2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 16 Duke

Image credit: Michael Rothenberg (Photo by Carl Kline)

Last year: 12-4 
Final ranking: No. 10
Coach (record at school): Chris Pollard (245-177, 8 years)

Top 200 draft prospects: SS Ethan Murray (No. 134), RHP Cooper Stinson (No. 137), RHP Jack Carey (No. 187)

The good news: Duke has an athletic, versatile, experienced group of position players, led by third-year sophomore shortstop Ethan Murray, fourth-year junior catcher Michael Rothenberg and fourth-year junior center fielder Joey Loperfido. In addition to returning nearly everyone from last year’s lineup, the Blue Devils also welcomed in a standout class of graduate transfers, headlined by outfielder Peter Matt, a career .311/.387/.427 hitter at Pennsylvania who the Duke staff thinks could be a double-digit home run guy. All told, eight of the nine projected starters have been in college baseball three or more years, and seven of the nine have specifically been at Duke three or more years. Taken together, it’s a unit that can beat the opposition with hittability, power and speed, and it should be able to live up to the high defensive standard set when it played defense at a .988 clip last season. 


The bad news: In 2020, Duke didn’t just have a solid Friday starter in Bryce Jarvis. It turns out that it had one of the best pitchers in college baseball. But Jarvis’ success made him a first-round pick and now Duke has a big hole to patch in the rotation. The good news in this piece of bad news is that third-year sophomore righthander Cooper Stinson’s numbers were nearly as good last season and he looks the part of a ready-made replacement. But Stinson sliding up one spot in the rotation means Duke has to fill in behind him. That’s where third-year sophomore righthander Jack Carey and second-year freshman righthander Henry Williams come in. Carey’s stuff improved over the offseason and his fastball now reaches 96 mph after putting up a 4.26 ERA last season. Williams is a high-upside arm who has been up to 92 mph. Both will look to show improvement in 2021 and give Duke a deep rotation behind Stinson, who will try to do his best Jarvis impression. 

Player to know: Cooper Stinson, RHP.

Stinson didn’t get quite as much attention as Jarvis last season, in part because Jarvis threw a perfect game and Stinson didn’t. But otherwise, Stinson’s numbers were nearly as good, and in some cases, were even better than his teammate’s. In 21.2 innings over four starts, he had a 0.42 ERA and 24 strikeouts compared to just four walks. The low walk total was a particularly welcome development after he issued 43 free passes in 54.1 innings as a freshman. Stinson has the frame and the stuff, including a low-90s fastball and a slider that projects to be a plus offering, to handle Fridays in the ACC, and with another step forward, Duke should have one of the best Friday starters in the conference once again. 

Path to Omaha: We’ll never know for sure, but Duke might have hit on an Omaha formula in 2020, when it had Jarvis and Stinson at the front of the rotation, a varied bullpen and a deep, talented lineup. That formula could be recreated in 2021. Stinson is a great start to a rotation, and either Carey, Williams or both could be ready for a breakout. A bullpen led by fourth-year junior lefthander Matt Dockman should be good again. And the Blue Devils return just about every key position player, including a number of reserve players with a lot of experience, and added impact transfers in Matt, outfielder Chris Davis (Princeton) and two-way star Richard Brereton (Emory). If the rotation in particular begins the 2021 season trending in the same direction as it was in 2020, the Blue Devils could be a contender for their first Omaha trip since 1961. 

2021 Lineup
C Michael Rothenberg, R-Jr. .349 .551 .605 43 2 17
1B Chris Crabtree, R-Jr. .207 .368 .345 29 0 2
2B Graham Pauley, R-Fr. Did not play
3B Erikson Nichols, R-Sr. .224 .274 .259 58 0 4
SS Ethan Murray, R-So. .222 .377 .352 54 1 6
LF Peter Matt, R-Sr. Transfer — Pennsylvania
CF Joey Loperfido, R-Jr. .264 .418 .358 53 0 6
RF Chase Cheek, R-Sr. .250 .328 .333 60 1 5
DH Chris Davis, R-Sr. Transfer — Princeton
RHP Cooper Stinson, R-So. 3 0 0.42 22 24 0
LHP Jack Carey, R-So. 1 1 4.26 19 22 0
RHP Henry Williams, R-Fr. 0 0 13.50 1 0 0
RP Richard Brereton, R-SR. Transfer — Emory (Ga.)
RP Matt Dockman, R-Jr. 0 0 3.00 9 10 0

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