2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 25 East Carolina
Last season: 47-18 (20-4 in American Athletic Conference); reached super regional
Final ranking: No. 12
Coach (record at school): Cliff Godwin (201-109-1, five seasons)
The good news: Coming off of the program’s fifth-ever super regional appearance and second in the last four seasons, ECU returns a roster with some star power. Two-way player Alec Burleson’s tools don’t jump out at you, but he’s an elite competitor who can pitch in any role, and in 2019, he developed into a middle-of-the-order power bat as well. Projected Friday starter Gavin Williams, who pitched primarily in relief last season, is a Top 100 draft prospect with a fastball that can touch triple digits. Lefthander Jake Kuchmaner will slot in behind Williams in the rotation after sporting a 2.99 ERA last season, and famously, throwing a perfect game against Maryland.
The bad news: The personnel losses, particularly in the lineup, are extensive. The power-hitting duo of Bryant Packard and Spencer Brickhouse has departed, as has catcher Jake Washer, who actually led the team with 17 homers, and a four-year starting shortstop in Turner Brown. There are experienced players ready to step in, such as catcher Seth Caddell, first baseman Thomas Francisco and shortstop Ryder Giles, but they’re going to be asked to take on a lot more in 2020. Last year’s ace, Jake Agnos, is also gone, but the hope is that the emergence of Williams will help mitigate that loss.
Player to know: Alec Burleson, UTL.
Burleson gives ECU an incredible amount of versatility, and not just because he’s a two-way player. Within those individual aspects, he gives his team a lot of options. On the mound, he has had success starting and relieving, and will go into 2020 as the team’s closer. In the field, he is penciled in at left field as it stands now, but can also handle first base, where he is fantastic defensively. His pitching numbers were fairly similar from 2018 to 2019, but he developed into an impact bat last season, going from .252/.325/.282 to .370/.399/.573, all while maintaining an incredibly low strikeout rate. After spending his summer with Team USA, Burleson returns to Greenville ready to be the Pirates’ primary catalyst.
Path to Omaha: East Carolina knows what it has in Burleson and Kuchmaner, and to a certain extent, Williams, but the team’s chances of breaking through to Omaha for the first time in program history are closely tied to their success in bringing along the players like Caddell, Francisco and Giles, among others, who were stuck behind experienced stars last season. If a number of those guys turn into the next wave of stars in the program, Burleson and Kuchmaner are what they were last season and Williams’ conversion to a Friday starter goes swimmingly, the Pirates could get it done.
Alec Burleson Quickly Hits His Way To Double-A
Cardinals scouts lauded the 2020 second-rounder for his ability to hit, and he showed that ability in his pro debut to earn a quick bump to Double-A.
|C||Seth Caddell, Jr.||.241||.284||.434||4||13||83|
|1B||Thomas Francisco, So.||.319||.451||.478||4||26||113|
|2B||Connor Norby, So.||.194||.286||.290||1||6||31|
|3B||Zach Agnos, Fr.||HS -- Haymarket, Va.|
|SS||Ryder Giles, So.||.242||.385||.295||1||26||149|
|LF||Alec Burleson, Jr.||.370||.399||.573||9||61||246|
|CF||Bryson Worrell, Jr.||.253||.327||.442||5||19||95|
|RF||Lane Hoover, So.||.328||.448||.358||0||15||134|
|DH||Christian Smallwood, R-Jr.||.133||.278||.000||0||1||15|
|RHP||Gavin Williams, Jr.||1||4||4.56||49.1||56||1|
|LHP||Jake Kuchmaner, Jr.||7||2||2.99||87.1||73||0|
|RHP||Tyler Smith, Sr.||7||1||5.57||74.1||49||0|
|RP||Alec Burleson, Jr.||6||2||3.28||60.1||68||5|
|RP||Matt Bridges, R-Sr.||DNP -- Injured|