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NC State Baseball

Two former Wolfpackers named in ‘5 to Watch’ for St. Louis Cardinals



As we start to cover NC State baseball this season, we are also going to put a little more time into covering Pack players in the majors.

Sure, you have Trea Turner of the Nationals who could compete for the MVP at some point in his career, and Carlos Rodon who had ace written all over him until his recent shoulder struggles. But after that, who is next?  Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at some former Wolfpack players who are making a name for themselves in the minor leagues and may soon be getting their call to the big show.

The first couple guys we are going to focus on are a duo drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, catcher Andrew Knizer and third third baseman, Evan Mendoza. Both of whom are budding starts in their farm system.


Andrew Knizner (C)
Knizner is a kid who played all over the diamond in his career at NC State, but no matter where you put him, he hit. Over his career at NC State he hit .312 and hit 15 HRs, but the real reason everyone loves his bat so much is because he’s an elite contact guy who will take a walk and rarely strikes out.

Since being drafted he batted .308 and hit 18 HRs in his three stops in the minors. The Cardinals have converted him to a full-time catcher, creating a debate over whether he or Carson Kelly (#1 rated catcher in their system) is the backstop of the future for the Cardinals.

Knizner was listed as one of ‘5 to watch’ in the Cardinals system by the St. Louis Dispatch. Here is what they had to say:

Catcher Andrew Knizner had a strong turn in the Arizona Fall League and positioned himself as the Cardinals’ top prospect at his position not named Carson Kelly. He’s Carson Kelly 2.0. Like Kelly, he moved from infield to catcher and has gone from learning the position to shining in it. His bat, also like Kelly, is catching up, and that gives the Cardinals some depth down the road.

The current catcher for the Cardinals is Yadi Molina. He is a future Hall of Famer and just signed a 3-year deal this past April, so he isn’t going anywhere.

So where does that leave the Kelly/Knizner situation? That is a good question. I think a lot depends on how Knizner performs this season. If he continues to progress, then the Cards could see Kelly as a major trade chip that they could use to acquire talent somewhere else. This would mean St. Louis was betting all their chips on Knizner as their future catcher. This is certainly a situation to watch.

Here is Knizner flashing some opposite field power with a game winning walk-off homer.


Evan Mendoza (3B)
We recently told you that many around the Cardinals organization already think highly of Mendoza, some even seeing him as the best 3B in their system.

His sophomore season was when he really shined, hitting a solid .362 with 4 HRs and 20 walks. He also finished up with a really nice.866 OPS

Since joining the Cards’ Low-A affiliate (The State College Spikes) he’s done nothing but impress. His .370 average over 41 games earned him the league’s batting title and a promotion to high-A ball.

Since he’s only been a pro for less than a year, the jury is still out on him, but the St. Louis Dispatch also ranked him as one of the ‘5 to watch’ in the Cardinals farm system, saying this:

Infielder Evan Mendoza had one of the best season for a 2017 draft pick, and is going to get some looks as a sleeper top prospect. Mendoza, 21, was the Cardinals’ 11th-round pick (so he could get the higher bonus) out of NC State. He hit .339/.388/.508 at two Class A levels this past season, and he finished the year with a .896 OPS. Also, solid at third.

Unlike Knizner, Mendoza’s path the pros is a little more clear. The Cards really aren’t really enamored with any of their 3B prospects and their current 3B Jedd Gyorko is signed through 2021, which should be a year after Mendoza is ready for a jump to the bigs. If Mendoza can push his way up, Gyorko would likely be swung in a deadline deal in 2020.

Here is Mendoza going yard for the Pack against UNC during his Junior year.

We’ll keep you updated on these guys journey through the minor leagues as the season gets going.

NC State Baseball

Primetime with the Pack Recap: Funderburk wins dunk contest, Daniels wins 3pt shootout



Primetime with the Pack was a success in many ways for NC State.

The biggest success was the fact that they raised nearly $15,000 for Hurricane Florence disaster relief.

