The Jackets begin the 2009 campaign as one of the favorites in the ACC. The Jackets are hoping to improve on a 41 win 2008 season by improving their record in the ACC this season.The return of seniors Luke Murton and Jason Haniger added even more depth to an already deep team. Georgia Tech returns eight position players who have started in their career at Tech.
The team lost arguably their best hitter when Charlie Blackmon signed a pro contract. Blackmon led the Georgia Tech with a .396 average, contributed 45 RBIs and had 25 stolen bases. Also gone is Brad Feltes who took over at third last season when Patrick Long got off to a slow start. Feltes provided some much needed power, hitting 14 home runs with 62 RBIs.
The pitching staff suffered the loss of two key starters and two closers out of the bullpen. Lefty David Duncan and righty Eddie Burns have moved on to the pros. Duncan and Burns finished third and fourth in the team's ERA statistics last season. Duncan ended the season with a 7-3 record and a 4.48 ERA. Burns finished with a 7-5 record and a 5.84 ERA. The bullpen will be missing the late inning calls to Brad Rulon and Chris Hicks. Rulon compiled a 3-1 record with seven saves and a 4.15 ERA. Hicks led the team with nine saves.
1B - Tony Plagman returns at first and is considered one of the best fielding first basemen in the ACC. Tony led the Jackets with 16 home runs, hit .306 and contributed 45 RBIs. He'll be backed up by freshman Jake Davies. Davies had a strong fall at the plate. Chase Burnette and Luke Murton can also be used at first.
2B - The second base position is one in which Coach Danny Hall has some options. Returning are Thomas Nichols who started the year at second and Patrick Long who finished the year at second. Freshman Connor Winn has shown a steady glove that Coach Hall is looking for at second. Look for him to be a late inning replacement. Nichols hit .283 in his freshman season. Nearly half his hits were of the extra base variety.
3B - The Jackets open the 2009 season with a decision still to be made about the opening day starter at third. Patrick Long and freshman Matt Skole have been battling for the starting position. Both could be in the starting lineup on opening day with one being the DH. Long may open the season in the field because of his glove. Patrick had a strong finish to last season after getting off to a slow start.
SS - Freshman All-American Derek Dietrich returns at shortstop. Dietrich led the Jackets with 63 RBIs and 141 total bases. He started every game at short and hit .332. Freshman Evan Martin will back up Dietrich.
LF - Senior co-captain Chris House will open the season in left field. House started 43 games last year for the Jackets. Look for Coach Hall to platoon in order to get more left handed hitters in the lineup against certain right handed pitchers.
CF - Jeff Rowland returns to center after a very successful freshman season. Rowland will once again be the Jackets lead off hitter. Rowland was second on the team with a .335 batting average and stole 22 bases. Chris House or Jay Dantzler could play center if Rowland is out of the lineup.
RF - The unexpected return of senior Luke Murton will add another power hitter to the Tech lineup. Murton led the team with a .621 slugging percentage, hit .332, 12 home runs, and was second on the team with 51 RBIs. Look for sophomore Chase Burnette to take over in right when Coach Hall goes to his platoon system.
C - The return of Jason Haniger for his senior year gives the Jackets another big bat in the middle of the lineup and a leader on the field. The co-captain finished with a strong second half of the season in 2008. Haniger hit .310 and contributed 10 home runs and 32 RBIs. Cole Leonida returns at the back up and freshman Brandon Miller will also be available behind the plate and he brings another big bat to the lineup when he plays.
DH - Look for the DH to be whoever happens to be swinging a hot bat. Players like Skole, Davies, Miller, and Burnette are some of the names you might see filling that role during the season.
The Jackets return two starters who finished the year in the weekend rotation. Deck McGuire started the year as a midweek starter and compiled an impressive 8-1 record with a 3.46 ERA. Deck was given the ball to start the regional tournament for the Jackets last season. Deck will be the Friday starter for the 2009 Tech team. Last year's Sunday starter, Zach Von Tersch, will be the Saturday starter this season. Von Tersch compiled a 7-5 record with a 4.33 ERA. Rounding out the weekend rotation will be sophomore Brandon Cumpton. Cumpton had five starts in 2008 as a midweek starter. Going into the season sophomore Kevin Jacob looks to be one of the two midweek starters. Jacob worked out of the bullpen as a freshman. Freshman Jed Bradley and Andrew Robinson could both fill the role as the other midweek starter.
This season's bullpen could be one of the deepest in recent years. The bullpen will feature a freshman closer and two position players who will pitch for the first time in their careers at Tech. Freshman Mark Pope will open the season as the Jacket's closer. Veteran Andrew Robinson will also be called upon as the closer for ACC games. The Jackets will look to Thomas Nichols and Patrick Long as setup men giving the staff an inning or two to get to the closers. Their availability will likely depend on which has started the game in the field. Zach Brewster and Elliott Ogawa return after being injured last season. Owaga will be used as a situational pitcher to get out left handed hitters. Brewster may evolve into one of the setup men as he gains experience in his first year on the mound. Sophomore Taylor Wood and freshman Jake Davies may be used in middle inning relief.
Georgia Tech will field a team that will be as deep as any in the ACC. The Jackets are picked by the ACC coaches to finish second behind North Carolina in the Coastal Division. With the starting lineup that they put on the field, the Jackets should be able to score with any team in the ACC. The success of the season may depend on their starting pitching. Will Deck McGuire repeat his freshman performance, will Zach Von Tersch improve on his 2008 season, and finally will Brandon Cumpton make the adjustment from midweek starter to closing out the weekend series against the ACC bats? If the answers are yes to these questions, look for the Jackets to challenge North Carolina for the Coastal Division title and secure home field advantage in the postseason regional tournaments. Another trip to Omaha is definitely on the radar for the 2009 Georgia Tech baseball team.