Oct. 4, 2004
ATLANTA – With 20 letterwinners back from last year’s NCAA Super Regional and first place Atlantic Coast Conference team, 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.
In the field, the Yellow Jackets welcome back seven players with starting experience, including four infielders, two outfielders and a catcher. The Tech pitching corps returns eight players who made at least 15 appearances in 2004.
“We’re excited about getting started,” said head coach Danny Hall, who enters his 12th season at Georgia Tech and owns a 484-211 (.696) record at the school. “We’ve had a chance to work with the guys individually for a few weeks, but now its time to see how our young guys mix in with the veteran guys.”
“It’s a time where we are working on trying to improve the skills of all of our players. At the same time we are trying to move guys around and see what positions certain guys can play and what roles guys on the pitching staff can serve. We will get a chance to play a lot of intrasquad games and let these guys compete for a month.”
Tech went 44-21 overall and 18-5 in the ACC in 2004, winning a school-record 20 straight games and advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals. In the last three seasons, Hall has led the Yellow Jackets to the College World Series (2002), an ACC Tournament championship (2003) and an ACC regular season title (2004).
Returning players with starting experience include catcher Andy Hawranick (Akron, Ohio), .330, 2 HR, 18 RBI in 2004, first baseman Whit Robbins (Calhoun, Ga.), .313-2-39, shortstop Tyler Greene (Plantation, Fla.), .273-7-52, third baseman Wes Hodges (Ooltewah, Tenn.), .304-4-31, and left fielder Steven Blackwood (Roswell, Ga.), .359-4-66. Mike Trapani (Dunwoody, Ga.), .418-4-17, moves to second base after starting 22 games at third base for the injured Hodges during the final month of the 2004 season. Right fielder Jeremy Slayden (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), who missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, returns for his junior season with 27 career home runs.
“The most encouraging thing I have seen is Jeremy Slayden back swinging and looking very good,” said Hall. “I think he is feeling very healthy for the first time in a long time. He is swinging the bat free and easy.
“Greene, Blackwood, Hawranick, Trapani, Robbins – all those guys look good. They had great summers and they are very confident. We will mix in some of our younger guys and see how they fit with our returning players.”
On the mound, Tech must replace the loss of all three members of the weekend starting rotation, but the Yellow Jackets return a host of hurlers who saw regular work last spring.
Sophomore southpaw Lee Hyde (Fayetteville, Ga.), 5-2, 5.73 ERA, is a leading candidate for a spot in the weekend rotation after making nine starts in 16 appearances last season. Five other key members of the Tech bullpen return in righties Jordan Crews (Valdosta, Ga.), 2-0, 1.48, Jared Hyatt (Marietta, Ga.), 1-0, 3.71, Tim Gustafson (Lilburn, Ga.), 0-0, 6.23, and John Goodman (Marietta, Ga.), 4-1, 6.43, 3 SV, and lefty Ryan Self (Roswell, Ga.), 0-1, 3.24, 2 SV. A pair of sophomores in lefty Ryan Turner (Dahlonega, Ga.) and righty Blake Wood (Suwanee, Ga.) each made four starts last spring, and junior Jason Neighborgall (Hillsborough, N.C.) is 3-1 in 24 career appearances.
“We lost some outstanding pitchers, guys who won a lot of games and ate up a lot of innings,” said Hall. “There’s a lot of competition among our pitching staff to see who is going to get those innings this year. But I am very confident that we have a lot of talent on our pitching staff and we are counting on those guys to step up and be accountable for helping our team. We have had very good pre-practice sessions with those guys, and I have been very pleased with our pitching. I look forward to seeing them compete with each other.”
Tech’s freshman class, which is ranked among the best in the nation, includes outfielder Danny Payne (Woodstock, Ga.), infielder Michael Fisher (Nashville, Tenn.), catcher/pitcher Matt Wieters (Goose Creek, S.C.), outfielder Brad Feltes (Alpharetta, Ga.) and pitchers Brad Rulon (Columbus, Ga.), Brian Futral (Newnan, Ga.), Tim Ladd (Marietta, Ga.), John Michael Vidic (Marietta, Ga.) and Eddie Burns (Hiram, Ga.).
Hall also welcomes two new members to his coaching staff this season. Josh Holliday joins the staff as assistant coach/recruiting coordinator after a year at NC State and four years at Oklahoma State. Former Tech star shortstop Victor Menocal announced his retirement from professional baseball this fall to join the Yellow Jackets’ staff as volunteer coach.
“I have been extremely impressed by Josh Holliday,” said Hall. “He has hit the ground running and our players really like him. He is a very positive and passionate guy, and he is very knowledgeable about baseball.
“Victor was one of our great players, and there is not a better ambassador for our program than him. I am anxious and excited for him to have an opportunity to get into college coaching. He is going to be a great addition to our staff.”