As Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby said, all that you can do in winter is “stare out the window and wait for spring.” The calendar may still say winter, but baseball is back, and this Duke team has a lot to be excited about this season. The Blue Devils will have to replace the offense of Michael Rothenberg, Ethan Murray, Joey Loperfido and Peter Matt, but they return Chris Crabtree, RJ Schreck and Graham Pauley, the last player in that list being someone who head coach Chris Pollard praised in the team’s preseason media day. On the bump, Jack Carey has gone on to pro ball and Henry Williams will miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but it is likely that Cooper Stinson will once again be the Friday starter with last year’s closer Marcus Johnson and sophomore Luke Fox likely rounding out the weekend trio. Additionally, the freshman class for this year is loaded, checking in at ninth in the national recruiting rankings. -Jake Piazza
New player(s) to watch: Alex Mooney, Jonathan Santucci
These guys are for real. Perfect Game’s top-ranked freshman and Baseball America’s No. 26 freshman in the nation compose just a slice of Duke’s ridiculous incoming class. The defending ACC champions sent five players to the league through last summer’s draft, but these freshmen are pro-ready right now. Mooney passed up a chance to go straight to the MLB in favor of serving what will likely be two years in college for head coach Chris Pollard and Duke. Mooney, a Rochester Hills, Mich., native, is a smooth-fielding shortstop with one-of-a-kind power for his position and lightning speed. The 2021 Michigan Mr. Baseball is bringing a five-tool skill set to Durham as the Blue Devils begin their title defense and look to push toward Omaha.
Santucci also cannot be ignored as a multi-tool threat. His hitting and pitching makes him a rare two-way player that will look to get considerable time in the field and—most likely—the bullpen. The southpaw reportedly hits 95-96 miles per hour with his fastball, and with some uncertainty in the later inning slots of the bullpen, the Leominster, Mass., native could bring an electric combo of solid work in the outfield and at the plate alongside shutdown stuff late in games. These guys will be exciting and be a big part of many Duke wins for the next two years. Stay tuned. -Micah Hurewitz
Returning player(s) to watch: Marcus Johnson, Chris Crabtree
With significant roster turnover for the Blue Devils this year, a strong veteran presence has never been more important. Having leaders on and off the field will be key to Duke’s success this year. Captains Marcus Johnson and Chris Crabtree will be two of Pollard’s most valuable weapons this season if they can display their top-tier talent and leadership.
Johnson’s recently-discovered move out of the bullpen is the main reason he earns a watchful eye. With Williams out for the year, Johnson will step into his place as a hyper-talented starter. The junior boasted a 3.05 ERA with 59 strikeouts and allowed a batting average of just .196 across 56.0 innings last season. Crabtree will now be seeing his fifth year of plate appearances and is looking to take that final leap in plate discipline. He hit a very respectable .279 last year to go along with 13 home runs and 38 RBIs—two figures that should only be going up considering how much muscle he has added this offseason. If the North Carolina native can lower his strikeout rate (from 37.8%), he should be in for an electric year from the plate.
Both guys are pegged for Major League Baseball and will certainly be looking to take full advantage of the spotlight this year. Despite their veteran status, the duo are still improving and could be in for big seasons if all goes well. -Alex Jackson
Most anticipated matchup: N.C. State (May 13-15)
Fast forward to May 13 please. I need this rematch of the ACC Championship game immediately, and I have a feeling N.C. State is ready for another shot at the Blue Devils. Still not fired up yet? How about when I say Stinson is the starter who tossed six innings of scoreless baseball during the ACC Championship game and he’ll likely be throwing Friday night of this series. I know a lot of the stars from last year on both of these teams have gone on to pro ball, but don’t think any of the players won't be ready to roll as they battle for supremacy in the triangle region. -Piazza
Marcus Johnson in the rotation, some heralded sophomores and grad students in the bullpen, talented and versatile players throughout the depth chart—despite Duke’s holes, it has got more than enough talent to plug the gaps. If the freshmen live up to their billing, some players who were relegated last year bounce back and the Blue Devils avoid injury problems, they will be right in the mix for another conference title. -Em Adler
On the other hand, if some of those problems do appear, things could get ugly fast. Relying on this team’s depth is not a place you want to be in, but with a couple minor injuries to key players already, problems are obviously possible. There’s a lot of talent to replace, and what if last year’s second-half turnaround was more hot streaks than true talent? -Adler
Jake: 38-17, Loss in ACC semifinals, Loss in NCAA regionals
Alex: 35-20, Loss in ACC Championship, Loss in regionals championship
Em: 35-20, Loss in ACC pool play, Loss in NCAA regionals
Micah: 36-19, Loss in ACC semifinals, Loss in NCAA regionals
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.
Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.