The event also allowed Pack fans to meet a roster filled with new players and see them compete in a skills competition, a 3pt shootout and a dunk contest. Here is what we learned…

-Kevin Keatts son can dance
Keatts didn’t repel down from the rafters or go shirtless for a boxing match (a la Mark Gottfried). In fact, Keatts left the entertainment of his entrance to his son who rattled off a bunch of 2018s viral dance moves, putting the crowd in a frenzy.

-Wyatt Walker’s entrace will never be forgotten
Pack fans really haven’t gotten to know Wyat Walker up until now, and man did the grad-transfer from Samford make an entrace. Walker came out to a little Guns n Roses, head-banging with his massive mane and shredding his air guitar.

-Devon Daniels’ (who won the 3pt shootout) shot is as good as advertised and Jericole Hellems has a better stroke than we thought
Devon Daniels is billed as the replacement to Al Freeman. The two battled daily in practice and two separate sources told us that Daniels often got the best of Freeman. He will be asked to shoulder a great deal of NC State’s scoring load since he can score at all 3 levels with ease. Today was his first time being able to show the public a preview of his offensive abilities. We also got to see freshman Jericole Hellems participate, and he’s actually a much better spot shooter than we expected.

– Sophomore transfer DJ Funderburk (who won the dunk contest) is 6’9 and freaky athletic. Missouri transfer Blake Harris can fly, and Ian Steere dunked over his bodybuilder dad.
Blake Harris was always billed as a kid who could really fly and finish above the rim while he was in high school at Word of God in Raleigh. Last night he got to show it at NC State. Meanwhile, the biggest takeaway from this dunk contest is that DJ Funderburk is a freak of nature. The guy is 6’9 and reeled off some spectacular dunks. He had a nice little cradle revers and then won the contest with a dunk from a foot inside the free throw line. Check out the dunks below.

Overall, the men’s basketball kickoff event went great. The fans enjoyed the festivities and the contests and it seemed like the players were amped up to get this season going.

While we used to like to see the red/white scrimmage that they used to host, it’s probably better that they don’t do it anymore. It sometimes got boring, you risk players getting hurt, and there is no defense. So while it gives a site like ours more to talk about an examine, doing it the way they did is probably the right call.

Next up for the basketball team is a closed door ‘secret-scrimmage’ against ECU on Sunday followed by the first open exhibition game that fans can attend. That takes place October 29th vs. Chowan at 7pm at the PNC Arena.

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NC State Baseball

Details emerging on Elliot Avent’s new contract



As we reported yesterday, The NC State Board of Trustees approved a new contract for head baseball coach Elliot Avent.

What was not reported was the amount he’ll be getting after 42-18 season and 2nd place ACC finish. WRAL’s Jeff Gravely chimed in with this last night…

$500,000 for a base salary is very good in the world of ACC college baseball. If you want to compare, we can look at Clemson’s Monta Lee, who led the Tigers to a 47-16 season and a 1st place ACC finish.

Lee will be paid $460,000 this year and next year, $480,000 in 2020-2021 and $500,000 in 2021-2022 and 2022-2023.

So Lee wins the ACC, but still won’t be making that ‘Elliot Avent money’ until 2021.

Meanwhile, Avent is really starting to build something special at NC State.

The Pack finished the year ranked No. 22 in the D1 Baseball Poll, which marks the 16th consecutive season that the Wolfpack has either started or finished the year ranked among the top 25 of a major poll. The Pack also made history with four players selected in the top-10 rounds of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft.

In 2013, he led the Wolfpack to the College World Series (CWS) and has taken NC State to the NCAA Tournament in 17 of his 22 seasons at the helm, including 14 of the last 16 seasons.

Avent is the winningest head coach in program history and is just one of 17 active NCAA Division I baseball head coaches with 1,000 or more career wins. The 2019 season will be his 23rd leading the Wolfpack. (NC State Release)

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NC State Baseball




RALEIGH, N.C. – The NC State Board of Trustees approved Friday new contracts for head baseball coach Elliott Avent and head women’s soccer coach Tim Santoro.

