Georgia Tech baseball has an athletic, balanced lineup led by six quality upperclassmen, and some very intriguing but largely unproven talent on the mound. A loaded freshman class provides big reinforcements, positioning the Yellow Jackets in a promising position entering 2020. Belief is present, especially after earning the No. 19 ranking in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Georgia Tech team:
2019 record: 43-19
Coach (record at school): Danny Hall (1,062-551, 26 seasons)
Ballpark: Russ Chandler Stadium (4,157)
Postseason history: 32 regionals (active streak: 1), 3 CWS trips (last in 2006)
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In this preview of Georgia Tech's 2020 season, we've graded the Jackets 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 Georgia Tech in 2020.
Georgia Tech's projected lineup
|C||Jake Holland, Fr.||HS — Montverde, Fla.|
|1B||Drew Compton, Fr.||HS — Berkeley Heights, N.J.|
|2B||Austin Wilhite, Sr.||.266/.366/.349||1||32||12|
|3B||Jackson Webb, Sr.||.312/.437/.408||1||19||13|
|SS||Luke Waddell, Jr.||.322/.436/.416||2||34||7|
|LF||Michael Guldberg, Jr.||.355/.441/.416||2||34||7|
|CF||Colin Hall, Jr.||.307/.363/.432||4||41||4|
|RF||Baron Radcliff, Jr.||.257/.403/.503||12||44||6|
|DH||Andrew Jenkins, Fr.||HS — Atlanta|
Georgia Tech's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Jonathan Hughes, Sr.||9-2||5.09||53||48||23||0|
|SP #2||Cort Roedig, So.||2-2||4.88||48||47||24||0|
|SP #3||Luke Bartnicki, So.||2-2||6.40||32.1||32||21||0|
|Closer||Zach Maxwell, Fr.||HS — Dallas, Ga.|
Grading the Yellow Jackets: 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.
Georgia Tech led the ACC in batting and ranked third in the conference and 16th in the nation in scoring last year, but it must replace a pair of All-Americans in Kyle McCann and Tristin English plus a .300-plus hitter in Nick Wilhite. Still, there’s a core of very advanced veteran hitters returning, and one of the nation’s very best groups of freshman position players provides reinforcements.
Luke Waddell is the straw that stirs the drink for this team; he’s one of the best table-setters in college baseball thanks to his elite plate discipline (45 walks against 22 strikeouts last year) and his compact line-drive stroke from the left side. Michael Guldberg is an ideal No. 2 hole hitter who walked (31) about as often as he whiffed (32) last year and showed off his high-end bat-to-ball skills by hitting a team-best .355. Switch-hitter Jackson Webb is in the same mold — a contact-oriented veteran who grinds out at-bats and walks as much as he strikes out.
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There’s more swing-and-miss elsewhere in the lineup, but Colin Hall and Austin Wilhite both have good enough line-drive swings and speed to hit for solid average despite their higher strikeout rates. Baron Radcliff offsets his higher strikeout rate (68 K) with plenty of walks (46), and he came on like gangbusters in the second half last year, hitting .317/.458/.653 in conference play.
And then there are those three freshmen. Drew Compton looks like the next in a long line of great Georgia Tech sluggers. A 6-foot-2, 205-pound switch-hitter, Compton has a quiet setup and an advanced feel for his barrel from both sides. The right-handed-hitting Andrew Jenkins has similar strength and is similarly advanced, as illustrated by the fact that Tech hit Compton and Jenkins in the 4- and 5-holes against outside competition this fall. Jake Holland is likely behind the other two offensively, but he did impress with his ability to drive the ball the other way in the fall.
McCann and English combined to hit 41 of Tech’s 69 home runs last year, leaving Radcliff as the only returnee who hit more than four long balls. Radcliff has gargantuan raw power from the left side and has made big progress learning to harness it; he’s got a chance to lead the league in homers if he takes another step forward with his consistency as a junior.
