NC State returns seven position players who logged at least 100 at-bats last year, two seasoned juniors atop the rotation and a plethora of experience in the bullpen, allotting the Wolfpack the No. 16 ranking in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 NC State club:
2019 Record: 42-19
Coach (record at school): Elliott Avent (875-527 in 23 seasons)
Ballpark: Doak Field at Dail Park (2,200)
Postseason history: 31 regionals (active streak: 5), 2 CWS trips (last in 2013), 0 national titles
In this preview of NC State's 2020 season, we've graded the Wolfpack in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for NC State in 2020.
NC State's projected lineup
|C||Patrick Bailey, Jr.||.288/.390/.513||10||46||1|
|1B||Austin Murr, Jr.||Tr. — Des Moines Area (Iowa) CC|
|2B||Tyler McDonough, So.||.320/.392/.452||5||47||10|
|3B||Vojtech Mensik, So.||.250/.366/.367||2||14||9|
|SS||Jose Torres, Fr.||HS — Baltimore|
|LF||Luca Tresh, So.||.224/.372/.522||6||17||0|
|CF||Jonny Butler, Jr.||.267/.378/.359||3||29||3|
|RF||Devonte Brown, Jr.||.286/.352/.397||4||39||2|
|DH||Brad Debo, Sr.||.242/.352/.397||4||39||2|
NC State's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Nick Swiney, Jr.||7-1||4.61||56.2||95||31||1|
|SP #2||Reid Johnston, Jr.||6-2||3.71||77.2||65||27||0|
|SP #3||Chris Villaman, Fr.||HS — High Point, NC|
|Closer||Dalton Feeney, R-Jr.||1-1||1.86||29||23||11||7|
Grading the Wolfpack: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
NC State lost its top two hitters — All-American Will Wilson and Evan Edwards — from an offense that ranked 23rd nationally in scoring last year, but Patrick Bailey is back to provide star power in the heart of a deep, well-rounded lineup heading into this spring. The switch-hitting Bailey drives the ball with authority from both sides and has a disciplined approach, as evidenced by his 41-43 BB-SO mark last year.
Fellow switch-hitter Tyler McDonough is a rising star with All-America potential in his own right, and his high-level bat-to-ball skills will likely be put to use in the leadoff spot this spring. Or McDonough could slide to the 2- or 3-hole if the Wolfpack chooses to lead off Jonny Butler, a left-handed slasher with feel for the barrel who added considerable strength in the offseason.
ALL-DECADE TEAM: Which NC State stars made the ACC's All-Decade team?
Luca Tresh is an obvious pick-to-click who should serve as a right-handed key run producer in the heart of the order, and Brad Debo offers veteran presence and physicality from the left side. Austin Murr should make a big impact out of the junior college ranks, thanks to his pretty line-drive stroke and advanced feel for the strike zone. Vojtech Mensik, Devonte Brown and Jose Torres are all live-bodied athletes with bat speed who add real length to this lineup. Junior infielder David Vazquez also has a knack for turning in competitive at-bats and could find his way into the lineup as well.
The Wolfpack ranked 33rd in the nation with 68 home runs last year and should come close to that number again, even without Wilson and Edwards, who combined for 30 of those long balls. Bailey, the lone returning double-digit home run guy, has 23 dingers in two years and should hit for more power as a junior after playing through nagging injuries last spring.
McDonough has surprising strength in his compact 5-foot-10 frame, and he should improve upon last year’s five-homer total, though he’s a natural doubles hitter. Tresh flashed his plus raw power at times in limited action last spring, then exploded into a force of nature in the fall, hitting .480 with eight home runs. He can drive the ball out to all fields, and he has a chance to hit 15-plus homers as a sophomore now that he’ll get regular playing time.
ALL-AMERICANS: Which players made D1baseball's preseason All-American list
Brown has also flashed better than average power to all fields, and the Wolfpack is hoping he’s ready to make more consistent contact so that he can harness it. Debo has been more of a doubles hitter over his first three years, but he’s certainly strong enough to push for double-digit long balls as well. Mensik and Murr are gap-to-gap hitters with sneaky home run pop as well.
The Wolfpack ranked 229th in the nation in steals per game last year, but this club has the wheels to run more in 2020 if it wants to. The quick-twitch Torres is an easy plus runner, while Butler, Mensik, McDonough and Brown are all at least above-average runners as well. Junior outfielder Terrell Tatum brings plus speed off the bench, unless he beats out Brown for an everyday job.
NC State led the ACC and ranked 12th nationally with a .980 fielding percentage last year, but it lost two premium defenders in Wilson and Edwards. This defense still has one of the nation’s best defensive catchers in Bailey, whose strong, accurate arm should enable him to shut down opposing running games. Torres has a chance to be the latest in a long line of outstanding shortstops at NC State, from Wilson to Joe Dunand to Trea Turner to the Diaz brothers to Chad Orvella. He has silky smooth actions, quick feet, plus range, good body control and a strong arm with easy carry. McDonough is a versatile defender who plays a good center field but will likely spend this year at second base, where he showed off innate playmaking ability in the fall.
