It was a tough 2015 season down in Atlanta for the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. They never quite got on track once ACC play got underway and they floated around the NCAA Tournament bubble for the latter part of the campaign before ultimately falling short in part thanks to losing their last five games of the season- a midweeker against Georgia, a sweep at the hands of Miami, and a loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament to finish out the season.
For a program as proud as Georgia Tech, that’s certainly not the type of season they are used to. The good news is that there’s a real chance that the team bounces back in a big way in 2016. They return many of the top contributors from a season ago, and their incoming recruiting class boasts a handful of players who have chosen to come to campus rather than begin their pro careers after being drafted in the most recent MLB Draft. The headliner of that group is Jonathan Hughes, a big-armed righty who runs his fastball into the mid-90s.
In a recent discussion with Benjamin Tankersley (@FTRSBen on Twitter), Co-Blog Manager of From the Rumble Seat, we touched on all of those topics, and several more, in the world of Georgia Tech baseball, or as they call it around Russ Chandler Stadium, Beesball.
Joseph Healy: To start, give us a peek into Georgia Tech baseball culture. How well is the team supported by students, local, and alumni and what’s the gameday atmosphere like?
Benjamin Tankersley: Beesball is certainly not the most popular sport at Georgia Tech, but it always proves to be a good time for anyone in attendance in any medium. Being at the game, there’s not many things better than to watch a baseball game live, no matter who’s playing, but Georgia Tech always gives a good game. The defense is always top notch and Danny Hall has a knack for bringing in some top notch talent. We’ve seen that a lot the last couple years with the freshmen, specifically Kel Johnson, a freshman slugger from last season. Being at the game isn’t the only way to enjoy it though. On ESPN3, you get to listen to former Georgia Tech football color commentator Roddy Jones and then on WREK 91.1, there is also great commentary. With such famous alumni as Mark Texeira and Nomar Garciaparra, people always like to pay attention to Beesball to see if they can come up with the next big thing.
JH: How would you describe Georgia Tech’s 2015 season? Given the long, successful history of Georgia Tech baseball, missing the postseason altogether, for the first time since 2007 and just the third time in the Danny Hall era, had to be disappointing.
BT: 2015 was definitely a disappointing season for the Yellow Jackets, especially after 2014 promised such hope with the youth of the pitching staff. It also didn’t help that Tech’s freshman slugger Kel Johnson got hurt during the season, which was a huge hit to our offense. It was never quite the same after that. AJ Murray had a fantastic season, but Tech failed to come through in the clutch for hitting. The pitching didn’t do much to help them. Brandon Gold was really good for the first part of the season, but then he unfortunately returned to Earth. If I had to describe this season in one word, it would be underperformed. This team has a lot more talent than the record and the product indicated, but with the lack of clutch hitting and consistent pitching, they didn’t stand a chance.
JH: The program isn’t in bad shape by any means, but again, given the high level of expectation, some might say that they’ve fallen a bit. They haven’t won 40 games since 2011, and going further, haven’t gotten through a regional since 2006, which also happens to be the last time they went to the CWS. What’s the general feeling on the direction of the program?
BT: Honestly, that depends on whom you ask. Usually, people’s opinions about that have to do with their opinions of Danny Hall. Some think he is a great recruiter who is just going through a rough patch and just needs more time. On the other side of that coin, there are those who think he is bringing in some good talent, but he hasn’t been able to properly develop that talent, which has hurt the team severely in recent seasons. Personally, I’m on the fence about Danny Hall. He is definitely a fantastic recruiter, but the onfield product has not shown that he is a good coach recently. I’m still willing to give him a couple more years, but if things don’t improve quickly, his seat will definitely get warmer.
JH: It’s no secret that metro Atlanta has grown into one of the premier high school and showcase baseball hotbeds in the country. In your estimation, has this helped or hurt the program? On one hand, it seems that more elite-level talent in Atlanta would be helpful for recruiting locally, but on the other hand, the notoriety, within baseball circles, that the city has gotten for quality baseball might make for a saturated recruiting market. Everyone, it seems, is recruiting Atlanta now.
BT: Like I said in the last question, Danny Hall is a good recruiter. He knows talent and how to get that talent to come join his team. As more and more talent starts to appear in the area, I am confident that he will be able to draw that talent in to Georgia Tech. The question is whether or not he will be able to develop that talent.
JH: What are your early thoughts on the 2016 season? At least on paper, things appear to be trending upward. Most of the key contributors from 2015 return and a quality recruiting class, led by second-round pick Jonathan Hughes, appears poised to chip in right away.
BT: I would say right now, the team is in good position. Kel Johnson is fully healthy and Jonathan Hughes miraculously decided not to forgo his college commitment for an opportunity to play minor league baseball. Hughes is a fantastic pitcher and I’m sure Hall and the rest of the coaching staff is hoping that he can have a similar impact on the pitching staff that Kel Johnson had on the offense last season. The Yellow Jackets will need more than that, though. The rest of the pitching staff will need to continue to develop, and the offense will have to develop some form of clutch hitting, otherwise the Yellow Jackets will be watching the College World Series from home again.