Avent’s contract, which was set to expire in June of 2019, has been extended through 2021 with the potential for additional years based on achievement.

“Coach Avent has led NC State baseball for over two decades, and we’re glad he will continue as our leader for years to come,” said Director of Athletics, Debbie Yow.  “He works tirelessly, recruits at a high level, and we look forward to his continued leadership.”

Santoro agreed to a two-year extension to his current agreement, which puts him under contract for five years through 2022.

“Coach Santoro continues to do an exceptional job building our women’s soccer program. He recruits at a high level, has elevated NC State, and this contract reflects our commitment.”
Last season, Avent guided the Wolfpack to a 40-win season, highlighted by hosting an NCAA Regional in Raleigh for the sixth time in program history, all of which have come under his direction. The Wolfpack won its first seven ACC series and tied the program record with 19 conference wins.

NC State finished the year ranked No. 22 in the D1 Baseball Poll, which marks the 16th consecutive season that the Wolfpack has either started or finished the year ranked among the top 25 of a major poll. The Pack also made history with four players selected in the top-10 rounds of the 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft.

In 2013, he led the Wolfpack to the College World Series (CWS) and has taken NC State to the NCAA Tournament in 17 of his 22 seasons at the helm, including 14 of the last 16 seasons.

Avent is the winningest head coach in program history and is just one of 17 active NCAA Division I baseball head coaches with 1,000 or more career wins. The 2019 season will be his 23rd leading the Wolfpack.

“NC State has always been where my heart is, and I’ve spent the better part of my professional life striving to build a program our campus, alumni, and community can share a sense of pride in,” said Avent. “There is a tremendous amount of pride that connects our players and staff, both past and present. Together we have amassed years of sustained success that has created such a passionate and loyal fan base.

“I look forward to leading the Wolfpack for years to come maintaining the consistency that has become a hallmark of NC State baseball.”

Last season, Santoro led NC State to the NCAA Second Round with a 15-5-2 record, marking the most wins for the program since 1995. The campaign was highlighted by a third-place finish in the ACC regular season standings and the program’s first ACC Championship semifinal appearance since 1995.

“I’ve enjoyed my time at NC State and in Raleigh and am so thankful to Debbie and the administration for having faith in me to continue building on what started a few years back,” said Santoro. “While we’ve made some great strides, there’s still so much more to accomplish and I’m just excited for the opportunity to keep leading a top ACC program that’s part of a great institution, in a great city and surrounded by great people.”

The women’s soccer team finished with a final RPI of 23, setting its best mark in program history since the NCAA began archiving the stat in 2000. The Wolfpack improved 11 spots from 2016 when the team earned a then program-best RPI of 34, and has made a 197-spot improvement from 220th in 2015.

NC State also clinched back-to-back ACC Championship berths for the first time since 2003-04 and earned consecutive NCAA Championship appearances for the first time since 1995-96.

The Pack additionally finished 21st in the final United Soccer Coaches poll, 23rd in Soccer America’s and 16th in Top Drawer Soccer’s, marking the first back-to-back top 25 finishes for the program since 1991-92.

Santoro is in his sixth season leading the women’s soccer program and was the NSCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year and a finalist for National Coach of the Year in 2016.

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NC State Baseball

NC State basketball completed their NBA Combine-like testing this week



If you’ve followed our site through the years, then you know that NC State does an annual NBA-Combine like testing called ‘BAM.’ This is where they test speed, strength, and agility and get back precise data, which shows their offseason improvements.

They did this under Gottfried as well, but something tells me that the data that is returned is going to be utilized a bit better under Keatts. Here is a full explanation of what they went through…

And here is a little video (and some pictures) of the process…

We’re working on getting some numbers back, but as of right now it seems as if Keatts is keeping this data close to the vest. We’ll update you when we know more…

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