This is the fifth post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at shortstops.
To recap how this team was selected, current players and players who finished their eligibility prior to 1981 were not eligible. Players who began their college career before 1981 but finished in 1981, ’82 or ’83 were eligible, with their pre-1981 achievements more or less grandfathered into this. This affected several players from the 1981 and ’82 teams.
At the end of the day, both objective analysis and subjective opinion played a role in determining who made this team. I’ve taken painstaking care in going over this to make sure I’ve included everyone who is worthy. If, however, I left off a deserving name, it was wholly inadvertent. And if your favorite player did not make this team, it was not intended in any way to diminish that player. NC State has had more than its share of great players. I couldn’t list everyone.
Coming Sunday: Left fielders.
• Shortstop — Trea Turner (2012-14)
I admit to being conflicted here, but in the end this was an easy choice. When that AL East cross-checker got this project started by asking me who my favorite all-time NC State player was, the answer was easy — Jonathan Diaz. Period. And I say that with no disrespect or lack of love for Trea Turner or anyone else. Diaz was just a special player. No one else like him. You had to see him play defense to understand but with all that said, Turner was NC State’s greatest shortstop and the most physically gifted player in program history. He possessed electrifying sub-6.3 speed in the 60-yard dash, great hand-to-eye coordination, uncanny bat-to-ball skills, terrific instincts, and above-average defensive tools. As an offensive player, Turner ranks among the very greatest in program history. He terrorized opposing pitchers and catchers with his speed and daring on the basepaths. He had a potent combination of patience and pop at the plate, drawing enough walks to post a career on-base percentage of .435, and driving the ball with enough authority to slug .507. And when he got on base, he completely disrupted the defense because of his wheels. He hit 38 doubles, nine triples and 20 homers, scored 203 runs and drove in 121, walked 113 times to 94 strikeouts, and stole a school-record 113 bases in 127 attempts, a success rate of 89 percent. Defensively, Turner was a fine college shortstop, with superior range to his left, excellent hands, and a solid throwing arm. With Chris Diaz (Jonathan’s kid brother) established at shortstop in 2012, Turner spent his freshman year playing third base, batting .336 with 41 walks, five homers, 43 RBIs, 72 runs, and a school-record 57 steals. With range to his right not as critical at third base, Turner played Gold-Glove-caliber defense. The College Baseball Writers Association of America voted him third-team All-America. He was also first-team All-ACC and a consensus first-team Freshman All-American. Back at shortstop as a sophomore, he earned second-team All-America honors by batting .368 with 13 doubles, four triples, seven homers, 38 walks, 42 RBIs, 66 runs scored and 30 steals while leading the Wolfpack to the 2013 College World Series. He played two-thirds of the season on a fractured ankle, but still slugged .533 with a .455 on-base percentage, both career highs. With the draft looming, he tailed off just a bit as a junior in 2014, batting .321 with 12 doubles, three triples, eight homers, 37 walks, 36 RBIs and 65 runs scored. He slugged .516 with a .418 OBP. He batted third for about half the season and seemed to change his approach accordingly. Instead of just putting the ball in play and trying to reach base, he appeared to be swinging for the fences instead. At the same time, he wasn’t nearly as aggressive on the bases although he still swiped 26 bags. He won the Brooks Wallace Award as the nation’s top collegiate shortstop (he was a two-time finalist, btw) and was a consensus first-team All-American. That’s a hell of a season by any standards other than those he set the year before, and the inescapable truth is that Turner was an all-time great college player, the only three-time All-American in program history, and will likely be the first NC State player inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame. If Turner and Jonathan Diaz played on the same team, Turner probably would probably have to change positions, depending on how much you value elite-level defense, but Turner’s career more than speaks for itself. With all phases of the game considered, Diaz was the better defender, better than anyone, but Turner was NC State’s greatest shortstop. Case closed.
• Second Team — Jonathan Diaz (2004-06)
Jonathan Diaz was the best defensive shortstop I’ve seen in 36 years working college baseball, and an absolute joy to watch. Blessed with acrobatic athleticism, hands of velcro, a good throwing arm, a flair for the spectacular, and an off-the-charts baseball IQ, Diaz put on a show at shortstop for 182 games from 2004-06. Every day, you went to the ballpark wondering what kind of magic act he was going to pull off this time. He made all the routine plays, of course. He also made countless plays that no one else could dream of, and did it with style and aplomb. His footwork and positioning were textbook. His execution on double plays, cutoffs and relays was flawless. His hands did not know the meaning of the term “bad hop.” And just when you thought you’d seen it all, he’d pull a rabbit out of his hat — metaphorically, at least — by turning a play that would just make your jaw drop. Diaz wasn’t much of a hitter. He batted .167 as a freshman in 2004 but played 59 of 60 games because his glove had to be in the lineup. No one was sure how he managed to hit .317 as a sophomore, and he hit a much more believable .255 as a junior in 2006, earning second-team All-ACC and finishing his career with an even .250 average. He was patient at the plate. He drew 80 walks to go with 93 strikeouts, giving him a .370 career OBP. The Blue Jays picked Diaz in the 12th round in the 2006 MLB draft. He reached the big leagues with the Red Sox in 2013 and with the Blue Jays in 2014 and ’15, despite the fact that minor league pitchers often knocked the bat out of his hands. His defense and instincts were so otherworldly that he found his way to the big leagues despite lacking the one tool that scouts consider essential for a position player — the hit tool. His game was defense, and in three years at NC State he played defense better than anyone, ever. Those of you new to Wolfpack baseball the last 10 years, well, you missed it, and that’s your loss for we will almost certainly never see the likes of Jonathan Diaz again.