The Jackets’ lineup heading into 2010 has several key hitters returning. Tech’s 111 home runs last season led the ACC and put them at third in the NCAA.
Despite losing two key middle-of-the-order hitters in catcher Jason Haniger and right fielder Luke Murton, who led the team in homers last year with 20, the Jackets should continue their trend of power hitting in 2010.
Three returning players hit over 10 home runs last season. Senior first baseman Tony Plagman had 16 homers and led the team in RBI, driving in 73 runs as Tech’s clean-up hitter in 2009.
Junior shortstop Derek Dietrich hit 10 homers and registered 54 RBI, and sophomore third baseman Matt Skole was second on the team with 17 home runs.
Junior center fielder Jeff Rowland will resume his role at the top of the order. Rowland hit .340 last year and finished with 13 doubles. Rowland’s speed allowed him to steal 21 bases as well.
Seasoned junior Cole Leonida is prepared to take over for Haniger as the starting catcher. Leonida played in 25 games last season, hitting .306 with five home runs.
“I think [Leonida] has total respect of our team and pitching staff and I fully expect him to have a great year,said head coach Danny Hall.
Hall has indicated that Skole will be the main backup catcher.The defense looks to be set, with Skole, Dietrich, Plagman and senior second baseman Jason Garofalo all returning to man the infield. Junior Thomas Nichols and senior Patrick Long will continue their dual roles as relief pitchers and backup infielders.
The outfield returns plenty of talent, but former starters Murton and Chris House are gone. Rowland will be joined by junior Chase Burnette in right and redshirt senior Jay Dantzler in left.
Sophomore Evan Martin will be one of Tech’s main utility players off the bench.
One side story is the addition of Roddy Jones to the roster. The redshirt sophomore A-back will probably not start much, but his speed should make him a viable pinch-runner.
Tech will need to find right-handed power after losing Haniger and Murton.
On the mound, junior right-hander and First Team All-American Deck McGuire returns as Tech’s top starting pitcher. McGuire is 19-3 in his career at Tech and has a career ERA of 3.48.
As a sophomore McGuire led Tech starters with a 3.50 ERA and was selected as the ACC Pitcher of the Year. McGuire’s 118 strikeouts last season showcased his ability to get batters to swing and miss using his four-pitch repertoire.
Tech also returns its second starting pitcher in junior Brandon Cumpton. Last season, Cumpton was second on the team in strikeouts with 63. He finished the season with a 4.76 ERA while allowing an ACC-low three home runs.
Tech will have to find a way to replace weekend starter Zach Von Tersch, who went 6-2 in 13 games last season and was drafted by the New York Mets.
Sophomore right-hander Mark Pope offers one option. Pope was Tech’s primary closer last season, but Hall said that he expects to employ Pope as a starter this season. “We started to transition [Pope] towards a starter because we felt as though that was…better suited for him,” Hall said.
Tech has another option in sophomore lefty Jed Bradley, the lone southpaw starter last season. Bradley posted a 6.65 ERA but had some bright spots, including a victory at Georgia.
The Jackets could also turn to freshmen right-handers Luke Bard and Buck Farmer. Both had stellar high school careers. Bard, who is the brother of Boston Red Sox reliever Daniel Bard, was 10-0 with an 0.37 ERA as a senior.
Tech returns a number of pitchers who performed well last season, including junior closer Kevin Jacob. Jacob started seven games for the Jackets last season and logged 55 innings. He went 5-3 with a 4.69 ERA. His strong play in the summer Alaskan League led Hall to make the First Team All-American his closer for 2010.Tech also returns two lefties to the bullpen in junior Zach Brewster and sophomore Jake Davies.Brewster made a team-high 32 appearances out of the bullpen, 20 of which were scoreless outings. He had a 3.73 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .214 average.
Davies made 27 appearances last season posting a 3-0 record with a 3.54 ERA.
Senior right-hander Andrew Robinson will be a key set-up man. Robinson came on strong at the end of 2009, with a 1.47 ERA in his last 10 appearances.
Senior Patrick Long and junior Thomas Nichols, right-handers who double as reserve infielders, offer additional relief arms.
“It’s the deepest pitching staff we have ever had,” Hall said.