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What constitutes a successful season for Northwestern baseball in 2024?

Northwestern is in a difficult spot as a program. Here’s what to expect in the immediate future.

@NUCatsBaseball

Spring is here! (well, not technically). The weather may still be mediocre at best, but baseball is back. MLB pitchers and catchers report in the next week, and, more importantly, the ‘Cats are back under new head coach Ben Greenspan. It all starts on Friday in New Orleans where Northwestern will take on Tulane to begin its season.

Admittedly, expectations should be low. This is a team coming off a 10-40 record that also lost Alex Calarco (among others) and is just getting settled under new leadership. It’s not a roster built to compete with the best of the best in the conference. But as we enter a new era of Wildcat baseball, you never know. Here’s what would constitute a successful season for NU:

Matching last season’s win total

From purely a win/loss perspective, I think this has to be the goal. Some might say 10 wins is conservative for any team. But Northwestern probably got worse on paper, so it feels unfair to expect more. Calarco and Stephen Hrustich both transferring (to Big Ten teams) really hurts the lineup, and it’s hard to be sold on first-years or transfers being able to fill the void. The pitching staff certainly isn’t brimming with talent either. Let’s not place unreasonable expectations on this group.

Alternatively, there’s the argument that since the team is worse, the goal shouldn’t even be 10 wins. That, I think, is a pathetic outlook. At a certain point baseball is baseball. It’s a long season, and these guys are college-level players; they’ll win some games. It’s entirely possible that they scrape their way to something like 15-35.

So, I’ll settle at running back last year. 10-40. Book it.

Bennett Markinson emerges

The ‘Cats’ first baseman enters his junior season after two years of consistently decent numbers at the plate. Last year, he was fourth on the team in OPS (.695) after Hrustich, Kevin Ferrer and Calarco. The season before, he hit to a .747 mark. There’s promise.

Unfortunately, Markinson seem to have any real pop. He has just two career home runs in college, and they both came during his freshman campaign. Even just a semblance of some power would drastically help his game. He needs to be able to run into one from time to time and park it in the seats.

This season, though, Northwestern is going to need somebody to step up offensively, and Markinson is certainly a candidate for that role.

Greenspan’s first season goes off without a hitch

Northwestern had a difficult offseason, including a mass exodus of talent spurred by the terrible 2023 season and Jim Foster’s departure. Greenspan’s job is to get the program back on track. Winning is always a benchmark, but (cringy sports-ism incoming) if the new coach can get these guys playing the right way and pulling on the same rope, then that is a success. It sounds like a weak point, but it’s true: Northwestern needs some normalcy, and it needs to lean into the underdog status. The ‘Cats want to be scrappy and tough.

If Greenspan has them doing that, then no matter the win total, there will be positives to this season. If they just roll over series after series against superior competition, then it’s going to be a long year that leaves Wildcat fans with little hope for the future. Greenspan is ultimately the most important person to watch this season.