2023 Season Preview- Position Players

The Niners had a prolific offense in the 2022 season, putting up 489 Runs, which was the 3rd most scored in 49er history. Three big contributors from last year, Nate Furman, David McCabe, and Josh Madole have departed, but Charlotte essentially returns 7 starters from last season. With so much talent returning and the bats added to the roster, the 49ers’ offense looks to again put up big numbers on the scoreboard.

Photo credit: @CharlotteBSB

Four of the starters returning spent time in the outfield in 2022.  Blake Jackson started the season out in LF but was lost for the season after an injury in the opening C-USA series against WKU. Jackson was batting .245 with 14 RBI in 17 Games before his injury.  Look for him to see plenty of time in LF this season. He also is solid defensively and has the speed to move over to play CF if needed. Jackson may be asked to step into the leadoff spot in the lineup this season.

After the injury to Blake Jackson last year, the Niners eventually called on Will Butcher to take over the starting spot in LF. Butcher spent the early part of the season as the 49ers DH. The slugger put up 11 HR and drove in 53 runs last season. Four of those 11 HR were grand slams, which led the team. Butcher had a great fall and it seemed like he was leaving the yard every time we watched the Niners scrimmage. Look for Butch to provide a power bat in the middle of the 49ers lineup, and bring the versatility to help the Niners in LF, at 1B, or in the DH spot this spring.

One of the top pro prospects on the 49ers’ roster this season will be native Charlottean, centerfielder Jake Cunningham. A graduate of Ardrey Kell HS, Jake is considered a 5-tool player by many and was predicted by Perfect Game to be named C-USA Player of the Year in 2023. Jake is already on many MLB Draft board radars and will only move up with a good season for Charlotte. Last season, he finished 2nd on the team in HR (16) & 2nd on the team in Stolen Bases (16), while driving in 52 Runs and scoring 51. Cunningham has great range in CF and only committed one error in 153 chances last season. Look for Jake to be in the middle of the 49er line-up or even step into the leadoff spot if needed. Jake has been working his way back from a minor injury so fans may not see him in action this weekend. He has, however, been taking BP and doing some on-field work, so it won’t be long.

Returning in RF is lefty slugger Cam Fisher. Fisher led the 49ers in HR (18), Doubles (17), & Total Bases (139) in his first season at Charlotte. He also showed plate discipline, finishing 2nd in Walks (45) behind leader Nate Furman. His 18 HR last season tied him for 4th most by a 49er in a season. Fisher’s numbers in 2022 were good enough to earn him some accolades including CUSA All-Freshman Team, CUSA All-Conference 2nd Team, & Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American honors.  Look for Fisher to be sitting in the middle of the 49ers order this season driving in runs.

In the infield, the Niners return two high caliber players in 2021 All-American Austin Knight and 2022 1st Team All CUSA player Jack Dragum. This will be the third season that these two have locked down the infield together for the 49ers.

Photo credit: @CharlotteBSB

Austin Knight was named Player of the Year for CUSA in 2021, and became just the 10th 49er to be named an All-American.  Last season he battled through some injuries and saw a slight dip in production. He’s a .300 hitter over his 2 seasons as a 49er and has hit 19 HR and drove in 97 runs. Defensively, Knight is very solid and also adds versatility, playing 3B, SS and 2B during his 49er career.  Look for him to start the season at 2B.

Jack Dragum had his best offensive season for the 49ers last season, batting .352 with 11 HR & 54 RBI. He capped the season off by batting .538 with 3 HR in the Conference USA Tournament. Dragum has also shown versatility in the field by splitting time last season between SS & 3B. He also jumped on the mound for one appearance picking up a K and ending the season with a 0.00 ERA. Look for Jack to slide back over to the SS position this season and continue to be a consistent bat in the middle of the 49ers line-up. The Niners will be very solid up the middle with Knight, Dragum, and Cunningham behind them in CF.

