WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — As Wake Forest baseball looks to progress from its NCAA Tournament appearance last season, coach Tom Walter proclaims it going to be a new-look Deacs in 2017.
His teams have pounded teams into submission the last couple years, led by sluggers like Nate Mondou and Will Craig, who are now working their way up the professional minor leagues after being drafted following the 2016 season.
The return of Friday-night starter Parker Dunshee and a freshman class heavy with pitching talent has Walter convinced the Deacs will be more balanced this season.
Here’s the first of a two-part season preview interview with the Wake Forest skipper.
On opening day approaching
“Getting close to opening day, and our guys are kind of smelling it now. We’re rounding third and headed for home. The last seven months, we’ve only been seeing each other and that gets old pretty fast. For us to have that other opponent in our sights is exciting.”
On what has him excited about his team
Walter: “We have a lot of experience coming back, especially on the mound with Parker Dunshee leading the way. Connor Johnstone and Drew Loepprich were weekend starters for us last year. We have our entire rotation coming back and we’ve had some young guys take a good step forward like Griffin Roberts, who is going to be our closer. We feel like the strength of this club is going to be our pitching staff, and anytime you start with pitching it’s a good place to start.”
On the strength of the ACC
Walter: “We look forward to it, and that’s what gets you ready for the postseason — playing those teams and playing in those environments. This year we play at Miami, at Florida State, at Clemson and at Louisville, which are four of the toughest places to play in the league. It’s exciting for us to play in those environments and see what we’re made of.”
On the development of the pitching staff
Walter: “We’ve been very offensively minded the last couple of years because of the makeup of our club. But finally I think (pitching) coach (Matt) Hobbs has his stamp on this pitching staff. We have a very talented group of freshmen that are going to give us much-needed depth on the mound. We’re really exciting about this staff. We’re going to have one thru as many as 12 guys as options, and we’re going to have some left-handed options that we haven’t had the last couple of years.”
On freshmen pitchers that could have an impact in 2017
Walter: “Morgan McSweeney has been throwing the ball really well. He’s a right hander out of Massachusetts. He throws the ball with good velocity — great stuff and composed. He’ll pitch out of our bullpen and will help bridge the gap to get to Griffin Roberts. Holden White is a lefty that we think can be a situational matchup guy against lefties late in the game. Then we have Carter Bach and Colin Peluse who are throwing the ball really well. So four freshmen have kind of emerged in the early go. Then Rhyse Dee and Shane Kubrak who are coming in behind them. And three of them are left handed, so it’s kind of nice to be able to talk about some lefties.”
On if the starting rotation is set
Walter: “I think there’s some competition. Connor Johnstone and Parker Dunshee have established themselves as two of the three. Donnie Sellers is a guy we’re looking in a starting role, and on opening weekend he’s going to be one of the guys. Two of the first three weekends we play four games, so we’re going to need four starters. Donnie Sellers, Parker Dunshee and Connor Johnstone are going to be three of the four. Who the fourth one is still remains to be seen. It could be John McCarren, who threw the ball really well and had some good starts for us last year. It could be Drew Loepprich, who had some great starts for us down the stretch, including against Clemson in the conference tournament. It could be one of the freshmen — Colin Peluse or Carter Bach. Rayne Supple is also throwing the ball really well. We’ve got a host of guys who are battling for that fourth spot in the rotation which will end up being the mid-week spot.”
Walter: “Knock on wood, we’re very healthy right now. We have a couple pitchers who are on the shelf right now, but they’re throwing, just not on the mound right now. We’ll have them back up on the mound soon. As of today, we expect to have everybody available for opening day.”
On Parker Dunshee coming back for his senior season
Walter: “He’s a true Friday-night guy. He’s a guy that can beat you 2-1, 1-0 or 3-2. He competes. He won 10 games pitching on Friday last year. He got hot down the stretch, beat (North) Carolina and Florida State on back-to-back weekends and threw the ball really well — setting the tone for those weekends. Having a guy like that to build your staff around is huge. To have a returning 10-game winner just doesn’t happen all that often. There’s lots of guys that have Friday-night stuff. We probably have five of those guys on our staff, but it’s the mental part. It’s the competitiveness. Parker Dunshee epitomizes all those things.”