Compton has legitimate plus power from both sides of the plate, and it plays to the opposite field as well as the pull side. Jenkins is shorter at 6-foot, but his 205-pound frame is packed with strength, and he figures to hit for plenty of power in his Tech career.
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Freshman Stephen Reid is the wild card; the Jackets use the word “generational” to describe his raw power potential, and if his approach matures quickly he could battle for at-bats in the DH slot. Holland also has promising pop to the opposite field. The question is how quickly that power tool will show up for those freshmen because it can often take a year for college hitters to harness their raw power. In Compton’s case, we’re particularly optimistic it will show up right away.
The rest of the lineup is mostly a gap-to-gap gang, though the wiry Hall made significant strength gains in the offseason and could hit a few more long balls as a junior.
Tech could make up for the fact that it has less proven power than usual by taking advantage of more team speed than it usually has. Waddell has shown plus-plus run times from home to first and is an instinctive throw-back style player who might be more aggressive on the basepaths as a junior after swiping seven bags a year ago.
Guldberg, Wilhite and Hall all have at least above-average speed and can flash plus run times. The coaches say Hall is the best baserunner on the team, and they plan to cut him loose on the basepaths more this spring. Webb also has solid speed and stole 13 bases in 15 tries last year.
Radcliff, even at 6-foot-4 and 239 pounds, might be the fastest player on the team underway, and he went 6-for-6 in steal attempts last year. Wiry, quick-twitch freshman outfielder Tres Gonzalez is an easy plus runner who could serve as a valuable pinch-runner or push for more regular playing time because he has a pretty advanced feel for hitting as well.
Tech was a pretty average defensive squad in 2019, ranking 97th nationally with a .972 fielding percentage. This unit looks very strong up the middle, led by the elite double-play tandem of Waddell and Wilhite, two proven playmakers with excellent instincts and sure hands. Hall can really track it down in center and owns a major league arm, and Holland impressed the coaches in the fall with his ability to handle a staff, receive and block, with an arm that should play. Having a freshman at the critical catcher position is always a bit of a concern, however. Webb is a high-level defender at the hot corner who attacks slow rollers and makes strong, accurate throws on the run, but also shows excellent reactions on hot shots.
Guldberg and Radcliff should both be very good on the outfield corners, where they’ll have more range than their peers. Radcliff also has flashed good arm strength, but not consistently. Guldberg has recovered well from the shoulder injury that limited him to DH duties in the past, and he looked good defensively in the fall.
Starting Pitching: 55
This grade could prove too conservative because Georgia Tech has three very exciting power arms slated for the weekend rotation, but all three will be new to the roles and must prove they can do it after being inconsistent in 2019.
First and foremost is fifth-year senior right-hander Jonathan Hughes, who finally looks ready to harness the talent that made him a second-round pick out of high school back in 2015. After posting a 2.46 ERA in five starts as a freshman, Hughes went down with elbow surgery, and his stuff and command weren’t quite the same over the next three years, when he posted ERAs north of 5 each year. But in the fall, Hughes was simply electrifying, attacking the strike zone at 92-95 and bumping 96 with a high spin-rate fastball in the 2400-2500 rpm range. He also showed as good a slider as you’ll see in college baseball, a wipeout pitch in the 83-86 range with a ridiculous spin rate between 2900 and 3100 rpm. And he even showed good feel for an 83-85 changeup that induced a couple swing-and-misses. The Jackets need him to blossom into a bona fide Friday night ace.
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A wiry-strong, athletic, 6-foot-2, 192-pound righty, Cort Roedig presents an incredibly unique look: He starts his windup from a deep crouch, and then launches into a hyper-uptempo, herky-jerky delivery. It’s unorthodox, but he repeats it, and the ball jumps out of his hand. Roedig worked at 92-94 and touched 95 in our fall look, and he flashed a 12-to-6 hammer curve at 74-76 with a spin rate around 2400 rpm. He also showed the ability to throw a quality mid-80s changeup to righties as well as lefties, giving him three legitimate weapons.
