East Carolina baseball has reason to be hopeful in 2020.
The Pirates will certainly rely on some younger players from an offensive standpoint, but they can take solace in having several veterans leading the charge on the mound, solidifying the Pirates a spot in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25. Sitting at No. 21, East Carolina comes off a 2019 season that concluded in elimination in the super regional round, continuing the Pirates' quest for their first College World Series berth.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 East Carolina team:
2019 record: 47-18 (20-4 AAC).
Coach (record at school): Cliff Godwin (201–109–1 in 5 seasons).
Ballpark: Clark-LeClair Stadium (5,000)
Postseason history: 30 regionals (active streak: 2).
EAST CAROLINA FALL REPORT: How the Pirates are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of East Carolina's 2020 season, we've graded the Pirates in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for East Carolina in 2020.
East Carolina's projected lineup
|C||Seth Caddell, Jr.||.241/.284/.434||4||13||0|
|1B||Thomas Francisco, So.||.319/.451/.478||4||26||0|
|2B||Connor Norby, So.||.194/.286/.290||1||6||0|
|3B||Zach Agnos, Fr.||FR--Haymarket, Va. (Battlefield)|
|SS||Ryder Giles, So.||.242/.385/.295||1||26||2|
|LF||Alec Burleson, Jr.||.370/.399/.573||9||61||3|
|CF||Bryson Worrell, Jr.||.253/.327/.442||5||19||5|
|RF||Lane Hoover, So.||.328/.448/.358||0||15||7|
|DH||Christian Smallwood, RS-Jr.||Injured in 2019-DNP|
East Carolina's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Gavin Williams Jr.||1-4||4.56||49.1||56||23||1|
|SP #2||Jake Kuchmaner, Jr.||7-2||2.99||87.1||73||26||0|
|SP #3||Tyler Smith, Sr.||7-1||5.57||74.1||49||28||0|
|Closer||Alec Burleson, Jr.||6-2||3.28||60.1||68||26||5|
Grading the Pirates: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
ECU will need several guys to rise to the occasion this spring to have another potent offensive lineup, but the personnel is there to emulate last season’s success, particularly at the top of the lineup.
Alec Burleson is the team’s top returning hitter, and he’s expected to pretty much continue where he left off last season. Lane Hoover and Thomas Francisco each hit over .300 last season, and Francisco is a classic breakout candidate after he put together an impressive summer league performance.
Congratulations to @alecburleson9’s walk-off against Japan in Game 2️⃣ of the USA 🆚 Japan Collegiate All-Star Series on being named @USABaseball’s International Performance of the Year! 👏🏆— ECU Baseball (@ECUBaseball) December 17, 2019
Bryson Worrell and Seth Caddell are two more breakout candidates. Worrell has some impressive tools and can hit for some power; he hit .253 with five home runs last season. Not only should he hit for more power this spring, he’ll also have a more consistent offensive approach and will hit for even more power. Caddell has continued to develop at the plate since last season and cut down on his strikeouts during fall workouts. He’s expected to have a much better season at the plate.
Connor Norby struggled at the plate in very limited action last season but showed an ability to hit near the top of the lineup during fall workouts, while Christian Smallwood impressed the coaching staff in the fall with his potential to hit for average and power from the right side.
Options are aplenty with this ECU team.
The Pirates lost three of their top power hitters from last year’s team, including Bryant Packard (7), Spencer Brickhouse (14) and Jake Washer (17), but there’s still plenty of power potential with this club.
For instance, Burleson returns after hitting nine home runs last season. He can put a charge into the ball. Francisco had a strong showing over the summer and certainly has big-time power potential. He had four home runs last season. Worrell is an athletic and powerful guy who will hit for more power production this spring, and Caddell, who likely will start behind the plate, has power and has improved his overall plate approach.
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Also keep an eye on projected designated hitter Smallwood, who has impressive power potential from the right side.
The Pirates will need to find ways to generate some speed. There’s some athleticism on this team, but there’s no doubt they have some tough guys to replace from a speed standpoint, including Turner Brown and Brady Lloyd, who each had double digit stolen bases last season.
Hoover is the top returning base stealer after recording seven last season, while Worrell is a five-tool player who certainly has the athleticism to make things happen on the base paths. He has an exciting speed and power combination. Norby is another solid athlete, while Zach Agnos is an athletic guy who can pretty much do everything. Sophomore Christian Jayne is another athletic and speedy guy to watch this spring.
This won’t be a team full of burners, but there’s some potential in this department.
It’s safe to say the Pirates have some tough holes to fill from a defensive standpoint.
Up the middle, the Pirates have the tough chore of replacing outstanding defender and shortstop Turner Brown and second baseman Brady Lloyd, while catcher Jake Washer was a solid defender and a rock from a leadership standpoint.
