UNCW Baseball - 2017 Thread
Now that the draft has ended, we can begin to look ahead to the 2017 campaign. Here's how the roster is shaping up thus far:
LHP Taylor Hyssong (8th round pick - Braves)
C/DH Gavin Stupienski (12th round pick - Diamondbacks)
OF Steven Linkous (22nd round pick - Rockies)
RHP Jared Gesell (23rd round pick - Rockies)
RHP Ryan Foster
LHP Whitman Barnes
1B/OF Andy Austin
OF Joe Bertone
RHP Matt Maready
RHP Logan Beehler (transfer - Pitt CC)
RHP Jordan Bissette (transfer - Pitt CC)
OF Dominique Jackson (transfer - Spartanburg Methodist)
OF Kevon Perkins (transfer - Spartanburg Methodist)
RHP/IF Luke Gesell (High Point Christian)
LHP Chris Joyner (Green Hope)
LHP Michael Tyndall (West Carteret)
LHP Kevin Westlake (Page)
C Josh Hernandez (AC Flora)
INF Austin LaFollette (Terry Sanford)
INF Cole Weiss (Mount Tabor)
OF Riley Zayicek (Lake Norman)
C Nick Feight (Jr.)
2B Brian Mims (Jr.)
CF Robbie Thorburn (Sr.)
RF Casey Golden (Sr.)
1B/3B Terence Connelly (r-Sr.)
3B Daniel Stack (Sr.)
SS Kennard McDowell (r-Sr.)
1B Zack Canada (Jr.)
C Ryan Jeffers (So.)
RHP Alex Royalty (So.)
RHP Cory Gantz (Sr.)
RHP/OF Clark Cota (So.)
RHP Austin Magestro (Jr.)
RHP Gunner Deal (Jr.)
RHP Austin Easter (Jr.)
RHP Alex Groff (Sr.)
Other Expected Returners
OF Nick Stuart (Sr.)
INF Blake Deatherage (So.)
INF Walker Imwalle (So.)
INF Beau O'Connell (So.)
RHP Josh Roberson (Jr.)
RHP Justin Crump (Jr.)
LHP Clay Lockamon (r-Jr.)
LHP Brandon Mulier (So.)
RHP Zack Burke (Jr.)
RHP Robby Casey (r-Fr.)
Position Overview: Catchers
* Nick Feight, Ryan Jeffers, Josh Hernandez
After tying a CAA record with 91 RBI in 2016, Nick Feight returns for at least one more season as he enters his Junior season. Can he hit triple digits on the RBI total in 2017? Why not? His place in the middle of the Seahawk lineup is firmly cemented next year, and it will be exciting to see what he can accomplish next season. One aspect of his play that went somewhat underappreciated was his defense: Feight caught 15 runners stealing (29 % of steal attempts) and picked another off in '16.
Be on the watch also for backup catcher Ryan Jeffers in '17. With Stupienski departing as a Junior, Jeffers may become a regular in the lineup, taking turns catching and DHing. Jeffers is playing locally in Summer ball for the Wilmington Sharks, and has already turned heads in his 14 AB's, hitting the ball very hard in the wood-bat league and knocking in 3 runs.
Incoming Freshman Josh Hernandez hopes to continue the long line of quality Seahawk catchers for Coach Scalf. The Columbia, SC native hit .390 with five home runs and was named Region MVP for AC Flora High School. Scalf has already stated Josh has the potential to be "one of the best defensive catchers we've had in our program."
Position Overview: Infielders
* Brian Mims, Daniel Stack, Kennard McDowell, Terence Connelly, Zack Canada, Blake Deatherage, Walker Imwalle, Beau O'Connell, Austin LaFollette, Cole Weiss
The Seahawks are stacked with depth in the infield this coming season, so expect at least one of the two newcomers in the infield to be redshirted. 2nd year players Deatherage, Imwalle and O'Connell will also likely find their paths blocked by the quintet of returners.
The return of Terence Connelly creates a good problem for Coach Scalf to have: A surplus of talent. With Mims and McDowell locked in up the middle, the corners will be where the tough decisions are made. Does Connelly take over at 1B for Canada? Or does he start at the hot corner over Daniel Stack? Does the "odd man out" end up DHing most of the season? That will remain to be seen.
In summer action, Beau O'Connell is playing for the Shelter Island Bucks, part of the Hamptons (NY) league. As of this writing, so far he is only 3-24 (.125) though he has knocked in 3 runs while playing third base.
Position Overview: Outfielders
* Robbie Thorburn, Casey Golden, Nick Stuart, Dominique Jackson, Kevon Perkins, Riley Zayicek
The loss of Steven Linkous hurts, no doubt about it. One of the top leadoff hitters in the country, Linkous hit .370 with 29 stolen bases and scored 76 runs. His productivity will be highly difficult to replace next season.
Nevertheless, Robbie Thorburn will give it a shot. Returning as the starting centerfielder, expect him to take over the leadoff spot in the lineup hitting from the left side, much like Linkous. In '16 Thorburn was second on the team with 20 stolen bases while hitting primarily out of the 8th spot in the lineup, and scored 56 runs of his own while hitting .369. Also returning in the outfield will be Casey Golden, whose '16 season was plagued by injuries. Expect big things from him in his Senior season.
The presumptive starter at LF, replacing Linkous defensively, will be Spartanburg Methodist product Dominique Jackson. Coming from the same program as Zach Shields and Kennard McDowell, there's a precedent set by players from that program starting from Day 1 for the Seahawks. And Jackson seems like a can't-miss type of player. After hitting .328 with 6 HR, 26 stolen bases and 43 runs scored in 51 games for SMC, he was ranked the # 23 JUCO prospect in the country.