If NC State wants to optimize its defense, it could slide McDonough to an outfield spot and deploy defensive standout J.T. Jarrett at second. Vasquez is a versatile utility player who gives the ‘Pack mofre insurance at third base and second, but Mensik’s quick feet, good instincts and strong arm should make him a fixture at the hot corner. Edwards saved the rest of the infield plenty of errors over the last two years. The Wolfpack will miss him at first, but Murr appears to be a perfectly capable defender at the position. Butler has good instincts and range in center, and Brown is an excellent defender with a strong arm in right. Tresh is more of a natural catcher, but the Wolfpack needs him to hold his own in left in order to maximize its offensive potential.
Starting Pitching: 55
NC State’s rotation should be competitive with anybody in the ACC on a week-to-week basis. Nick Swiney is a big-time pick to click after coming on down the stretch last year and gaining abundant confidence. Though 26 of his 29 appearances were out of the bullpen, Swiney holds his stuff well and has the best three-pitch arsenal on the staff, so he has a real chance to blossom into a bona fide ace as a junior. With a 91-94 fastball, an excellent changeup with good arm speed, fade and deception, and a quality breaking ball with good depth, Swiney can miss bats with all three pitches.
Reid Johnston is NC State’s most proven commodity on the mound, a high-level strike-thrower who has thrived in just about every role over his first two seasons on the staff. He didn’t pitch in the fall after earning all-star honors in the Cape Cod League last summer, but the Wolfpack knows what it’s got in Johnston, who carves up the zone at 88-91 with a quality low-80s slider.
Look for Chris Villaman to step right into the Sunday job because he has uncommonly advanced command of his 87-92 fastball, which plays up because of its high spin rate and his ability to spot it up. He also showed some feel for a quality changeup and a quickly developing breaking ball in the fall.
Redshirt sophomore righty Cameron Cotter looks like the front-runner for the midweek starter job, as his velocity has continued to climb over the last year and a half; he was 90-92 and touched 93 in our fall look, along with a good 76-77 breaking ball and feel for a changeup. He has good command of all three offerings.
Few bullpens in the ACC can match NC State’s for experience. Dalton Feeney is a proven closer who attacks at 90-93 with some natural cut action and an effective slider and changeup. Senior left-hander Kent Klyman, a preseason All-American heading into last spring whose stuff just wasn’t as crisp for most of the season as it had been in the past, has made 72 appearances over his first three years, and he always competes hard when the pressure is on. Klyman spots up with his 87-90 fastball from a tough low three-quarters slot and mixes in his three-quarters breaking ball and improved changeup well.
Junior Evan Justice gives NCSU more of a power look from the left side; Justice continued his development over the summer in the Cape League, where he showed a 91-93 fastball and a solid sweeping curveball at 77-79. If his command takes another step forward he could have a big year. Another junior lefty who could have a big role as a swingman is David Harrison, who helped lead the Amsterdam Mohawks to the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League championship this summer, posting a team-high 37 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. He’s always had a quality changeup to go with his 88-91 fastball, and he’s continuing to work on improving his breaking ball, which is the key to his development. Coach Elliott Avent said he saw more confidence from Harrison this fall after his strong summer, so he could be ready to do bigger things as a junior.
Sophomore Baker Nelson also looks ready to take a step forward in 2020, giving the bullpen a different look, as a funky low three-quarters to sidearm righty with a 91-92 fastball with good sink and an improved 76 mph Frisbee slider. And three newcomers add valuable depth. Freshmen Sam Highfill and Matt Willadsen are both two-way players, but both figure to contribute more off the mound early in their careers.
BRINGING THE HEAT: 22 college baseball flamethrowers who topped 96 this fall
Highfill is a wily slot-shifter who showed an 88-90 fastball this fall and a big, slow overhand curveball from a high slot, then dropped down to sidearm and worked at 84-86 with good sink. He also showed the ability to miss bats with his 77 mph changeup. Willadsen is a loose, projectable 6-foot-3, 168-pound righty with an 88-90 fastball, a promising 80 mph slider with good tight spin, and a slow curve at 71. By the time he starts to fill out his lanky frame, he could wind up throwing a lot harder, but he already has some feel to pitch. And junior college transfer Logan Bender should serve as a valuable slider monster out of the pen. He used his 88-90 fastball mostly as a setup pitch in our fall look, relying overwhelmingly on his 81-83 slider, which has a big-time spin rate at 2800-3000 rpm.
The fourth-year players on this roster have been to three straight regionals, but none of them have been through a deep postseason run, as NC State hasn’t won a regional since its 2013 Omaha run. The veteran coaching staff always always succeeds at getting the Wolfpack to compete hard, and they’re a safe bet to be in regionals just about every year — and this year is no exception. If breakout candidates like Swiney, Tresh, Brown and Mensik can harness their potential; if newcomers Torres, Murr and Villaman prove as good as advertised; and if veterans like Debo and Klyman can post bounceback years, this team has a chance to make a big splash come June. All of those things don’t have to happen for NC State to succeed, but we expect many of them will happen. So while there are some questions to answer, but there’s a lot of reason to like this balanced roster.