In explaining the state of his team, the first thing that Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall asserted was the obvious for a group that has not made the NCAA tournament in three of the past four seasons. The Yellow Jackets need to win more games.
He then explained what fans may not want to hear – they were two or three wins away from earning an at-large berth and the ACC is more competitive than it has ever been.
“But in saying that, (athletic director Todd Stansbury) and I are in agreement that we need to be one of the better teams in the league year in and year out,” Hall said.
Stansbury has deemed Hall the right person to continue to lead the Jackets, though at least some pockets of the fan base are beyond restless with him. Since going to the College World Series in 2006 – Tech’s third trip in Hall’s first 13 years – the Jackets have not made it past the regional round of the NCAA tournament. They have been under .500 in ACC play for six of the past seven seasons after posting winning league records in 17 of Hall’s first 18 seasons.
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Stansbury said last week that he and Hall are in the process of doing a 360-degree review of the program to determine “what do we need to do to kind of get back to where we’ve been.” He said Hall has been active in this process, which Stansbury acknowledged began last season after another similarly disappointing conclusion.
“I would say this – it all starts with me,” Hall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “You always kind of look at it and say, ‘What can I do differently?’ I think the answer is looking at everything and just trying to figure it out.”
To Hall, the solution begins in an obvious place – recruiting. Tech’s draft record explains some of the talent shortages that have befallen the Jackets and limited their potential.
Between 2009 and 2013, Tech had 31 players drafted, 15 in the first 10 rounds. Between 2014 and last week’s draft, Tech had 18 players drafted, four in the first 10 rounds (including catcher Joey Bart, picked second overall last week, the highest ever for a Tech player).
At least some of the reason that recruiting has lagged is facilities. On his podcast released last week, Stansbury shared a comment from Tech great Mark Teixeira that, as a high-school prospect in the late 1990’s, he chose to play at Tech over the likes of Virginia and North Carolina based on its facilities. Were he a present-day prospect, however, making the same decision based on facilities, Tech would not be at the top of the list.
“He has said it in front of a lot of people, and that’s absolutely true,” Hall said.
Tech has made improvements in recent years. In time for the 2015 season, the locker, weight and training rooms were expanded under the Russ Chandler Stadium stands. More upgrades, notably climate-controlled batting cages and pitching tunnels, are on the way, part of the athletic department’s $125 million capital campaign announced last week.
The planned projects, Hall said, are “definitely going to help us. I think it puts us on par.” But he noted a $55 million baseball facilities project at Mississippi State.
“That’s not going to happen at Georgia Tech,” he said. But, “that’s the type of thing that’s out there.”
Hall said he believes of the three Tech signees drafted – pitcher Reese Olson from North Hall High (13th round to the Milwaukee Brewers) and pitcher Luke Bartnicki from Walton High (29th round to Arizona) – will enroll, though he expects shortstop Logan Simmons from Tattnall Square Academy (sixth round to Philadelphia) to turn professional.
“I do believe we have better talent now than we had, say, three or four years ago, and I think we have a good class coming in,” Hall said.
Hall, who just completed the second year of a five-year extension, didn’t point the shortcomings at talent alone.
“We’re looking at everything,” he said.
He noted that Tech hit well this season – second in the ACC in batting average, fourth in home runs and third in slugging percentage. But Tech’s average with runners in scoring position (.254) was well below its overall average (.291). Tech was also 11th in fielding percentage.
“It doesn’t matter who’s up there – can they get a hit when you need them to get a hit with the game on the line?” Hall said.
Tech will have four All-ACC players back next season – pitcher Connor Thomas, left fielder Chase Murray, first baseman Kyle McCann and utility player Tristin English – and should have two regulars back from injury – outfielders Carter Hall and Michael Guldberg.
Hall was speaking from Cape Cod, where he was dropping off his son Colin to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League for the summer. While he was there, he said, he attended the practice of another team – whose coach is known for his ability to coach baserunning – in hopes of picking up some ideas.
“I’m looking for any edge we can get,” he said.