East Carolina went through fall baseball camp with a focus on building the mental approach that produced a 47-18 record in Cliff Godwin’s fifth season as coach at his alma mater in 2019.
“It was critical that we got everybody on the same page of our standards, what our culture is and showing up to go to work with an elite mindset every day,” Godwin said. “That’s the biggest thing. When you have new coaches, new staff, 20 new players, I think that’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to make sure your culture and the elite mindset is most important in our program. Make sure everybody is on the same page with that so that was the first thing that was most important. We’re still working on that each and every day.
“It’s not something that you work on for just two months and then don’t work on it anymore.”
Fall camp was completed earlier this month as the Gold took the decisive third game, 6-0, in the Purple-Gold World Series, going ahead on a 3-run homer by Bryson Worrell.
Player development is continuing.
“We’re doing strength and conditioning.” Godwin said. “We’re also having leadership meetings. There are some individuals kind of fine-tuning their skills, whether working on a swing or some types of drills. Most of the pitchers are shut down, but some of the position players are still fine-tuning some skills, kind of individually.”
Some significant personnel that helped the Pirates set a record for American Athletic Conference regular-season league wins (21) have moved on.
“(Bryant) Packard and (Jake) Agnos and (Trey) Benton and Turner Brown and (Spencer) Brickhouse and (Evan) Voliva, all those guys are gone, but at the end of the day you have to prepare for that,” Godwin said. “We will have guys who will be able to fill in those positions. They will never be a Bryant Packard. What I mean by that is, not that they can’t put up numbers, but what Packard and those guys meant to our program. You’ll never replace that. There will be other guys that can step up, kind of like Connor Litton did after Eric Tyler played third base for us or a Jake Washer when Travis Watkins graduated.
“We’ve got guys that are ready to step up to fill in those roles.”
New pitching coach
Godwin was involved in an offseason search after pitching coach Dan Roszel left for the same position at Kentucky.
“Jason Dietrich, I call him Coach Deets, just to shorten it up,” Godwin said. “Going back to the interview process, his resume and the things he’s done throughout his coaching career, that stuff just jumped off the page. National Pitching Coach of the Year in 2016 (by Collegiate Baseball). He has a tremendous track record.
“He’s worked for Mike Gillespie (former coach at UC Irvine and Southern California), who’s in the (College Baseball Coaches) Hall of Fame. He’s worked for Rick Vanderhook (Cal State Fullerton) and George Horton (formerly at Cal State Fullerton and Oregon). … We’re talking about the knowledge and experience that he has working for some great programs and great pitchers. That’s one thing that just jumped off the page.
“When you sit down and meet with him, he’s a great person. He’s got a great family. It was a no-brainer for us.”
Starting pitching candidates
Dietrich will be working with a mound corps that has a good deal of depth. The weekend rotation is still to be decided.
“That’s something that’s months away, but Gavin Williams really emerged as a guy that we feel like will compete for a weekend spot, if not the Friday night role,” Godwin said. “(Jake) Kuchmaner and Smitty (Tyler Smith) did a great job. (Alec) Burleson did not pitch this fall. There are other guys that continue to work hard. We’ll have some options. We have more pitching than we’ve ever had here. …
“A freshman that really stood out was C.J. Mayhue. I’m not sure if he’ll be pitching at the back end or he’ll start, but he has the right mentality, the right make-up to throw a lot of innings for us. You’ve got veterans that have pitched a lot better. Cam Colmore — you saw flashes of that at the end of last year. Matt Bridges is healthy. Those are two guys that are valuable options out of the bullpen. Garrett Saylor and Carter Spivey had good falls as well.”
Two-way standout Alec Burleson didn’t pitch in the fall. Burleson hit .370 with nine homers and 61 RBIs in 2019. A left-hander, Burleson was 6-2 on the mound with a 3.28 earned run average as a sophomore.,
“The situation with Burleson is that we wanted to not pitch him to protect him,” Godwin said. “Because he had a lot of workload in the spring and then playing with Team USA. When you’re a two-way guy, it’s just a lot of stress on your body. I felt like last year, and Burly has told us this as well, that not pitching last fall allowed him to lift with the position players and continue to strengthen his body, get in better shape to be able to handle the schedule that we play in the spring.”
