Georgia baseball opens its 2013 season with a road trip to Georgia Southern today, and a common word around the practice facility is depth.
Georgia designated hitter Jared Walsh celebrates with assistant coach Allen Osborune after his home run during a game on April 13, 2012, at Foley Field.
Georgia finished with a 31-26 record last season, and the main focus for coach David Perno and his team this offseason has been putting together a deeper lineup and pitching staff.
“We have enough depth on the pitching that will throw strikes. On paper, it doesn’t look like there is an ace. But at the same time we don’t drop off either,” Perno said. “We’re the same pitching staff on Sunday as we are on Friday. We’re pretty steady up and down the lineup and we have some depth in our pitching staff.”
Freshman right-hander Sean McLaughlin will make his first career start on the mound Friday night for Georgia, and his coaches and teammates said they trust him with the ball in his hands.
“He’s got a very good fastball, good off-speed stuff and his command is awesome,” senior shortstop Kyle Farmer said.
Perno agreed with Farmer, but he added more emphasis to the freshman’s ability to control the game mentally.
“He (McLaughlin) just throws strikes. He doesn’t beat himself,” Perno said. “It’s good stuff. It’s not great, knockout Alex Wood stuff yet, but as the season progresses it’ll be big time stuff. He is a tremendous competitor who is way ahead maturity-wise of his years.”
Georgia finished slightly below where it had hoped in its 2012 season, but it allowed the Bulldogs to gain one more year of experience to build on for this season. Redshirt junior Patrick Boling said this team is filled with talent, especially in its younger players.
“The biggest thing is the amount of depth we have this year,” Boling said. “We’ve got some great guys that are really improving from last year, and we’ve got some great freshmen that have come. It’s been the best class I’ve seen.”
Boling said he was impressed with the talent of the freshmen because their ability to play early makes everyone’s jobs easier.
“There’s a lot of comfort in knowing there are people who can come in behind you,” Boling said. “It just lets you do your job that much better.”
Freshman first baseman J.T. Phillips said he and his fellow freshmen are just ready to get out on the field and prove themselves against the Southeastern Conference.
“It feels great. A lot of mixed emotions and I’m just ready to play,” Phillips said. “We’ve been working hard and doing a lot of workouts every morning, and we’re just ready for it to finally pay off.”
The area where Phillips said this year’s Georgia team would impress fans is its defense and pitching rotation. He said this rotation gives Georgia its best opportunity to win.
“I think they’re going to give us a chance to win every time we go out there because they’re going to throw strikes,” Phillips said. “It will give the defense a chance to work and us a chance to win.”
Due to the loss of Georgia closer Pete Nagel to Tommy John surgery, sophomore Jared Walsh will take over the job. Nagel will be out for the entire 2013 season, but Perno said Georgia’s closers will still be a tough group to get past. Perno plans for Walsh to close on Friday, David Gonzalez to fill in on Saturday and Walsh to finish Sunday’s game assuming he is ready to go again.
Along with an efficient defense, Georgia also plans to improve upon its run totals from last season. Hitting with runners in scoring position was difficult for Georgia in 2012, so Farmer said it has been a big focus lately.
“I think our strength this year will be hitting with runners in scoring position,” Farmer said. “In the fall and in the preseason spring, we’ve hit a lot better with runners in scoring position and it’s kind of taken the pressure off people because we know we’re going to get the job done. Last year, we were searching for who was going to do it, but this year we know who’s going to do it.”
Georgia is looking for a fresh start against Georgia Southern during this weekend’s series, and this year’s freshman class may be the answer to those hopes.
“They’re (freshmen) just really good,” Perno said. “They’re good players, they’re talented and they’re good teammates. They just have the makings of being ready to play mentally and physically.”