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TGW: 1 and 1A

March 24, 2016

By Jon Cooper | The Good Word

By the time teams get into the conference portion of their schedule they usually are beyond platooning, especially at a position as important as catcher. The coach knows who the No. 1 is and will get him behind the plate as often as possible.

But what if you can’t, or simply don’t want, to settle on one guy?

That’s the dilemma facing Georgia Tech Head Coach Danny Hall who features a tandem of junior Arden Pabst and freshman Joey Bart.

Each brings something to the table.

Pabst is one of the best throwing catchers in the nation and Georgia Tech history, having thrown out nearly 43 percent of opposing base-stealers in his two-plus seasons, and can sting you with the bat. Bart is proving to be one of the premiere freshman hitters in the ACC, entering enters this weekend’s series against No. 3 North Carolina in Chapel Hill with a team-high .435 batting average, a .565 slugging percentage (fourth), and a .481 on-base percentage (second among starters) — .400, .500 and .429 in ACC play — and is no slouch when it comes to throwing out runners.

A pessimist would lament the imperfect world that forces to choose between catching Pabst or catching Bart.

Hall prefers to enjoy the perfect world that allows him to choose between catching Pabst or catching Bart.

“It’s a major luxury because catching can be tough,” said Hall, who has started Pabst in 11 games and Bart in nine — the only consecutive games caught was by Pabst, who fielded games March 6 against Western Carolina, March 8 at Auburn and March 11 in the ACC opener at Florida State. “So I feel like we go into conference play with both of them being very fresh and both of them capable of playing well in the Atlantic Coast Conference. My plan is to continue it for a little while just because I think it has worked out real well.”

The catchers couldn’t agree more.

“The dude is extremely talented and he’s a great guy,” said Pabst, a co-captain with pitcher Jonathan King, who was nominated for the Johnny Bench Award for the second straight season of Bart. “It’s really nice when a back-up plays like he does.”

The humble Pabst then caught and corrected himself midstream.

“He’s not really a backup,” he said. “We’re splitting time right now. It’s fun when you have a mate like that that’s doing really well and honestly, hopefully some of his success will rub off on me and then we’ll just keep on pushing each other to do well. It’s good to have someone that will push you so you have someone to compete with constantly, which I think is a good thing to have on a team. He’s really talented. In a couple of years he’s going to be in the top of the Draft Boards.”

“Oh, we have a great relationship,” said Bart, who actually WAS drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays on the 27th round (808th overall) coming out of Buford High School, which he left as the all-time leader in hits, RBI and runs scored, but chose to come to Georgia Tech. “It’s great having a guy like Arden to be there. I can pick him up. Switching off every single game that’s huge for a catcher because in the past I’ve been the only catcher. So taking a big load can kind of get stressful and you get a little banged and bruised up. But Arden and I have a great relationship and I’m looking forward to the rest of the year.”

Hall is as well, having enjoyed what he’s seen thus far.

“I think their relationship is great,” he said. “I think that Arden is really good for Joey because he does everything the right way, his work ethic is tremendous. So for Joey just to kind of watch how Arden goes about his day-to-day business I think that’s made Joey better. I think Joey, because he’s playing so well, it’s like a friendly competition. ‘Okay, you did this today. So tomorrow I have to do my part.’ I think the two of them together have been good for each other.”

They’ve been really good for the Jackets.

Bart and Pabst have combined to hit .351, with 33 hits, 10 of them for extra-bases — eight doubles (six from Bart, two from Pabst) and two homers (both from Pabst) with 24 RBI (18 from Bart, six from Pabst) and six walks vs. only 15 strikeouts (Bart also has reached by getting hit by pitches three times) and they have three sac flies.

Defensively, the backstops also have held up their end. Pabst has a .900 fielding percentage while Bart is at .988. Each has made but one error and have anchored runners. Only nine have tried to steal and only four have been successful. ACC runners are 0-for-1.

“This year not a lot of runners have run, but I’m sure when we get into ACC play I’ll definitely get tested,” said Pabst. “I’m looking forward to that. There’s definitely no better feeling for me than throwing a guy out, especially in a big situation. So hopefully they’re not as cautious in the coming weeks.”

Pabst has made runners think twice. Last season the junior catcher from Sherman Oaks, Calif., (Harvard Westlake High School), caught 25 of 56 potential basestealers, a 44.6 caught-stealing percentage. Both led the ACC and ranked amongst the top 10 in the nation. The 25 caught-stealings marked the first time since 2007 that a Georgia Tech catcher threw out more than 20 runners in a season. The last guy to do it was Matt Wieters — a three-time All-Star with the Baltimore Orioles — who gunned down 22 runners in 2007 when he was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation’s top catcher.

Pabst was nominated for the Bench Award last year and is on the Watch List again this year. He’s one of 73 catchers nationwide, one of eight in the ACC, and only the third Georgia Tech catcher ever to make the watch list — joining Wieters and Zane Evans in 2013.

“It’s an honor,” he said. “Hopefully I keep on getting better and I’ll stay on there for a little while.

“The talent in the ACC is fantastic and there are a lot of really good catchers out there,” he added. “Joey Bart has been doing a great job and that just shows the kind of talent that comes and plays in the ACC. It’s going to be exciting to compete against those guys this year.”

“It says he’s got a lot of recognition from certainly people in this part of the country but people all over the country that he’s a good catcher,” said Hall. “He is a good catcher, he’s a great leader and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

Bart also has earned high praise from Hall, especially for his offensive production. The 6-2, 214-pounder has already he’s put together a nine-game hitting streak (third-longest on the team), has six multi-hit games, five multi-RBI games, including driving in on March 22, at Kennesaw State, and is tied for second on the team with two game-winning RBIs.

“Joey Bart’s caught well and continues to swing the bat. I’m very pleased with the way he’s played,” said Hall. “He’s hit well every time he’s played. He just seems to be one of those guys that if there’s somebody on he has a knack of getting a hit and knocking him in. For me, right now, I’d just as soon have him at the plate when we have guys in scoring position as anybody. He’s doing a great job.”

It’s a job Bart is happy to continue splitting however Coach Hall sees fit, as long as it keeps working — even if it means DH’ing.

“DHing just puts me in the lineup and I think the team can use me so it works out well,” said Bart, who has made three starts at DH, including going 3-for-4 and driving in three runs in his debut at the position on March 13 at Florida State. “I’m glad I could do something with it and help the team out.”

Bart, whose dad played baseball at Miami and Penn State and whose brother, Mikey plays defensive end at North Carolina — he stated his mom is athletic as well — looks to help Georgia Tech finish strong and continue to act like anything but a freshman at the plate. That means doing what he’s always done.

“It’s kind of getting up there, getting ready to hit, trying to hit good pitches,” he said. “Playing all summer and even playing even last year in high school at a higher competitive level really helped me coming in and just getting my mind right and really focusing on what’s going on, trying to slow the game down. That’ll help you out a long way.”

He’s hoping it leads all the way to Omaha, which is why he Georgia Tech over Tampa Bay in the first place.

“I wanted to be here, I wanted to play for Danny Hall and I wanted to achieve what I could achieve here,” Bart said. “I really want to come out here and win the ACC and win the College World Series.”

“We have a lot of talent. We just have to put it together,” he added. “Have to figure out what’s going to work the best for our team and moving forward we should be in a great position.”


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