Luke Bartnicki, the highest-profile member of the 2018 recruiting class, is also being groomed as a potential starter after struggling with his command as a reliever last year. A physical low three-quarters left hander with a wrap in the back of his delivery that could impact the consistency of his command, Bartnicki works at 87-93 with very good sink and arm-side run at times, and Hall likes his changeup. The key for him is developing a consistent breaking ball — he threw a 79-82 mph sweeper that lacked bite in our fall look, though he flashed better feel to spin in the Cape League last summer.
Freshman righty Jackson Arnold appears in line for midweek starts. He’s a strike-thrower with an uptempo delivery who attacks hitters with a low-90s fastball, a promising breaking ball and a developing changeup. He impressed the coaches with his advanced composure for his age.
The Jackets lost their bullpen anchor in English, a two-way star a year ago — but they gained two potential anchors in the freshman Zach Maxwell and fourth-year junior Andy Archer, who made a strong recovery from an elbow injury (non-Tommy John) that cost him all of last season. Maxwell is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound lumberjack with premium arm strength and a clean high three-quarters arm action. He sat comfortably at 94-96 and bumped 97-98 in the fall, and his fastball also has a good spin rate in the 2400-2500 range, making it tough to square up, especially up in the zone. His power slider at 82-85 was a bit inconsistent in our look, but it flashed obvious wipeout potential, with a spin rate as high as 2800 rpm. His changeup remains a work in progress, and he’ll issue his share of walks, but he has the overpowering stuff to get himself out of trouble with big strikeouts.
Archer was a revelation in the fall — he pounded 93 mph in our look, and Hall said he’s been up to 94-95 this fall, a significant jump from where he was before the injury. He’s always owned one of college baseball’s best changeups, and it was as dirty as ever in the fall, tumbling off the table at 82-84 mph. But he’s also made serious progress with his 75-78 curveball, giving him a third weapon that would help him thrive in longer stints, making him the likely moment-of-truth “trouble shooter,” like English was.
Other notable returning arms include left-handers Will Shirah, Joseph Mannelly and Brant Hurter plus righty Hugh Chapman. Those four all fall into the “wild card” category, as they work their way back from injuries. Shirah had some bone spurs removed from his elbow, sidelining him in the fall, but he has a quick arm when healthy. Chapman was up to 94 earlier in the fall before getting shut down for a time with shoulder tendinitis and then returning at the end of the fall. Mannelly is expected to be ready to go when spring practice starts in February, but Hurter is most likely to miss all of 2020 while working his way back from Tommy John surgery, though there’s at least a chance he’s back in action when May rolls around.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets will count on additional talented freshmen to bolster their bullpen depth. Right-hander Jackson Finley was 92-94 in the fall and flashed a promising curveball at 76-78, but his command of his fastball and breaker remain works in progress. Lefty Dalton Smith attacked at 88-90 from a short, quick three-quarters arm action and showed a very good tumbling changeup at 80-81. Fellow lefty Josiah Siegel carved at 86-87 with good angle from a three-quarters slot, and his 79-80 slider should be a nice second pitch for him. Jenkins could also see bullpen innings, and Hall said the Jackets have messed around with him as a potential closer because he can miss bats with his 92-93 fastball and hard slider. So Tech should be a little deeper on the mound than it was last year, when the bullpen was very thin — but that will depend on how a bunch of unproven freshmen and older guys coming off injury can develop.
The Yellow Jackets snapped out of a two-year funk by landing a top-eight national seed during a fun 2019 season, giving this roster at least a taste of the postseason — though it ended on a sour note after Auburn stunned the Jackets with a dramatic walk-off homer in the winners’ bracket game, then shut Tech down in the rematch the next day.
This lineup features six returning upperclassmen with everyday experience, taking a little of the pressure off the freshmen — but Tech is really counting on those freshmen to provide some power and bolster the bullpen. If the youngsters grow up fast, perhaps Georgia Tech can win its first regional since 2006 because the overall talent level on this roster is very exciting.