Feb. 6, 2018
By Wiley Ballard
The Georgia Tech baseball grounds crew returns a veteran lineup. Director of athletic grounds and turf management Chris May returns all three of his groundskeepers while adding a couple new faces. Therefore, the pristine outfield grass of Russ Chandler Stadium’s award-winning playing surface is poised for another sparkling season.
But the real question is who will watch over the prized space between the first pitch and the last out?
Chase Murray is the unit’s lone returning starter after making 44 starts in left field as a freshman. The Cincinnati native quickly earned his reputation as a hard-nosed regular after playing most of the season with a broken bone in his hand. In ACC play, Murray ranked fourth on the team with 16 RBIs including a walk-off sacrifice fly against Pittsburgh. Tabbed as the top outfielder in his Ohio recruiting class, Murray will be counted on to build upon his strong rookie campaign.
“My main focus this season is on staying even-keeled, not getting too high or too low. Our outfield speed jumps off the page,” explained Murray. “With Carter [Hall] in center and me in left, our outfield defense will be a great strength.”
Carter Hall is Tech’s preseason favorite to replace Peurifoy in center field. Peurifoy left Georgia Tech with over 175 starts and as the ACC’s active leader in games played. Hall meanwhile seeks his first stretch of regular playing time after two seasons beleaguered by injury. Of his 17 career starts, 13 have come in center field where he displays some of the best speed seen since his father and head Coach Danny Hall arrived in 1994. The former Atlanta Braves’ draft pick says his health is his priority.
“My top goal is staying healthy and being out there. When I’m healthy everything seems to fall into place for the outfield,” says the redshirt sophomore.
Sophomore Nick Wilhite also brings starting experience to this year’s outfield competition after stepping in for the final six games of 2017. Twin brother to Austin Wilhite, Nick features one of the best arms among the outfielders and has spent time on the mound this offseason. The Buford High School graduate demonstrated strong plate discipline in the season’s final leg while roaming the outfield corners in postseason play.
Two other returners bring depth to the Yellow Jacket outfield defense in the event of injury. Kel Johnson has made 59 starts in right field (none in 2017) while Paxton Rigby offers depth across a variety of positions including the corner outfield spots.
Multiple newcomers will compete for starting slots, as Tech freshmen are wont to do, and the outfield is no exception.
Coach Hall’s latest raw power import is 6-foot-4, 228-pound freshman Baron Radcliff. The Atlanta Braves’ draft pick holds the Norcross High School career and single-season records for home runs and RBIs. Radcliff led the Blue Devils to their first state semifinal appearance since 1963 as a junior in 2015. On the gridiron Radcliff was a two-time all-state quarterback, a 2016 region champion and a recipient of ACC and SEC scholarship offers. His left-handed bat and athleticism could earn him playing time in either corner outfield spots or possibly at first base.
The other freshman left-handed bat belongs to Colin Hall. The Colorado Rockies selected the Alpharetta, Ga. product in the 39th round this past summer, but Hall elected to join his older brother Carter on The Flats. The younger Hall holds the Wesleyan School’s all-time doubles record earning multiple all-state selections in the process.
Cole Neuber also brings great athleticism to the unit. The former Johns Creek High School Gladiator earned all-region nods in both football and baseball. On the diamond, Neuber holds the school record for saves with a dynamite arm. He may remind Tech fans of all-ACC starting pitcher Brandon Gold who served as a reliever in Johns Creek’s bullpen before arriving on The Flats as a third baseman. Entering 2018 the freshman’s focus has been on his progress as a position player.
Lastly Michael Guldberg may see time in both the infield and outfield after displaying arguably the best defensive versatility in fall practice. Ranked as the state’s 11th-best shortstop in his recruiting class, Guldberg has impressed the Tech staff with his ability to handle the outfield giving Coach Hall another deployable reserve amidst a plethora of outfield patrolman.
Prior to Wade Bailey’s .347 average a year ago, a Yellow Jacket outfielder had led Tech in hitting every year since 2013. Will Tech’s leading hitter arise from the group above? Time will tell.
But in the meantime, Carter Hall has made it clear where this unit, and the team for that matter, should prioritize their focus.
“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to stay home [in the postseason]. I want us to get back to the way I grew up watching Tech baseball which means getting all the fans involved and hosting a regional.”