Oct. 3, 2005
ATLANTA – With 20 letterwinners back from last year’s NCAA Super Regional and Atlantic Coast Conference championship team, the Georgia Tech baseball team opens four weeks of fall practice on Monday afternoon. The Yellow Jackets, who also welcome a highly-regarded 11-member freshman class, will hold their annual fall practice at Russ Chandler Stadium on campus.
In the field, the Yellow Jackets welcome back eight regular starters from the 2005 team, including three infielders, three outfielders and two catchers. The Tech pitching corps returns eight hurlers who made at least 18 appearances last season.
“We’re very excited to get started again,” said head coach Danny Hall, who enters his 13th season at Georgia Tech and is the school’s all-time winningest coach with a 529-230 record. “I am very anxious to see what kind of improvements our upperclassmen have made with their games. And we are always excited to see how our young guys stack up against the guys that are already in the program. We definitely have a good team in place, but you never win anything on paper. We certainly have a lot of work to try to improve individual skills as well as to improve our team.”
Tech went 45-19 overall and 22-8 in the ACC in 2005, winning the ACC regular season and tournament championships and advancing to the NCAA Super Regionals. In the last four seasons, Hall has led the Yellow Jackets to the College World Series (2002), two ACC Tournament championships (2003, 2005) and two ACC regular season titles (2004, 2005).
The Yellow Jackets return six players who earned all-ACC honors last season, including sophomore catcher/first baseman/pitcher Matt Wieters (Goose Creek, S.C.). The ACC Rookie of the Year hit .366, 10 HR, 68 RBI and went 3-3 with a 2.85 ERA and six saves on the mound. Other returning all-conference players are junior third baseman Wes Hodges (Ooltewah, Tenn.), .397, 9, 51, senior left fielder Steven Blackwood (Roswell, Ga.), 336, 5, 65, senior right fielder Jeff Kindel (Marietta, Ga.), .359, 6, 65, senior second baseman Mike Trapani (Dunwoody, Ga.), .327, 2, 24, and junior pitcher Blake Wood (Suwanee, Ga.), 10-1, 3.13.
Other returning starters in the field include senior catcher Andy Hawranick (Akron, Ohio), .293, 4, 36, junior first baseman Whit Robbins (Calhoun, Ga.), .265, 5, 40, and sophomore center fielder Danny Payne (Woodstock, Ga.), 284, 3, 40, 24 SB.
Sophomore Michael Fisher (Nashville, Tenn.), .300, 2, 16, is among the potential starters at shortstop in 2006, while sophomores Brad Feltes (Alpharetta, Ga.), .333, 0, 3, and Nick Scherer (Roswell, Ga.), .333, 0, 1, add depth in the infield and behind the plate, respectively.
“Our entire outfield is basically back, and we have all of our catching back,” said Hall. “The infield is back intact with the exception of shortstop.
“Losing [first-round draft pick] Tyler Greene is a major loss and we certainly don’t expect any of the shortstops in our program to play like him. We have had a great run of shortstops here, and I think we have some candidates who will rise to the challenge and play very good shortstop. But I think that’s the critical thing coming out of the fall – knowing who our shortstop is going to be. Once we have a chance to settle on that, then we have a chance to move forward as a very good defensive team.”
On the mound, Tech returns the bulk of its pitching staff from last season. The Yellow Jackets welcome back 85% of their wins and 80% of their innings pitched, while Tech’s top eight returning pitchers combined to go 38-15 with a 3.73 ERA last spring.
Wood paced the Tech weekend rotation last year, posting a 10-1 record and a 3.13 ERA in 18 starts, pitching a team-high 106.1 innings. Also returning from the weekend starting rotation are a pair of junior lefties in Ryan Turner (Dahlonega, Ga.), 7-3, 3.31, and Lee Hyde (Fayetteville, Ga.), 7-4, 4.68. Junior righty Tim Gustafson (Lilburn, Ga.), 6-2, 3.33, was Tech’s top setup man in the bullpen last year but will be given an opportunity to join the starting rotation in 2006.
A switch-hitting catcher/first baseman/pitcher, Wieters anchored the Tech bullpen in 2005 with his team-high six saves and team-best 2.85 ERA. Other returning relief pitchers include junior right-hander Jared Hyatt (Marietta, Ga.), 3-2, 4.60, sophomore righty Brad Rulon (Columbus, Ga.), 1-0, 4.94, sophomore southpaw Tim Ladd (Marietta, Ga.), , 1-0, 5.50, and senior lefty Ryan Self (Alpharetta, Ga.), 0-0, 11.25.
“We’ve got to settle some roles on the pitching staff,” said Hall. “We have some freshmen who could push some of the upperclassmen, but those upperclassmen have a lot of experience and won a lot of games for us last year. The experience of the upperclassmen will certainly count for a lot.”
“We feel good about having Wieters to close games again. It remains to be seen how much he catches, plays first base and closes. Gustafson was a key guy in our bullpen and had two tremendous starts for us in the postseason. Wood was a 10-game winner, and Hyde and Turner won some big games for us last year.
Two pitchers – redshirt sophomore John Goodman (Marietta, Ga.), 4-1, 6.23, 3 SV, in 2004, and redshirt freshman Eddie Burns (Hiram, Ga.) – missed nearly all of the 2005 season but are expected to be healthy this spring.
“The unknown will be the health of Goodman and Burns,” said Hall. “Both of those guys are rehabbing their arms right now, and we fully expect them to be back to 100 percent by the time we start playing games in February.
“I feel like we have a lot of depth on the pitching staff. We’ll let the fall sort out who is going to fill certain roles, and we hope to go into preseason practice in January with our pitching staff pretty much set.”
Tech’s freshman class, which is ranked among the best in the nation, includes catcher Jason Haniger (Santa Clara, Calif.), infielders Luke Murton (McDonough, Ga.), brother of former Tech star and current major leaguer Matt Murton, Russell Harben (Alpharetta, Ga.), Ryan Tinkoff (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Nick Wenderoth (Marietta, Ga.), outfielders Chris House (Marietta, Ga.) and Jay Dantzler (Alpharetta, Ga.) and pitchers David Duncan (New Richmond, Ohio), Chris Hicks (Alpharetta, Ga.), Jake Sullivan (Little Rock, Ark.) and Michael Hutts (Dunwoody, Ga.). The Yellow Jackets also add junior college outfielder Wally Crancer (Riverside, Calif.) to the program this year.
“We have very good depth, and there is some tremendous competition for jobs,” said Hall. “We have told our players that last year is gone, it’s in the record books. Even though experience is a good thing, just because you had a certain role or played a certain position last year it doesn’t mean that it is automatically going to happen this year. I feel like we have some excellent young guys who are going to push our upperclassmen, and there is going to be some competition among the veterans for certain spots. It’s always a good thing. Anytime there’s competition, that’s healthy and it will make our team better.”
Hall also welcomes former Tech star catcher Bryan Prince to the staff as a volunteer coach.
“Bryan was an excellent player here,” said Hall. “He came back after playing professional baseball and got his degree, and now he wants to get into coaching. Our players can lean on Bryan to help and guide them through the process of being a student-athlete at Georgia Tech. He’s a hard worker and I know that he is going to be an excellent coach. We’re excited to have him on our staff this year.”
Georgia Tech will conclude its fall practice with the annual White & Gold World Series, a best of five intrasquad series, on October 22-28. Fans are invited to attend the games, and attendance is free.