Danny Hall believes Georgia Tech is close to getting over the hump

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series examining the current state of athletic programs at Georgia Tech. Today’s installment focuses on baseball.

Georgia Tech baseball coach Danny Hall sees it in the following way.

In the past three NCAA Tournaments, the Yellow Jackets went toe-to-toe with an SEC heavyweight and either held a ninth-inning lead or were tied with a chance to win. A win in any of the three would have put Tech one win away from advancing to the super-regional round.

However, Tech lost all three games – Auburn in 2019, Vanderbilt in 2021 and Tennessee this June – and was eliminated in either that game or later on in the regional. The agonizing defeats extended the Jackets’ streak of tournament appearances that have ended at the regional round to 11. But to Hall, those results speak a different message – of progress.

“I think we’re extremely close,” he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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It’s incontrovertible that Tech has not advanced to the super-regional round since 2006, when the Jackets made their third College World Series, all with Hall. But, the most recent three trips also could be viewed as a distinct chapter within Hall’s 29-year Tech career. Those three NCAA appearances followed a seven-year span in which the Jackets made four tournaments (but were never a No. 1 seed), finished .500 in the ACC only once and then failed to make the tournament in 2017 and 2018.

Since then, Hall has re-made his coaching staff, received a lift from a major renovation project at Russ Chandler Stadium and produced markedly better results – a 58-43 league record with two Coastal Division titles, the overall No. 3 seed in the 2019 tournament and, this season, a historically prolific offense.

For that matter, Tech wasn’t losing those regional games to lightweights. Auburn went on to the College World Series in 2019. In 2020, Vanderbilt was the overall No. 4 seed and reached the CWS finals. This year, Tennessee was the overall No. 1 seed.

In evaluating his team, Hall asserted that simply making the NCAA field shouldn’t be undersold.

“But we would certainly like to win and advance into the super regionals, and I think we’re in position to do that and hopefully get better and get to Omaha (site of the College World Series),” Hall said. “That’s always going to be the goal, is to get out there and compete for a national title.”

Hall called this past season “a little bit up and down, for sure, but I think we played very well.” There’s little question that the Jackets hit the ball exceedingly well, finishing in the top 10 nationally in batting average (.327), home runs per game (1.92), runs per game (9.4), slugging percentage (.551) and on-base percentage (.419).

The Jackets were led by the best catcher in the country, Kevin Parada, and quite arguably the top leadoff man, second baseman Chandler Simpson, who led Division I in batting average (.433). He became only the third power-conference player since 2000 to accomplish the feat.

However, with an inexperienced pitching staff and an inconsistent defense, the Jackets finished 227th nationally in ERA (6.57), 156th in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.89) and 159th in fielding percentage (.968).

“I think our pitching trended in the right direction down the stretch,” Hall said. “We realized the two areas that we’ve just got to continue to get better at are pitching and defense, and they go hand in hand.”

While Tech’s hitting seems in good hands under the direction of hitting coach James Ramsey, the ultimate success of the remainder of Hall’s tenure may be determined by pitching coach Danny Borrell, whose staff’s results in his two full seasons have underwhelmed. Hall affirmed his confidence in him.

“I think Borrell’s doing an outstanding job,” Hall said.

Hall has said of Borrell, who was a celebrated hire in August 2019 after a successful tenure as the New York Yankees’ minor-league pitching coordinator, that he has been learning on the job. Hall spoke of trying to refine the process of improving pitchers’ control and developing their confidence and aggressiveness.

“I’d just say it like this,” Hall said. “Let’s get them in the top half of the ACC. And if we do that, we’re in great shape.”

The pivot in performance could arrive next spring, as a talented quartet of sophomore pitchers (Cody Carwile, Aeden Finateri, Camron Hill and Logan McGuire) is expected to assume a larger role on the staff. None were consistent this past season – the lowest ERA belonged to Carwile at 5.68 – but results from their play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League have been promising.

“All those freshmen got a lot of experience this year, and that will help them,” Hall said. “Whether it’s a hitter or a pitcher, a lot of times, just having a year under your belt and maybe a summer under your belt of competing against other college players, you get better.”

Improving defense, particularly in the infield, will be another priority. The Jackets ranked 269th in Division I and last in the ACC in double plays per game this season at .47 per game.

At the same time, Tech may be faced with a major overhaul of the lineup. Parada and Simpson, Hall said, are “slam dunks” to be drafted this month and start their professional careers. Several others – All-American first baseman Andrew Jenkins, outfielders Tres Gonzalez and Stephen Reid and infielders Tim Borden and Drew Compton, along with pitchers Marquis Grissom, Chance Huff and Zach Maxwell – are candidates to be drafted with eligibility remaining. Hall said that all of them are in a position where they’ll have decisions to make weighing the opportunity of signing for a bonus against coming back for another season and trying to improve their draft stock.

Should all of the aforementioned hitters leave, they and centerfielder Colin Hall (whose eligibility is completed) would represent eight of the nine everyday lineup spots that would have to be replaced. They collected 85% of the Jackets’ hits this season and scored 84% of their runs.

“We’re very aware, particularly offensively, that we could be trying to replace a lot,” Hall said.

Tech will look to the transfer portal for help. Hall can offer prospects an appealing track record, as recent transfers Justyn-Henry Malloy (Vanderbilt), Huff (Vanderbilt), Simpson (Alabama-Birmingham) and Borden (Louisville) all improved on their performance at Tech. Borden, for instance, hit .220 in 41 at-bats at Louisville in 2021 before earning a spot in the starting lineup at Tech and hitting .335 with 20 home runs.

“No question that helps us because we have had quite a bit of success with (portal) guys,” Hall said.

As for Tech’s portal shopping list, Hall is looking for up-the-middle players – catcher, pitcher, second baseman, shortstop and possibly an outfielder.

“But it’s not that easy,” Hall said. “I wish it was easy, but it’s not.”

Hall is effusive in his praise of his staff. Ramsey’s value since his arrival before the 2019 season has been obvious. Hall, who turns 68 in November, said in June that he endorses Ramsey as his successor. From Hall’s perspective, had Florida State (Ramsey’s alma mater) not filled its vacancy with Notre Dame coach Link Jarrett, “I’m certain that James Ramsey would have gotten every consideration there.” Before this past season, athletic director Todd Stansbury gave Hall, Ramsey and Borrell extensions through the 2025 season.

Hall said that volunteer coach Zeke Pinkham, who has helped develop Parada behind the plate, “has done a great job.” Director of baseball operations Nick Ascue has led player development, overseeing the use of technological investments that include force plates and a biomechnical tracking instrument.

“He does a tremendous job of just providing us coaches with data and insight from his perspective,” Hall said of Ascue.

Taking it all into consideration, there is much in Tech’s favor to reach a higher level.

“We’re close,” Hall said. “We’d like certainly to get over the hump.”