Infused by a freshman class rated as high as fourth nationally, Georgia Tech’s baseball team opened preseason practice Friday. The Yellow Jackets will attempt to bounce back from last year’s 32-23 finish, which resulted in Tech missing the NCAA tournament for only the third time in coach Danny Hall’s 22 seasons at Tech.
Tech’s 11-member class is the highest rated since Hall brought in the top classes in 1998 and 2002. Pitcher Jonathan Hughes, who was drafted in the second round by Baltimore last June but chose to attend Tech, is the highest draft pick to enroll since Micah Owings in 2002.
“I think it’s a very talented class, and I think our upperclassmen are definitely aware of the freshmen, but they view it as some of those freshmen are pushing them, and it’s been friendly competition and hopefully it’s going to make our team better make our team deeper,” Hall said.
Among other notes from Hall.
Setting the rotation
In scrimmages over the next few weekends, he will take a look at six or seven pitchers auditioning for starting rotation jobs. Brandon Gold, Jonathan King, Ben Parr and Cole Pitts all started nine games or more last season.
Pitts had a rough 2015 in his return season from Tommy John surgery, with a 6.90 ERA and a .291 opponent batting average, but Hall said that he is “throwing the ball maybe the best I’ve seen him throw it since I’ve been here. So, just happy for him. I’ll be anxious to see how he does in the intrasquad scrimmages the next couple of weekends.”
Freshman All-American Kel Johnson has added about 10 pounds of muscle and has fully recovered from an ankle injury that derailed his season. The outfielder was hitting .379 when he got hurt, after which he missed 13 games and then ended up hitting .298 for the season.
Hall will have to sort out the outfield, first base and designated hitter roles. Outfielders Ryan Peurifoy, Keenan Innis and Johnson are back, but Hall expects challenges from freshman Brandt Stallings and senior Grant Wruble. Last season, Wruble hit .194 but he had a strong fall practice, Hall said.
“I think there’s five guys that we could stick out there, and they’ll all do very well,” he said. “I think that’s where the battles are, and just seeing who are the best three that are the best defensive players, and then try to figure out, can you get them all in the lineup somewhere so you can have your best offense in there.”
At first, freshman Tristin English, catchers Arden Pabst and Joey Bart (another freshman), Air Force transfer Coleman Poje and Gold are competing.
Hall’s elder son, Carter, will miss the scrimmages as he is recovering from a back injury suffered in the fall.
“We’re hoping that by opening day, he’s kind of ready to go,” Hall said.
Carter Hall is a freshman middle infielder. His younger brother Colin, a junior at the Wesleyan School, recently committed to Tech also.
Tech was picked fourth in the Coastal Division in a preseason coaches poll behind Miami, Virginia and North Carolina. The Jackets are No. 21 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll.