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GT Baseball Primer

Bird posed a couple of questions to me about our baseball team in preparation for OPENING DAY on Friday.  Here is the Q&A, my answers in italics.  It's kind of long, but maybe it'll help you get through the day...

What are the highlights of Georgia Tech's returning team offensively?
Well, Tech has 6 returning starters on the field.  The highlights for the offensive attack come from Jeff Rowland, Tony Plagman and Matt Skole, in my opinion. 
Jeff (or Jeffrow as myself and YellowJackette prefer to call him) is a fantastic leadoff man.  Jeffrow hit .340 last season with 8 HR, 13 doubles (tied for 2nd on the team), and stole 21 bases on 26 attempts.  In addition, his fielding percentage was .960.  Jeffrow really has everything you're looking for in a leadoff guy: hit for average, speed, plate discipline (tied for 2nd on the team last season with 31 BB), and even some surprise power.  8 HR in the leadoff spot ain't nothin to sneeze at.  I'm expecting another solid performance out of Jeffrey this year.
Tony Plagman will once again be a gem for this offensive attack.  Last year he batted cleanup for us but he could probably slide into that coveted 3-spot in the lineup.  The previous couple seasons that spot has been held by Luke Murton and Matthew Wieters, so Tony has some big shoes to fill.  Last year Tony had a monster season: .354 average (T-1st on team), 87 hits (led team), 18 doubles (led team), 16 HR (2nd on team), and 73 RBI (led team).  To go all the way, we'll need that kind of production or better from Tony again this year.  Even more important... Tony and I are good buddies ever since we worked on a project for our marketing class, a fact that eats away at the soul of my buddy Jose on a daily basis.

Finally, Matt Skole will be an important piece of our team this year.  Last season, Matt began the season on an offensive tear the likes of which I hadn't seen before.  In my opinion, he started faster than Derek Dietrich did the year before.  However, he cooled off tremendously during the ACC season.  His numbers for the year were respectable: .302 avg, 17 HR, and 58 RBI.  But Skole struck out a whopping 69 times last season.  He'll have to improve his discipline and not try to smash every pitch he likes at the plate.  Matt has world class power (any of you that were at the second game of the Clemson series last year when he hit the roof of the freaking field house in right field on the fly can vouch for that).  He will need to maintain this power, but also learn to take more pitches and get on base.  Also, Matt will be assuming the role of backup catcher in addition to starting at 3rd base.  Generally, Danny Hall plays his backup catcher twice a week on Wednesday and Sunday.  Coach Hall has stated that he has confidence in Matt taking on that role, but it remains to be seen how he will perform there.  We need Matt to maintain his offensive production while taking on an extra challenge on defense.

Now, some of you might be saying (Winfield especially), "What about Derek Dietrich??"  Well, since I don't have a man crush on double-D (anymore) and Winfield does, I'll give you the straight talk about Derek as I see it.  My dislike for his current game doesn't come close to the level of YellowJackette, but I've grown less and less fond of his game from last season until now.  Derek came in as a highly touted freshman (he was drafted in the 3rd round by the Astros as a senior is high school, but came to Tech because of an injury to his throwing shoulder) and lit up the ACC.  I won't even bother posting the stats because they were out of this world.  But last year, Derek never got it going and to me, he really didn't seem to care.  He swung at bad pitches all year and was unreliable at the end of games.  Throw in his ultra-erratic fielding (14 errors at short last year) and you've got one frustrating player to watch.  I hope Derek gets it together this year, we need him to.  But for now, he's on my "F*cking Chris House" list, along with Zach Peacock, and Chris House. 

For those of you that need an explanation, I have invented a list of players that the general public views as a "good" player, but who is actually terrible.  Thus was born the "F*cking Chris House" list.  

Number 1 on the list, ahead of the man the list is named for incredibly, is Zach Peacock.  For some strange reason, Zach thinks that since he's a shooting guard trapped in the body of a 6'10 center.  He takes step-back 3s and crazy fade-away jump shots while being quite possibly the worst defender ever.  Even after 3.5 years of playing college basketball, he still has no clue who to cover on a switch.  Just stop already Zach, you're not a 3 man, you are a freaking 4 or 5 and you can't play any defense.  Sorry you have to hear this, but someone needs to shout the truth from the mountain tops.  I will say it's not all Zach's fault.  He can't help it that his coach is incompetent (yeah that's right Bird, I said it) and has actually managed a losing ACC record with 3 McDonald's All-Americans on the roster.  I mean we have absolutely no offense.  I'm watching the Kansas vs. Texas A&M game now and Kansas just ran a 3-man weave to get Sherron Collins open.  Does Paul Hewitt know what a 3-man weave is?  

And Chris House, don't even get me started... yeah yeah he never made an error in the field, I know but you know what?  He only hit HRs against Mercer and didn't steal a base till his senior season.  He's a nice guy and all, but seriously, I'm so glad we'll have an actual right fielder this year.

I don't like to hate on our players, but I've given up hope on the baketball team this season and Chris House has graduated, so it's fair game. 

Alright, happy thoughts people.  How did I start ranting about Zach Peacock during my baseball preview??  Let's get back to the subject at hand...

