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Previewing Georgia Tech Baseball: The Infield

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Georgia Tech loses a couple key pieces here, but brings in a lot of young talent.

Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics

Last year, Georgia Tech had to overcome the loss of former captain Mott Hyde in the infield. The excellent second baseman was gone. Moving into this year, the Yellow Jackets have lost a couple more guys, including one of the best players from last year's team.

Catcher

Last year, Tech's catching situation was a little bit more in flux than it had been the year before. Arden Pabst was still the starter for most of the season, but senior AJ Murray also came in and started quite a few games behind the plate.

With Murray's graduation, it seems like it would be Pabst's job to lose, and in a sense it is. He had a pretty solid season last year, finishing with a slash line of .235/.355/.339, a home run and 18 RBIs. He's also an ace defensively behind the plate, catching 25 runners stealing (44.5 percent rate), both of which were tops in the ACC. He was also named as one of Tech's two captains for this year, joining Jonathan King.

Pabst struggled, however, in his summer league, finishing with an average of .195 with no home runs, three RBIs, 23 strikeouts and six errors (only four in his entire career at Tech) in 23 games.

With Pabst's offensive struggles, it becomes more likely that true freshman Joey Bart could slide in and start to take some playing time away from him, as he was an absolute slugger at Buford.

While in high school, Bart became Buford's all-time leader in hits, RBIs and runs scored. In his senior season, he .437 and had 35 RBIs and collected a handful of different honors: first-team GHSA AAA All-State honors (2013-2015), Louisville Slugger All-American First Team (2015), All-USA Georgia Baseball Team by USA Today High School Sports (2014-2015). He also dominated in his summer league for the East Cobb Yankees with a slash line of .449/.541/.709, three home runs, 54 RBIs, 23 walks and 18 strikeouts in 47 games.

So yeah, Bart is pretty good. It should definitely be these two guys leading the way behind the plate. Backing them up will be some combination of senior Grant Wruble and true freshman Will Galloway.

Wruble didn't do much for the Jackets last season, but had a pretty solid Summer League: .305/.380/.421, two home runs, 15 RBIs. His versatility in playing catcher and the outfield, however, will keep him as a back-up.

Another name to watch out for as a backup is Trevor Craport. Similar to Wruble, Craport has a ton of versatility. RamblinWreck.com currently lists him as a utility guy, but I know he was listed as a catcher last season, so it's very possible he could play there if necessary.

All in all, though, I'd be shocked if Arden Pabst wasn't starting on opening day. Despite a poor summer, Pabst is still an ace behind the plate and provides enough offensive value to hang on to the starting job. Bart will probably be breathing down his neck all season, but he'll get playing time too, though it may be at first or DH.

Predicted Starter: Arden Pabst

First Base

And this is where things get very interesting. Last year, this position was anchored by Thomas Smith and AJ Murray, but now both of them are gone, so this position is pretty much wide open for competition. Let's look at some of the candidates for this position.

In my mind, there are four candidates for this starting spot right now: two returning players in Kel Johnson and Brandon Gold and two new players in Joey Bart and Brandt Stallings.

Starting with Kel Johnson, he joined Tech last season as a freshman and was an instant fan-favorite for his abilities offensively. Prior to his ankle injury, he was Tech's best offensive player, but even down the stretch following the injury, he was still pretty solid. He finished with a slash line of .298/.369/.570, 10 home runs, 34 RBIs and spotless defense from mostly right field. He ended up being named to quite a few honors, most notably Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American.

Unfortunately, his injury carried over into the summer, as he was hampered and finished very poorly: .151 batting average, one home run, seven RBIs and 24 strikeouts in 14 games.

The other returning player vying for the first base job is Brandon Gold. Gold was a better pitcher than he was an offensive player last season, which is saying something because he was no slouch with the bat. He finished last season with a slash line of .273/.371/.403, one home run and 11 RBIs while splitting time between first and third.

Over the summer, his numbers went down quite a bit. He finished with a .231 batting average, no home runs, five RBIs and 27 strikeouts in 24 games.

