Georgia Tech Baseball: Five Questions to Answer Entering 2022
Georgia Tech has rebounded well from missing the postseason in 2017 and 2018. In 2019, it was the No. 3 national seed in the NCAA Tournament, and last season, it won the Coastal Division of the ACC at the end of a chaotic 36-game conference campaign.
But the Yellow Jackets are still waiting for the next big breakthrough. As consistently as they have made the postseason through the years, they haven’t been to the College World Series, or even to a super regional, since 2006.
The 2022 team has the talent to be the team that breaks through. How they answer these five questions will have a lot to say about whether they can reach that potential.
Who will take over in the weekend rotation?
Georgia Tech’s weekend rotation wasn’t dominant last season by any stretch of the imagination, but in lefthander Brant Hurter and righthander Andy Archer, it had two reliable arms lined up on Friday and Saturday. Now, with Hurter drafted by the Braves and Archer transferring to play his sixth season of college baseball at Hawaii, there are some holes to fill.
At this early juncture for the Yellow Jackets in the fall, the leader to take over on Fridays is sophomore righthander Marquis Grissom, Jr. After missing time early last season due to injury, Grissom took on a bigger role as the season went on. While it wasn’t easy for him, as shown by a 5.58 ERA, he did show flashes of excellence along the way.
His stuff is certainly good enough for the gig. Last season, his fastball averaged over 91 mph and touched 95, he flashed a plus changeup and his breaking ball had a 40% whiff rate.
“If we started today, I think Grissom would be our Friday guy,” said Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. “He got some good experience last year and pitched in the regional against Vandy and did well. I think he’s probably the guy that, if we started today, would elevate there.”
One other high-ceiling possibility for the rotation is 6-foot-6, 245-pound third-year sophomore righthander Zach Maxwell. Using a fastball that touches 100, Maxwell has been Georgia Tech’s relief ace the last two seasons, but Hall and pitching coach Danny Borrell are working with him on a conversion to the rotation.
Maxwell has walked more than a batter per inning in his Georgia Tech career, but if he can show improvement in that department and prove durable enough to handle a starter’s workload, he has the stuff to be successful in the role.
“I just think it’s one of the things that, particularly with (Maxwell), that Coach Borrell is trying to instill in him is that ‘You don’t even have to try to throw hard and you’re still going to throw 92 to 95. You’re going to have more control, and everything is just going to work better. And, oh by the way, you do have 100 in the tank if you want to just reach back and try to get one, you can get it,’ ” Hall said. “I think he’s the key guy. We would love to be able to start him, because I think he could be a dominant starter, but it’s going to come down to can he throw enough strikes to where we’re going to keep running him out there as a starter.”
Fifth-year junior Sam Crawford and fourth-year junior Luke Bartnicki are two lefthanders who could factor in, and both could have a leg up thanks to their starting experience. Crawford was the most often used weekend starter alongside Hurter and Archer last season and Bartnicki was in the weekend rotation at the time the 2020 season was canceled. Crawford works with a low-90s fastball, while Bartnicki’s stuff is a bit firmer, with a fastball that touched as high as 95 mph last season.
A wild card in the mix is fourth-year junior righthander Cort Roedig. He was solid in each of his first two seasons on campus, but injuries slowed him last season on the way to a 15.63 ERA. Now healthy, he’s throwing well so far in the fall and has run his fastball up as high as 96 mph. Roedig simply being as good as he was during the small sample that was 2020, when he had a 4.34 ERA in four starts, would go a long way toward shoring up the Georgia Tech rotation.
Will the bullpen be better?
The short answer here is that it’s going to have to be if Georgia Tech is going to challenge to be an Omaha team in 2022.
There were bright spots on this unit, no doubt. Maxwell had a 3.09 ERA in 32 innings. Lefthander Josiah Siegel, now a third-year sophomore, had a 3.77 ERA in 28.2 innings. Righthander Dawson Brown, now a sophomore, had a 4.40 ERA in 14.1 innings. But on the whole, it was a unit that often struggled to lock things down and it was a big part of Georgia Tech’s 5.71 team ERA.
Optimism about the bullpen in 2022 should first come from the fact that everyone is back. Maxwell (if he’s not in the rotation), Siegel and Brown return, as does Bartnicki, who had a 6.00 ERA last season but who also had moments of dominance for the Yellow Jackets.
There is also optimism to be found in the added depth on the pitching staff in general thanks to a group of newcomers that have impressed this fall already.
One is Wake Forest grad transfer righthander Cole McNamee. He had an unsightly 9.61 ERA in four seasons with the Demon Deacons, but he has intriguing stuff, including a fastball that was up to 94 mph last season and a slider that had a 44% whiff rate.
There are also four freshmen that Hall says have stood out since getting on the mound this fall in righthander Logan McGuire, whose fastball has been 90-91 mph with a good 12-to-6 curveball and a changeup, lefthander Cody Carwile, a decorated prep player in Florida who projects to add velocity to his high-80s fastball over time, righthander Aeden Finateri, whose fastball sits in the low 90s, and lefthander Camron Hill, a high-upside pitcher whose fastball currently sits 91-92 mph.
It remains to be seen if the results end up being better in 2022, but Georgia Tech won’t have any shortage of options to run out there in an attempt to make it so.
Who wins jobs on the infield?
