The good news is that Tech didn’t lose much outfield talent to attrition or to graduation this offseason, but the bad news is that playing time and getting the right talent in the right places could prove to haunt the Yellow Jackets’ chances.
Before we get started, it might make some sense to just get an idea of what we’re working with:
2019 Roster (Outfield)
Bold for players largely starters last year
Carter Hall (RS Junior)
Cole Neuber (Sophomore)
Colin Hall (Sophomore)
Michael Guldberg (Sophomore)
Chase Murray (Junior)
Carter Tally (Freshman)
Baron Radcliff (Sophomore)
Ryan Miller (Freshman)
Paxton Rigby (Junior)
Nick Wilhite (Junior)
Will Shirah (RS Freshman)
And here’s how the veterans fared:
Returning Outfielders 2018 Stats
As you can see here, we return a lot of playing time, and a lot of starts. However, it’s probably a fair question to ask whether or not the right players were seeing productive time in the field and at the plate. Most notably, Baron Radcliff and Nick Wilhite saw substantial usage, despite batting below the Mendoza Line. Though the former was buoyed by his tremendous power - he slugged .348 in 89 at-bats - his tendency to avoid the base on balls hurt his on-base percentage tremendously. However, as the season progressed, Radcliff seemed to be trending more in the right direction. His speed, however, is a bit of a liability in the outfield, though in the corner position, it’s less vital. In his sophomore campaign, the latter walked an average amount of times, and he rarely struck out, but his tendency to hit into groundouts led to a dearth of hits and a slugging percentage to match his .155 batting average. So that’s the worse news.
The better news, though, is that Chase Murray is one of our better returning pieces both in the field and at the plate. His inclusion in the Opening Day lineup shouldn’t be doubted. Murray could very likely go to the draft after this season, probably in an early round, with another season as pleasantly productive as this past one.
I argue that Tech’s solution to its outfield problems lie in fixes already on its roster. Murray will man left field once more this season, we can be almost certain. Despite his several web gems deep in center field, Wilhite’s bat has been an undeniable blemish on a generally strong offensive team the past few years. Radcliff’s best asset is his powerful bat, so he probably should be used less in right field. Meanwhile, Colin Hall already saw substantial playing time, and his keen eye and decent bat should make a stride from his first campaign to his second. But, how should we fill the last spot?
Taking another look at the stats, and at the eye test from last spring, Michael Guldberg seems poised to seize more playing time this season. In his freshman year, he had only 38 at-bats, but managed the highest on-base percentage of anyone on the team, as he bolstered his .368 batting average with eight walks and got beaned three times. Getting Guldberg into the field with more regularity would be ideal.
I’ll admit, I don’t see this roster happening on Opening Day - it’s hard to dislodge an established started like Wilhite - I think the best option for the outfield will prove itself on the field pretty readily. By conference play, I expect Tech’s regular outfield to look something along the lines of:
Colin Hall RF
Michael Gulberg CF
Chase Murray LF
Though this would obviously mean less playing time for Radcliff, his powerful bat is his most valuable asset, and clearing Kyle McCann and Kel Johnson out of the designated hitter spot could give him the early season reps at the plate to find lasting success. I would expect to see Wilhite often in late-game scenarios as a defensive sub and a base stealing specialist, as his speed in the outfield and on the basepaths makes him a strategic weapon more than one that can reliably take hundreds of at-bats and turn them into a productive season at the plate. Carter Hall proved a serviceable substitute for days off and pinch hitting last year, and I expect that to continue in 2019, while hopefully getting freshmen Ryan Miller and Carter Tally in the mix, too. With the right usage, Tech’s outfield is primed for a solid season in 2019. Even though Tech has missed the postseason three of the last four years, it largely hasn’t been due to lack of talent, and I think a similar adage is true this year. Tech has the pieces to succeed, now it just remains to see if they’ll all fall into place.
For continuing coverage of the run-up to the 2019 baseball season, click here.
What are your thoughts on the outfield? Let us know below!