The start of a new season always brings a renewed sense of excitement for what lies ahead on the baseball diamond. Veterans return looking to improve, new faces fill open positions and a new Pirate team faces a new schedule with their sights set on Omaha.
In just 10 days, Pirate Baseball opens its season with a series against the Virginia Cavaliers in Clark-LeClair Stadium.
ECU and head coach Billy Godwin have some big shoes to fill as the Pirates had six players selected in the 2012 MLB Draft last season after finishing with a (36-24-1, 13-10-1) record.
Headlining the group was catcher Zach Wright who was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the 12th round. Wright started all 59 games of the 2012 season for the Pirates, batting .294 with 62 hits, 12 doubles, 5 home runs and 39 RBIs.
Also selected in the 2012 MLB Draft were LHP Kevin Brandt (18th, Tampa Bay Rays), RHP Jharel Cotton (20th, Los Angeles Dodgers), 3B Corey Thompson (31st, Chicago White Sox), LHP Tyler Joyner (35th, Kansas City Royals- did not sign), and 1B/OF John Wooten (37th, Oakland Athletics).
Three of the Pirates top four batters in terms of batting average completed their final season in 2012 (Wooten, Thompson and Tim Younger). On the mound, the Pirates will have an entirely new looking pitching staff due to graduation and off the field issues.
Junior pitcher Tanner Merritt was suspended indefinitely during this offseason and Joyner was dismissed from the team as both players were in violation of team rules. In all, four of ECU’s top six pitchers from last season won’t be pitching for the Pirates in 2013 (Brandt, Merritt, Joyner and Cotton).
But Godwin and the Pirates did a good job of replacing the talent that was leaving with promising talent for the future. ECU’s 2012 recruiting class was ranked the 33rd best in the nation; the highest ranking a Pirate recruiting class has ever received.
The class includes six pitchers (Nick Durazo, Kyle Majette, Andrew Schorr, Justin Taylor, Hayden White and Ryan Williams), five fielders (Garrett Brooks, Joe Brooks, Dylan Brown, Zach Houchins and Andrew LaMura) and two catchers (Luke Lowery and Travis Watkins). Brown and Houchins are junior college transfers that could play immediately.
Several players already on the Pirates roster will be called on to take on a more substantial role in 2013. Jay Cannon, this year’s No. 23 Keith LeClair jersey recipient, and Chase McDonald will be called on to make plays at the plate. Andy Smithmyer and Jeff Hoffman will be in the weekend rotation on the mound. Utility man Drew Reynolds will be asked to do a little bit more of everything for his junior season. Shortstop Jack Reinheimer will have to take control of this team, making plays in the field and when he is up to bat.
But one of the most interesting positions to watch will be the catcher. Senior catcher Sam King will be taking over for the long-time starter Wright, who has made Pirate fans familiar with strong play backing up the plate. King is in just his second year with the program after transferring from Eastern Oklahoma State, but has the makeup to make the catcher change a smooth transition.
This team has the key pieces in place, with the leadership to get things done. Both Reynolds and Reinheimer were named to the Conference USA All-Conference team for their junior campaigns.
After the season-opening series against Virginia, the Pirates will host the Keith LeClair Classic against Illinois, New Mexico State and Boston College.
ECU has home series this season against St. Johns, Monmouth, Rice, Memphis, Southern Miss and UCF. The Pirates travel to face Jacksonville, Houston, Tulane, UAB, Marshall. The schedule also includes Campbell, UNCG, UNCW, VCU, N.C. State and others.
Now is an exciting time to be a Pirate baseball fan and, before we know it, the season will be underway. 17 of the Pirates first 18 games are at home, so look for the Pirates to start things off fast in front of the home crowd.