Recurring talents and new faces make Stricklin optimistic

Between some key returnes and promising transfers, Georgia baseball coach Scott Stricklin was optimistic about his team’s offensive potential next spring.

“This is as deep and talented a lineup as I think we had,” said Stricklin, whose Bulldogs entertain UAB in an exhibition game at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.

Admission is free and open to the public looking to get a first look at the Georgia 2023 roster, which is currently in the middle of fall training.

Georgia brings back a solid corps.

outfield player Ben Anderson (.274-9-34) and Connor Tate (.345-13-58) was eligible to play for a year thanks to Covid and decided to come back after being unselected in the recent MLB draft.

That’s good news for the Bulldogs, who are also returning Park Harber (.307-13-53), CoreyCollins (.256-11-37) and Cabbage Wagner (.276-6-21) into the mix.

While Wagner’s final-year numbers might not jump off the page as a freshman, the Pennsylvania native could be in line for a nice bump as a sophomore.

Wagner spent the summer playing for the Charlottesville TomSox in the Valley League and responded by hitting .361 with four homers and 37 RBI.

Stricklin also expects another offensive surge from catcher Fernando Gonzalez (.258-4-22), but it’s a redshirt newcomer Charlie Condon who opens his eyes.

At 6ft 6 and 215 pounds, Condon was a redshirt last spring but showed throughout the summer and again during fall camp that he has the power to make a big impact.

In a recent scrimmage, Condon took a pitch and drove it 445 feet over the fence for a long home run, with the ball leaving the yard at 110 mph. This was after a strong summer campaign with the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League, in which Condon hit .294 with 10 homers and 73 RBI.

“He’s a really good player. He did a redshirt last year and I think ultimately it was good for him because he was able to gain some weight,” Stricklin said. “He’s tall, still a bit skinny, but he’s been able to gain some weight and watch him from a different angle to see and see a guy like Connor Tate going about his business.”

A trio of transfers are also said to play a key role.

Will David, a former three-year starter at Samford, appears poised to play third base for the Bulldogs after battling at .303 with five carries and 29 RBI. David can also play second base and will be the team’s third catcher behind Gonzalez and Collins.

Yale transmission Mason La Plante (.281-2-16, 21 stolen bases) and Long Beach State Transfer Sebastian Murillo (.283-0-18) were also starters for their former teams and are fighting for the starting shortstop job. Both can also play second base.

Other positional players mentioned by Stricklin are outfield players Dwight Allen and Garret Spikeseach of which has taken steps forward, he says.

With so much experience, early opportunities won’t come easily for Georgia’s newcomer, but one who could deserve at-bats is an outfielder Justin Thomas Jr, from Benedictines in Savannah.

The right-hander batted .517 as a senior for the Cadets with a school-record 16 home runs, 53 RBI and 70 runs scored.

Thomas also played on the football field for BC, where he had 358 career rushes for 2,627 yards and 49 touchdowns while catching 89 passes for 1,730 yards and 20 points.

“What stands out is his racquet speed. He can generate a lot of racquet speed, he’ll hit for power and it’s nice as a newbie he’ll get some opportunities but there are some guys he’ll watch a bit and see how it’s done and work on it, more to gain experience,” said Stricklin. “But he’s a really talented player, a hard worker. Doesn’t say much but goes about his business and gets it done.”

On the hill, Stricklin said he feels he has “7-8” pitchers in the mix to be a starter this year, a group that also includes returnees Liam Sullivan (4-3, 4.62), Nolan Crisp (1-4, 5.12) and Jaden Woods (1-1, 4.81).

All three met hitters for the first time on Tuesday after being closed to rest their arms following their respective summer plans.

“It was all 94 mph, and the breaking ball looked better and more consistent,” Stricklin said of Woods. “Don’t be shocked if we start the year with him as a starter. I think he deserves the opportunity to take on that role, but it’s also nice to have him at the end of a game when it’s 4-3 and have him try to finish it.”

Another pitcher to watch is Sophomore Righty Coleman Willis. Willis (6-7, 214) arguably has some of the best stuff on the Georgia staff but struggled with ferocity last year (18 walks in 17.1 innings). If pitching coach Sean Kenny can help him leverage his control, watch out.

Chandler Marsh (4-1, 3.74) and Luke Wagner (5-3, 6.15) are also among those who return.

The Bulldogs have also signed six freshmen that Stricklin is high on, along with a quartet of transfer reliefs, each of whom will play a big part in the bullpen.

right-handed Jarvis Evans, JD Smith, Matthew Hoskins, Kolten Schmidt, Blake Gillespie, and Leighton Finley Freshmen who Stricklin said have chances of becoming “breakout guys.”

Of the group, Finley (6-5, 220), who topped at 96mph, was the most eye-opening.

“I think there are some high draft picks in this group, with three or possibly four in the top five (rounds),” Stricklin said. “They’ve got mid-’90s fastballs, their stuff is good, and they’re good, athletic guys on the mound. You just need some experience.”

Thankfully, Georgia’s four transfer pitchers have plenty of it.

Kyle Greenler (Elon, 4-2, 2.93), Zach DeVito (Tulane, 4-1, 4.02 with 40 strikeouts in 24.1 innings), Step Mercer (ABAC, 2.51 ERA, K/9 rate of 14.44) and Dalton Rhadans (Wofford, 7-4, 3.72) each closed for former teams and saved four, nine, five and 10 games, respectively.

“All of these guys are high-leverage guys,” Stricklin said. “They all played in the backend of the games. It takes tenacity to play in the backend of games and these guys have it.

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