Joltin' Jackets Open Preseason Practice

The Georgia Tech baseball team opened practice Friday for the 2011 baseball season. The Jackets return 19 letter winners including starters Matt Skole, Jacob Esch, Jed Bradley, and Mark Pope. The team finished the 2010 season with a 47-15 record but fell short of their goal to reach the College World Series.

Coach Danny Hall lost 10 players to the June baseball draft but he brings in a highly ranked recruiting class that includes 17 freshmen. There is a good chance that six of those freshmen could become every day starters when the Jackets open the season against Kent State

The one thing that Coach Hall has noticed about the freshmen from the fall to the beginning of spring practice is that they've gotten bigger and stronger. The one thing that the veterans on the team have noticed is how polished the freshmen were when they arrived at Georgia Tech. The freshmen are looking to bring not only their skills but a new energy to the team.

Designated hitter Daniel Palka, shortstop Mott Hyde, centerfielder Kyle Wren, third baseman Chase Butler, left fielder DeAndre Smelter, and catcher Zane Evans came out of fall practice with a good chance of starting when the season opens February 18th.

Evans will hold the distinction of being the first freshman catcher to start since Jason Varitek started his freshman season. It will be up to Evans how many innings he catches and Coach Hall is confident in the backup abilities of Matt Skole and walk-on Mitch Earnest.

In addition to the possible freshman starters, look for junior Matt Skole making a possible switch from third to first, junior Jacob Esch to return to second, and sophomore Brandon Thomas to secure one of the outfield spots. Esch is a good example of the versatility this team has. He has been getting some work at shortstop and can also be called on to give the bullpen some help.

One of the strengths of this year's edition of Jacket baseball will be the pitching staff. The weekend rotation is probably one of the best in the ACC. Junior Mark Pope will move to the Friday starting spot held last year by 1st round draft choice Deck McGuire. Junior Jed Bradley will be the Saturday starter in the righty, lefty, and righty rotation. Sophomore Buck Farmer finished his freshman season giving the Jackets some strong innings and will be the Sunday starter.

One of the keys to this year's bullpen will be the health of closer Kevin Jacob. Jacob has spent the off-season rehabbing his arm and the results have been positive. Jacob pitched one inning on the first day of practice and will be brought along slowly heading into the season. Coach Tom Kinkelaar will have a deep bullpen with a mix of veterans and promising freshman arms.

One of the things that Coach Hall likes about this years team is the depth and the versatility of the players. The team still has some of the big boppers for which Georgia Tech has been known but the addition of team speed and the new bats may lead to a different Georgia Tech team. The days of waiting on the long ball may be over this year. With the depth on this team, look for Coach Hall to platoon more than he's done in recent years.

The young Jacket team won't have to wait long to see how far they've progressed. The Jackets open against Kent State coached by former Georgia Tech assistant Scott Stricklin. Stricklin's team is ranked 40th in preseason polls and returns 7 position starters along with 3 starting pitchers. The first pitch of the season will be at 4pm February 18th.


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