Never has an East Carolina baseball team been ranked so highly in the preseason.
Baseball America released its preseason poll on Monday morning, and the Pirates were ranked 6th. Previously, East Carolina had garnered preseason rankings of 10th by D1Baseball and Perfect Game, and a 13th ranking by Collegiate Baseball.
The news came just in time for ECU’s annual baseball media day, which featured head coach Cliff Godwin, his staff and several key returning players for 2017.
“It’s great for our program, but I’ll be really pleased if we’re number one at the end of the season,” said Godwin, who has led his team to an American Athletic Conference championship and an NCAA regional title in his first two years with the program.
This team has a goal of making it to Omaha. It came so close last June in Lubbock. Omaha is the goal, but not the only one.
“We want to win a national championship,” proclaimed lefty ace Evan Kruczynski. “That’s our culture, and now we have the talent. We’re just ready to get this season rolling.”
Kruz had the media smiling when he was asked about the No. 6 national ranking by Baseball America.
“The better notification I got was that my 12 o’clock class was canceled,” he quipped.
This 2017 Pirate baseball team is locked and loaded. There is quality experience at every position. There is more depth on the mound, and the team added several young hitters that should certainly help on offense.
Those hitters showed off their talent this fall.
“I thought we had an excellent fall,” said assistant coach Jeff Palumbo. “We knew we had some talented new guys and I think they have blended in nicely with our roster.”
Breaking into the Pirate starting lineup will be difficult. Pencil in Eric Tyler at 3rd base, Turner Brown at shortstop, Charlie Yorgen at 2nd and Bryce Harmon at 1st base, all returning from last year.
Travis Watkins will man the dish. Dwanya Williams Sutton will be in the outfield somewhere. Former D.H. Conley star Bryant Packard, former Pitt Community College star Andrew Henrickson, juco transfer T.J. Riles and freshman Spencer Brickhouse will battle for the other outfield slots.
There are others as well. Some may not start, but all will have a role.
“That’s one of the keys to a great program,” said Godwin. “Every player has a role that will help us win. We will need everyone.”
On the mound, Kruzynski leads one of the deepest staffs the Pirate program has ever seen.
“We are deep,” said ECU pitching coach Dan Roszel. “We probably rival a couple of the other teams on paper. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had some great arms come through the program.”
The 2011 team featured the likes of Seth Maness, Mike Wright, and Shawn Armstrong, all major leaguers.
“Kruz will start on Fridays,” said Roszel. “After that the competition is really going to be good for the other two spots. We’re lucky that we have a guy like Jacob Wolfe, who has so much experience. He’ll be pushed, though, and that will make our entire team better.”
Junior Joe Ingle heads the bullpen as the program’s closer.
“Everybody is really working hard,” said Ingle. “We can’t wait to get this thing started.”
The Pirates know that talent only takes a team so far. Team chemistry is crucial, and that should be another of the Pirates’ strengths.
“All of these guys, we’ve been friends for four years,” said senior Charlie Yorgen. ” I like to think that will help the young guys, because we’ve been through the good times and the bad times.”
“It’s an exciting time,” said Eric Tyler. “We know what the expectations are and we know it’s a process. We just can’t wait to get things started.”
Most of the Pirate Nation can’t wait as well.