|Third baseman Mark Teixeira has been tabbed as a consensus pre-season All-America in 2000.|
ATLANTA (Jan. 11) – With two pre-season all-Americas among 17 returning lettermen, Georgia Tech’s baseball team opened its pre-season practice Tuesday with high expectations, and a No. 9 pre-season ranking by both Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball magazines.
A pre-season top 10 team for the second straight year, Tech’s first goal is to return to the NCAA Tournament this season after missing out for the first time in 14 years in 1999. Despite that, expectations are as high as ever.
“We’re excited about going back to work,” said head coach Danny Hall, beginning his seventh season at Tech. “We always want to be regarded as a top 20 program. We have high expectations ourselves, but a lot of things have to happen between now and then.”
The Yellow Jackets have a consensus pre-season all-America in third baseman Mark Teixeira (Severna Park, Md.). Teixeira was named the ACC Rookie of the Year and a Freshman all-America last season after leading the Jackets in almost every offensive category. A ninth-round draft choice out of high school, Teixeira hit .387 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI and wound up being named the top prospect in the Cape Cod League last summer.
Meanwhile, junior lefthander Cory Vance (Vandalia, Ohio) enters the season with high regard, a second-team all-America choice by Collegiate Baseball magazine. Vance posted a 9-3 record and a 4.43 ERA last season, with wins over top 10 teams Florida State and North Carolina to his credit. He has a 15-7 mark over two seasons.
The Jackets return eight players who started more than 30 games last season, including juniors Jason Basil (West Chester, Ohio), .349-8-56, and Brad Stockton (Marietta, Ga.), .331-5-26, Bryan Prince (Fort Oglethorpe, Ga.), .311-5-38, and Derik Goffena (Sidney, Ohio), .266-4-31.
Basil and Prince are expected to compete for the starting catching job vacated by graduated senior Eric McQueen. Basil has mostly played outfield his first two seasons, while Prince and Goffena are expected to split time at first base. Stockton became an everyday starter in right field last season.
“We have three quality catchers,” said Hall. “If we had to start today, Basil would probably have the edge, but Prince is close. We have three guys competing for time at first base, and left field has several possibilities that include some freshmen. We have some depth and competition on our club, which will make us better.”
Tech’s middle infield returns intact with sophomores Victor Menocal (Gainesville, Ga.), .195-1-19, at shortstop and Richard Lewis (Marietta, Ga.), .338-1-14, at second base. Lewis took over for junior Matthew Boggs (Dalton, Ga.), at second base in mid-April last season. Boggs, one of the nation’s top leadoff hitters, was expected to be an everyday player in the outfield and at second, but off-season elbow surgery has sidelined him for the season.
Also returning in the outfield are senior Jahmal Overton (Chattanooga, Tenn.), .259-0-9, who was limited to 27 games last season because of an injured shoulder, and sophomore Wes Rynders (Marietta, Ga.), .378-2-12, who played only 19 games before academic problems sidelined him.
Much of Tech’s success will hinge on the performance of its sophomore pitchers: Steve Kelly (Hamilton, Ohio), Rhett Parrott (Dalton, Ga.), Kevin Cameron (Joliet, Ill.) and Brad Busbin (Orlando, Fla.), all righthanders who will compete for starting jobs behind Vance. All of them were drafted out of high school, but we able to compile only five wins for the Jackets last season.
Tech’s bullpen will have a veteran presence with senior lefthander Ben Sheeter (Lilburn, Ga.), 3-2, 4.43 last year, and junior righthander Andy Mitchell (Conyers, Ga.), 3-1, 4.26. who takes over the closer’s role.
“We know Vance is our No. 1 starter and Mitchell is our closer,” said Hall. “Sorting our two through eight will be the interesting thing. We have a lot of ability there, but we need to sort it out in these five weeks. Our schedule will force us to use four starters from the beginning. It will give a lot of guys an opportunity to pitch.”
Tech opens its 2000 season Feb. 12-13 at Georgia Southern. The Jackets’ home opener is Feb. 16 against Georgia State.