took a toll, especially in the outfield with Noah Soles missing a significant portion of time and Trevor Candelaria also being forced out for a bit due to an injury. All told, NC State did not have a series win against an ACC opponent that made a Regional. There’s something to be said for taking care of the games against the teams you should beat, but the team overall had flaws and a serious postseason run wasn’t expected.

The one thing the team did excel at was coming through in close games, with a 10-4 record in one-run and/or extra innings games. There was also the emergence of some new players who stepped up to make a big impact, such as LHP Dom Fritton, 1B Eli Serrano, DH Cannon Peebles, and SS Kalae Harrison.

The 2024 season is shaping up to be much better than the last two years, but we’ll get to that later. One key area to build off, and another area where the 2023 team excelled, is a pitching staff that loses only three key contributors and zero weekend starts, yet was still 20th in the country in strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.63) despite not being a senior-laden group.

Who’s gone from the 2023 squad?

Below is a list of all those in the program who have left Raleigh this offseason.

  • Isaiah Barkett - FR - INF
  • Rio Britton - JR - LHP
  • Trevor Candelaria - SR - OF
  • Payton Green - SO - 2B/SS
  • LuJames Groover - JR - 3B
  • Michael Gupton - FR - OF
  • Everette Harris - FR - RHP
  • Kalae Harrison - JR - SS/2B
  • Justin Lawson - JR - RHP
  • Will Marcy - SO - OF
  • Baker Nelson - rSR - RHP
  • Parker Nolan - SR - OF
  • Cannon Peebles - FR - C/DH
  • Dominic Pilolli - JR - OF
  • Tristan Sipple - JR - LHP
  • Carter Trice - JR - OF
  • Creed Watkins - rJR - RHP

(Starters and key contributors in bold)

Britton was a much-needed lefthanded transfer from Oregon who finished with the third most appearances and third most relief innings pitched for NC State in 2023. The California native tossed 31.2 innings of 4.83 ERA ball, posting a 3-2 record with a 12.4 BB% and 27.5 K%. Control was a bit of an issue for Britton, as in addition to that BB% he also plunked 4 batters, but he was still mostly effective. He was selected in the 15th round of the draft by the Diamondbacks.

One of two transfers from Davidson (thank you for not having a graduate school, by the way), Candelaria started 51 games for NC State in 2023. He wasn’t expected to mash at the same rate he did at Davidson (.342/.452/.607 in 2022), but Candelaria still posted an impressive overall .295/.379/.540 line for the Pack in 2023, notching 17 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 42 R, 38 RBI, and posting a 9.25 BB% and 16.3 K%. The Candy Man struggled against ACC pitching, though, posting just a .224/.303/.364 slash line with a 7.3 BB% and 17.4 K%. Some of that was bad luck, though, as evidenced by that relatively low K% and a .260 BABIP in conference play. Nobody played harder than Candelaria, though, and he finished strong with a 6-for-12 effort in the Columbia Regional. After going undrafted, Candelaria signed with the Missoula Paddleheads of the Independent Pioneer league.

Arriving on campus with heaps of expectations, Green was put in a tough situation from the outset of his NC State career. Hailing from Cary, Green was a 15th round pick of the Red Sox out of high school in 2021 but chose to stay in the Triangle for college. While generally considered to have underperformed, Green was actually quite good overall, posting a .265/.352/.455 line with 24 2B, 2 3B, 17 HR, 78 R, and 84 RBI over his two year Wolfpack career with a 10.2 BB% and 23.1 K% while going 19-of-22 on stolen bases. In 2023, he hit .274/.350/.476 with 12 2B, 10 HR, 8.9 BB%, and 21.7 K%. Those are good numbers! The two issues were a struggling defense that saw him twice bumped from shortstop, to third base in 2022 and second base in 2023. The other issue was his struggles with the bat in conference play. Against ACC pitching, Green hit just .234/.305/.364 with an 8.5 BB% and 25.4 K% in 2023. A change of scenery should do Green good, but while he won’t have to set foot in Raleigh in 2024, he will have to face off against his former team (March 15-17) as he will now suit up for the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech.