What do we know about Georgia Tech's returning pitchers?
We know that we have a bunch of badasses. 

This year's staff is one of the strongest ever at Tech.  The weekend rotation is as solid as I've ever seen it.  All-American Deck McGuire will anchor the staff.  Last season, Deck went 11-2 with a 3.50 ERA, 118 SO, and 41 BB.  He's a typical power pitcher with a ridiculous fastball (in the mid 90s with excellent movement) and a devastating changeup.  His only issue last season was getting off to a slow start.  If Deck can get rid of the early inning jitters, we won't lose a Friday game this year.  That's just a fact.

The Saturday starter is Brandon Cumpton, who started most Sunday games for us last year.  Brandon has excellent stuff. His problem has always been control and the mental side of the game.  Once things start going wrong, Brandon seems to have a tough time recovering.  Hopefully, another year of seasoning has helped his game and he'll be able to use his great stuff to the team's advantage this year.

The Sunday starter this season will be Mark Pope.  Besides dating one of the hottest chicks on campus, Mark was also busy last fall making the switch from the bullpen to the starting rotation.  Last season, Mark served as the closer and single-handedly blew the rubber match against UVA by giving up 6 runs in the 9th inning!!!! I'm sorry if that was painful to relive for some of you.  While I haven't gotten over that blown save yet, I will say that Mark should be a much better starter than closer.  From what I saw, it took Mark a while to get his stuff going, but once he gets in a groove, he's lights out.  Mark isn't a power pitcher.  Instead he can throw a lot of off-speed stuff to set up his fastball, which can touch the low 90s.  He's got one of, if not the best, curve ball that I've seen in a college pitcher that he can throw for strikes or use to get hitters to chase it.

The bullpen will be led by senior Andrew Robinson (ARob to me, obviously) and Kevin Jacob.  ARob is a great setup man who throws hard and has been in tough spots before.  His leadership will be big for our younger pitchers.  Kevin Jacob has the best stuff of anyone on the team, even McGuire.  Last season he rotated between starter and long-reliever.  He had a lot of issues with his control last season but it seems he solved those problems this past summer when he played in the Alaska Baseball League and was named the number one prospect in that league at the end of the summer by Baseball America.  His final stats from the Summer League were outrageous: 2-1 record, 0.34 ERA, 46 SO, in 26.2 IP.  0.34 ERA!!!!!!!  HE ALLOWED ONE EARNED RUN THE ENTIRE SUMMER... AND ONLY 9 HITS.  Try to wrap your mind around that... you can't do it, it's impossible.  Kevin will serve as the closer this year.  His fastball can hit 98mph, plus some good off-speed stuff.  Combine that with his highly unusual delivery motion (it's kind of a shortened version of Hideo Nomo combined with Hideki Okajima) and you have a deadly combination.  As long as he has control, I feel really comfortable with the back end of the bullpen.

Who are the big dogs in the ACC this year?  Will UVA repeat as tourney champs?
Like every year, the ACC is probably the strongest baseball conference in America.  There are 6 teams in Baseball America's Preseason Top-25 including 3 in the top-10.  UVA is ranked 2nd, Tech is 6th, and FSU is 9th.  UVA should be very strong, like usual, but obviously GT will be winning the ACC and NCAA tournaments this year, without question.  Clemson will be much improved from a year ago.  UNC is down a little bit, but Mike Fox always brings a good team that is well coached and has good pitching.  I'd watch out for them again this year.

If you could recommend one baseball game or series for non-baseball fans to attend, what game or series would it be?
I would say the Clemson series, for a couple of reasons.  First and most importantly, I will be at this series and it will be the only regular season series I plan on attending this year unfortunately.  So I will be unleashing heckles the likes of which won't be heard during the rest of the season.  It will probably be worth coming just to hear that.  Plus, Jack Leggett is the worst human being on the face of this planet and deserves to hear the wrath of every Georgia Tech fan present.  If you don't hate him yet, you will after this series.  Plus this series is always fun.  Both teams are perennial powerhouses, have great baseball tradition (ours is much better than Clemson, obviously).  I think this will be the marquee match-up at the Rusty C this season 

I have to say this as well... If you're not a baseball fan, make an effort to become one this season.  Baseball at Georgia Tech is unappreciated and is taken for granted by far too many Georgia Tech fans.  We have one of the best programs in the country, yet we are at the bottom of the ACC in terms of attendance.  So here's my pitch to you.  Come out to at least 3 weekend series this season... bring the whole family if you'd like (don't worry, I always keep the heckles clean, for the kids).  I think you'll like what you see.  We have a lot of great players and a great coach who put a great product out on that field.  Come out and hang with Reck Club at the top of Section 10, or some of my crew in section 12.  I promise you'll have a good time.

That's my pitch, I'll get off the soapbox.

Speed round...first thoughts in three words or less...
Preseason MVP: Tony Plagman
Post-seaston Goals: National Championship
Delta Derby: Kind of boring
Ring of Fire: Drunk
Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road: Drunker

I'll add a couple of my own...

Danny Hall: you're the greatest
Baseball drink: The Turkey
Best snack: sunflower seeds