Next year's team will no longer have the services of Lee Hyde, Tim Gustafson, Blake Wood, Whit Robbins, Michael Trapani, Wes Hodges, Steven Blackwood, and Andy Hawranick. All played a role in the Jackets getting to Omaha.
The strength of this year's team will be in the number of veteran pitchers returning to the squad. A group of talented freshman will also have a lot to say about the sucess of the 2007 team.
First Base - Luke Murton is the returning starter. He took over a full time role there the latter part of the season when an injury to Wes Hodges led to Whit Robbins being moved to third. He will be backed up by hard hitting freshman Tony Plagman. Plagman could also see some time as a dh against right handed pitching.
Second Base - Freshman Jeff Ussery appears to have the inside track for the starting job. Jeff is short stop by trade but his hot bat necessitated his move to second. Ussery is a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate. Ryan Tinkoff and walk on Jason Garafolo will back up Ussery.
Shortstop - Michael Fischer returns as the starter. He comes back this year showing more pop in his bat after a summer at the Cape. Ussery and Tinkoff will be available as backups.
Third Base - This appears to be one of the closer battles for the starting position. Based on his performance in the world series, freshman Pat Long appears to have the edge over returning backup Brad Feltes. Long is another in a long line of power hitting lefthanded hitters.
Catcher - All-American, Matt Wieters returns behind the plate. The switch hitter will also be used as a closer and DH. He will be a likely first round pick in the 2007 draft. Jason Haniger will be the backup and will be used as a starter for one of the games of the weekend conference series. He is being groomed as the 2008 starter.
Left Field - This is a position with many question marks. The starter will depend on what the staff plans on doing with a few players who have been playing other outfield positions. Freshman Curtis Dupart played well in the fall series and could hold the edge there. He is capable of hitting the ball out to left. Transfer Michael Klindt, and returning players Chris House and Jay Dantzler are also in the mix. House had a strong fall series as a center fielder. He would be starting on many ACC teams. Klindt a MLB draftee from Centennial could be a right handed hitting dh.
Center Field - Danny Payne returns after missing the latter half of the season with a shoulder injury. He appears to show no ill effects from the injury and will also be used out of the bullpen. The aforementioned House along with freshman Ben Baker will be his backups.
Right Field - Wally Crancer returns to right after assuming the full time role there last year following the injury to Jeff Kindel. Crancer has a strong arm and is a left handed hitting power hitter. The staff could use any combination of players as backup. Danzler and freshman Matt Harper are two possibilites.
Designated Hitter - Klindt, Plagman, House or any number of players are all possibilites. Wieters will assume that role when he's not catching.
Starting Pitching - It appears that David Duncan and Ryan Turner will be two of the three weekend starters. Jared Hyatt made a strong case to be the third starter with his performance in the fall series. Chris Hicks did not pitch due to a sore arm. He too will be a strong candidate for the third starter. Freshman Will Hirsch and Zach Von Tersch will most likely get some starts in the midweek games. Both are highly-rated freshman.
Bullpen - The staff will have many options out of the pen and this should be one of the strong suits of the team. Tim Ladd who has started in the past will be one of the long relievers. If Hyatt doesn't win a starting job he too will fill that role. Brad Rulon returns as the primary closer along with Matt Wieters. Look for Danny Payne to get more innings out of the pen. Michael Hutts will fill the role of facing certain left handed hitters. He got some innings at the end of the 2006 season and appears to be stronger this year. Eddie Burns is still working his way back from elbow surgery while in high school. His performance in the fall series was encouraging. His arm seems to be much stronger than last year. Freshman Elliot Ogawa, Andrew Robinson and Sean Devine did not pitch enough to get a read on what their role will be. Transfer Charlie Blackmon was shut down with a sore elbow and could be counted on to play a role as a starter or out of the bullpen. Bad luck has struck John Goodman again. He is out for about 6 months with a knee injury.
Utility - Nick Scherer returns as our jack of all trades. He can be used in the outfield, catching or as a pinch runner. He also looked good at the plate in the fall series. He is a valuable member of the team in terms of chemistry.
GoJackets.com will continue to monitor the progress of the baseball team as 2007 approaches.