Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Baseball: Agarwal: Following several key coaching changes in the offseason, Northwestern is in the right direction entering 2024

Daily file photo by Mika Ellison
An NU batter gears up to hit the ball.

Last May, Northwestern suffered its fifth consecutive sweep and extended a dismal losing stretch to 15 straight games. At the time, I called on the team to raise essential questions about the future of the program in the offseason. 

Flash forward nine months later, and the Wildcats are at the tail-end of their offseason, set to open their 2024 slate at Tulane on Feb. 16. The team has made impactful personnel decisions. 

No team would be happier to leave 2023 in the rearview mirror than NU. The ’Cats finished the season with a Big-Ten worst 4-20 conference record and 10-40 overall — the most losses in program history. 

While most of the questions raised over the summer and fall have not been answered, NU’s trajectory appears more promising than it has in a while.

It was clear the team’s culture needed immediate changes from the season’s onset. After starting the season 0-6 and losing pitching coach Jon Strauss, hitting coach Dusty Napoleon and director of operations Chris Beacom in the season’s first weeks, the ’Cats had a thin leadership group for most of the 2023 season. 

There also appeared to be a clear disconnect between players and coaches. Following the conclusion of the 2023 season, multiple players spoke out about former coach Jim Foster’s lack of professionalism, criticizing his attitude toward his coaching staff and players. 

Amid a tumultuous summer in NU Athletics, Foster was removed from his position, and coach Ben Greenspan stepped into his stead. 

Most recently Michigan’s associate head coach, Greenspan has held coaching positions at several prominent baseball programs: including Arizona State and Indiana. He has coached several major league players like former Hoosier and now-Philadelphia Phillie Kyle Schwarber. 

Greenspan’s tremendous leadership skills will prove more valuable than his previous program’s collective pedigree as the ’Cats hope to turn their season around. 

Immediately following Greenspan’s hire, Schwarber highlighted his former coach’s ability to “bring a team together and mold them into men” and how the “impact he had on (his) career and others at Indiana was massive, and the lessons learned are things that (he) carries still to this day.” 

After losing 18 players to the transfer portal and graduation, Greenspan will lead a young and inexperienced roster in his first season at the helm. 

As the team prepares for its first series of the season, the departures of key offensive contributors Alex Calarco and Stephen Hrustich leave a concerning hole in the middle of the lineup. The team will require multiple underclassmen to fill the void. 

NU’s offense will likely center around junior catcher and first baseman Bennett Markinson. 

After posting back-to-back .270-plus batting-average seasons, Markinson will need to take another leap forward in 2024, as the team looks to significantly improve from its 2023 Big Ten-worst .246 batting average and second-last 258 run tally. 

Meanwhile, Greenspan’s addition of hitting coach Tyler Rost will be instrumental in getting the most out of an inexperienced lineup. Arriving in Evanston after a three-year tenure as the director of player development at Duke, Rost significantly improved the Blue Devil offense — which finished third in the ACC in home runs and runs. 

On the other side of the diamond, the ’Cats’ pitching staff had its worst performance on the mound in program history. Posting a Big-Ten high 8.53 ERA — more than two earned runs higher than the next worse team — Greenspan will need to specifically prioritize this dimension of his team’s performance if NU will stay afloat in 2024. 

Although the ’Cats have lost key contributors Sam Garewal and David Utagawa on the mound, Greenspan’s addition of pitching coach Ben Keizer will be the first hurdle toward addressing these struggles. 

While Keizer lacks significant collegiate coaching experience, he is fresh off of a two-year stint as a partnership development specialist with the Chicago Cubs. Keizer had an impressive career as a left-handed pitcher at Michigan, where he led the Wolverines to the 2019 Championship series of the College World Series. 

Needless to say, many questions remain about the team’s ability to remain competitive in 2024. Nevertheless, the ’Cats have already crossed their first hurdle by attempting to transform the team’s culture. 

While it may take time for NU’s inexperienced roster to reap the rewards of the Big Ten results, having a group of leaders to look up to in challenging moments will serve pivotal toward growth and success. 

After several weeks of nonconference play, the ’Cats will open conference play on March 29 against Nebraska at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aayushyagarwal7

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