Feb. 11, 2015
DIGGIN’ IN PREVIEW SCHEDULE:
Outfielders: Monday, Feb. 2: Story | Podcast
Infielders: Thursday, Feb. 5: Story | Podcast
Catchers: Friday, Feb. 6: Story | Podcast
Bullpen: Wednesday, Feb. 11: Story | Podcast
Starting Pitchers: Thursday, Feb. 12: Story | Podcast
By Jon Cooper
Between Sam Clay and Dusty Isaacs, Georgia Tech had a 1-2, righty-lefty closing punch that stopped opponents cold in 2014. The duo, both of whom are now playing professionally (Clay is in camp with the Minnesota Twins, while Isaacs is with the Pittsburgh Pirates) combined for a 1.60 ERA (21 runs in 118 innings), with 15 saves and were a major reason why Georgia Tech was 29-1 when leading after seven innings and 32-0 when leading after eight.
The question for 2015 is who will come out of the pen to take over at the back end of games?
“If I’m going to lose sleep at night over something right now it’s over who’s going to fill the roles of Dusty Isaacs and Sam Clay,” said head coach Danny Hall. “Those two guys were very instrumental in our success last year and as of today, I don’t have the answer.”
Helping Hall sleep is that the answer to that question lies somewhere within a group of quality arms within the staff.
Things might just look a little different with closing becoming more of a group effort.
“It’s a great example of a machine in a working car, each one turning off of each other. A lot of guys that can kind of roll in, maybe not for prolonged stints but you don’t really feel like you’re missing a beat with whoever you put in there,” said pitching coach Jason Howell. “Last year, a lot, it was Dusty and it was Sam and it was Dusty and it was Sam and it was Sam and it was Dusty. This year I think you can see a lot of things that are going to fit right into that and get some innings and appearances for us.”
Among the top candidates to fill the closer’s spot is sophomore righty Zac Ryan. Ryan finished his freshman year with a 1-2 record and 4.70 ERA in 16 games (four starts), bringing the heat with a nearly a 2:1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio (29:16). He was Tech’s leader in strikeouts among non-starters and relievers not named Isaacs or Clay. There were difficulties, as opponents hit a staff-high .300 against Ryan.
But that was 2014.
“I’m a lot more mature this year,” said the 6-1, 201-pound right-hander, who is the only returning Jacket with a save. “I kind of know more of what I need to be done instead of just going out there and throwing a little immaturely. My off-speed is a lot better, I have a lot better command. Coach Howell has helped me a ton with that.”
Ryan finished strong last season, allowing one run and four hits over his final four appearances, covering 3.2 innings, with seven strikeouts versus one walk. He expects to be even stronger in 2015, having spent the summer in the Northwoods League.
“I wanted to work on my out-pitches, specifically my slider,” he said. “I have a lot more control with it, it has a lot sharper break. I’m really confident in it.”
The Jackets should be confident not only in Ryan, who Howell described as having “an electric arm,” but in the entire wave of arms competing for spots.
“I think a lot of guys are going to have a chance to fit into those roles as well as one or two of the starting roles,” said Howell. “Ben Schniederjans made some great strides. We’ve always liked his stuff and now that he’s getting a chance to throw more you’re can really see him coming to life. Matthew Gorst has worked extremely hard and is doing a great job as well. Tanner Shelton has shown some great flashes. Then there are some guys that had a little bit of time for us last year but not a whole lot, and the more they’re getting rolled out with some more consistency, the better that they’re all looking. I think there are a lot of options that we can roll out there. It’s just a matter of finally getting into some games and letting those guys go and do their thing.”
Schniederjans (0-0, 5.40 in 13 appearances), a sophomore right-hander who walked on last season, had a tremendous summer with Columbia in the Coastal Plain League then threw five shutout innings in his one appearance (a start) in the White-Gold Series. He also could be a candidate for the rotation.
Gorst (1-0, 7.59 in 15 appearances), another sophomore righty, is coming off a strong summer for Asheboro in the Coastal Plain League, where he primarily started, and also started in the White-Gold Series, where he allowed two runs (both earned) in 4 ¨÷ innings, on seven hits, with two walks and two strikeouts.
Junior sidewinder Joe Wiseman was among the most effective relievers during the White-Gold Series, where he was part of the decision in both of Gold’s wins — earning a win in the opener then pitching the final two innings of the finale to earn the save. The 6-4, 245-pound righty allowed only two unearned runs, while giving up only three hits over four innings, striking out two and walking one. Wiseman’s been scored upon in only five of his 20 collegiate appearances (eight runs allowed, only five earned), covering 18.2 innings.
Sophomore righty Matt Phillips (0-0, 10.80 in eight games) showed a power arm during the White-Gold Series, recording a team-high eight strikeouts in his one stint, a five-inning start for White. Phillips allowed three runs (all earned) on five hits and didn’t allow a walk. Improved control will earn him innings, as in 2014, he walked 10 while striking out nine in his eight relief appearances, covering 6 ¨ø innings. He allowed eight runs, all earned, but five of those came in one appearance.
Freshman Jared Datoc also has caught Howell’s eye during the fall. From the left side, Shelton (0-1, 5.74, 15 appearances, two of them starts), a sophomore, and freshmen Cory Pope and Daniel Gooden could earn a spot.
The group will be young, but class won’t matter, as freshmen will be in the mix.
“Bringing in the guys that we’ve brought in, obviously, several of them coming in were hurt in here, so you might see a [Cody] Worthy or a [Daniel] Gooden later in the year as they start to recover health-wise and Patrick Wiseman is the same. He came in beat up a little bit and as he’s thrown more he’s looked a lot better,” said Howell. “The one kid that has thrown with a lot of consistency that came in healthy and has stayed healthy has been [Jared] Datoc. So we’re looking for some big things out of him. He’s just a great little competitor and he’s going to be exciting. All the freshmen, when all’s said and done and are healthy they’re going to contribute a lot.”
Jackets’ starters have expressed nothing but confidence, regardless of which reliever Coach Hall hands the ball.
“I’m definitely not concerned with it,” said redshirt-senior lefty Devin Stanton. “We don’t know what the roles are going to look like but I know guys definitely want to get out there and want to get the job done.”
“I have no doubt that somebody is going to step up,” agreed junior righty Jonathan King. “Somebody like Zac Ryan and Matthew Gorst, whatever their role is, they know that their job is to come in and get outs, those two guys stick out to me because they’ve been key for us.”
Sophomore lefty Ben Parr could be an important swingman. Parr started 2014 coming out of the pen but finished as the Sunday starter. When called upon, he proved he could get outs, getting a save against NC State on April 27, throwing a scoreless inning in the ACC Championship Game against Maryland, then giving Tech hope in its elimination game at the Oxford Regional, firing three shutout, two-hit innings against Washington.
“He’s looked good,” said Howell of Parr. “He’s the same guy as last year.”
Parr believes the relief corps will survive the losses of Isaacs and Clay.
“We still have a pretty solid bullpen,” he said. “We’re going to have some guys stepping up to take over those roles. I think they’re going to be as solid as last year.”
The competition for roles promises to be fierce but the group is tight and looking out for each other.
“We’re out there to hoping for the best for everybody,” Ryan said. “It’s not a thing where we’re hoping that somebody fails so we get our shot. That’s not how our team is. We’re all brothers. We’re all hoping everybody does their job well.
“I’m really confident in our team,” he added. “Our hitting has been unbelievable throughout the fall and the spring, so I know they’re going to come out and perform. Pitching and defense the same thing. Personally, I feel really good. I feel more confident than I’ve ever been in myself and the staff. I think we’re going to be good.”