A Big Series on the Diamond

Chris Coleman, TechSideline.com, on March 7, 2013
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One of the top baseball programs in the country will visit Blacksburg for a huge three-game series this weekend.  #14 Georgia Tech comes to town sporting a 12-1 record and a high powered offense.  They are well on their way to making the NCAA Tournament for the 18th time in head coach Danny Hall’s career.

Since taking over the Yellow Jacket program in 1994, Hall has gone 828-376-1 in Atlanta.  He’s one of the most successful college baseball coaches in the country.  He has led Georgia Tech to the College World Series three times, and he also has three other Super Regional Appearances.

The Jackets have a great history in baseball, putting out the following notable players: Nomar Garciaparra, Mark Teixeira, Matt Wieters, Jason Varitek, Kevin Brown, Marlon Byrd, and many others.

Georgia Tech has just one loss this season – a 9-7 setback to St. John’s.  The Yellow Jackets have played just two games outside of Atlanta, when they took the short trip to Statesboro to sweep Georgia Southern in a two game set.

Here is the schedule for the weekend of baseball at English Field:

Friday: 5:30pm
Saturday: 2pm
Sunday: 1pm

The Georgia Tech Lineup

Georgia Tech possesses one of the most powerful lineups in college baseball.  As a team, they are batting .356, which leads the ACC.  Their mark of 131 runs through 13 games is easily the top mark in the conference.

Catcher: The Yellow Jackets could use either Connor Lynch or Mitch Earnest at catcher this weekend.  Lynch has hit just .133 in four starts, while Earnest is hitting .385.  We could see them both get starts against the Hokies this weekend.

1B: A.J. Murray is hitting .455 through the first 13 games of the season.  He has two homers and 14 RBI’s.  Murray enrolled at Georgia Tech as a catcher, but he now plays first base.  He hit just .083 in 12 games a year ago, but his sophomore campaign is off to a hot start.

2B: Matt Gonzalez was an 11th round pick by the A’s last summer, but he chose to attend college.  He’s started every game as a freshman, and he’s hitting .373 with a homer and 21 RBI’s.  His walk-to-strikeout ratio is poor right now (3 walks, 11 strikeouts), and he’s also made four errors in 13 games.

3B: Senior Sam Dove starts at the hot corner for Georgia Tech.  He’s hitting .327 with a homer and 10 RBI’s through the first 13 games.  He can also play in the outfield.

SS: Mott Hyde is Georgia Tech’s junior starting shortstop.  He’s hitting .306 on the season.  He has a fielding percentage of just .938, which is second worst on the team behind fellow middle infielder Matt Gonzalez.

LF: Kyle Wren is a junior outfielder who is the son of Atlanta Braves General Manager Frank Wren.  He was a Freshman All-American two years ago, but his batting average dropped to .256 during his sophomore season.  He’s back up to .316 this season.  Wren has very good range in the outfield, and he’s also a threat to steal bases.

CF: Brandon Thomas is Georgia Tech’s senior center fielder, and he’s hitting .426 with 10 RBI’s.  He has more walks (10) than strikeouts (9).  He was a fourth round pick of the Pirates last summer, but he elected to return to Georgia Tech for his senior season.  He is one of the best pro prospects on his team, and he should be a high draft pick again next summer.

RF: Daniel Palka was a 19th round pick of the Phillies out of high school.  He was a Preseason All-American by Baseball America.  He’s hitting .449 with three homers and 20 RBI’s this season.  He could potentially be a first round pick this June.

DH: Zane Evans has been a pitcher and catcher during his career, and he’s been very effective as a late inning shutdown pitcher out of the bullpen.  This year he’s doing the job at the plate.  Evans is hitting .367 with five homers and 17 RBI’s.  He has a .673 slugging percentage.

As you can see, that’s a very powerful lineup.  There isn’t a weak bat there, except for perhaps the catcher position.

Pitching Matchups

Here’s a look at the projected pitching matchups this weekend.  All of these pitchers will have their work cut out for them, as the Techs are two very good hitting teams.  Georgia Tech’s pitchers are listed first.

Friday: Buck Farmer (Sr. RHP, 2-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 starts) vs. Eddie Campbell (Jr. LHP, 1-0, 2.40 ERA, 2 starts

This is a very nice matchup on Friday night.  The Hokies will get to test their bats against one of the best pitchers in the country.  Farmer was a Preseason All-American, and he hasn’t allowed an earned run in his three starts this year.  He was a 46th round pick by the Braves out of high school, and a 15th round pick by the Brewers last June, but he elected to remain at Georgia Tech.  He has a 26-8 career record with a 3.03 ERA.

