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Eagles already preparing for 2013 campaign


Rodney Hennon said it’s a great problem to have.

Major League Baseball teams raided the Georgia Southern coach’s program June 4-6, taking four of his players in the draft.

Outfielder Victor Roache was taken in the first round (28th overall selection) by the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitcher Chris Beck was drafted in the second round (76th overall) by the Chicago White Sox. Infielder Eric Phillips went in the sixth round (205th overall) to the Toronto Blue Jays. Pitcher Jarret Leverett was drafted in the 15th round (460th overall) by the Minnesota Twins.

How in the world can a coaching staff replace that much talent?

"That’s part of it," Hennon said. "This is what you want for your program. You want to see guys get those opportunities to go on and play, and know that you’re going to have to fill those shoes and replace talented players.

"I like the group of kids that we have coming back. I think we had a lot of young players this year that grew up a lot during the course of the season and got some valuable experience."

GSU, which finished with a 33-27 record, will need that experience if it hopes to return to the Southern Conference Tournament championship game. The Eagles lost to Samford in 10 innings in the title game in May after beating the Bulldogs to win the tournament in 2011. GSU also won it in 2009.

Roache, who will skip his senior season, signed a contract with the Brewers for $1.525 million. He broke his left wrist while diving for a ball six games into GSU’s 2012 season and missed the rest of his junior season. Roache is rehabilitating from surgery and the Brewers expect him to be ready to play in the fall instructional league.

"He certainly was a tremendous presence on our team," Hennon said of Roache, a 6-foot-1, 235-pound slugger who led the NCAA with 30 home runs in 2011. "Kind of the heart and soul, and a guy who was very well-respected by his teammates, not only for what he could do on the field but for who he is and the way he carried himself.

"No question in my mind he was a legitimate first-rounder, and I’m just awfully happy for him and glad that, despite the injury and everything that he went through, that the Brewers organization believes in him and what he’s about.

"And I think his makeup, knowing the type of person he is, coming back from that injury like that, I think they have faith in him that they know he’s going to do what it takes to come back a hundred percent. I think we can look forward to seeing him in the big leagues one day."

Beck, who will skip his senior season, has received his minor league assignment from the White Sox. He is in the Pioneer League with the Great Falls Voyagers.

"He’s, again, another guy with tremendous character and makeup," Hennon said Beck, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander. "Had a little bit of a tough year this year. There were a lot of expectations for Chris. And just had some tough luck."

Beck produced a 6-7 record and a 3.91 earned-run average in 16 starts as a junior in 2012. He struck out 115 batters, walked 29 and allowed 117 hits. Beck had a 9-5 record and a 3.23 ERA as a sophomore.

"But one thing about Chris, and I’ve said this time and time again, he was a warrior throughout his whole career here," Hennon said of Beck, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the SoCon Tournament in 2011. "Every time that he took the mound, you knew what kind of effort you were going to get from him. He always put our team in a position where we had an opportunity to win. He always went deep in the ball game and is just a tremendous competitor.

"Again, I think he has a great future ahead of him in professional baseball, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he progresses at the next level."

Phillips has received his minor league assignment from the Blue Jays. He is in the Class-A Short Season with the Vancouver Canadians.

"I know he was probably a little disappointed that he didn’t get an opportunity (in professional baseball) after his junior year," Hennon said of Phillips, a 6-foot-2, 195-pound shortstop who finished his four-year career as GSU’s career hits leader with 339. "We all felt like someone would probably throw him in the draft last year, somewhere. That didn’t happen for him but one thing about Eric, he got better every year that he was here. The 13 years that I’ve been here, I don’t know that we’ve had a more complete baseball player than Eric Phillips."

Leverett, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-hander, produced a 4-2 record as a senior in 2012 with a 2.81 ERA. He struck out 58 batters, walked 17 and allowed 35 hits. Leverett signed with the Twins on June 10.

"Jarret was a real key to our team this year and the improvement that our pitching staff made in the second half of the season, especially out of that bullpen," Hennon said. "Jarret was a big part of that. He’s a great example, I think, to our younger players of a guy that had his struggles last year, making that adjustment from junior-college to the Division I level, but a guy that really stayed after it, had a great attitude and a great work ethic."

Replacing Roache, Beck, Phillips and Leverett will not be easy but it is a task Hennon and his assistants have embraced. GSU has 14 members of next season’s team playing in summer collegiate leagues throughout the country this summer.

Rising sophomore Casey Kicklighter, rising senior Drew Johnson and rising junior Brent Pugh are playing in the Sun Belt League.

Kicklighter, playing as an outfielder instead as an infielder, is batting .375 with nine hits, including a home run, and four RBIs in seven games with the OTC Bearcats in Locust Grove.

Johnson, a left-handed pitcher, is 2-0 with a 1.39 ERA and eight strikeouts in 13 innings with the Home Plate Chukars in Peachtree City.

Pugh, a utility player, is batting .231 with six hits, including a homer, and four RBIs in nine games with the Brookhaven Bucks in Atlanta.

Rising sophomore Chase Griffin is playing in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League for the Glens Falls (N.Y.) Golden Eagles. Griffin, a catcher who was named a Freshman All-American by both the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and Collegiate Baseball, is hitting .340 with 17 hits, including a home run, and seven RBIs in 13 games.

Rising junior Ben Morgan, an infielder, is playing in the Northwoods League for the St. Cloud (Minn.) Rox. He is batting .435 with 10 hits and three RBIs in eight games.

GSU signed eight players for the 2013 class during the fall signing period.


Noell Barnidge may be reached at (912) 489-9408.