Sept. 30, 2002
ATLANTA – With 22 letterwinners back from last year’s team that won a school-record 52 games and finished fifth at the NCAA College World Series, the Georgia Tech baseball team opens four weeks of fall practice on Monday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets, who also welcome a highly-regarded, nine-member freshman class, will hold their annual fall practice at Russ Chandler Stadium on-campus.
Headlining the list of returnees is all-America pitcher Kyle Bakker (Omaha, Neb.), who posted a 13-2 record and a 3.14 ERA as the ace of the Tech staff last spring. Also returning are a pair of sophomores who earned freshman all-America honors in 2002 in second baseman Eric Patterson (Kennesaw, Ga.), who hit .346 with 41 stolen bases, and outfielder Jeremy Slayden (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who batted .348 with a Tech freshman-record 18 home runs.
“It will be fun to get started again, and we certainly have a lot of things to look forward to this season,” said head coach Danny Hall, who enters his 10th season at Georgia Tech and owns a 396-172 (.697) record at the school. “This time of year, you are trying to see how much improvement your upperclassmen have made from the summer, and you are trying to blend in the new guys into your system. You want the players to improve as individuals, and you want the team to improve as well.”
Returning for the Tech offense is junior outfielder Matt Murton (McDonough, Ga.), considered a top prospect for the 2003 Major League draft after hitting .344 with 10 home runs and 58 RBI last season and starring in the prestigious Cape Cod League over the summer. Other returning starters for the Tech offense include sophomore outfielder Brandon Boggs (Marietta, Ga.), 305-0-35 in 2002, and sophomore first baseman Clifton Remole (Marietta, Ga.), .283-4-34. Hall and his staff will have to replace departed starters at shortstop, third base and catcher.
“Offensively, I’m concerned about replacing some guys that we lost,” said Hall. “I think we have talent, but talent alone does not win games. We have a lot of offense that we have to replace from last year in Victor Menocal, Matthew Boggs, Jason Perry, Tyler Parker and Wes Rynders. To lose those guys, we need to have some other guys step in and pick up the slack.
“Defense is one of the major areas that we want to spend a lot of time on this fall. We want to be a better defensive team than we were last year.”
Bakker headlines a deep pitching staff that returns all 52 wins and 581 of 606.2 innings pitched from last year’s College World Series team. Key returnees include seniors Jeff Watchko (Roswell, Ga.), 11-1, 4.01 ERA in 2002, and Chris Goodman (Marietta, Ga.), 8-2, 4.41, junior Brian Burks (Alpharetta, Ga.), 10-7, 3.87, and sophomore Kyle Schmidt (Palm Harbor, Fla.), 5-2, 3.64.
“We have some very good players coming back who played for us last year,” said Hall. “The fact that we have nearly all of the pitching staff coming back gives us a lot of encouragement. Then you mix in some of the freshmen, and that gives you a chance to have a very good pitching staff. I don’t care what level of baseball you are playing, but if you can pitch well then you have a chance to win.”
Tech’s freshman class, which is ranked among the best in the nation, is led by four players who were selected in June’s Major League Baseball draft but opted to attend college instead – shortstop Tyler Greene (Plantation, Fla.), a second-round pick of the Braves, pitcher/first baseman Micah Owings (Gainesville, Ga.), a second-round selection by the Rockies, pitcher Jason Neighborgall (Hillsborough, N.C.), a seventh-round pick of the Red Sox, and pitcher Jon Crosby (Germantown, Tenn.), a 45th-round selection by the Diamondbacks.
“A lot of the fall practice is an evaluation phase,” said Hall. “We are trying to see what our strengths are and what weaknesses are and try to work on those.”
Practice will continue through November 2.