ith the spring semester upon Georgia State, the baseball team is beginning intensive practices to prepare for the 2015 season.
Georgia State is coming off its first year in the Sun Belt Conference last year in which they posted an overall record of 25-31 and a conference record of 11-19, finishing ninth in the conference standings.
The Panthers are looking to improve on that record this season, buoyed by the strong offense they showed last season. This season they are led by All-Sun Belt Conference Preseason team members Matt Rose and Joey Roach.
Where the team stands
Georgia State had a rough introduction to the competitive level of the Sun Belt Conference, being swept in their series against eventual Sun Belt Conference champs Louisiana-Lafayette and failing to put together any significant winning streaks.
While the Panthers posted a respectable 18-15 home record, their away record was an abysmal 7-16, a problem that must be rectified if Georgia State wants to make a push to be in contention.
“We had a lot to learn about the conference being the new kid on the block, and we still have a lot to learn. The competition is fantastic and when we played well, we put ourselves in position to win,” Head Coach Greg Frady said in a press release. “We handled ourselves pretty well at home, but we’ve got to play better on the road. We’re looking forward to putting ourselves in a better competitive situation.”
Georgia State is hopeful of making more of an impact with a returning core of players, but expectations are still high among the coaching staff.
“I think this time of the year, every coach is talking about how can we win the league. I don’t think there’s a coach in the conference talking about how can we just play well, but we had a lot to learn about the conference. When we played well on the field, we put ourselves in a position to win. When we didn’t play well, obviously we didn’t win,” Frady said in a video released through Georgia State Athletics.
Pushing the season ahead
While the coaching staff may be warily optimistic, Georgia State is expected to finish eighth, according to the preseason coaches’ poll. The poll is voted on by every coach in the conference, according to the Sun Belt Conference’s website.
That may very well be the case for the Panthers, as their schedule for the season doesn’t pull any punches. The Panthers will open their season with the Atlanta Challenge tournament, played at the GSU Baseball Complex Friday, Feb.13 – 25 in which they’ll play Fordham, Liberty and St. John’s.
The first major series of the season will open at home against Ohio on Feb. 27 and conference play will commence against Arkansas State on Mar. 13.
The Panthers will then face reigning conference champions UL Lafayette at home on Mar. 20. The Ragin’ Cajuns led the coaches poll to retain their title. This year the Ragin’ Cajuns will be led by All-Sun Belt Conference Preseason Player of the Year Blake Trahan, a shortstop who hit a batting average of .355 last year with 12 doubles, two triples, four home runs, 49 RBIs and 58 runs, according to the Sun Belt website.
Georgia State will continue conference play before playing their last series of the season against perennial rivals Georgia Southern. Every Georgia State sports team tends to bring their game to the next level when facing the Eagles, but at such a late point in the season, it may not matter at that point.
Returning players give team hope
One of the bright spots in last season were the performances of Matt Rose and Joey Roach, both players who have been named to the All-Sun Belt Conference Preseason team.
Rose has made the transition from playing as a primarily right-handed pitcher to an excellent infielder. He was named as the starting third baseman on the Preseason team. Rose has a career batting average with the Panthers of .299, with 15 home runs, 20 doubles and 66 RBIs.
Joey Roach plays at catcher for Georgia State, starting almost every game last season, who hit with a batting average of .301 and collected 23 RBIs last season. Coach Frady was quick to emphasize the importance of both players to the team offensively as well shining a particular light on senior infielder Caden Bailey, a left-handed batter with a career .317 average.
“Those guys are in the middle of the order and there are others … So I think we got a really good core of positional players with the potential to score some runs, yet I think we’re much better on defense with that group,” Frady said in a video released by Georgia State Athletics.
Depth in the bullpen
Georgia State baseball has beefed up their pitching staff in the offseason and will look to left-handed pitchers Kenny Anderson and Wayne Wages to anchor the team.
With Rose making what looks like a permanent move to the infield, it will be the responsibility of these players to do most of the weekend rotation work with right-handed pitcher Kevin Burgee closing, according to a press release.
Nathan Bates, a right-handed pitcher who saw a lot of game time last season, will also be expected to come back in a big way this season. Coach Frady spoke highly of Anderson in particular.
“I think his aspiration of wanting to become a professional player is evident for all of us to see,” said Frady in a video released by Georgia State Athletics.
The Panthers will start their season against Fordham in the Atlanta Challenge on Friday, Feb. 13 at the GSU Baseball Complex.
Sun Belt preseason rankings
Louisiana-Lafayette (2014: 58-10, 26-4 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 0-3 vs Cajuns)
Texas State (2014: 30-28, 16-14 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 0-3 vs Bobcats)
Arkansas State: (2014: 32-26: 18-16 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 2-1 vs Red Wolves)
UT-Arlington: (2014: 32-26, 19-11 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 1-2 vs Mavericks)
Troy: (2014: 25-32, 11-18 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 2-1 vs Trojans)
Georgia Southern: (2014: 40-23, 15-12 SoCon) (Panthers did not play Eagles in 2014)
South Alabama: (2014: 22-33, 11-18 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 2-1 vs Jaguars)
Georgia State: (2014: 25-31, 11-19 Sun Belt)
Louisiana-Monroe (2014: 23-36, 11-19 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 1-2 vs Warhawks)
UALR (2014: 25-29, 11-19 Sun Belt) (Panthers: 1-2 vs Trojans)
Appalachian State: (2014: 21-34, 12-14 SoCon) (Panthers did not play Mountaineers in 2014)