Strength training, conditioning and individual workouts are set to begin Monday now that the Georgia Bulldogs have returned to campus for the fall semester.
Full team workouts will commence at Foley Field on Oct. 2. The Bulldogs will have 45 days to conduct 30 practices including the annual intra-squad Red and Black World Series. There will not be any exhibition games against outside competition during the 2020 fall semester per a Southeastern Conference (SEC) announcement last week as the league and its 14 members continue to monitor developments related to COVID-19. The SEC’s Return to Activity and Medical Guidance Task Force continues to meet on policies and procedures for the safe return of student-athletes to competition, building on the NCAA’s Resocialization of College Sports Guidelines.
One of the by-products of the pandemic will be loaded college baseball teams in 2021. First this past March, the NCAA granted eligibility relief to all spring sports student-athletes from 2020 due to the pandemic. Instead of having a five-year period to play four seasons, student-athletes now have six years to play four. Then in June, Major League Baseball limited the 2020 Draft to just five rounds (down from 40), non-drafted players were allowed to only sign for a maximum bonus of $20,000 (down from $125,000) and the Minor League season was cancelled. Consequently, college programs lost fewer players and incoming recruits to the professional ranks.
The Bulldogs did have a pair of star pitchers get drafted and sign multimillion-dollar contracts in Emerson Hancock (Seattle) and Cole Wilcox (San Diego). Meanwhile, Georgia outfielder Tucker Bradley (Kansas City) and shortstop Cam Shepherd (Atlanta), both who had earned their academic degree, opted to ink free agent deals. However, on Aug. 20, Georgia’s Ike Cousins head baseball coach Scott Stricklin welcomed to campus his entire 15-member recruiting class after a handful turned down professional playing opportunities. That marked the first time that has happened as he enters his eighth season at Georgia.
“This is one of the best classes we’ve had since I’ve been at Georgia,” said Stricklin. “It has depth on the mound and with our position players. We feel like it’s as good as anyone’s class in the country.”
Georgia welcomes back seven starting position players and four of the six pitchers who started games in 2020. The rotation candidates for 2021 include right-handers Garrett Brown, Jonathan Cannon, Will Childers, and Michael Polk along with left-handers C.J. Smith and Ryan Webb. A trio of incoming freshmen left-handers in Patrick Holloman, Luke Wagner and Jaden Woods will be in the mix for a starting role too. Cannon (3-0, 0.00 ERA) and Childers (1-0, 0.79 ERA) earned Freshman All-America honors last year while Webb (2-0, 1.20 ERA, 26K, 5BB in 15 IP) was dominating coming out of the bullpen. Webb now looks to transition to a starting role.
Georgia’s leading hitter from 2020 returns in Academic All-District outfielder Ben Anderson. A centerfielder who batted leadoff in 17 games last year, he posted a .544 on base percentage and a .414 batting average. There will be plenty of competition around the diamond, and one of the biggest holes to fill will be at shortstop after Shepherd started every game there the past four years. Veteran Riley King returns, and he has proven to be adept at playing anywhere during his career while Cole Tate has done the same on the infield. The incoming freshmen class has three infielders in Parks Harber, Caleb Ketchup and Garrett Spikes. For Bradley’s outfield spot, Georgia’s veteran options include Randon Jernigan, Chaney Rogers and Connor Tate along with the aforementioned King.
Georgia has a pair of graduates returning in catcher Mason Meadows and pitcher Logan Moody. Georgia will be well-stocked behind the plate with the addition of freshmen Corey Collins and Fernando Gonzalez. Collins was among the highest rated prep prospects nationally to make it to campus. A left-handed hitter with power, he came in at No. 65 on Major League Baseball’s Top 200 players for the 2020 Draft. Georgia has one Division 1 transfer in right-hander Nolan Crisp. A native of Locust Grove, Ga., he saved eight games as a freshman for the University of Florida in 2019. He did not see any action in the abbreviated season that was 2020.
The Bulldogs ended the 2020 campaign ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. Along with being one of the nation’s best on the field, Georgia was just as impressive in the classroom. The Bulldogs were the only SEC baseball team that was publicly recognized by the NCAA for outstanding achievement in the annual NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) report. The Bulldogs earned APR distinction in 2020 by posting their highest mark in program history. A school record 26 student-athletes earned a spot on the Spring SEC Academic Honor Roll or SEC First-Year Academic Honor Roll as the team posted a 3.14 GPA for the spring semester which was a program best too.