#STINGDAILY: Cornering The Market

June 23, 2013

By Jon Cooper
Sting Daily

The 2013 season was a successful one for both Georgia Tech sophomore A.J. Murray and freshman Matt Gonzalez.

Both got valuable experience starting on the D-I level and playing with distinction through the ACC and in an NCAA Tournament Regional.

Having pocketed all those positives, they will look to build upon what they learned by playing summer ball in the prestigious Cape Cod League. Murray will show his wears with the Chatham Anglers, Gonzalez with the Bourne Braves.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Yellow Jacket baseball head coach Danny Hall. “Part of it is those guys have to perform here at Georgia Tech in order to get that opportunity and they have. It’s pretty much the best players in the country going in there and playing for six, seven weeks. That’s kind of how they get rewarded for the summer.”

Both recognize just how special it will be to play summer ball in the league which has been in existence since 1885 and whose alumni in the Major Leagues number close to 1,000.

“I’ve actually been up here for a week playing,” said Murray, whose Anglers raced off to a 5-0 start and were 6-3, leading the Eastern Division by a game heading into Sunday’s action. “It’s real fun. To be up here and playing with some of the best guys in the country is so amazing. It’s a pitcher’s league, especially with the wood bats. The level of pitching up here is top-notch.”

“It’s definitely awesome,” said Gonzalez, whose Braves were 5-4, tied for third in the Western Division, only one game off the pace, heading into Sunday action. “You can learn a lot more up here from the players and get some more at-bats against really good pitching. It’s definitely a place you want to be if you can.”

Both players earned the honor of a summer on the Cape by playing with distinction during a 2013 season that saw each take a first step in making the transition to a new position.

Murray, who finished his freshman season as the team’s third-string catcher, behind starter Zane Evans and junior Mitch Earnest, played last summer in the Valley League in the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia with the Harrisonburg Turks, along with teammates Alex Cruz and Charles Sheffield. Murray helped the Turks win the league and helped himself by getting valuable at-bats.

He’d finish 2012 fall practice and begin the 2013 season as the team’s every day first baseman as well as a big bat in the middle of the Yellow Jackets’ batting order.

“The fall and the spring, definitely were big for me,” said the Westfield, N.J. native. “The workouts in the summer and early fall were showing on the field. It definitely helped my comfort level in the box and going into the season, which were very beneficial for me.”

Murray started all 64 games at first base for Georgia Tech, wielding a .979 glove (12 errors in 559 total chances). That allowed Daniel Palka to move to right field. He also was the perfect fit in the middle of the order, primarily hitting fifth and sixth and frequently after either Palka or Evans. Murray hit .271, with five homers, 35 RBI, with a .394 slugging percentage and a .366 on-base percentage.

He’s hoping to make some minor improvements again this summer.
“From an offensive standpoint, I’m just working on approach, fine-tuning some things in my swing, some things I need to improve on after talking with some of my coaches after the season,” he said. “Defensively, just being more comfortable at first base, trying to get more defensively sound. Just going out there having a good mindset every day and playing hard.”

Gonzalez also has areas in which he’d like to improve following a season in which he not only adjusted well to playing college ball but also to moving defensively to the right side of the infield, beginning, and playing 44 of his 61 games at second base.

“My whole life I’ve been a left-side-of-the-infield guy, short or third, so going to second was a bit of a transition,” said the Acworth, Ga., native. “I was uncomfortable there at the beginning but I felt more comfortable toward the end. I am definitely way more comfortable on the left side of the infield.”

On the offensive side, Gonzalez swung a hot bat all year long. He hit .291, with three homers and 37 RBI, and ran off a 17-game hitting streak, second-longest on the team. He would earn a spot on the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America Team.

“I started out pretty good and then once scouting reports got out on me I had to adjust to that. I went through a little bit of a slump,” he said. “Everyone has good pitches and they can spot up. Definitely. The ACC is one of the best conferences in college baseball. Playing against them makes you a better hitter.”

Gonzalez is excited about the prospect of facing some of the best college pitchers in the nation and has incentive to sharpen his skills at the hot corner, as there is a vacancy at third with the graduation of Sam Dove.

As excited as he is, Gonzalez feels a key for him will be relaxation.

“I want to work on drawing more walks. I didn’t walk a lot this year,” said Gonzalez, who walked 11 times, the lowest of any Yellow Jacket with at least 100 at bats. “I swung out of control a lot. I want to cut down on the strikeouts and definitely get more walks. I think I’ve just got to do some breathing techniques and just relax a little bit and see the pitch more instead of just going up there and swinging at the first pitch every time or swinging at everything a pitcher throws.”

Gonzalez and Murray will meet three more times during the summer — Bourne won the first meeting, 1-0, on June 19 (Murray was 0-for-2 in the game with two strikeouts, Gonzalez didn’t play) — with the next match-up coming July 2.

Murray said he’s looking forward to meeting up with his Yellow Jacket teammate.

“It’s always fun seeing guys you know up here,” he said. “It’s different looking across the field in the other dugout and seeing guys you’re used to sitting right next to, but it’ll be fun to play against him.”

He said he’ll stay true to his school and his teammate when they do.

“I’m sure they’ll ask me about him but I wouldn’t throw anybody under the bus like that,” he said. “At the end of the day he’s my real teammate that I’m going to be going back to in the fall. So I want him to do the best that he can this summer.”

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