May 31, 2019 Atlanta - Georgia Tech head coach Danny Hall watches from dugout in the 6th inning during the first game of the NCAA regionals at Russ Chandler Stadium in Georgia Tech campus on Friday, May 31, 2019. Georgia Tech won 13-2 over the Florida A&M. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Georgia Tech baseball preview: 3 critical factors as season begins

After low expectations a year ago, Georgia Tech stunned the ACC by winning the Coastal Division and earning the No. 3 national seed (before losing in the NCAA regional round to Auburn). Now, while having lost major producers but fortified by a strong freshman class, the Yellow Jackets (who open their season at 4 p.m. Friday at home against Saint Peter’s) are ranked in preseason Top 25 polls. 

An interesting season awaits coach Danny Hall. Here are three factors that will determine the Jackets’ success:

Replacing productivity

The Yellow Jackets will have to replace their top two starters (Connor Thomas and Xzavion Curry, both now in pro ball) and their two most productive hitters (Tristin English and Kyle McCann). All four were All-ACC selections, with Thomas and Curry accounting for 31% of Tech’s innings pitched and English and McCann hitting 41 of the Jackets’ 69 home runs.

Hall acknowledged that his team may have to rely more on manufacturing runs rather than waiting for home runs. Similarly, the Jackets will have to look to arms not nearly as tested as Thomas and Curry’s. One of them is freshman righty Zach Maxwell, whom Hall said “has a better arm than anybody we’ve had here in a long time” but is learning to harness that arm.

Borrell effect

After pitching coach Jason Howell left Tech last summer in a mutual parting after seven seasons, Hall made a dramatic hire by bringing in Danny Borrell, the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Yankees. Pitchers made dramatic improvements in the fall, and his impact in recruiting has already been felt.

“I think he’s done a tremendous job with development,” Hall said. “I think guys are way better now than they were in the fall and we have more choices, I think, on the mound than we’ve had.”

One to watch is Andy Archer, who missed the 2019 season with shoulder and elbow surgery after posting a 3.64 ERA in 47 innings as a sophomore in 2018. Archer could fill the closer role.

Tough schedule

While the talent drain was considerable, Hall’s freshman class was ranked as high as fourth nationally. Infielders Drew Compton and Andrew Jenkins and outfielder Tres Gonzalez are three to watch. But, with so many spots unsettled and so much reliance on freshmen or returnees in new or bigger roles, there’s uncertainty about how Tech will settle into the season. Before starting the rigorous ACC schedule, the Jackets will play Georgia in a three-game weekend series Feb. 28-March 1, the first time the archrivals will meet in a three-game weekend series since 1959.

There’s also home-and-home weekday series with super-regional finalist Auburn and Southern Conference champion Mercer. With a dependable starter in Amos Willingham, the Jackets were 11-1 in midweek games last year, a huge advantage. Hall would love to find someone on the staff who can produce similarly in Tech’s pursuit of its first College World Series berth since 2006.

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