The loss of six players to professional baseball has done nothing to dampen the expectations for the Georgia Tech baseball team.
Despite the drain of talent, the Yellow Jackets (43-19 in 2019) are still planning on making another run at the NCAA playoffs. They were chosen to finish third in the ACC and were selected by four national organizations to finish in the top 25 — No. 19 by Division I Baseball, No. 22 by Baseball America, No. 22 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers and No. 22 by USA Today.
Those are high expectations, but none the Yellow Jackets can’t handle, said coach Danny Hall.
“We’ve got more position-play depth, we’ve got more arms, we have a new pitching coach that I am extremely high on,” Hall said. “To replace those two guys in the middle of the order will be extremely difficult. It’s going to have to be more of a team effort.”
The Yellow Jackets open the season this weekend with the annual Atlanta Challenge, which features three visiting teams from the North. Georgia Tech opens on Friday against St. Peters at 4 p.m., plays Cincinnati on Saturday at 2 p.m., and St. John’s on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Those guys in the middle of the order were catcher Kyle McCann and first baseman Tristan English. Both were drafted and signed after their junior seasons. McCann hit .299 with 23 homers and 70 RBIs and signed with the Oakland A’s. English batted .346 with 18 homers and 71 RBIs and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Yellow Jackets must also replace their top three starting pitchers, Xzavion Curry, Connor Thomas and Amos Willingham, as well as left fielder Chase Murray. Each of those left early and signed after being drafted. Also gone is Buford grad Nick Wilhite, who hit .311 and was one of the best defensive center fielders in the country. He opted to leave the program to focus on his burgeoning music career.
Despite the loss of big boppers McCann and Wilhite, the Georgia Tech offense should be fine, although the emphasis will change to more of a station-to-station approach.
The outfield is fine with Michael Guldberg (.355, second in the ACC), Wesleyan product Colin Hall (.307, 18 doubles) and slugging Norcross grad Baron Radcliff (.257, 12 homers, .503 slugging). Guldberg was the designated hitter last year and there is hope his delicate shoulder will remain healthy. Freshman Tres Gonzalez should also provide help in the outfield; he was drafted by the Dodgers but opted to keep his commitment to Georgia Tech.
Three-fourths of the infield returns, too — four-year starter Austin Wilhite (.266) of Buford at second base, Luke Waddell (.322) at shortstop and Jackson Webb (.312, 13 steals) at third base. Waddell played on the Collegiate National Team over the summer.
Webb could be moved to first base to make room for freshman Drew Compton, ranked the best third baseman in New Jersey, or Andrew Jenkins, rated the top third baseman in Georgia.
Catching is a big question mark. Freshman Jake Holland, a power-hitting prospect who was ranked as the nation’s No. 10 catcher in high school, may get a chance to live up to his reputation. Mill Creek grad Cam Turley was the primary backup last year, but played only 12 games.
There are plenty of arms on the staff and they’ll have plenty of innings to eat. Senior Jonathan Hughes (9-3, 5.09) and left-hander Luke Bartnicki (2-2, 6.40) pitched exclusively in relief last season and Bartnicki has closer’s stuff. Cort Roedig (2-2, 4.88) emerged as a legitimate starter by the end of the season and will need to pick up where he left off. Wesleyan’s Andy Archer returns after missing the 2019 season with arm surgery and is expected play another key role in the bullpen
Hall is counting on new pitching coach Danny Borrell to develop the staff. Borrell spent 18 years with the New York Yankees as a pitcher, pitching coach and pitching coordinator. He has plenty to work with, as Georgia Tech signed the No. 4 freshman class in the nation.
The freshman haul includes Jackson Arnold, the top-ranked right-hander in Alabama, who helped his team win the state championship. Zach Maxwell, drafted by the New York Yankees, throws in the 90s and was ranked the No. 28 right-hander in the country.
The Yellow Jackets play another challenging schedule this season. They face 11 teams that reached the NCAA tournament and continue its home-and-home regional rivalries against Auburn, Mercer, Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Kennesaw State. The Yellow Jackets also have a three-game weekend series scheduled against Georgia, playing in Athens on Feb. 28, in Atlanta on Feb. 29 and at Coolray Field in Lawrenceville on March 1.