Returning juniors Kel Johnson, Trevor Craport and Wade Bailey, the Jackets look to continue their dominance at the plate. Both Johnson and Craport were named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-America teams; Johnson was named to the second team and Craport was listed on the third team.
Last year saw Johnson increase his batting average with the addition of a significant increase in at-bats. This year, Johnson should look to continue increasing his batting average while also returning some much needed power into the lineup.
With the loss of Matt Gonzalez, someone will have to step up in terms of run production. Last year, Gonzalez and Johnson were tied as the team leaders in home runs and RBIs. To fill the spot, Johnson and Craport will both need to step up, but sophomore Brandt Stallings is also a strong candidate.
In his freshman year, Stallings played in 47 of 63 games with 144 at-bats, about 100 fewer than Johnson. In those at bats, Stallings posted a .299 batting average, 7 home runs and 33 RBIs. This year, Stallings should grab an increased share of at-bats, allowing him to bring those stats higher.
As a team, Tech finished second in the ACC in batting average and home runs while leading the league in at-bats.
There is not much room for improvement this year, but the loss of Gonzalez hurts Tech’s lineup. There is also room to improve in several key categories: walks, strike outs and on-base percentage (OBP).
Last year Tech drew 205 walks, good for a tie at second-to-last in the conference. That lack of walks also contributes to a low OBP despite the great batting average. If Tech were to shore up this weakness specifically, they could go a long ways towards elevating their already strong hitting to another level.
Among the top three hitting teams in the ACC last year, Tech had the largest amount of strikeouts with 422. The next closest of those tops teams is Louisville with 314 strikeouts. While a power-hitting team such as Tech is expected to strike out more, the aim is always improvement, especially if it can bring Tech to a higher caliber.
Overall, if Johnson, Craport and Bailey continue to trend upward, Tech should see more even more hitting success this season. If the team can increase production, then what has been a weaker pitching staff may be covered.
With the departure of three of best pitchers from last year’s team in right-hander’s Matthew Gorst, Cole Pitts and Brandon Gold, Tech’s pitching rotation will be in need of someone to step up; last season Gold pitched 105.1 innings, by far the most on the team. Additionally, Gorst was the only bright spot in a poor postseason last year.
In terms of starters, look for senior left-hander Ben Parr to possibly move up into the starting rotation. Parr pitched 60.1 innings last year with a 4.18 ERA. Most of his time was spent in relief, so he only started three games, but those came later in the season with one even being during their time at the NCAA Gainesville Regional.
Another to look out for is sophomore right-hander Jake Lee. Lee appeared in 19 games last year, starting seven of them. His ERA was 6.80 over 45.0 innings, but coming off of a freshman year in which he was able to get a lot of time on the mound, his ERA should go down and his innings pitched should go up.
Finally, there is sophomore right-hander Keyton Gibson. Gibson made five starts in 20 games last year, posting a 4.40 ERA in 43.0 innings pitched. While he made most of his appearances in relief, his starts showed promise, and, much like Lee, he should see more time on the mound this season.
A main problem for Tech over the last few seasons has been injuries on the mound, specifically Tommy John surgery. That trend unfortunately continues this year with sophomore Tristin English being declared out for the season after undergoing the infamous surgery, a serious concern.
Last season, the Jackets were third-to-last in overall ERA. Among the other stats, they were last in the league in walks allowed, tied for last in hits allowed and second-to-last in home runs allowed. All are concerning stats for a team that looks to compete in one of the toughest divisions in the country.
If Tech wants to compete at the top, they must fix the problem with pitching. Coach Danny Hall and pitching coach Jason Howell have routinely churned out less than stellar pitching staffs but have recruited such incoming freshmen as lefties Jay Shadday and Connor Thomas and righties Andy Archer and Garrett Gooden.
Overall, pitching has been the biggest point of weakness for the Jackets over the past few years, and this year does not look much different.