It was almost criminal that Groover was a 3rd Team All-ACC performer in 2023. The former Charlotte transfer was one of the conference’s best hitters all season posting a .332/.430/.546 line with 8 2B, 1 3B, 13 HR, 48 R, 50 RBI, a 13.0 BB%, and a miniscule 9.4 K%. He was also 2-for-2 on stolen bases. Even more impressive than the bat was the fact Groover went from being a borderline defensive liability in 2022 to a stalwart third baseman in 2023. Over his two years running with the Pack, Groover posted a line of .348/.435/.557 with 24 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 113 R, and 97 RBI, with an 11.6 BB% and 12.7 K%. With one of the most effortless swings you’ll ever see, Groover was a mainstay atop the batting order over his NC State career. While the ACC might not have given him the recognition he deserved, professional teams certainly took notice. Groover was drafted in the 2nd round by the Diamondbacks with the 48th overall pick in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Harrison transferred to NC State as a glove-first infielder who hit just .214/.308/.273 over two years and 257 PA at Texas A&M, carrying an 11.3 BB% and 30.0 K%. While obviously still talented, Harrison was essentially a defensive insurance policy in the event the Wolfpack needed to find another shortstop midseason (a prescient move by Avent and staff), although he was also expected to compete for the starting second base job. He did win that starting second base job, and the praise of his glovework certainly proved true, but the bat turned out to be more than serviceable. Ultimately, State needed Harrison to slide over to the shortstop position, and he shined in that effort. While starting all 57 games on the season, with an almost even split between second and short, he hit .313/.436/.426 with 10 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR, scored 42 R and tallied 31 RBI while also going 4-for-5 on stolen bases. Harrison improved his walk rate from what he posted at Texas A&M to a healthy 15.0% with the Wolfpack, while turning into one of the most difficult bats on the team to strikeout, posting an 11.4 K%. The Honolulu native was drafted in the 18th round by the Pirates.

Lawson was as close to what the Wolfpack had to a closer in 2023, tying for a team-high with 3 saves. He tossed 52.1 innings, all in relief - a figure that led the team - while posting a perfect 5-0 record and a 3.27 ERA with a 7.3 BB% and 28.8 K%. While Lawson had a few rough patches, he also was nails more often than not with his slider. The Mets took notice of his 2023 performance and selected him in the 15th round of the draft. Over his two years with the Wolfpack, Lawson posted a 3.50 ERA over 90.0 innings, notching a 10-3 record with 3 saves, an 8.7 BB%, and a 26.9 K%.

Marcy was a talented prep prospect but one without a true defensive home, leaving him out of the lineup more often than his bat commanded. Now at Memphis, Marcy batted .292/.393/.466 with 14 2B, 8 HR, 57 R, and 31 RBI over two seasons with the Wolfpack, posting an 11.9 BB% and 17.3 K% while starting 56 of 77 career games. He specifically stepped up in 2023, posting a slash line of .301/.399/.500 with 12 2B, 5 HR, 35 R, 21 RBI, a 12.6 BB%, and a 16.4 K%. He’s going to mash for the Tigers in the AAC where he will get a chance to be an everyday player.

Nelson pitched across five seasons for NC State, tossing 113.0 IP of 6.45 ERA ball over his career. Of the six starts the Pack loses from 2023, Nelson made five of them, all in midweek non-conference action. He posted the second most appearances in ACC play of any NC State pitcher with 13, turning in a 4.95 ERA over 20.0 IP in conference games. On the season, he made 27 appearances, had a 5-2 record and one save, pitched 50.0 innings, and posted a 5.94 ERA with a 7.2 BB% and 21.3 K%. While never the best pitcher on the team, and certainly overused, Nelson overcame injuries earlier in his career to be an innings eater as a senior.

Like Candelaria, Nolan was a graduate transfer from Davidson College. He was always a high potential player for the Wildcats, but struggled in limited playing time until he finally had a breakout year in 2022, hitting .310/.442/.663 over 235 PA in his first opportunity as a full-time starter. Expecting him to maintain that level of success against ACC competition was folly, but he more than held his own for the Wolfpack in 2023. Across 51 games, the centerfielder made 41 starts and hit .288/.376/.555 with a 12.4 BB% and 24.1 K% over 170 PA. He notched 9 2B, 10 HR, and stole 3 bases while scoring 40 runs and driving in 31. There’s an argument to be made that Nolan should have played more last year, but it’s hard to see whose playing time you’d have to sacrifice to get him those extra games and at bats. I’m genuinely shocked that no team picked up Nolan as a UDFA after the 2023 MLB Draft as he has size, speed, and strength, while also being a well above average defender in center.

