What can strong freshman class do for Tech?

Probably the worst season in coach Danny Hall’s 22 at Georgia Tech ended with a thud. After the Yellow Jackets finished last season with an 11-0 loss to Virginia in the ACC tournament — Tech’s fifth loss by shutout — they had only two players selected in the major league draft.

In the previous 14 seasons, Tech had had at least four players drafted. It was an indication of the Jackets’ fall from their standing as a top-25 regular.

“Something is wrong with that picture,” Hall said. “I think that says it in a nutshell.”

Hall is hopeful that the picture will adjust this season, when one of the stronger freshman classes in his tenure makes its debut and sophomore outfielder Kel Johnson returns for his second season after an ankle injury curtailed a highly productive freshman season.

Said Hall, “I think we’ll be looking back in three or four years at this freshman class, and there’s going to be quite a few of them getting drafted.”

The 11-player class ranked as high as fourth nationally. Pitcher Jonathan Hughes from Flowery Branch High was selected in the second round by Baltimore, but turned down the Orioles — the players selected before and after him received reported signing bonuses of $1 million and $800,000 — to attend Tech. Two-way player Tristin English from Pike County High likely would have been taken in the first five rounds, Hall said, had he not made clear his plans to play collegiately. The class also includes Hall’s son Carter, a middle infielder.

The freshman class is a product of Hall’s re-dedication after watching his team get drilled in the 2012 NCAA tournament by Florida. After it, Hall changed pitching coaches and committed Tech to recruiting the state of Georgia better and assembling a team like Florida’s to reach the College World Series. Tech has not been there since 2006.

Since then, the Jackets have continued to struggle. From 2008-11, Tech was 76-41-1 in ACC play, tied for the third best record in the conference.

In the past four seasons, the Jackets’ ACC record is 54-66, seventh best in the league, and that doesn’t even include newcomer Louisville. Tech has twice managed to win the ACC tournament in that span, as the No. 8 seed in 2012 and the No. 9 seed in 2014. But it doesn’t alter the reality that, in the regular season, the Jackets have been nothing more than an average ACC team, falling behind Coastal Division-rivals Miami, Virginia and North Carolina.

It is Hall’s hope that the freshman class, combined with the determination of returnees to redeem themselves from the subpar 2015, will catalyze the Jackets’ return to the game’s elite. Johnson, a freshman All-American last season, has added about 10 pounds of muscle, Hall said, and should continue to be the difference-making player he was last season before an ankle injury that sidelined him for 13 games.

As the Jackets begin the season Friday, Hall believes the team will be more competitive than recent editions of the Jackets.

“I have a good feeling about it,” he said. “That being said, there’s 200 other teams that have good feelings about their teams.”

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