The Pirates have another challenging schedule.
“We play William & Mary on Feb. 14 at home,” Godwin said of the season opener. “It is Valentine’s Day.”
Fans flock to ECU’s matchups with in-state rivals.
“We do not play N.C. State this year,” Godwin said. “They are on the schedule for ’21, home and home. We do have games with North Carolina, home and home.”
The Pirates match up with the Tar Heels on March 24 in Greenville and April 28 in Chapel Hill.
The field for the Keith LeClair Classic (Feb. 28-March 1) includes Indiana, Ole Miss and High Point.
The Houston Astros have gained some recent notoriety by allegedly stealing signs with a camera in center field.
“I think it’s a multi-level thing,” Godwin said. “You can pick signs out of a glove or from what a catcher is doing, that’s one thing, but I don’t know what the Astros were doing. It’s a different thing when you’re taking technology, live in the games and watching something and getting that information to your hitters. I think that’s crossing the line. That’s just my opinion.
“I don’t know what they were doing. I’m not saying the Astros were cheating. I’m not saying that, but I feel like if you’re using technology during the game to get an advantage and know what pitch is being called, I think that’s crossing the line.”
With a baserunner on second, the Pirates do try to pick up signals.
“Absolutely,” Godwin said. “That’s, in my opinion, gamesmanship. People do it to us. We do it to them. If you can pick up the sign system at second base, that’s part of the game in my opinion.”
The Astros were topped by the Washington Nationals in a seven-game World Series in which the visiting team won every game.
“I thought it was two really good teams that were evenly matched,” Godwin said. “They had great players on both sides. I think the Nationals, you could just see they just never flinched when they got their backs up against the wall. I forget how many elimination games they played the last month of the season but they were undefeated in elimination games. I just thought it was really neat for them to be able to win their first World Series championship.
Godwin was an assistant at LSU, which produced Astros standouts Alex Bregman and Will Harris. Godwin was an assistant for the Tigers from 2006 to 2008.
“Will Harris was there (at LSU) before I was there and then Bregman was there when I was at Ole Miss,” Godwin said.
Godwin was on the Rebels staff from 2011 to 2014 before returning to ECU.
Improvements at Clark-LeClair Stadium continue.
“Our hitting indoor is complete,” Godwin said. “Our pitching indoor is almost complete, which is in the old batting cage behind the first-base dugout. We have some things coming down the line. We have raised a little bit of money, but we want to renovate our locker room, our team room, training room, add a professional locker room and just make the student-athlete experience a lot better here.
“The professional locker room is big and a weight room somewhere near here that our guys can have easier access to. The professional guys can have a place to work out, a room to work out of so we can continue to have the family atmosphere. Once you’re a Pirate, always you’re a Pirate. …
“So Agnos and Brickhouse and Packard and Benton and all the guys, Dwanya (Williams-Sutton) is back in town, Washer’s here, Voliva’s here, so they actually have like a locker room to put their stuff in instead of cramming their stuff into an extra locker in our locker room. It’s not as convenient.
“We want them to come back and be able to work out, work out with our guys so they can be ready for spring training.”
NCAA to allow endorsements
The NCAA apparently will relax its stance on student-athletes being allowed to be involved in endorsements.
Does that mean that we could see Alec Burleson on a Pepsi commercial in the region?
“I have no idea,” Godwin said. “You’ll have to ask people that are way more knowledgeable of that than me. I haven’t researched it enough. I’ve got a lot of problems and that one is not happening tomorrow, so that’s not one of ’em. I am not really knowledgeable enough to speak on that.
State of the program
Godwin does feel qualified to speak on the state of the Pirate program.
“I think the state of the baseball program is in great shape,” Godwin said. “I guess everybody has a different opinion. That’s my opinion on it and I feel like I’m pretty knowledgeable about it.”