Northwestern baseball stands together before a game in 2021. There will be many new faces this year following last year's turbulent season. Photo by Brandi Simpson/North by Northwestern. 

Northwestern baseball (0-0, 0-0 B1G) has been through the wringer. After finishing the 2023 season with one of the worst records in program history (10-40, 4-20 B1G) and experiencing a mass exodus of players amid an investigation into claims of then-head coach Jim Foster’s bullying and abusive behavior, the team has nowhere to go but up.

In July of 2023, following the conclusion of the season, Northwestern Athletics announced that Foster had been “relieved of his duties” and would not be returning for the 2024 season. His successor, named in August, is Ben Greenspan, former associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Michigan.

“This Northwestern Baseball program will be humble, respectful, transparent, competitive and a point of pride for this great institution,” Greenspan said in Northwestern’s hiring announcement.

Since 2009, Greenspan has held coaching positions at Indiana University, Arizona State and Cal Poly. His various teams have earned seven NCAA tournament appearances as well as five consensus top 10 recruiting classes during his tenure.

Greenspan’s strength as a recruiter will be needed to rebuild the program. Among 12 Wildcat players who transferred after last year are veteran outfielder Stephen Hrustich, to Michigan, and catcher Alex Calarco, to Maryland. Last season, Hrustich led the team in batting average (.325), runs (31), hits (54), RBIs (31), total bases (86), slugging percentage (.518), walks (27), stolen bases (8) and OPS (.959). With a stat line like that, he leaves some huge shoes to fill.

Calarco also had a standout season, coming in second behind Hrustich in runs (29), hits (51), RBIs (29) and total bases (81).

In the absence of Hrustich and Calarco, graduate outfielder Griffin Arnone will be a key component for the ’Cats. Last year, Arnone recorded an OPS of .860, the second-highest on the team, and led Northwestern with nine home runs.

Third-year catcher Bennett Markinson, who started 29 games last season, will have to step into a bigger role this year. He batted .273 last season, fourth-best on the team, and recorded 19 runs and 15 RBIs in 40 games played.

Northwestern has also lost a sizable chunk of their pitching rotation. Pitchers that have since transferred or graduated combined for six of Northwestern’s 10 wins last season, leaving just three on the roster – fourth-year righty Matt McClure, graduate righty Jack Dyke and fourth-year lefty Nolan Morr – who recorded a win for the ’Cats last year. McClure is the key returner. He pitched a team-high 59 innings last year, struck out 38 batters and recorded a 6.71 ERA.

Morr earned two wins and struck out 19 batters over 19.2 innings, but recorded an ERA of 12.81. Although Dyke pitched only 18.1 innings last season and struck out just six batters, his ERA of 4.91 was the best on the team, and he may get a chance to prove himself in the absence of the usual bullpen.

Northwestern has recruited a crop of first-years and transfers, many of them pitchers, and many of them untested on a college team. Time will tell what their talents can bring to the Wildcat program. First-year righty Garrett Shearer was named #14 on D1 Baseball’s Big Ten Impact Freshmen List, along with first-year outfielder Jackson Freeman at #17.

The new Northwestern squad will be tested early when they face #12 Duke in late February. After that, they won’t play a currently ranked team until #20 Iowa in early May. Hopefully, the more relaxed schedule will allow the ’Cats to land on their feet this season.

The roster – and coaching staff – shake-up that Northwestern has experienced since last season makes it difficult to predict how this season will go. But ultimately, after the trials and tribulations of last year, the only way out is up.

Thumbnail photo by Brandi Simpson/North by Northwestern.