Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. Today’s preview features the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Georgia Tech had one of the best offenses in the conference in 2012, but only mustered a 12-18 record in the conference. Nonetheless, the Yellow Jackets won the ACC Championship in Greensboro and return nearly all of their key components from that team, earning the Jackets plenty of preseason buzz.
Other than Luke Bard (younger brother of Boston Red Sox pitcher and former Tar Heel Daniel), all of Georgia Tech’s drafted non-seniors will return to Atlanta for 2013. The Yellow Jackets led the ACC in home runs and hits last season, and were third in doubles, and triples. This includes three players drafted from last year’s Yellow Jacket roster and one incoming freshman.
Junior outfielder Brandon Thomas and junior pitcher Buck Farmer were surprising returns, as both were taken early in the 2012 MLB Draft. Thomas, like Stanford’s Mark Appel, went unsigned by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thomas sports the highest batting average (.360) of any returning ACC player, as Florida State’s James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd, along with Virginia’s Stephen Bruno, have moved on. Thomas’s bat will lead the way for the Jackets this season.
Thomas and Farmer were both All-ACC First Team members in 2012. Farmer posted a 3.54 ERA and 8-4 record in 16 starts in 2012. Farmer was third in the ACC in strikeouts (115) and selected in the 15th round by the Milwaukee Brewers, but will anchor a rotation along with junior Dusty Isaacs and sophomore Cole Pitts. He did allow 14 home runs, so Farmer will hope to improve on keeping the ball in the yard in 2013.
The pitching staff as a whole will work on improving on a disappointing 2012 season. The Yellow Jackets were 10th in the ACC in earned run average (4.42), eighth in opposing batting average (.257), and last in home runs allowed (47). Those numbers are inflated to a certain extent by playing in Russ Chandler Stadium, especially for left-handed batters. However, ACC batters sported a .282 batting average against the Yellow Jackets and hit 28 home runs to Georgia Tech’s .270 and 24 home runs in ACC play.
The Yellow Jackets will lose their home run leader in 2012 in Jake Davies (14), but Daniel Palka remains. Palka had 12 homers in both 2012 and 2011, making him the greatest long ball threat in the lineup. Many of Palka’s stats remain unchanged between his freshman and sophomore seasons, as his batting average increased six points. However, he did have 21 fewer strikeouts (71 in 2011, 50 in 2012) , which could be a sign of improvement to come for Palka. Also, it’s hard to complain on “only” increasing batting average from .297 to .303.
Zane Evans is the Yellow Jackets’ Swiss Army Knife. Many consider him the best defensive catcher in the conference. Last season, roughly one out of every four baserunners who attempted to steal against Evans were thrown out, and he only committed four errors. He also batted .295, with 17 doubles and 51 RBI top ten in the ACC). Evans also served as the team’s closer, recording seven saves and posting a 3.68 ERA in 2012. Also, his name is Zane Evans. I’d joke about it being like we are brothers, but he really does have an older brother named Zach per his biography on the Georgia Tech website.
Matt Gonzalez is a talented freshman shortstop who will be joining the fold in 2013 despite being drafted in the 11th round. Scouts were impressed with Gonzalez’s arm strength and defensive range in the middle infield. Gonzalez was named the Georgia Dugout AAAAA Player of the Year as a sophomore after leading his Harrison (Ga.) Hoyas to a AAAAA State Championship.
It’s worth pointing out that Georgia Tech has received similar preseason praise in recent seasons. However, they have struggled in postseason play. Georgia Tech hasn’t won a Regional since 2006, when they were one of four ACC teams to reach the College World Series but suffered losses to Clemson and Cal State-Fullerton for a swift elimination in Omaha. In 2012, the Yellow Jackets were projected as the second-best team in the Coastal Division and the 12th-ranked team in the nation, but finished eighth in the conference, barely qualifying for the ACC Tournament.
However, that same team that barely qualified for the ACC Tournament ended up winning it, and many of the key players on this year’s squad were freshmen and sophomores who played key roles for the 2011 Yellow Jackets, which finished 22-8 in ACC play, tied for first in the Coastal. The tools are there for a very good season in Atlanta, involving battling for ACC supremacy and snapping that drought of appearances in Omaha. It’ll simply be a matter of execution.