For nearly three decades Georgia Tech has been one of the nation’s most dangerous teams. Since 1994, when head coach Danny Hall replaced the Miami-bound Jim Morris by making the move from Kent State to Atlanta, the Yellow Jackets have reached the NCAA Tournament on 20 occasions and made the trip to Omaha for the College World Series three times. In the process Hall has become the all-time winningest baseball coach in program history with 961 victories on the Flats.
Hall’s teams have always had the ability to hit, and the 2016 campaign was no exception. The Jackets ranked second in the Atlantic Coast Conference and among the nation’s top 25 with a .307 batting average (20th), .462 slugging percentage (24th) and 65 home runs (tied for 15th). Pitching was a different story, with the staff depleted by several injuries that afflicted the likes of Jonathan Hughes and Jonathan King. Despite the lack of depth on the mound, Tech still managed to win 38 games, including a pair of victories in the Gainesville Regional.
The Jackets’ fate is expected to improve in 2017, provided Hughes, King and Tristin English are as healthy as anticipated. Not only is Hall counting on having significantly more pitching this year, he also welcomes seven position players with substantial starting experience and a talented freshman class that will see several newcomers play key roles early in their collegiate careers. That mixture has many Tech followers believing this club has an excellent chance to become the first Jacket team to advance past the Regional round in a decade.
Heading the potent Tech lineup once again will be outfielders Kel Johnson, a junior, and sophomore Brandt Stallings. Johnson earned first team All-ACC honors and tied for the team lead with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. He also notched a 22-game hitting streak (eighth longest in school history) on his way to batting at a .319 clip. Stallings garnered more playing time as the season progressed and concluded his freshman campaign with a .299 batting average, seven home runs and 33 RBIs.
The Jackets also expect to receive plenty of pop from English, a potential two-way standout, and junior Trevor Craport. English started 52 games at first base last year and earned first team All-ACC honors while leading Tech with 21 doubles and adding a .315 batting average with five home runs and 44 RBIs. An arm injury prevented English from pitching last year but he could join the weekend rotation this spring. Craport is a third baseman who hit .352 with seven home runs last year but could see some time at catcher.
Hall is also hopeful that senior outfielder Ryan Peurifoy continues the resurgence he showed at the plate during fall practice after struggling offensively last spring. Peurifoy led the Jackets in hitting as a sophomore with a .324 average before batting just .237 in 2016. Peurifoy can handle center field, as can the speedy Carter Hall, who underwent minor foot surgery in November but should be ready by February. Other returning Jackets include steady second baseman Wade Bailey and sophomore catcher Joey Bart.
Several freshmen also stood out during fall practice. Parker McCoy and Austin Wilhite are the leading candidates to start at shortstop, although two-way player Xzarion Curry could figure into the mix if he does not focus on pitching. Austin’s twin brother, Nick Wilhite, showed he has the potential to develop into a dual threat as a leadoff hitter and fleet-footed center fielder. He is also capable of providing some innings on the mound from the left side if needed.
As mentioned earlier, health is the key on the mound and could determine just how deep into June the Jackets play. Hughes was drafted in the second round in 2015 by Baltimore but decided to attend Tech, where he was 3-1 with a 2.45 ERA in 25 2/3 innings before an injury and subsequent surgery in April ended his freshman season. English and his mid-90s fastball should see activity as well, while King, a redshirt senior, is 13-10 with a 3.61 ERA in his college career but was limited to five innings last year due to an arm injury.
Hall also has lefthander Ben Parr, who can start or relieve; the senior is coming off an impressive junior year in which he went 7-1 with a 4.18 ERA. Fellow senior Zac Ryan looked good in the fall in his attempt to bounce back from a difficult 2016 in which he posted a 3-4 record with a 7.29 ERA. Sophomore righthanders Jake Lee, Micah Carpenter, Bailey Combs and Burton Delaney will have an opportunity to play bigger roles in their second seasons. In addition to Curry and Wilhite, freshmen righthanders Andy Archer and Garrett Goodey and lefties Connor Thomas and Jay Shadday give the Jackets pitching depth this spring as well as in the future.