I already talked about Joey Bart in the last section, so I'll move right along to Brandt Stallings. Though he is listed as an outfielder per RamblinWreck.com, Stallings also has the ability to play first base. He brings another tremendous bat to Georgia Tech's lineup. While in high school at King's Ridge Christian School, Stallings broke a school record by finishing his career with 23 home runs over his career. In his senior season, he was named to the 2015 First Team Louisville Slugger High School All-American Team.

Ultimately, I think Stallings is destined for left field, but I think for the time being, there is certainly a possibility that he sees a little bit of time at first this season.

As for the starter, I think it will be Brandon Gold when he's not pitching. When he is pitching, we will probably see some combination of Joey Bart and Brandt Stallings.

Predicted Starter: Brandon Gold

Second Base

This should be a pretty easy position battle. Wade Bailey is the returning starter here and seemed to establish some really good chemistry with his double play partner Connor Justus. Bailey had a solid season offensively, finishing with a slash line of .255/.312/.335, one home run, 27 RBIs and 5-of-7 in stolen bases.

Unfortunately, his numbers dipped a little bit as he went into his summer league. He finished with a .185 batting average, one extra-base hit and one RBI over his 10 games played (27 at-bats).

The only other player who could vie for some playing is true freshman Carter Hall. Hall had a pretty impressive career at Wesleyan School, where he finished with a career .360 batting average. To that, he also adds 68 RBIs, 42 stolen bases and six triples (a school record) in his career.

Over the summer, Hall had a pretty solid season as well. He finished with a slash line of .297/.429/.419, one home run, 15 RBIs, 17 walks to eight strikeouts and 12 stolen bases.

Hall will probably turn out to be a solid player in due time, but for now, it's Wade Bailey's job.

Predicted Starter: Wade Bailey

Third Base

This is another pretty easy position battle, as Tech really only has a couple of guys who even have experience playing the hot corner, with one of them being a senior and one of the team's most experienced players.

Should Brandon Gold not end up at first base, he'll likely end up at third. But I think this one is a no-brainer as to who the starter should be: Matt Gonzalez.

In his time at Tech, Gonzalez has split time between the hot corner and left field, both of which he has excelled at. This past season, he started off pretty slow, but picked up down the stretch and finished with a slash line of .285/.317/.412, five home runs, 42 RBIs and 10-of-14 in stolen bases.

Unfortunately for Gonzalez, he struggled a bit over the summer, finishing the Cape Cod League with a .231 average in 31 games, but added four home runs and was 2-of-3 in stolen bases. He only managed 7 RBIs, though, and racked up 37 strikeouts to just six walks.

Gonzalez should be the guy at third, barring any unforeseen circumstances, but he still has plenty to work on. He brings a lot of power potential to the plate, as evidenced by his summer league performance of four home runs in just 31 games (99 at-bats), but has yet to have that translate over to his playing time at Tech, where he had a career-high five home runs in 55 games (221 at-bats).

Predicted Starter: Matt Gonzalez

Short Stop

Just as it has been with the last two spots in the infield, we have another easy competition. If anyone thinks that Connor Justus won't be the guy here, plain and simple, they're wrong. He's been the guy there for the last two years and is a defensive whiz at short with good range and a strong arm.

Offensively, though, he certainly does lack in some areas. He finished last season with a slash line of .249/.349/.308 with one home run, 24 RBIs and 5-of-5 in stolen bases.

Like Gonzalez, he has definite power potential that he showed off in his summer league, where he hit .210 with four home runs and 11 total extra-base hits in 38 games (124 at-bats). Also like Gonzalez, he has yet to have that transfer to the Flats: one home run (nine total extra-base hits) in 54 games (185 at-bats).

Carter Hall and Wade Bailey both also have the versatility to play short, but I see those two as more likely to play at second base.

Predicted Starter: Connor Justus

Conclusion

I think Georgia Tech has a very strong infield this season. There is some huge power potential, especially at first base depending on who starts there. The thing that they will have to get under control, though, is that youth and living up to some of that potential.

This unit has the potential to be one of the best that the ACC has to offer, but there will need to be noticeable progression from last season.

Position Name B/T
Catcher Arden Pabst R/R
First Base Brandon Gold R/R
Second Base Wade Bailey R/R
Third Base Matt Gonzalez R/R
Short Stop Connor Justus R/R

How does Tech's infield shape out this season?