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Around The Diamond: Infield

Feb. 1, 2018

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Segment 1 – Around The Diamond: Catchers

by Wiley Ballard

Any baseball fan will tell you that great defense starts up the middle, but for Georgia Tech in 2018 the beginnings of a great offense may reside there too. With a pair of 2017 all-ACC selections returning, the Yellow Jackets’ double play tandem could be the best the ACC has to offer.

No active ACC player owns a longer run of sustained success than second base stalwart Wade Bailey. Through three seasons the Villa Rica, Ga. product has compiled 212 hits, 147 runs and 47 doubles. Of his 167 starts all but one have come at second base where he’s turned 126 double plays. Bottom line? The Yellow Jackets’ new video board may be the only legitimate threat to outshine Wade Bailey at Russ Chandler Stadium this season.

The senior is coming off an unworldly 2017 season where he led Tech in batting average (.347), on-base percentage (.420), hits (82), runs (63), doubles (21) and triples (3). Bailey’s most valuable skills are his seemingly endless methods of reaching base. The veteran utilizes a level line-drive swing that led to an equal balance of fly balls and grounders while routinely laying down bunt base hits a year ago. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound infielder also delivered career-highs of six home runs and 27 walks.

Teaming up with Bailey across the keystone bag will be last year’s freshman sensation Austin Wilhite.

“I’m excited to keep working with Austin up the middle,” says Bailey. “Having a year under our belt to work with each other I think we have a better feel of where we like our feeds on double plays.”

Now a sophomore, Wilhite won’t sneak up on opposing pitchers as a nine-hole hitting rookie shortstop like he did a year ago. Although the Buford, Ga. native batted almost exclusively in the lower half of the lineup in 2017, he supplied a .338 batting average – the best by a freshman since Kyle Wren in 2011 and tops by a shortstop since Derek Dietrich in 2010.

Eighteen minutes older than his twin brother and outfielder Nick, Austin became notorious for taking his time at the plate running up opposing hurler’s pitch counts with a disciplined eye and compact swing. Wilhite’s batting average and on-base percentage (.410) trailed only his double play partner in Bailey while his 14 doubles ranked third on the squad. It’s no secret to Wilhite that with such a stellar freshman season expectations rise quickly.

“Coming off last year I made a name and people are looking for me to do some things,” he acknowledged. “I just have to go out there and play how I know I can play.”

While Bailey and Wilhite have cemented themselves up the middle, the only definite at first and third base is the 90-feet separating them from home plate.

At third base, a trio of candidates has emerged featuring three freshmen in Oscar Serratos, Luke Waddell and Michael Guldberg.

Serratos, a 14th round selection of the Cleveland Indians in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft in June, boasts the triumvirate’s best arm and shows few weaknesses offensively. He’s also expected to earn a few appearances on the mound. Waddell may be the group’s best all-around athlete. A four-year starter in both baseball and football, the Loveland, Ohio native holds his high school’s records for rushing yards, receiving yards, base hits and doubles. Guldberg was lauded for his baseball instincts as a state champion at Walton High School and possesses the versatility to play anywhere in the infield or outfield.

With a strong possibility of a rookie taking over third base, Austin Wilhite says it’s incumbent upon him and Bailey to bring the fresh faces along.

“I was a freshman out there last year and Wade was always there picking me up and telling me what to do. We’ve got to do that for the new guys coming on the corners. `Just relax. You’re here for a reason. Just play the game how you know how to play.'”

On the right side, first base is likely another three-man competition between Kel Johnson, Kyle McCann and Tristin English.

Johnson is one of just two active ACC players with 30 or more career longballs and made a team-high 27 starts at first base in 2017. The senior already has two all-ACC selections through his first three seasons. McCann brings similar power but from the left side. The sophomore belted nine home runs in his rookie season despite starting only 38 games. One possibility may be a platoon depending upon the opposing pitcher’s handedness.

English represents the 2018 season’s biggest X-factor. After missing all of 2017 due to injury, English takes the field for the first time since his freshman season when he earned first-team all-ACC honors at first base. English set the school record for doubles by a freshman with 21 and exhibits the best defense among the three candidates.

The question will be what role he plays on the pitching staff. The Cleveland Indians drafted English in June 2015 as a highly touted pitcher, but the former Pike County standout has yet to throw a pitch in NCAA competition. That is expected to change this spring as all signs point to English making his much-anticipated pitching debut as a redshirt sophomore.

Patrick Wiseman and Paxton Rigby have also shown flashes in their time on The Flats and will look to make an impression over the next month as Tech readies for conference play.

Stay tuned next week when we examine the Yellow Jacket outfield which lost two starters but returns a myriad of possibilities!


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