The Southeastern Conference was a baseball powerhouse in 2017 and stands to be again this year with seven SEC teams making the preseason NCAA top 25 poll. While the SEC is set for another big year, the same can not be said for Georgia, who will need a number of factors to go their way if they wish to keep up with a very competitive conference. It’s no secret that the 2017 Dawgs suffered a fairly miserable 2017 with a number of losses to smaller schools in the non-conference schedule, followed by an onslaught of six consecutive losses to open conference play. Things slightly improved toward the end of the season as Georgia was able to make the SEC tournament, only to be shut out in the first round. Georgia finished 25-32 in 2017, worse than the 27-30 record posted in 2016. Thanks to a late run which included taking two out of three from Kentucky, Georgia was able to reach double-digit wins in SEC play, at 11-19.
It’s been 10 years since Georgia was in the College World Series finals, taking game one from Fresno State, and in typical Georgia fashion, dropping the final two games. Since the runner-up season of 2008, UGA has yet to find an SEC regular season or conference championship. With the current environment in the SEC, it’s going to be difficult for Georgia to compete for one in 2018, especially with a couple notable departures and an overall lack of recruiting talent.
Georgia’s biggest loss from last year will be pitcher Andrew Gist, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. He anchored a rotation which featured an SEC-worst ERA of 5.03. The game-one SEC starter finished last year with an ERA of just over 3 and a record of 3-4. There are four main high school recruits who will be entering the picture, presumably competing for a rotation spot this season. Given Georgia’s pitching troubles in 2017, there will most likely be opportunities for these freshmen to compete and relieve a troubled rotation.
On the offensive front, many of the same players remain with very few seniors apart of the Georgia lineup last year. Despite Georgia finishing second-to-last in offensive production, the team will keep its star, Keegan McGovern. He was eligible for the draft last year – and was expected to be selected in an early round, however, he was snubbed all together. McGovern finished the 2017 campaign with a batting average of .291. McGovern will be joined by sophomore Tucker Bradley who shocked many as he led the team with a batting average of .314 his freshman season. Georgia hopes to keep the production from Bradley and McGovern along with power hitters, 2017 freshman All-American Cam Shepard and Michael Curry. Outside of those four, offense was truly underwhelming for Georgia last season.
So, what does 2018 look like for Georgia? In my view, much of the same, unfortunately. I can see pitching slightly improving (with a staff ERA of >5, it can only get better, right?), especially with more competition from younger arms. That being said, I don’t think it’s going to mean the difference between an 11 win team and a conference champion team. Georgia is going to need a lot to go their way, starting with quality pitching in a star-studded offensive league, but they also need a couple freshmen bats to have big years, along with returning stars like McGovern and Bradley to match or exceed 2017 production levels.
This team is too similar to the 2017 squad, and while improvements are possible, it’s going to take a lot more for Georgia to keep pace with the SEC in 2018. However, the beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. Georgia’s going to need some of that unpredictability and a little luck this year — and not the kind of luck Georgia sports is used to.