Jan. 14, 2002
ATLANTA – Returning five starters and 13 letterwinners from a team that batted a school record .347 last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 16th time in the last 17 years, Georgia Tech’s baseball team opened its pre-season practice on Monday with a No. 13 pre-season ranking by Baseball America magazine.
A pre-season top 15 team for the fourth straight year, Tech also welcomes 17 highly talented newcomers into the program as the Yellow Jackets will look to advance to the College World Series in Omaha for the second time in school history.
Also of note, Tech will usher in the 2002 season in a completely new, 4,354-seat, $7 million Russ Chandler Stadium.
“We have some talent, and I’m very comfortable with the position players that we can put on the field,” said head coach Danny Hall, beginning his ninth season at Tech and a two-time ACC Coach of the Year. “We have some guys that I can definitely count on, and there are some other players that will have the opportunity to step up this year. The biggest concern for me heading into the season is our inexperience on the mound, but I think we have the talent in that area to be very successful.”
The Yellow Jackets have a consensus pre-season all-America in junior catcher Tyler Parker (Marietta, Ga.). Parker missed much of the 2001 season with a broken thumb and a fractured wrist, but still hit .327 in limited at bats. He will likely be an early round selection in the Major League Baseball amateur draft this June.
Joining Parker on various pre-season all-America teams are senior shortstop Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.) and sophomore outfielder Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.). Menocal hit .381 with a team high 102 hits and 18 doubles last spring, while Murton hit .385 for the Yellow Jackets and was named the Most Valuable Player of the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer.
Also returning in the field are senior infielder Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), Tech’s leadoff hitter who batted .345 with a .459 on base percentage, junior first baseman Jason Perry (Jonesboro, Ga.), who hit. 337 with a team best 14 home runs for Tech before leading the Cape Cod League in homers last summer, and senior outfielder Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), who is a three-year starter in center field.
Headlining the returnees on the mound is 6-9 sophomore southpaw Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.). Bakker posted a 4-1 record in 16 appearances last year, leading the Tech staff in ERA (2.78) and striekout to walk ratio (49 to 9). Expected to join Bakker in the starting rotation are a pair of junior righties in Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), Tech’s closer the last two years who has 12 saves to his credit, and Philip Perry (Marietta, Ga.), and sophomore righty Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), who went 4-1 with two saves out of the bullpen last spring.
Headlining the list of newcomers to the Tech program are infielder Eric Patterson (Kennesaw, Ga.), the younger brother of Corey Patterson, a former Tech signee and current center fielder of the Chicago Cubs. Other freshmen include outfielders Jeremy Slayden (Murfreesboro, Tenn) and Brandon Boggs (Marietta, Ga.), and pitchers Kevin Guyette (Paradise Valley, Ariz.) and Kyle Schmidt (Palm Harbor, Fla.), all of whom were drafted last June but elected to enroll at Tech instead.
The Yellow Jackets will play 16 games against six opponents that appear in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25 in 2002 – Clemson at No. 2, Miami at No. 3, Florida State at No. 6, South Carolina at No. 14, North Carolina at No. 13, and Wake Forest at No. 21.
Tech opens its 2002 season Feb. 9-10 in Statesboro against in-state rival Georgia Southern. The home opener in the new Russ Chandler Stadium is set for Friday, Feb. 15 at 3 p.m. against Tennessee Tech.
The ACC Tournament will be held May 21-26 at Al Lang Stadium in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Our goals – winning the ACC, hosting a NCAA Regional and advancing to the College World Series – never change,” said Hall. “A lot of the faces have changed over the last couple of years, but these new players came to Georgia Tech to accomplish just that. Now we have a new stadium, we feel like our team is in an even better position to reach those goals.”