Feb. 13, 2018
By Wiley Ballard
Jared Datoc was Georgia Tech’s fulcrum in 2017. No Yellow Jacket encountered more high leverage situations than the 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher from Pace Academy. And that’s just the way he likes it.
“I’ve never been much of a starter. I like the adrenaline rush of coming out of the pen,” admits the grinning senior. “One of the reasons I had a successful year last year was that I was ready whenever they called on me.”
Datoc’s self-assessment mirrors his production. The Atlanta-native appeared in a team-high 32 games tossing 57.1 innings to the tune of a 3.77 ERA. Twenty-two of his appearances came as Tech’s first choice out of the pen including each of his team-best six victories. Datoc’s clutch performances earned him a spot on the NCBWA 2018 Stopper of the Year preseason watch list this season.
This time last year Datoc was a mostly unknown commodity. He’d worked only 17.1 innings in two years with nearly all outings coming in the late innings of lopsided contests. But his 2017 breakout is living, breathing, cold-blooded proof that great relievers often arrive with a bang rather than a crescendo.
A quartet of juniors will be asked to supplement Datoc in the bullpen’s first line of defense. Robert Winborne, Keyton Gibson, Micah Carpenter and Bailey Combs each racked up meaningful innings as underclassmen. Winborne believes the next step for his junior class is clear.
“We’ve all gotten reps in different spots whether it’s early in games after the starter struggles or it’s late in a tight situation. We’ve seen it all really,” explains the veteran. “We’re at the point where we all just want to win.”
Winborne is prepared to do whatever it takes to accomplish that goal including dropping his arm-slot to “a little-bit below sidearm.” While experimenting with the new delivery in the Alaska Baseball League this past summer, he earned all-star recognition dealing 25.2 innings with a 1.05 ERA. The Lovett School product figures to be a valuable weapon in Tech’s relief arsenal, especially against right-handed hitters.
Gibson meanwhile has seen time as both a starter and a reliever on The Flats. Although his career ERA sits at 6.10, the junior has recorded a 3.31 mark when pitching out of the bullpen. His fastball and power curveball duo has played up in shorter relief stints.
Carpenter will miss the first month of the season with an upper body injury but put together a spectacular sophomore campaign. The Jefferson, Ga. native shaved nearly five full runs off his freshman ERA by posting a 2.56 clip in 31.2 innings in 2017. Carpenter carried his momentum into an all-star summer with the Anchorage Bucs of the Alaska Baseball League.
After posting a microscopic 0.64 ERA as a freshman in 2016, Combs struggled out of the gate last spring. But after the first month, Combs pitched to a 3.00 ERA in his final 11 appearances. The 5-foot-11, 208-pound junior logged only 19 innings last season but will likely see his role increase in 2018.
Two-way talents Tristin English and Oscar Serratos also gained notoriety from the professional baseball world as prep stars and may be asked to contribute both in the batters’ box and on the mound, while arms such as Connor Thomas, Brant Hurter, Will Shirah, Jonathan Hughes, Jake Lee, Patrick Wiseman and Ben Schniederjans could all make the jog in from the bullpen to the mound at some point this season.
No matter whose number is called Datoc, the unquestioned commander of the relief corps, has taken it upon himself to set clear goals for the unit.
“Our main goal after the sixth inning is that we don’t want to let up any runs. We want to keep our first pitch strike percentage really high. We want to eliminate the walks. No freebies in any inning.”
That puts a bow on our Around The Diamond season preview series. Our next stop will be Thursday night’s Live Season Preview at Three Dollar Café in Midtown. The program will begin at 7 p.m.
And fortunately for Tech baseball fans Jared Datoc’s no freebie declaration will not be in effect for the raffle prizes. Stop on by to grab some food and drinks, ask a few questions and get the inside scoop on the 2018 season!