2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 17 North Carolina State
Last year: 14-3
Final ranking: No. 18
Coach (record at school): Elliott Avent (889-531, 24 years)
The good news: Even after the departure of Patrick Bailey, who was an elite defensive catcher and a physical presence in the middle of the order, this NC State position player group is excellent. Every projected member of the 2021 lineup is an accomplished hitter to some degree, with the most promising all-around talent in the bunch, second-year freshman shortstop Jose Torres, actually the least experienced player to be found. Fourth-year junior left fielder Jonny Butler, third-year sophomore center fielder Tyler McDonough and fourth-year junior outfielder Terrell Tatum bring athleticism and speed on the bases. Fourth-year junior first baseman Austin Murr and McDonough are on-base machines whose walk totals will likely eclipse their strikeout totals. Torres, third-year sophomore catcher Luca Tresh and fourth-year junior right fielder Devonte Brown will provide power. Defensively, the Pack should also be strong. Torres is a natural shortstop brimming with athleticism, McDonough and Brown both have defensive versatility, Murr is the type of first baseman who saves errors for the rest of the infield and third-year sophomore third baseman Vojtech Mensik is a plus defender at the hot corner.
The bad news: A year ago, it was unclear if there was a frontline Friday starter to be found on the roster. It turned out there was in lefthander Nick Swiney, but after he was drafted, the team is back in the same place again this time around, looking for an ace. Second-year freshmen in righthander Sam Highfill and lefthander Chris Villaman are slated to hold the first two spots in the rotation, with Highfill in particular possessing the kind of stuff you’re looking for in a Friday starter. But both are inexperienced, with 25.2 career innings between them. Fourth-year junior righthander Reid Johnston has plenty of experience, including 27 career starts, but he’s more of a depth piece at the back of the rotation. Fourth-year junior lefthander Evan Justice has good stuff, but he hasn’t started a game since 2018. NC State has had very successful seasons in the past that didn’t feature a true workhorse throwing on Fridays, so there is precedent for a season where the rotation is pieced together, but the presence of Swiney last season raised the ceiling for what the Wolfpack were capable of, so there is understandable interest in whether they can replicate that with someone else in 2021.
Player to know: Jose Torres, SS.
NC State has a proud recent tradition of outstanding shortstops, including Will Wilson, Joe Dunand and Trea Turner. Torres is a worthwhile successor to those great Wolfpack shortstops of the past, even if his 2021 draft eligibility may mean that his stopover in Raleigh is relatively brief. Torres has extraordinary defensive tools, including through-the-roof athleticism and a plus arm, and in his freshman season, he showed more aptitude with the bat than might have been expected in year one. Not only did he hit .333, but he also showed power with three home runs. Going into 2021, the expectation is that Torres will be a catalyst in the lineup and a solid defender at a premium position.
Path to Omaha: While it’s true that the Wolfpack has gotten by with a committee approach on the pitching staff in the past, it’s worth noting that its best teams have typically had one guy around whom the pitching staff revolves. On the 2013 College World Series team, it was Carlos Rodon. The 2018 team, which hosted a regional and had the program’s best ACC record since 2013, was led by Brian Brown, who by that time had fully developed into a workhorse. The Pack’s best path to Omaha looks a lot like the one the 2013 team took and the 2018 team was on the way to taking—a dynamic lineup that can beat you in a lot of different ways supported by a versatile pitching staff featuring a Friday starter that can go deep each time out.
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|C||Luca Tresh, R-So.||.405||.444||.690||42||3||9|
|1B||Austin Murr, R-Jr.||.306||.470||.629||62||3||14|
|2B||J.T. Jarrett, R-Jr.||.333||.388||.600||45||2||15|
|3B||Vojtech Mensik, R-So.||.265||.359||.500||34||2||9|
|SS||Jose Torres, R-Fr.||.333||.369||.533||60||3||13|
|LF||Jonny Butler, R-Jr.||.290||.384||.468||62||1||14|
|CF||Tyler McDonough, R-So.||.354||.457||.554||65||3||16|
|RF||Devonte Brown, R-Jr.||.338||.429||.692||65||5||19|
|DH||Terrell Tatum, R-Jr.||.292||.500||.375||24||0||1|
|RHP||Sam Highfill, R-Fr.||3||1||3.21||14||15||0|
|LHP||Chris Villaman, R-Fr.||1||0||3.86||12||14||0|
|RHP||Reid Johnston, R-Jr.||0||1||5.68||13||17||0|
|RP||Dalton Feeney, R-Sr.||2||0||2.35||8||3||0|
|RP||Kent Klyman, R-Sr.||0||0||1.42||6||5||2|