Eddie Campbell seems to have won a starting position for now for now, at least while Joe Mantiply is on the shelf.  He’s pitched very well in two starts against Temple and Ohio.  In a combined 13 innings in those two starts, he struck out 15 batters.

Saturday: Dusty Isaacs (Jr. RHP, 2-1, 3.72 ERA, 3 starts) vs. Brad Markey (Jr. RHP, 2-1, 2.14 ERA, 3 starts

Isaacs was a 50th round pick by the Pirates coming out of high school, but he elected to sign with Georgia Tech.  The righty took Georgia Tech’s only loss of the season when he got tagged for six earned runs in 6.1 innings against St. Johns.  He pitched in 18 games with 11 starts last year, going 6-4, but with a high 6.55 ERA.  The Hokie lineup will have a chance to get some runs in Saturday’s game.

Brad Markey will be fired up to pitch in this game.  He attended Georgia Tech two years ago as a freshman.  He played JUCO ball last year before landing at Virginia Tech.  He’s been tremendous through his first three starts of the season, but the stout Georgia Tech lineup will be his biggest test to date.  He was a 35th round pick by the Mets last summer.

Sunday: Cole Pitts (So. RHP, 3-0, 1.59 ERA, 3 starts) vs. Devin Burke (r-Jr. RHP, 3-0, 1.40 ERA, 3 starts)

Cole Pitts is a future star in the ACC.  He was drafted in the 32nd round by the Indians out of high school, but he enrolled at Georgia Tech instead.  He went 6-4 with a 4.50 ERA as a freshman last season, and he’s off to a great start in 2013.  At 6-5, 232, he has great size on the mound.  He has a good fastball and changeup, but his curveball has been a work in progress.  With the numbers he’s put up this year so far, perhaps he fixed that curveball problem in the offseason.

Devin Burke is a transfer from Duke who has wins over UNC Wilmington, Delaware and Tennessee.  He has been one of the pleasant surprises of VT’s pitching staff so far this season.  I’m anxious to see how he fares against an outstanding hitting lineup like Georgia Tech’s.  If he holds his own on Sunday, then the rest of the season looks pretty good for the Hokies.  Joe Mantiply is expected to return to action on Sunday, but he will be used out of the bullpen at first.  He could pitch for up to three innings on Sunday afternoon.

Top Talent on Hand in Blacksburg

We can probably expect some scouts to be in Blacksburg taking in this series.  These teams feature a number of players ranked amongst College Baseball Daily’s Top 100 players.

11: Buck Farmer (GT)
27: Daniel Palka (GT)
42: Tyler Horan (VT)
45: Chad Pinder (VT)
92: Brad Thomas (GT)

Look for these guys on a Minor League club near you sometime soon.

Statistical Comparison

Batting average: .356 to .319 in favor of GT
ERA: 3.23 to 3.37 in favor of GT
Team fielding: .980 to .959 in favor of GT
RPI: #65 to #92 in favor of VT
SOS: #178 to #232 in favor of VT

Georgia Tech is better statistically in hitting, pitching and fielding.  However, they’ve also played the easier schedule.  The Yellow Jackets have also played just two games away from home, while the Hokies have ventured out on the road to play eight games.

Other Notes

1: Virginia Tech is ranked #24 in the Baseball America poll.  Georgia Tech is #14.  It’s the only ACC series of the weekend that features two ranked teams.

2: In the first series between these schools following Tech’s entry into the ACC, the Yellow Jackets outscored the Hokies 48-3.  That’s not a typo.

3: Joe Mantiply hasn’t pitched since Tech’s season opener, but he is expected to make his return in a relief role on Sunday.  He was a 28th round pick of the Phillies last summer.

Series Thoughts

It’s going to be tough for Virginia Tech to beat Buck Farmer on Friday night.  He’s one of the top pitchers in the nation, and nobody has been able to touch him in three starts this season.  In last year’s meeting, he went seven innings while allowing two earned runs on six hits, with two walks and seven strikeouts.  I believe the Yellow Jackets have more overall talent, and I think most people would agree with that.

That said, the Hokies do have the hitters to hang in there with the Yellow Jackets.  Saturday appears to be Virginia Tech’s best chance to get a win, as Dusty Isaacs was unreliable last year, and he’s already been tagged in one of his starts in 2013.

Winning two out of three in this series would be huge, but I’d settle for one out of three.  The Hokies head to Duke next weekend, where they should be able to come away with a series win.  Tech got off to a terrible start in league play last season, and that ultimately kept them out of the ACC Tournament.  Since they finished in the top 40 of the RPI, that rough start in league play might have kept them out of the NCAA Tournament as well.

If you’re in the area, come on out.  Friday night’s game will be pretty chilly, but Saturday and Sunday are supposed to be beautiful days in Blacksburg.

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