The first leg of Northwestern baseball’s offseason was addressed on June 28, when the Wildcats finalized their search for a new head coach. The team picked Army veteran Jim Foster, a move that left ‘Cats supporters eager for the combination of sage leadership and a burgeoning core.
A little over a month later, a significant portion of that nucleus is no longer calling Evanston home.
The start of college baseball season is still well away, even with fall ball presumably beginning in October. Nevertheless, let’s examine how NU’s roster has shifted this summer and the players slated to return to Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.
Anthony Calarco, 1B (Ole Miss), Ethan O’Donnell, OF (Virginia), Patrick Herrera, 2B (Kentucky), Jay Beshears, OF (Duke), Sean Sullivan, LHP (Wake Forest)
What was once an encouraging contingent of players has been ravaged by the transfer portal.
After graduating from Northwestern with 123 games, an All-Big Ten First Team selection and 22 home runs under his belt, Calarco headed to Oxford to join the reigning National Champion Ole Miss Rebels. While the senior’s departure was somewhat expected, the other moves were not.
The ‘Cats took a significant hit to their position players via the transfers of All-Big Ten Second Team members O’Donnell and Herrera, plus the promising outfielder Beshears. The three combined for 22 home runs, 49 doubles and 99 RBIs in 2022. NU will have to find a new primary center fielder, second baseman and outfielder
Another major blow was to the Wildcats’ pitching staff, which lost Sullivan, an All-Big Ten Freshman Team honoree. The southpaw made 13 starts, posting a 4.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and a team-high 78 strikeouts. Foster and his staff were undoubtedly eager to see the leap Sullivan would make in his second year of college ball, but that will now happen with the Demon Deacons.
Stephen Hrustich (1B/OF/DH/C), Bennett Markinson (C), Alex Calarco (C), Andrew Pinkston (OF), Tony Livermore (SS), Vincent Bianchina (3B), Evan Minarovic (UTL), Luke Tanner (OF), Alex Roessner (INF/OF)
With four of its starting nine departing this offseason, Foster will have to turn to some new faces to garner production in 2023.
In spite of shifts, Northwestern retains its starting shortstop in Livermore, who hit .221 with a .345 on-base percentage in 45 games while playing terrific defense and stealing six bases. Moreover, Bianchina offers veteran experience at third and other positions, having played in 49 of 51 contests last year to the tune of a .247 average and 24 RBIs. Also, the Wildcats should see increased success from sophomores Markinson, Calarco, Pinkston and Roessner, though it remains to be seen who will emerge as the starting catcher following the graduation of J.C. Santini.
Subsequent to a 1.009 OPS campaign in 2021, Hrustich made just 33 starts in 2022, his average dropping .62 points and his slugging decreasing from .609 to .488. The ‘Cats will count on the slugger to return to his prior power as a crutch in the lineup.
Dealing with injuries and serving as bench bats in 2021, Minarovic and Tanner seek to crack the starting squad. The two combined for only 13 starts last season.
Michael Farinelli (RHP), Grant Comstock (RHP), Coby Moe (RHP), David Utagawa (RHP), Jack Sauser (RHP), Ben Grable (RHP), Jacob Scharm (RHP), Kellen Pate (RHP), Jack Dyke (RHP), Reed Smith (RHP), Chad Readey (RHP)
Although the Wildcats lost Sullivan, the team can take solace in returning Farinelli. The former Middlebury College transfer was highly efficient all season, pacing NU with a 4.43 ERA and tallying three complete games.
Aside from Farinelli, the presumptive Friday starter, the rest of Foster’s rotation is very much in flux.
Sophomore Comstock had emerged as the Sunday pitcher for NU last year, building up stamina as the season progressed and ending on a strong note with a six-inning, five-hit, two-run, nine-strikeout outing against Minnesota. The 6-foot-6 hurler figures to keep a spot as a starter.
Don’t be surprised if prior relievers earn more starts. Utagawa garnered five starts in 21 appearances last year, though he never tossed more than four innings in a game. Further, Moe offered length out of the bullpen but had a 5.49 ERA and several blown saves.
Sauser is arguably the ‘Cats’ most reliable option out of the ‘pen, as 10 of his 17 appearances were scoreless. The senior will likely be joined by Dyke and Smith in the later innings.
A major wild card arm is Grable; the Pasadena, Calif. native missed all of 2022 but accrued a 4.08 ERA and 1.58 WHIP in 13 relief outings the year before. Grable could shift to the rotation or stay in the bullpen, both of which also apply to Pate.
Finally, sophomores Scharm and Readey are hoping to carve out larger roles in 2022. Scharm carried a 9.82 ERA in 10 appearances but also made two starts, while Readey pitched just 0.1 inning on February 20.
Jack Lausch (OF), Sam Garewal (LHP), Drew Dickson (RHP), Marty Kaplan (OF), Trent Liolios (3B), Michael Elko (SS), Owen McElfatrick (SS), Braden Pollack (1B), Jimmy Fafinski (OF)
When Northwestern lured Lausch from Notre Dame, it didn’t just get the Chicago native as a football commit; in fact, the Wildcats seem to expect Lausch to suit up on the baseball diamond, something with which Pat Fitzgerald seems content in the interim. Lausch is ranked as Perfect Game’s fourth overall player in Illinois and the 94th overall recruit in the country, meaning he should make a dynamic impact instantly in Miller Park.
Foster will have two top-500 arms in Dickson and Garewal, the latter of which provides much-needed left-handedness. The ‘Cats will also receive more help along the left side of their infield via Liolios, Elko and McElfatrick, while Pollack could see time at first in Calarco’s stead.
As of now, Foster has not brought in any transfers, but look for the new head coach to acquire elder talent to complement his young and rather inexperienced roster.