Georgia State’s baseball team is led by Greg Frady. (GSU)

Georgia State baseball preview

2017 record: 22-33, 10-20

Season opener: vs. Bradley, 4 p.m. Friday

Here are three important issues heading into the season:

Who’s back: The Panthers are a veteran group; of 19 returning players, 12 are seniors.

Shortstop Justin Jones will play his final season in blue and white. Jones is a career .288 hitter with 77 RBIs and 98 runs scored and a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American.

Junior catcher Nick Gatewood is perhaps the team’s best overall hitter, posting a .319 average with five homers and 22 RBIs a season ago. Second baseman Will Kilgore, who led the team with seven homers, returns for his last season.

Starter Hunter Gaddis is the team’s best returning pitcher as a sophomore. Gaddis was 4-4 with a 3.72 ERA last season, leading the team with 67 strikeouts in 75 innings. He’s the first Panther to pitch for the United States’ collegiate national team.

New guys: Georgia State’s roster will feature 16 fresh faces, half of whom are freshmen.

The most important newcomer for immediate success may be starter Jake Rogers, a junior college transfer who takes the ball Saturday. The new faces could add life to the lineup, with as many as three being inserted opening day.

Left fielder Jake Corso comes from Northwest Florida State. Right fielder Enrique Ferrer arrives from Florida Southwestern. Freshman Ryan Glass will serve as a designated hitter.

They’ll quickly get acclimated during the Atlanta Challenge weekend. GSU is 5-4 across the previous three weekends, with walk-off wins during the past two events.

Tough schedule: The Panthers open with Bradley, UConn and Minnesota, but the schedule gets worse from there.

GSU is looking at what’s likely its hardest schedule in school history. The Panthers also face Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech and Ole Miss among their nonconference opponents.

The Panthers received 20 poll points for first place in the Sun Belt’s East bracket, placing them behind South Alabama, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern and Troy.

If the Panthers have a breakout season, they’ll certainly have earned it. And that starts with this weekend’s gauntlet.

"We're excited to have the opportunity to open our season at home against three different teams in the Atlanta Challenge,” coach Greg Frady said. “I'm excited and ready to go, and our team is, too."

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