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Beginning at catcher, the Pirates will return to junior Seth Caddell. Caddell showed improved defensive skills during the fall with a stronger and more accurate arm. At shortstop, sophomore Ryder Giles takes over, and Giles is a strong defender. Will he be Turner Brown? Who knows, but it’ll be difficult to emulate what Brown did last season. With that said, the Pirates are sky high on Giles’ defensive skill set. At second, sophomore Connor Norby takes over. Norby has solid across the board skills. But again, he’s in a new and more pressure packed role, so we’ll see how he handles it.
Bryson Worrell and Lane Hoover are both solid defenders in the outfield, while Burleson, when he’s not pitching, will occupy left field. He’s truly a do-it-all player.
Starting pitching: 60
ECU has a hopeful weekend rotation, assuming a guy like hard throwing right-hander Gavin Williams makes a smooth transition to the three-person mix.
The Pirates welcome back junior left-hander Jake Kuchmaner and senior righty Tyler Smith. Kuchmaner earned a stellar reputation last season by throwing a no-hitter in a midweek game against Ole Miss and having a solid overall campaign. He’ll sit anywhere from 84-88 mph with his fastball, along with a three-pitch mix and athleticism on the mound. Meanwhile, Smith is a seasoned veteran and senior who had an ugly ERA last season but is ready to take another step forward this spring. Smith will sit anywhere from 86-91 mph with his sinking fastball. He won’t overpower anyone with his stuff, but he’s more than capable of going out there each Sunday and giving the Pirates a high-quality start.
The X-factor for the weekend rotation is flamethrower and right-hander Gavin Williams. Williams struck out 56 in 49.1 innings of work last season, and he has an electric arm. Williams sat 94-96 and up to 97 mph with his fastball throughout fall workouts, while also showcasing a hard 88-89 mph changeup and a nasty curveball at 74-77 mph. He already had the changeup and fastball, but if the breaking ball continues to develop and he can command it, it’s a game changer for him and the Pirates.
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Should Williams not work out, you could see several other options get into the mix, including the younger brother of former ECU standout Jake Agnos. Zach Agnos, a talented two-way player, was 88-91 mph with his fastball, along with a 75-76 curveball and 81 mph changeup during fall workouts.
The Pirates have plenty of options from a bullpen standpoint.
Burleson, the two-way star, is the headliner at the backend of the bullpen. Burleson has the ability to start for the Pirates, but it sounds like Cliff Godwin would like to preserve as much energy as possible by limiting his innings on the mound. Burleson will sit anywhere from 87-90 mph with his fastball, along with a three-pitch mix and solid command. He is a hard-nosed competitor and fits perfectly with what you want in a closer.
Ryder Giles is another talented two-way player to watch on the mound. He was shut down during fall workouts, but the Pirates like what he brings to the table.
Redshirt senior Matt Bridges is another solid option. Bridges tallied a 4.00 ERA in nine appearances before he had Tommy John surgery two seasons ago. He’s back and ready to roll this spring.
Other arms to watch include Cam Colmore, Carter Spivey, Skylar Brooks, Trystan Kimmel, Nick Logusch, Elijah Gill, Carson Whisenhunt, CJ Mayhue, AJ Wilson and Nate Nabholz. Clearly, the Pirates have some quality depth to work with.
Colmore is a fifth-year senior who sits 88-90 mph with his fastball along with a solid slurve, and Spivey is ready for a larger role this season and has a funky low three-quarters slot with a fastball around 86-87 mph. Brooks is a 6-foot-3 righty who has been up to 93 mph, while Kimmel is 88-90 with some feel for a slurve. He can also get up to 93 mph with the fastball at times. Logusch works 89-92 mph with his fastball, along with a curveball at 75-77 mph and a changeup at 81-82 mph. Gill is a talented lefty who can get up to 92 mph with his fastball, along with a quality 76-80 mph breaking ball and a changeup, while Whisenhunt will get up to 91 mph with his fastball, along with an 83-84 mph cutter.
Mayhue and Wilson can both get up to 92 mph with their fastballs, while finally, Nabholz is a hard-nosed pitcher who will sit 87-90 mph with his fastball, along with a quality change at 80-82 and a slurve in the upper-70s.
Finding roles for all these quality arms will be the chore for ECU.
A bevy of youth enters the Pirate fold this season, placing pressure on the pitching — the most experienced segment of East Carolina's team.
Gavin Williams, Jake Kuchmaner and Tyler Smith are all guys with major experience. While at the backend of the bullpen, two-way talent Alec Burleson has success experience as both a starter and reliever, tallying 68 strikeouts in 60.1 innings of work last season.
ECU will continue to be fueled by last season and its quest for reaching the College World Series. The Pirates hosted the first round of the postseason but are still looking for their first trip to Omaha in program history.
The offensive lineup has some uncertainty, but the pieces are in place to have yet another solid campaign.