Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team 1981-2016 — Right Fielders

This is the eighth post in The Unofficial Scorer’s All-Wolfpack Baseball Team, 1981-2016. Today, we look at right fielders.

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 Saturday: Designated hitters and utility players.

• Right Field — Jake Weber (1995-98)
Dutchess County, N.Y., is Ichabod Crane’s neck of the woods, a modern-day Sleepy Hollow. The county, about 75 miles up the Hudson River from New York City, had a population of 297,488 according to the 2010 census, with Poughkeepsie, the county seat and largest city, checking in with a population of 32,736. A host of sleepy bedroom communities with colorful names surround Poughkeepsie, including Amenia, Fishkill Plains, Poughquag, Rhinebeck, Hyde Park, Pine Plains, Shekomeko, Staatsburg and Wappingers Falls. Between the fall of 1989 and the fall of 1994, those last two, Staatsburg and Wappingers Falls, produced three of NC State’s greatest baseball players — Jeff Pierce (1990-91) from Staatsburg (population 377), and Vinny Hughes (1990-92) and Jake Weber (1995-98) from Wappingers Falls (5,522). Between them, Pierce, Hughes and Weber played nine seasons with the Wolfpack, 542 combined games, and batted .363 with a .437 on-base percentage and a .581 slugging percentage. They combined to hit 127 doubles, 26 triples and 91 homers. They drove in 500 runs and stole 61 bases between them. All three were considered for this team, for obvious reasons. Of the three Weber was by far the best, one of NC State’s greatest players of the last 36 years. From Day One, Weber’s career was monotonously consistent and consistently excellent. He was 1995 ACC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-American by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. He earned second-team All-ACC in 1996 and ’97, and made first-team all-conference in 1998. He never made All-America (other than Academic All-America, which he accomplished three times), which is baffling, but there is little question he was one of the best players in college baseball during that time, especially his junior and senior seasons. In 2003, the Atlantic Coast Conference named Weber to its 50-man 50th Anniversary team, making him one of just seven Wolfpack players so honored. Weber had season batting averages of, in order, .326, .354, .391 and .393. He had 84 hits each of his first two seasons, and 99 in each of his last two. He drew 42, 47 and 47 walks his last three years, leading to on-base percentages of .448 in 1996, .484 in 1997 (9th best in school history) and .497 in 1998 (5th). He scored 71, 68, 72 and 77 runs. He was not a prolific basestealer, with 49 steals for his career, but he was, predictably, dependable as sunrise on the bases. He still is tied for fourth in school history for career steals, with season totals of 10, eight, 16 and 15. When he did run, he was successful 80 percent of the time or better all four years. His career success rate of .875 was just a hair south of the .890 turned in by all-blur leader Trea Turner. Weber’s career was, in other words, absolutely free of slumps, no hiccups, no droughts, no extended oh-for streaks. He did everything incredibly well and could beat you in so many ways. Eighteen years after he played his last game here, he is still NC State’s career record-holder for at-bats (1,000), hits (366), triples (21), RBIs (239), walks (co-leader with 154) and total bases (582). He ranks second in runs scored (288). His career on-base percentage was .449, his career slugging percentage .582, giving him a career OPS of 1.031. Defensively, Weber played the difficult right field at the old Doak Field better than anyone. He ran down fly balls with ease and had no problem dealing with the sharp, downhill slope into the right-field corner. He had a strong, accurate throwing arm, yet only aired out a throw when a game was on the line and an out was critical. Otherwise, he always made the right play, always threw to the right base, always hit the cutoff man, always kept the double play in order. Above and beyond all of his other accomplishments on the field, however, Weber’s signature claim to fame in a Wolfpack uniform was never missing a game. NC State played 248 games during his college career, and he played and started all 248 of them. That’s the second most games played in a career by an NC State player (thanks in large part to NCAA-imposed limits on games per season), and the most consecutive games played by anyone in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Weber not only started all 248 games, but I honestly don’t remember him ever missing so much as an inning, although I’m fairly certain that he must have at some point. Jake Weber was arguably the most consistent player in program history, and we’re talking about consistency at the highest possible level. I don’t know if the people naming the All-America teams overlooked him or took him for granted because of that — it certainly seems possible — but those of us following NC State baseball at the time certainly didn’t. And if there was anyone who didn’t appreciate him when he was here, well, they damn sure missed him when 1999 rolled around and he was gone.

• Second Team — Mark Withers (1985-88)

A soft-spoken country boy from the city of Charlotte, Mark Withers came to NC State as an infielder and played third base most of his first two years, but when he moved to right field as a junior to make room at third for Oklahoma State transfer Bryn Kosco, the final piece of a great Wolfpack lineup fell into place. Withers proved to be an offensive force in right field in 1987 and ’88, hitting a combined .376 with a .431 on-base percentage, a .590 slugging percentage, 23 doubles, five triples, 20 home runs, 106 RBIs, 117 runs scored, 48 walks and just 30 strikeouts. He batted .360 (9th in the ACC) with six doubles, three triples, 11 home runs, 61 RBIs and 52 runs scored as a junior in 1987. He led the team with eight game-winning RBIs. At the time, his 77 hits ranked as the third most in a single season in school history. A year later, 1988, with NC State enjoying its greatest offensive season ever, Withers contributed by batting .391 with 17 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 54 RBIs, 49 runs scored, 30 walks and 86 hits, third most in school history behind teammates Brian Bark (100) and Turtle Zaun (91). That’s right, in 1988 Bark, Zaun and Withers each broke the existing school record for hits in a season. Withers finished second on that great team in batting and on-base percentage (.464), and fifth in slugging (.609). He was third in runs scored and tied for fifth in RBIs. To appreciate how loaded that 1988 team was, six different hitters on that club hit 10 or more home runs and the team hit 123 long balls. Eight players drove in 40 or more runs, with three driving in 60 or more. Eight different players batted better than .300, including four who batted better than .370. It was hard for one player to stand out on that team, and Withers, like Paul Borawski four years later, was overshadowed by the likes of Zaun, Bark, Kosco (17 homers), Bill Klenoshek (.373 average, 15 homers, 72 RBIs, .445 OBP, .652 slugging) and several others. For two seasons, however, he was a vital cog in one of NC State’s greatest lineups.

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