Nov. 8, 2001
ATLANTA – Georgia Tech completed its three-week fall baseball practice, and head coach Danny Hall was pleased with the progress that his team made.
The Yellow Jackets, who open their season on Feb. 9, 2002, at Georgia Southern, welcome 17 freshmen into the program to compliment 14 returning letterwinners.
“We got a chance to see what our players are capable of doing, and all in all it was a very positive fall,” said Hall, who has a record of 344-156 in eight years at Georgia Tech.
Tech’s fall practice was held at nearby Westminster School while the Yellow Jackets’ on-campus facility, Russ Chandler Stadium, has been under reconstruction since July in order to build a completely new, state of the art 4,000-seat stadium. Tech’s first home game will be Feb. 15, 2002, against Tennessee Tech.
“I’m very grateful to the people of Westminster for allowing us to practice on their field,” said Hall. “The facility worked out great, and I think we got a lot of things accomplished.”
One of the main areas of focus during the fall practice session was the pitching staff, where only five letterwinners who threw a total of 164 innings return. The group is led by 6-9 sophomore southpaw Kyle Bakker, who earned Freshman All-America honors last spring after posting a 4-1 record and a 2.78 ERA.
“If you look at our pitching staff, I think Kyle Bakker established himself as our best pitcher,” said Hall. “He went from pitching at 86-88 MPH and then not being able to pitch over the summer because of tendonitis in his elbow, to becoming a much better pitcher and throwing 92-93 MPH.”
“Jeff Watchko (1-3, 3.31 ERA in 2001) really made some strides at the end of fall practice, and Philip Perry (2-2, 6.11) continues to get better. Brian Burks (4-1, 4.08) has a lot of movement on his pitches and continued to be very solid. Those four guys, as far as the upperclassmen go, have definitely gotten better through the fall.
The pitching staff also includes nine freshmen, a number of whom caught the eye of the coaching staff during the three-week practice session.
“Jeff Kindel impressed as much as any of the freshmen pitchers,” noted Hall. “Kevin Guyette had good moments, and Kyle Schmidt is going to be a very good pitcher for us. Nick Wagner was very good, too. We have others guys that I think will be able to contribute this year as well. The whole key for the pitching staff is that we have to get those guys even better between now and February.”
Adding even more depth to the staff is the addition of two position players, Victor Menocal and Chris Goodman, to the pitching ranks. Both players are shortstops by trade who also pitched in high school. They both convinced the coaching staff that they will be able to help on the mound this spring with their strong arms.
“We started throwing Menocal and Goodman,” said Hall. “I think both of those guys will be able to contribute a lot to our staff this year, most likely in short-relief situations. That’s something that we didn’t anticipate going into the fall, but we came out of practice feeling very good about how both of those guys threw.”
Offensively Tech must replace five starters in the field, including a pair of first round draft picks in third baseman Mark Teixeira and second baseman Richard Lewis. However, Hall feels like his team will have more overall depth this year than it did last season.
“We have a lot of guys capable of playing a lot of different positions,” said Hall. “Our depth is very good, and the competition for jobs is very high. Of the upperclassmen, Jason Perry (.337, 12 HR, 57 RBI in 2001) definitely had a very good fall, and Wes Rynders (.275-2-23) had probably his best fall practice. Matt Murton (.385-7-35) swung the bat very well, and Jon Henry Kail (.262-1-19) really came on at the end of the fall. Victor Menocal (.381-4-51) played as good a defense as I have ever seen a shortstop play. He kept making play after play, and he worked very hard on his hitting. Matthew Boggs (.345-0-35) is Matthew Boggs – everybody knows what he is capable of doing.”
Tech’s talented rookie hitters includes three players who were selected in the Major League Baseball amateur draft last June but opted to attend college instead – infielder Eric Patterson and outfielders Jeremy Slayden and Brandon Boggs.
“I like our young talent,” Hall said. “We have five or six that are very talented and are going to be major factors on our team this year.”
The Tech infield was another area of high attention during fall practice. Menocal, who played third base during much of the 2001 season, moved back to his natural position of shortstop, while the other positions were all up for grabs.
“We played both Jason Perry and Clifton Remole at first base during the fall, and I honestly feel that Perry is one of our better outfielders and Remole is a very good defensive first baseman,” noted Hall. “Both of those guys have a chance to play every day. Eric Patterson is a good second baseman and he is going to be a very good hitter. The whole key to the infield is Matthew Boggs. We have played him some at third base, and I think he played well there. The trick for me is to get both of those guys, Patterson and Boggs, in the lineup.
“We also have guys like Chris Goodman, David Myers and Jake Hall – all of whom can play at this level. I think we have a lot of depth in the infield.”
Behind the plate Tech has the luxury of a veteran backstop in Tyler Parker (.327-1-16), a player who is expected to be a high pick in the 2002 Major League draft.
“I think we have two great catchers,” said Hall. “Tyler Parker is a guy that a lot of people know about. [Freshman] Mike Nickeas showed me that he is a great catcher and a great team guy that makes everyone around him better.”
In the outfield, Tech returns starters in center fielder Wes Rynders and left fielder Matt Murton. However, Hall also several talented newcomers who could be a factor this season.
“We have a lot of options in the outfield,” said Hall. “Wes Rynders is still our best defensive outfielder, and Brandon Boggs showed that he is a very good player himself.
“If Jeremy Slayden is not one of the best freshmen hitters in the country this year, I will be very surprised,” he continued. “Garrett Groce is one of those guys that can play just about any position on the field and he is a great athlete. When you add Murton, Kail and Perry to the mix, we have a lot of options in the outfield. I think it will be a case of where it doesn’t matter who we throw out there, because they all have a chance to be productive.”