With a 20-19 record following a dismal 1-8 start to the season, it is clear that Josh Reynolds’ baseball ‘Cats have improved drastically, a lot of which is thanks to the play of Northwestern’s underclassmen. Both the first- and second-year players are making an impact from the mound, the batter's box, the diamond and the field, and they are a large reason why the ‘Cats currently hold a winning record on the season.
It’s impossible to discuss the ‘Cats’ bullpen rotation without mentioning the play of first-year Sean Sullivan, who is second on the team in innings pitched only to graduate student Michael Farinelli. The lefty has already pitched a ridiculous 59 innings with a solid 3.83 ERA and a team-best 5-1 record. He did have his first true rough start against powerhouse Maryland on Friday, allowing eight runs in less than three innings, but seeing his resume thus far at Northwestern, it is clear that this is far from the norm for the Massachusetts native. Chances are, Sullivan will turn it around in his next start and continue as a productive starter for Josh Reynolds’ club.
Outside of Sullivan, first-year Grant Comstock and sophomore David Utagawa have been productive both as starters and out of the pen. Although their ERA’s are not the lowest, with Comstock currently sitting at 5.90 and Utagawa at 4.82, they have both shown flashes of greatness and pitched some solid innings for the ‘Cats this season. The future looks promising for these two underclassmen, both of whom are already in Northwestern’s top five for innings pitched this year, with their best days still to come.
The ‘Cats’ offense is even more underclassmen heavy than the pitching rotation. Northwestern’s top two sluggers in at-bats and batting average are freshman and sophomores, starting with sophomores Jay Beshears and Ethan O’Donnell, who have a combined 60 RBIs on the season.
Beshears is already over 100 at-bats this season, with a batting average of .329 — a stark contrast from his inaugural season where he only notched one hit. The Florida native has made a name for himself this year, headlined by his grand slam in the top of the 9th against Illinois to give the ‘Cats one more chance at clinching the win, though they ultimately dropped the contest.
Next, O’Donnell has also been a force from the plate with a team-high nine home runs this season. His average is quite good, at .297, but that doesn’t tell the whole story of why Coach Reynolds believes so much in the sophomore. He has already walked 20 times this season, giving him a .390 on-base percentage while showcasing his patience at the plate. Additionally, he leads the team in doubles with 19, with over 40% of his hits resulting in extra-bases.
These two sophomores aren’t the only underclassmen making an impact for the ‘Cats from the batter’s box, considering the contributions of first-years Patrick Herrera and Andrew Pinkston. Herrera, for one, leads the team in batting average at .338 despite only starting 21 games this season. On the other hand, Pinkston’s average sits at a below-average .228, yet his on-base percentage is remarkably .415 as a result of the sheer number of walks he gets. He has been walked 20 times already, making him the sole player on the roster with more walks than strikeouts, allowing him to consistently get on base whether he is making contact or not.
Of the ‘Cats' top-nine leaders in at-bats, only two are upperclassmen, with a host of young hitters making waves in addition to Beshears, O’Donnell, Herrera and Pinkston. Regardless, the future of Northwestern’s offense is bright, with each at-bat making these underclassmen more comfortable at the plate than they already are.
The Bottom Line
From catching even a glimpse of the ‘Cats this year it is obvious how young they are, which makes their slightly above average 20-19 record more of a pleasant sight. Northwestern sits roughly in the middle of the B1G in terms of fielding percentage, which is yet another example of its youth playing above their years. That being said, the current season is nowhere near over, and the hope is the ‘Cats’ young talent will continue to propel this team to a Big Ten Tournament berth and beyond.