Baseball: What To Watch For: Northwestern sets its sights on a successful 2023 campaign — here’s what it’ll take to turn the dream into reality


Daily file photo by Mika Ellison

Junior David Utagawa throws a pitch against a Notre Dame batter in May.

Skye Swann, Sports Editor

When Northwestern entered the 2022 season, it was ready and eager for a full schedule season since 2019 not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the Wildcats’ future turned sour early, going on a losing record and finishing eighth in the conference. The result: multiple players leaving the organization and NU firing an established coach.

They say you need to hit rock bottom before you can start making changes and aim for success.This upcoming run is a shot at redemption for the squad. 

NU hiring of coach Jim Foster and signing 10 new players to NU’s roster mean the Cats could have the potential to have a comeback of the ages. With the contests beginning this weekend, there are plenty of steps NU needs to take to ensure a strong conclusion to the season and stake a contentious claim to the Big Ten Title.

Though it is still early, building the Cats’ groundwork for a triumphant season begins now. A new coach, new players and the return of some key fielders will be crucial components to the squad’s seeking of a winning record during springtime. 

Here are key takeaways to look for as NU embarks on its 2023 run. 


  1. Coach Jim Foster’s first season under the position sets the tone for the Cats 

After a tumultuous 2022 season, coach Spencer Allen announced his choice to not return as the head of the realm for the upcoming spring. With NU seemingly coachless and urgently in need of a replacement, the Cats hired former West Point baseball coach Jim Foster to fill the void this spring.

Foster’s reputation as the head coach for Army solidified the program’s potential for a turnaround this spring. At West Point, Foster led his squad to NCAA appearances in the last four full seasons, concluding his final run with Army by securing the 2022 Patriot League Coach of the Year.

His arrival to a struggling NU unit is more than needed and could fuel the Cats to new heights this year. Despite the squad having the blueprint to clinching a positive outcome in last year’s campaign, they lacked a piece to the puzzle that could activate their ability to garner wins. 

Foster could be that missing piece. With his first season fastly approaching, Foster’s influence will be a focal point to gauging NU’s success throughout the season and whether they’ll reach the Big Ten Tournament.

  1. The Wildcats have big shoes to fill after losing key players at the end of last season

Similar to coach Allen’s departure, multiple Wildcats announced their intention to enter the transfer portal in light of NU’s depressing 2022 season.

Freshman infielder Patrick Herrera, freshman left-handed pitcher Sean Sullivan and sophomore center fielder Ethan O’Donnell issued statements by the end of the 2022 term on their wishes to join new programs. The three were essential players and arguably the best parts of the squad’s 2021 run. With their absence, the Cats will have to step up and fill their shoes this spring at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park.

The graduation of senior infielder Anthony Calarco last season will also impact the squad’s field performance this spring. Even though his younger brother — junior centerfielder Alex Calarco — is returning to the mound, NU’s older Calarco was a vital part to the squad’s minimal success.

The Cats must look to their evidently younger group as they begin their season this week in San Marcos, Texas. This year appears to be one of rebuilding for the team, so if the younger players can step up, the season could end in a positive outcome. 

  1. NU’s batting average needs to improve to guarantee success

The Cats’ fairly young group has to become destructive offensively when they go up to plate.

Last season, the Cats struggled on the attack, averaging only .277 batting, leaving them ninth in the conference for the category. NU must immensely improve their batting game if they wish to be a serious contender this conference season.

A strong batting percentage becomes even more important when considering the Cats’ Big Ten docket. NU is set to face Rutgers, Purdue and Illinois this spring, all three of which finished in the top 5 last season for the conference’s attacking units. Against these opponents, NU will need to produce strong numbers at the plate and in the field to secure runs at bat. 

And yet, the crucial leaders who the Cats need to deliver are still undetermined as the squad embarks on this jam-packed season. As matches come and go this spring, be sure to watch out for who will be the next offensive produced for the squad.

  1. With all these changes, can NU make real progress this season?

Despite all the incoming changes and new progress this season, the real issue is if the Cats can apply these changes to better the squad’s success this spring.

Even though there is a new coach, there is only so much Foster can do. The group is still missing important players on the field — arguably, some of the best. The ultimate goal for the unit is to ensure they apply these switch-ups to benefit their squad for optimal success. If the Cats can’t use their new coach and underclassmen players to improve their offense, NU may be slated for a repeat of their 2022 season fate.

Whether the Cats can rebuild effectively and efficiently to guarantee wins that continue past the regular season will be the question of this spring.

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Twitter: @sswann301

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