A freshman catcher out of Virginia, the question around Peebles coming into college was whether or not the bat would translate. He always had the defensive skills to develop into a topline backstop, but the switch hitter emphatically answered the hitting question. Over 172 PA primarily serving as the Wolfpack’s DH thanks to Jacob Cozart’s presence as State’s everyday catcher, Peebles mashed to the tune of a .352/.456/.697 line with 11 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 30 RR, 50 RBI, while posting seriously impressive 15.7 BB% and 16.9 K% numbers. Even more remarkable was that Peebles’ production did not drop off against ACC competition. If anything, it got better as he hit .348/.450/.742 against conference pitching with 16.3 BB% and 17.5 K% rates. Peebles earned Freshman All-American honors while leading the Pack in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. With Cozart still in-place as the State backstop, Peebles hit the transfer portal after the season, landing at Tennessee where he will immediately step in as the everyday catcher for a Volunteers team that is expected to return to Omaha for the third time in four years.

Trice was a big-time transfer from Old Dominion, where he was a 2021 Freshman All-American and member of the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team. He hit .324/.411/.620 over his Monarchs career with 30 2B, 4 3B, and 31 HR, scoring 111 R and notching 103 RBI while stealing 26 bases. It was expected that Trice would continue that productivity with the Wolfpack, but while his BB% and K% numbers remained fairly consistent, his BABIP and power numbers dropped significantly resulting in a .248/.348/.479 line over 135 PA in 2023. While frustrating for both Trice and Pack9 fans, MLB clubs recognized that the skills were still there even if his unlucky 2023 production didn’t match. The Cubs drafted him in the 12th round and he went on to bat .296/.406/.556 in the ACL Rookie League for the Cubs organization.

Barkett was a reserve infielder who appeared in 10 games, going hitless in 9 plate appearances. He has transferred to Stetson where he is expected to be the starting third baseman for the Hatters.

Gupton was a Top 50 overall player in the 2022 high school class and considered by some to be the top player in the state of North Carolina, with Wolfpack teammate Eli Serrano being the only player considered by others to be the top in the state for that recruiting class. There were high expectations for the speedy outfielder, but with loads of experience ahead of him and a steep adjustment curve to the college game, Gupton struggled to find playing time. He appeared in 15 games, mostly as a pinch runner, garnering 7 hitless plate appearances, although he did work a pair of walks. The Rolesville High School product has transferred to Gulf Coast State College, a JUCO program, where he’ll look to get his draft stock back on the upward trajectory.

Harris was a slender built freshman pitcher who appeared in 4 early season games, tossing 4.0 innings of 4.50 ERA ball. The righty allowed 4 hits, issued 4 walks, and struck out 5 batters. Harris has transferred to Appalachian State.

Pilolli was a former transfer from Charlotte where he was a 2020 Freshman All-American. A knee injury ended his 2021 season for the 49ers early, and that injury severely impacted his time with the Wolfpack. Pilolli was a starter for NC State in 2022, featuring primarily as the left fielder for the Pack, although the lingering effects from his 2021 knee injury limited his ability in the outfield. He hit .261/.382/.494 with 9 2B, 3 3B, and 9 HR, scoring 34 R and driving in 33 RBI, while posting a 28.2 K% and an impressive 14.6 BB%. Pilolli had a much harder time against ACC pitching, hitting just .218/.330/.402 with a 35.9 K%. 2023 saw Pilolli take on a reserve role, appearing in 17 games but making just 1 start. He hit .211/.227/.421 over 22 PA, but did have one shining moment. With one year of eligibility remaining, it appears Pilolli has transferred to Wright State, where former Wolfpack pitcher Alex Sogard is the head coach, but he is not listed on their 2024 roster.

Sipple did not appear in a game for the Wolfpack in 2023. His 2022 season came to an early end thanks to injury and he finished his NC State career with 9 appearances spanning 7.2 innings, posting a 3.52 ERA. He allowed 4 hits, issued 3 walks, and struck out 10 batters. Now at Toledo with two years of eligibility remaining, the stocky lefty will look to finally get a crack at a gig as a regular contributor.

Watkins was a big 6’5 hard-throwing transfer from Oklahoma. Control was always the issue for Watkins, and even in his successful early season outings, it felt like playing with fire. He appeared in 5 games, tossing 3.0 innings of 9.00 ERA ball, allowing 5 hits, 4 walks, and registering 5 strikeouts. Watkins pitched for the Williamsport Crosscutters of the MLB Draft League this past summer, but went undrafted and unsigned. He has a year of collegiate eligibility left, but does not appear to have transferred to another school.