2008 GoJackets.com Baseball Preview - GT

February 22nd marks the beginning of the baseball season! It's time once again to take a look at the 2008 ACC race. The preseason polls are all suggesting a six team race for the ACC title and a chance to host regional play in the postseason. North Carolina, Florida State, Clemson, Miami, Virginia, and Georgia Tech are the six teams we looked at in this year's reviews.

Danny Hall's Yellow Jackets open the 2008 season hoping to rebound from a disappointing finish to the 2007 season. The Jackets will be looking to replace their top 4 hitters. Returning two of the better one-two pitching combinations in the ACC, the emergence of some of the younger players, and a very talented freshman class gives reason for optimism heading into the season.

INFIELD – The Jackets are likely to use quite a few combinations in the infield this season. They are two and three deep at most of the positions and many of the infielders could possibly play multiple positions.

Tony Plagman returns at first. Plagman hit .275 in 45 starts. He'll be one of the better fielding first baseman in the ACC. He was voted the top fielding first baseman in the Northwood's League this past summer. Outfielder/first baseman Luke Murton and third baseman Brad Feltes could spell Plagman against left handed pitching.

We could see any number of players starting at second. Jeff Ussery started at second last season but missed numerous games due to a foot injury. If Ussery doesn't start at short, we could see him at second. Ussery hit .221 in 21 starts. Jason Garafalo filled in for Ussery last season and hit .303. Freshman Thomas Nichols may be hard to keep out of the lineup. Nichols has some good pop in his bat and is a very good fielder. Ryan Tinkoff returns from his red shirt year.

The shortstop position is very much like second. Ussery is battling freshman Derek Dietrich for the starting job held last year by Michael Fisher. Fisher hit .330 in 2007. Dietrich was the first pick of the Houston Astros and played in the Aflac All-American game. Before the season is over we may see a freshman double play combination of Dietrich and Nichols.

Patrick Long returns at third. Long had a .299 average in 53 starts. Long can also be used at short or second. Brad Feltes has hit the ball well this fall and is pushing for a spot in the lineup at third, first, or DH. Feltes looks to improve on his .217 average. Freshman Matt Simonds is also available at third

OUTFIELD – As is the case with the infield Coach Danny Hall will have numerous options in the outfield. The outfield will have good depth and the option to use players in more than one position in the outfield.

Chris House has been playing left in the preseason scrimmages but could also move to center. House hit .255 in 35 starts last year. House benefited from a summer in the Northwood's League. Freshman Chase Burnette and Loyal Gause are two backup options. Both are former football players that are concentrating on baseball for the first time. Both have a very good upside.

If House isn't moved to center, we may see freshman Jeff Rowland open in center. Rowland was teammates with Nicholas, Cumpton and Brewster on the Savannah Chain summer league team. Rowland is a Danny Payne clone with good base stealing speed and good range in the outfield. Payne led the Jackets in hitting with a .370 average and has moved on to the pros. Jay Dantzler is a capable backup who made 7 starts last year.

One of the surprises of the off season will be starting in right field. Charlie Blackmon went to the Texas League as a pitcher and came home as one of the leading hitters on the team. Blackmon was forced into action with his team shorthanded and he proceeded to have a very good summer at the plate. His situation reminds many of Jeff Kindel. Jeff started as a pitcher and then became one of Tech's better hitters. Blackmon is also considered one of the best athletes on the team. He has good speed and a strong arm. Blackmon will be replacing Wally Crancer. Crancer finished the year with a .363 average. Luke Murton returns after deciding not to turn pro. Murton hit .229 with 9 HRS and 55 RBI. The Jackets are counting on Luke to return to his freshman form. We could see him at first, right or as the DH. Curtis Dupart is another player that the Jackets are counting on to improve last year's stats. Dupart has all the tools to be challenge for a starting spot in the outfield. If he can cut down on his strikeouts, he'll be a big part of this year's team.

PITCHERS – The pitching staff should be one of the strengths of this year's team. The Jackets return David Duncan and Eddie Burns to the weekend rotation. Both Duncan and Burns returned to school despite being drafted. Duncan compiled a 7-4 record with a 3.72 ERA. Burns was 3-3 with a 3.58 ERA. Burns excelled in the Cape Cod League this summer making the all-star team. Zach Von Tersch will round out the weekend rotation replaced Ryan Turner who has moved on to the pros. Turner was 5-4 in 16 starts. Von Tersch spent the summer in the Northwood's League and was named to the postseason all-star team. Four freshmen will vie for the starting jobs in the midweek rotation. Brandon Cumpton, Deck McGuire, Kevin Jacob, and Taylor Wood should all be in the mix. Wood is the cousin of former Jacket starter Blake Wood.

The Jackets will have the luxury of having a deep bullpen. Andrew Robinson will likely assume the role held by Jared Hyatt last year. Hyatt appeared in 29 games as both the long reliever and a spot starter. Hyatt finished the year with an 8-1 record. Robinson should be completely healthy for the first time since injuring his arm as a senior in high school. The job of closer will be manned by Chris Hicks. Hicks was one of the top closers in the Cape this past summer. He was named to the Cape all-star team. His set up man will be Brad Rulon. Rulon appeared in 29 games in 2007. Elliott Ogawa and Michael Hutts will be called upon in short relief.

CATCHERS – The loss of Matt Wieters to the pros will be a big one. Wieters hit .358 and led the team with 10 HRS and 59 RBI. The job of replacing Wieters will go to Jason Haniger. Haniger hit .303 in 9 starts last year. He's had a good fall and preseason. Look for Jason to have a good year. Freshman Cole Leonida will spell Haniger behind the plate.

OUTLOOK – The pitching staff will be responsible for how successful the Jackets are this year. The weekend rotation should be as good as any in the league. If the freshmen starters can have a good year, the Jackets should return to the post season. A combination of the younger players improving on their freshman years and the incoming freshmen playing as expected will be keys to the success of the 2008 Jackets.

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