Expect Senior returner Nick Stuart, who served as a defensive replacement and pinch runner last season, and Kevon Perkins, another Spartanburg product hailing from Leland, NC, to also be in the mix in the outfield for the Hawks.
Position Overview: Pitchers
* Alex Royalty, Cory Gantz, Clark Cota, Austin Magestro, Gunner Deal, Austin Easter, Alex Groff, Josh Roberson, Justin Crump, Clay Lockamon, Zack Burke, Brandon Mulier, Robby Casey, Logan Beehler, Jordan Bissette, Luke Gesell, Chris Joyner, Michael Tyndall, Kevin Westlake
With the graduation of Ryan Foster stinging perhaps more than any other loss this offseason, Coach Scalf hopes to turn quantity into quality in the pitching department in 2017. On paper, 19 roster spots are currently being used by arms to sift through and see who "pops". Those many arms will somehow have to fill out the 17 starts being lost with Foster.
Alex Royalty, naturally, is expected to be the Friday starter as just a Sophomore, coming off a season where he received national Freshman honors. The Raleigh product racked up 8 wins as the team's Saturday starter, and though his numbers declined a bit in the 2nd half of the season, you can likely chalk that up to the "Freshman wall", when the long schedule takes its toll.
The rest of the weekend rotation gets a bit cloudy. Certainly Senior Cory Gantz will get the first crack at one of the Saturday or Sunday spots, but it would be ideal that Gantz ends up more of a weekend option, with the younger pitchers with higher upside rising up in his place. Whitman Barnes served as a Sunday option late in the '16 campaign, but has elected to leave the program and will not return in 2017 based on a career opportunity coming next Spring.
One of those aforementioned young arms with "higher upside" would have to be Clark Cota. Cota didn't throw a single pitch for the Seahawks in 2016, instead appearing as a DH or pinch hitter exclusively, recording 6 at bats and collecting 3 hits. Cota, a Topsail HS product, has a long list of High School achievements, including three All-state selections and a 2014 State Championship. However, the righty continues to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. Cota will likely forgo summer baseball (he was originally expected to play for the Sharks) to continue his rehabilitation. If he can be given a clean bill of health in '17, perhaps he'll be found in the rotation at some point during the campaign.
Austin Magestro and Gunner Deal will hold down key bullpen spots for the Seahawks next season. Magestro is a known product, while Deal has filthy, SEC-level stuff that could find him in the closer's role before long. Austin Easter performed well at the tail end of '17 and should be a solid middle relief option. Hard throwing righty Alex Groff made the postseason roster for Coach Scalf and showed an intriguing potential as well as a regular out of the pen in '17.
Among the newcomers, Logan Beehler jumps out. Beehler originally signed with NC State before transferring to Pitt Community College in the fall of 2015. At one time, Beehler was ranked as the sixth-best righthanded pitcher in the state by Perfect Game. Per Coach Scalf, Beehler complements a low-90's fastball with a breaking ball and change-up, and is expected to end up a starting pitching option for the Hawks. Jordan Bissette, meanwhile, was another NC State signee who ended up at Pitt CC.
Luke Gesell has been described as more of a hitter after the following in the footsteps of older brother Jared. However, with the infield loaded in '17, it would appear his best shot at seeing meaningful action in '17 would be on the mound.
Finally, a trio of lefty freshmen in Chris Joyner, Michael Tyndall and Kevin Westlake fill out the remaining list of newcomers for the Hawks. Joyner's strength appears to be eating up innings, as he is not a hard thrower and throws from the 3/4 arm slot. The "crafty lefty" role is one Coach Scalf always can use. Tyndall will take time to develop, but already throws 3 pitches effectively. And Westlake is another projected future starting pitcher who Scalf expects can make "quick strides".
Projected Starting Lineup (vs. RHP)
1. CF Robbie Thorburn
2. 2B Brian Mims
3. 3B Terence Connelly
4. C Nick Feight
5. RF Casey Golden
6. DH Daniel Stack
7. 1B Zack Canada
8. LF Dominique Jackson
9. SS Kennard McDowell
First options off bench: C/DH Ryan Jeffers, OF Nick Stuart, OF Kevon Perkins
1. RHP Alex Royalty
2. RHP Cory Gantz
3. RHP Clark Cota
4. RHP Logan Beehler
5. RHP Jordan Bissette
Additional options: RHP Josh Roberson, RHP Justin Crump, LHP Brandon Mulier, LHP Chris Joyner, LHP Kevin Westlake
Closer: RHP Gunner Deal
Setup Men: RHP Austin Magestro, RHP Alex Groff
Middle Relief: RHP Austin Easter
Other options: LHP Clay Lockamon, RHP Zach Burke
The Hawks will put up runs in 2017. A lot of them. Despite losing two of the first three hitters in the starting lineup, the talent level is still unreal from 1-9. There is depth to be found in all 3 areas of the field; outfield, infield and catcher. The only question to be asked: Can it be even better than 2016? With Connelly returning from injury and Golden perhaps having a full and healthy season, there is no reason why not.
The pitching side of things, meanwhile, is full of question marks. But it is also filled with opportunities. Royalty becomes "the man" and gets a chance to take a huge stride in his career. And behind him, the sheer number of arms and talent level of those arms suggests we'll see some pleasant surprises in the pitching rotation. And with a great offense behind them, we know we can win the high scoring games when need be.
Expect the Seahawks to be picked to finish first once again next season, as expectations for the program continue to increase.