Led by catcher Zane Evans and outfielders Kyle Wren and Daniel Palka, the Jackets were very successful at the plate last season, finishing second in the ACC in batting average, second in hits, fourth in runs scored and first in home runs. Unfortunately for the Jackets, when they take the field tonight for their twenty-first season under Head Coach Danny Hall, the lineup will look significantly different than it did last season.
When it comes to the infield, Tech will be losing two primary contributors off last season’s team, including catcher Zane Evans. Evans started all 64 games for the Jackets last season and led the team in batting average at .361 and was tied for the team lead in RBIs with 66. Third baseman Sam Dove also graduated. Dove started 61 games for the Jackets last season, hitting .288 with 34 RBIs.
Senior Mitch Earnest is the most likely candidate to replace Evans at catcher. Earnest started 17 games last season as Evans’ backup and hit .306 with 15 RBIs. According to Coach Hall, Earnest is a great catcher and is a better hitter than he is given credit for. Freshman Arden Pabst is another possible replacement at catcher. Replacing Dove at third base will be sophomore Matt Gonzalez. Gonzalez started 58 games last year and hit .291 with 37 RBIs. Gonzalez was also named a Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger last season.
Junior A.J. Murray started all 64 games at first base last year and should be the starter to open the 2014 season. Murray was somewhat of a surprise for the Jackets last year after only playing in 12 games all of his freshman season. After only getting one hit in 12 at bats in 2011, Murray hit .271 with 35 RBIs last year. Murray will be one of the players the Jackets will need to step up and fill the production lost by the graduating players from last year’s team.
“[Murray] is probably one of the hardest workers we’ve ever had here at Georgia Tech,” Hall told ramblinwreck.com. “He’ll be a middle of the order hitter and a guy we count on heavily. He’s an offensive threat. Every time he steps in the box he has a chance to do damage.”
Rounding up the infield will be junior Thomas Smith at second base and senior Mott Hyde at shortstop. Smith stated the final 20 games of last season at second base and hit .286. Thomas may not have the most pop at the plate, but makes up for it with his stellar defense. Thomas did not commit a single error in 128 chances at second base last season. Hyde started all 64 games last season for Tech and was named a team captain for the 2014 squad. Hyde had a career-best .357 on-base percentage last season and led the team with 18 doubles.
In the outfield, Tech will have to replace all three starters from last season: Kyle Wren, Brandon Thomas and Daniel Palka. The three seniors were three of Tech’s top four hitters in terms of average, accounted for 32.2 percent of the RBIs and 34.4 percent of the team’s home runs. Tech will come into the season with very little depth and experience in the outfield, with only five outfielders listed on the roster, including three freshman and senior DeAndre Smelter, who is primarily a pitcher.
Junior Daniel Spingola will most likely start in center field. Spingola is by far the most experienced outfielder on the roster, starting 21 games last season. Freshman Ryan Peurifoy should have one of the other spots locked up. Peurifoy holds the career records at Stars Mill High school for both career hits and RBIs.
“Ryan is a super-talented freshman and someone that should make a positive impact on our team this spring,” Hall said to ramblinwreck.com. “He’s a very good outfielder with a great arm. He swung the bat really well in the fall,”
The last outfield spot will most likely go to either freshman Eric Knox or freshman Keenan Innis.
If there were one category that the outfield could really improve on from last season, it would be strikeouts. For as much production as Tech got offensive from the outfield lasts season, the Jackets still led the ACC in strikeouts, with the three starting outfielders accounting for 137 of the 449. As a team, the Jackets struck out on average every fifth at bat. It is too early to tell how the freshman will impact this, but Spingola was a little less than the team average lasts season only striking out 16 percent of the time and may turn the tide for the Jackets.