With opening day now just two days away, the time has come to take a look at Georgia Tech’s projected starting lineups. Today we’ll gaze at the team’s talent-laden infield, featuring a number of veteran contributors and some exciting newcomers who could challenge for at bats despite the largely set-in-stone nature of many infield positions.
Joey Bart is MLB.com’s 18th-best prospect for this summer’s MLB Amateur Player Draft. It’s high praise for the Georgia Tech junior but is well-deserved after his stunning 2017 season — one which saw him post a .296 average with a team-leading 13 homeruns and 43 RBIs. All that’s left for him to do here on the Flats is have another stellar season in 2018, get drafted by the Nationals at No. 27 overall, pretend he’s going to sign, meet Bryce Harper, slap Bryce Harper, and return to Tech for another excellent 2019 season. Easy.
Bart’s likely backup will be rising sophomore Kyle McCann, who started just shy of 40 games a season ago at a mix of positions which included catcher, first base, and designated hitter. Though he hit just .198 on the year, McCann threw out an impressive 7 of 15 baserunners who tried to run on him and put up a robust .383 OBP.
The early departure of Conner Justus prior to the 2016 season (miss you) left everyone wary of who would replicate his otherworldly production at the shortstop position, but it turned out that an heir apparent was already on the roster in the form of Austin Wilhite. A true freshman in 2017, Wilhite hit .338 — good for second on the team and fifteenth in the loaded ACC — with a .410 OBP en route to numerous Freshman All-America honors.
Wilhite will be challenged by freshman SS/RHP Oscar Serratos, assuming Serratos ends up on the field as opposed to the mound for the majority of the season. After spurning the Cleveland Indians and turning down a large sum of money to enroll at Tech, Serratos is now one of the biggest unknowns on Danny Hall’s entire roster. If he and Wilhite both find early-season success, I expect one or the other to play part time elsewhere on the infield.
Recent history tells us that first base will likely be another platoon, with incumbent co-starters Kel Johnson and Kyle McCann likely splitting something like 90% of the ABs and the occasional reserve soaking up the remaining 10%.
Johnson in particular will need to have a strong 2018 season to revive his MLB aspirations. Once an incredibly well-regarded power hitter, Johnson has faded over the past couple of years thanks to a combination of injury and strikeout issues. His ceiling remains as high as ever and he’s still a very strong contributor — hitting 10 homers and driving in 40 runs last season alone while splitting time between first base and designated hitter — but we’ve yet to see him return to his Freshman All-American form from 2015.
Once the second half of a record-setting double-play duo with Connor Justus (miss you), second baseman Wade Bailey will return for his swan song season on the Flats after leading the Jackets in batting (.347), OBP (.420), and hits (82). He has locked down the starting job at second since his freshman year back in 1970-something and that likely won’t be changing this time around, particularly considering the lack of proven commodities at his position.
The incoming class of freshmen is light on infielders outside of Serratos, with Luke Waddell and Michael Guldberg rounding it out at an even three. For the uninitiated, the nature of college baseball is that whether a player will play zero games or finish a Freshman All-American is a dice roll. As a purveyor of only the finest of semi-fake-news baseball conjecture whose takes are often lukewarm and always wrong, I’ll sit this one out and tell you that Bailey’s backup at second base is a mystery.
Welcome to third base, the land of the unknown. The departure of Trevor Craport to the MLB means that the Jackets will need to turn to a new face at the hot corner, and two potential candidates are Parker McCoy and whichever of Oscar Serratos and Austin Wilhite get bounced from full time duties shortstop. McCoy, now a redshirt freshman, was awarded a medical hardship exception after sustaining an injury early last season. He hit .250 during his abbreviated campaign, getting at bats at shortstop (a grand total of 4 for the season) before his injury.
This is a tricky position to project because Craport started every single game at third base last season and there isn’t a single player on the roster with even one start at third at the college level. There’s plenty of talent to compete for the job, but whether or not the best option will be the first one tried out remains to be seen.
Georgia Tech has one of the most talented infields in the ACC, if not the nation. Given the turnover rate in college baseball with eligibility restrictions and MLB interference, it’s incredibly rare to see a team return so many stalwarts who started every single game the year before while performing at All-Conference levels. Seeing a combination of returning stars and new faces will be an exciting storyline to follow all season long.