2017 Reflections and 2018 Predictions

With the 2017 season in the books, PTB reflects on the past year and looks ahead to the next.

On June 3, NC State ended the day one win away from advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals against Louisville after defeating Regional host Kentucky, 5-4. Two days later, the Wildcats won its third game in two days, the last two of which came against the Wolfpack, to move onward and send State back to Raleigh.

The Pack ended the season with a 36-25 record with a third straight campaign in which the team concluded the year in the NCAA Regionals. While some see this as State advancing to the postseason for the fifth time in the last six years, others tend to see this as yet another bitter end to one that looked promising. This doesn’t compare to the meltdown against TCU in 2015 or even the disappointment after falling to eventual national champion Coastal Carolina despite coming up one strike away from ending the Chanticleers’ season in 2016. However, losing two games straight where winning one of those would have guaranteed a berth in the supers cannot be seen as a silver lining.

All that being said, the Wolfpack made the best out of a season that could have been catastrophic. Brian Brown‘s and Cody Beckman‘s injuries early in the season set the pitching staff back much further than expected. Add that to the early losses to teams like Rhode Island, Maryland, and Western Carolina, and it looked like the 2017 campaign was going to end up dead on arrival. What may have been the final nail in the coffin was the sweep on the road against Boston College, one of which came in the ALS Awareness Game at Fenway.

From there, the Wolfpack took off and plowed out 13 wins in its last 15 regular season games. Following that, State avenged its three losses to the Eagles with a win at Louisville Slugger Field in the ACC Championship Tournament. But then came an ugly loss to UNC, putting the hopes of a conference championship to rest.

One beneficiary of the 2017 season was Joe Dunand. The Miami, Fla. product finished the year with a team-high 18 home runs and 51 runs batted in while batting .287 and being one of five Wolfpack batters with at least 60 hits. After the season ended for State, Dunand was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the second round, 51st overall, as a third baseman.

Speaking of the MLB Draft, eight players from the Pack were selected in this year’s draft: Dunand, Evan Mendoza (11th round, 334th, St. Louis), Josh McLain (14th, 430th, LA Dodgers), Andy Cosgrove (17th, 496th, Minnesota), Tommy DeJuneas (26th, 792nd, Cleveland), Brock Deatherage (29th, 868th, Pittsburgh), Beckman (30th, 894th, Milwaukee), and Tim Naughton (34th, 1,028th, Baltimore).

The players selected in June’s draft would be hard to replace. Fortunately for the Wolfpack, not all of them will have to be replaced.

This development will likely give one of its best returning lineups in recent memory. Brown will return for his senior year as the team ace after an underwhelming junior year marred with, as previously mentioned, an injury to start the campaign. With him in the weekend rotation will be All-ACC Freshman Michael Bienlien and likely fellow rising sophomore Dalton Feeney. The bullpen will presumably be led by Joe O’Donnell and Austin Staley, who both provided strong late-game outings throughout 2016.

Brad Debo, the Pack’s primary designated hitter, would be the first candidate to replace Cosgrove behind the plate. With Dunand gone into the Marlins’ organization, Will Wilson will likely shift from second base to shortstop to fill the void, allowing fill-in first baseman Stephen Pitarra to move back to his natural position at second. Shane Shepard will get his spot back at first base.

The only real question mark in the infield that remains is Mendoza’s successor at third base. Shepard is a likely candidate to switch over to the opposite side if another first baseman were to challenge his spot. Jack Conley, another option behind the plate, has had playing time at first during his time in a Wolfpack uniform. Also, State will add Evan Edwards, a junior college transfer, to its roster who could play either first or third depending on where the coaching staff needs him. There’s also Dillon Cooper and Steven Oakley, two infielders whose playing time has been limited since joining the team.

The State outfield should be locked with Brett Kinneman in left field, McLain in center, and Deatherage in right, providing some relief to those who anticipated the two drafted outfielders would sign their professional contracts. The Pack trio have proven to be key contributors to the team, and the rest of the team will look to them moving into 2018.

The depth chart is purely speculation at this point, and the details of next season’s alignment will appear more clearly once the fall practices conclude, but if this ends up being the Wolfpack’s lineup in February 2018, then it may very well end up being a promising year for NC State baseball in the campaign to come.

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