Given how physical UNC-Wilmington’s offenses have been in recent years, the idea that the Seahawks player to watch in a given season is a starting pitcher, but that’s exactly the scenario we have on our hands going into the 2018 season with UNCW starting pitcher Alex Royalty.
Coming into the 2017 season, expectations were high for the Seahawks. They were ranked in the preseason, largely as a vote of confidence for an offense that could put up runs in bunches. The season didn’t end up panning out the way they might have hoped, as they went 30-29 overall and fell short of a regional appearance, despite a late charge up the Colonial standings. And while the offense had their moments, and several hitters had huge years, the real standout from the 2017 season had to be Royalty, who developed into a workhorse in the rotation.
In 15 starts, he went 9-2 with a 3.20 ERA. In 98.1 innings, he struck out 106, walked just 25, and held opponents to a .236 batting average, all of which led to him being named the CAA Pitcher of the Year.
This came one year after a solid debut for the righty from Raleigh, North Carolina in 2016. He started 15 games as well, throwing 72.2 innings. He had a 4.71 ERA, a 57/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a .272 opponent batting average on a UNCW team that fell just short of breaking through and winning the Columbia Regional.
Despite the trying season in 2017, the Seahawks again look like a team poised to make a postseason run, this time more on the strength of their pitching staff. They return their three most reliable starters from a year ago in Royalty, Zarion Sharpe (6-1, 4.74 ERA, .233 OBA), and Logan Beehler (3-7, 5.22 ERA), and two of their three top relievers from last season in Clark Cota (3.08 ERA, 26.1 IP, .156 OBA, 4 SV) and Austin Easter (4.20 ERA, 45 IP, .224 OBA, 3 SV).
There’s also a lot to like about some of the new faces on the team. Kep Brown is a highly-touted outfielder from Charleston, South Carolina, who has taken a circuitous route to get to UNCW. Originally committed to Miami, he was drafted in the tenth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. Rather than sign, however, he decided to go the JUCO route and headed to Spartanburg Methodist, where he had a solid freshman season, but also struggled with injuries and ended up redshirting his second season.
Then there’s freshman shortstop Greg Jones, who was a highly-valued prospect who slipped to the 17th round because of signability concerns. Both of those guys look like instant-impact players for the Seahawks.
Suffice it to say that, led by Royalty as a true ace at the front of the rotation, despite one down season, UNC-Wilmington isn’t going anywhere.