Photo credit: Charlotte Athletics

Speaking of up the middle, it all starts behind the plate.  Another returning starter to the 49ers line-up is catcher Kaden Hopson. Hopson was solid behind the plate for the Niners last season, starting 50 games at catcher. He had only 6 passed balls and only 2 errors in 487 chances last season as the 49ers primary catcher. Offensively, Hopson seemed to always get the clutch hit when needed in 2021. The walk-off against WKU comes to mind. Overall Hopson batted .239 with 5 HR, and 33 RBI in his 1st season on the east coast. Look for him to see plenty of time behind the dish in 2023.

Two sophomore catchers also return to provide depth behind the plate for the Niners. Drew Tyndall and Huck Wathan both saw time in the line-up as freshman last season and look to build on that in year two. The switch hitting Tyndall saw action in 14 games last season, mostly at DH. Wathan played in 15 games between C & DH.  Both have added some versatility and have been playing multiple positions in the field this past fall and spring.

Other returning 49ers are sophomores, infielder JD Suarez and utility man Dante DeFranco.  Suarez saw action last season as a Freshman starting in 5 games mainly at 2B.  He is versatile and has seen some action at 3B, SS, & 2B over the fall and spring practices. Defranco can also play almost anywhere on the field, spending time this fall and spring at CF, SS, 2B, & 3B in scrimmages we’ve seen.

Over the offseason, the 49ers have added several big bats to the line-up in recruiting through the JUCO and high school route.  One of the big bats that the staff is high on is Brandon Stahlman. Stahlman who comes to Charlotte from State Fair CC, was rated among Top 50 Impact JUCO Transfers in the nation by D1 Baseball. The lefty bat has been working at both corner infield positions over the Fall/Spring and we expect him to be in the mix to start at one of those positions this season for the 49ers and bat in the middle of the order.

Another big JUCO bat added to the 49ers roster is Eli Wiesner from Louisburg College. The RHH has also been working at the corner infield positions as well as 2B during pre-season workouts. Weisner was a NJCAA All-American last season batting .419 with 12 HR & 27 SB. Look for him to see time in the line-up either at one of the corner infield spots or at DH this season.

Another JUCO transfer that is in the mix at the corner infield spots is lefty bat Josh Patrick. Patrick was 1st Team All-Region last year at Crowder College. In addition to playing the corner infield positions, Patrick has also seen time in the outfield in pre-season workouts. He should challenge for ABs this season at the corners, in the outfield or at the DH spot.

In the transfer portal, the Niners picked up Danny Helfgott from Lackawanna College. Helfgott also spent time at NJIT where was a contributor on their NCAA Regional team in 2021. He has been working as a middle infielder and in the outfield some at some of the scrimmages we’ve observed.

And last, but certainly not least, Charlotte has added two very talented freshman to the roster this season in Calver Clark and Spencer Nolan.  Calvert Clark comes to the Niners from nearby baseball powerhouse, Charlotte Christian where he pitched and played OF.  He will continue as a two-way player for the Niners as we’ve seen him working on the mound and in center field in scrimmages this pre-season.

Spencer Nolan comes to Charlotte from Hoggard HS in Wilmington, NC. He is a promising RH bat that we have seen all over the field in pre-season workouts. He’s played all four infield positions and lately we’ve seen him mostly working at 1B and LF.  He’s in the mix to see time at either one of those spots this season for the Niners.

And that leads to our annual tradition of our Opening Day line-up prediction the week leading up to the season. We’ve been on the money before and we’ve been completely off too.  So here’s how we think the Niners will take the field on Friday.

  • C – Kaden Hopson
  • 1B – Eli Weisner
  • 2B – Austin Knight
  • 3B – Brandon Stahlman
  • SS – Jack Dragum
  • LF – Spencer Nolan
  • CF – Blake Jackson
  • RF – Cam Fisher
  • DH – Will Butcher

Coming tomorrow – Part 2: The Pitching Staff

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