Matt Yogus-062011Listen to My Take with Matt Yogus - Key pieces will be back at GSU.
Sitting around watching the College World Series got me to thinking about next year in the world of Georgia Southern baseball, and just what, exactly, we’ll be looking at as the Eagles try for their third Southern Conference title in four years.
College baseball is one of those sports where a juco transfer or freshman can have a quick impact, especially on the mound, so filling holes is often a less-worrisome task.
But with that said, the Eagles will have some pretty big holes to fill. If the season started today, things would be interesting out there.
The GSU outfield is home to a huge piece of the returning puzzle, as well as one of the biggest losses.
Right fielder Victor Roache returns to the mix as a junior, and after leading the nation in home runs (30) and driving in an eye-popping 84 runs, he will be an obvious asset in the heart of the lineup.
The loss of Shawn Payne leaves a gaping hole in centerfield, as well as gap power and record-setting speed on the base paths in the leadoff role.
A likely candidate to fill the spot out in center as well as the leadoff slot is Scooter Williams. Williams brings range to the outfield and the ability to advance on the bases. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in the ability to stay in at-bats, fight off strike three and get on base.
Arthur Owens, the best likely defensive option, and Michael Burruss, the better hitter, will be in the mix out in left. Burruss served as the designated hitter for much of the season.
Up the middle, the Eagles are set defensively. Eric Phillips, the team’s leading hitter (.390) returns to shortstop, and Ben Morgan, a freshman with a lot of upside, returns to second.
When Morgan was good in 2011, he did a little bit of everything, showing huge range and explosiveness defensively at both short and second and taking a solid approach at the plate, but when he was bad, he showed his youth. Errors and shaky at-bats kept Morgan from having a truly breakout freshman campaign.
The graduation of senior Steve Cochrane, a switch-hitting first baseman leaves a huge hole down the right field line, and Brent Pugh will look to build on a quiet year at third.
Chris Beck will return for his junior year as the Eagles’ ace, and will be the centerpiece of a pitching staff that can only be referred to as depleted.
Gone are fifth-year senior and second-team, All-SoCon righty Andy Moye and SoCon Pitcher of the Year and closer Matt Murray.
In their place will be Josh Adams and Will Middour.
Adams started the season strong and ended stronger, but struggled through the middle, and Middour emerged as a reliable reliever toward the end of the season.
Guys like Justin Hess, Colin Snow, Joe Lower, Jarret Leverett and Taylor Burke played a lot of different roles in the midweek and out of the bullpen, and will be needed to keep GSU in ballgames when 2012 gets underway.
Obviously, there are a lot of guys who have never played an inning at Georgia Southern and will contribute come February, 2012, but as it stands, things could certainly be worse.
If Williams can get things started at the top of the lineup and the bats of Roache, Phillips and Burruss continue doing what they are capable of, there’s the no reason to think the Eagles won’t be in the conversation in the preseason, and won’t have the chance to repeat what they were able to accomplish this year.
Catcher Tom Richardson, Morgan, Pugh and even Roache went above and beyond what was expected of them in 2011 and the result was a conference championship.
Things will be no different when next year’s rookies are asked to take their game to the next level.
The only unknown is going to be how they respond to the question.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.