Georgia Tech begins preseason practice with eyes already on the postseason

Georgia Tech first baseman John Giesler, here at bat against Georgia March 4, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium, is a candidate to start for the Yellow Jackets in 2023. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Credit: Danny Karnik

Credit: Danny Karnik

Georgia Tech first baseman John Giesler, here at bat against Georgia March 4, 2022 at Russ Chandler Stadium, is a candidate to start for the Yellow Jackets in 2023. (Danny Karnik/Georgia Tech Athletics)

Three weeks from opening day, Georgia Tech took the field Friday at Russ Chandler Stadium for its first full practice and scrimmage ahead of the 2024 season.

The Yellow Jackets, looking to rebound from a disappointing 30-27 campaign, are scheduled to host Radford for a three-game series Feb. 16-18. They’ll spend the days and weeks ahead looking to solidify the lineup and rotation ahead of the three-month season that leads to the ACC tournament in mid-May.

“I want to see things that we’ve emphasized come into play,” Tech’s veteran skipper Danny Hall said of his preseason expectations. “There’s been a major emphasis on throwing strikes and challenging hitters; there’s been a major emphasis on playing defense. We do have a lot of new faces offensively, but I’m very confident that we’ll be a good offensive team again. So we’ll see how those guys stack up, see who’s gonna garner some at-bats when we start playing for real.”

More than two dozen newcomers joined Hall’s program this offseason as the long-time coach, starting his 31st season in Atlanta, revamped and retooled his roster. Former Georgia State pitcher Cam Jones, former Maryland outfielder Bobby Zmarlak, former Indiana catcher Matthew Ellis and infielders Mike Becchetti (Fairfield) and Payton Green (North Carolina State) are only a handful of the new faces wearing white and gold.

Fourteen freshmen joined the program ahead of 2024, a group ranked fifth-best nationally by Perfect Game and Baseball America. Tech had the nation’s third-ranked class nationally going into the 2023 season.

Because of all that newness, senior first baseman John Giesler is the lone returning position player. Tech’s top four hitters from 2023 departed the program, but one of the nation’s top-ranked freshmen, outfielder Drew Burress, should help bolster the lineup.

“I think in the last few weeks the team has really bought in a lot more, and everyone is really coming together, and it’s been great,” Giesler said. “Because it was hard in the fall. We have 28, 30 new guys show up, and you’re not really a team yet. It almost felt like having what minor league baseball would be. It’s just a bunch of strangers. But, no, I love this team. Everyone’s come together really well. Really excited.”

Tech’s much-maligned pitching staff will have a new voice to look to in first-year pitching coach Matt Taylor. Taylor, hired in June, has juniors Ben King and Aeden Finateri at his disposal, the Jackets’ top two hurlers in 2023 in terms of ERA, as well as Jones and highly touted freshmen Tate McKee and Jackson Sobel.

The Jackets ranked last or near the bottom of the ACC in 2023 in walks allowed, WHIP, hits allowed per nine innings and ERA.

“I think we have a deep pitching staff. I think every pitcher that we have in our program right now from the beginning of fall to where they’re at right now, they’ve all made great strides,” Hall said. “We’ll probably go into that first weekend with a pretty good plan of, ‘OK, here’s our starting rotation, and here’s guys that we feel like can really help us in the bullpen.’ But it could change day to day and week to week. I think we have a lot of interchangeable parts.

“But I do know one of the things that we’re looking for is to have starters that go fairly deep into games and not have to go get somebody out of a game in the second or third inning.”

Tech finished 30-27 last season, after a 9-0 start, and was 12-18 in ACC games. The Jackets were 0-2 in the ACC tournament’s pool play to end the season, losing their final six games and nine of their final 12. They missed an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2018.

To return to the postseason Tech will have to navigate a schedule that includes home series with North Carolina State, Boston College, Miami and Duke – teams who all made an NCAA Regional in 2023. Tech also travels to 2023 NCAA Regional teams Auburn, Clemson, Virginia and North Carolina.

The Jackets will have to win a lot of those games if it is to return to June baseball – not only the team’s goal, but its expectation.

“Georgia Tech needs to go back to where it belongs, and that’s far deep in the postseason,” Ellis said. “You look around this place and see all the great players that have come through and all the rich history and stuff like that, there’s no reason this team can’t make it to where those teams have gone.”