One locked-in returning player on the infield is third-year sophomore first baseman Andrew Jenkins, who hit .302 with nine home runs a season ago. But at the three other infield spots, Georgia Tech has openings with the departure of the veteran middle infield duo of second baseman Austin Wilhite and shortstop Luke Waddell, plus third baseman Justyn-Henry Malloy.
“We lose Luke Waddell and Austin Wilhite, those were two guys that played in the middle of the diamond forever. You never had to worry, really, about those two positions, particularly defensively. It was just on lock for several years, so (we’re) trying to figure out who is going to play in the middle,” Hall said. “Last year, we got a transfer from Vandy in Malloy who played really well for us, but he’s gone.”
The Yellow Jackets’ preference at third base to replace Malloy might be third-year sophomore Drew Compton, who led the team with 13 home runs last season. With first base occupied, if Compton can handle third base, it would open up the DH slot for an extra player from a crowded outfield.
If it’s not Compton at third base, it could be sophomore John Anderson, who hit .277 with four home runs in just 47 at-bats as a first-year player. His bat is certainly one the Yellow Jackets will want to get in the lineup more often regardless.
Anderson could also be in the mix at second base alongside sophomore Alabama-Birmingham transfer Chandler Simpson and fourth-year sophomore Louisville transfer Tim Borden II.
Hall says Simpson is likely the fastest player he’s had in the Georgia Tech program since Eric Patterson. Last season at UAB, Simpson stole 24 bases, and he won co-MVP honors in the Northwoods League over the summer after he hit .377 with a league record 55 stolen bases. Borden, meanwhile, hit .309 as a part-time player over two seasons at Louisville, including .444 during the canceled 2020 season.
Simpson and Borden will also both compete for the job at shortstop, where Waddell, as a productive offensive player and steady defensive player over the last several years, leaves the biggest shoes to fill. One other player to watch is third-year sophomore Jadyn Jackson. He’s a gifted defensive infielder who could fit in a number of places, but the question is whether he’ll hit enough to hold down a regular spot.
Georgia Tech has the players for this infield unit to be a dynamic group; it’s just a matter of figuring out where the pieces best fit.
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How does a crowded outfield fill out?
It’s the opposite situation in the outfield. Rather than having holes to fill and evaluating which newcomers or relatively unproven players fit best, Georgia Tech has more proven players in the outfield than it has outfield positions available.
There are three players who all started 46 or more games last season who return to the competition. Third-year sophomore Tres Gonzalez hit .279/.422/.412 with 16 doubles, which were third on the team. Third-year sophomore Stephen Reid had a .263/.304/.455 slash line with nine home runs. True sophomore Jake Deleo, one of the top players in Georgia Tech’s 2020 recruiting class, hit .254/.308/.343. That’s a pretty good outfield on its own if the Yellow Jackets were to just run that trio out there next season.
But there are others who will factor in prominently. One is fifth-year senior Colin Hall, the son of coach Danny Hall. He played just 20 games last season due to injury, but he’s been a four-year contributor in the program, and as recently as 2019, he hit .307 with 18 doubles. Perhaps more importantly, he’s a very good defensive outfielder who can help swing momentum and change games in that regard.
This is where players like Compton and Anderson holding down spots on the infield rather than just DH comes into play, as it would open up the DH slot for one of the four aforementioned outfielders and would likely give Georgia Tech its best lineup.
There’s also sophomore Brad Grenkoski, who hit .264/.333/.415 in 53 at-bats. He was mostly a reserve player last season, but he also started 13 games in the middle of the season, right around the time Hall went down with injury. He might be the fifth man out of five in this competition right now, but he’s a premium athlete who acquitted himself nicely in a small sample last season.
Again, finding the best fits will be the challenge of the fall and spring, but Georgia Tech will take it.
“I think we have a really deep outfield,” Hall said. "It’s a great problem to have."
What’s next for Kevin Parada?
Sophomore catcher Kevin Parada didn’t take long to announce himself as one of the premium players in college baseball last season.
Through the first six weeks of the season, he was hitting above .400, and that level of success in a short time frame was even a bit of a surprise to the coaching staff.
“I don’t think anybody saw him hitting .400 (and) hitting three-hole,” Hall said at the time. “We thought he was a really, really good player, but he’s better than what I even thought he was, let’s put it that way.”
Parada didn’t quite keep up that pace through the entire season, but he finished hitting .318/.379/.550 with 20 doubles and nine home runs. That was good for the team lead in both batting average and doubles. He kept that going after the season, when he earned a spot on USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team and hit .400 during the 11-game scrimmage schedule the team played over the summer.
At this point, he doesn't have to sell anyone on his bat. He’s proven that part of his game time and again.
He does still have some things to prove defensively, however, as those skills are behind his bat at this point, but he’s working hard on it. Professional evaluators noted that his blocking and receiving showed improvement over the course of the summer with the CNT, and he’s hard at work this fall in Atlanta.
“He’s spent a lot of time this fall working on throwing, continues to work on catching,” Hall said. “He didn’t catch a lot on one knee last year. Now he’s catching a lot on one knee. He just continues to evolve as a defensive catcher.”
Even if he’s more or less the same player he was last season, Parada is one of the best hitters in the ACC and will be right in the middle of everything for Georgia Tech. But if he takes a step forward, particularly defensively, a push for national player of the year honors is very much in play.