There are many measures of success in college baseball and East Carolina checked many boxes in 2023. The Pirates finished 47-19 and were ranked No. 24 in the final D1 Baseball poll. ECU won the American Athletic Conference regular-season championship and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Two pitchers were taken in the recent MLB draft and two more signed free agent deals. The Pirates have several players performing on the major league level.
“In my opinion, it’s another very successful season,” said ECU coach Cliff Godwin this week. “I mean, not many college baseball programs get to say they won 47 games and won the fifth straight conference regular season or tournament championship. I guess 2018 we won the tournament, but ’19 ’21, ’22, ’23, I think if my history serves myself as we won the regular season AAC.”
The college baseball season was halted in 2020 due to COVID.
“Very successful,” Godwin continued. “Our guys had a 3.4 team GPA (grade point average) for the sixth straight year. So pretty successful. And obviously our ultimate goal is to compete for a national championship and we’ve been knocking on the door. So we’re going to continue to work hard to move towards that goal. But what we’ve done here consistently is super special to me because, of course, of what this place means.”
Godwin is a former Academic All-American as a catcher at ECU. He has completed his ninth season as head coach at his alma mater.
“You just look across the landscape of college baseball and I would say that we’ve been as consistent as anybody in the country as far as being able to host regionals, go to Super Regionals, be in the postseason, win conference, regular season titles, et cetera,” Godwin said.
Moving on to the pros
Godwin talked about players leaving ECU for the pro ranks.
“Josh Moylan had a great year (.302, 15 HRs, 70 RBIs) and was well deserving to sign with the Yankees and he got a really good free agent deal, signed for $150,000, I think. So, Josh Grosz was drafted (11th round) and really put together a very consistent season for us, so I was happy for him. So, I have two Yankees. That’s pretty cool.
“Tyler Bradt was drafted by the Cardinals (16th round), so the Cardinals kept that East Carolina connection going. And then Landon Ginn signed a free agent deal with the Cubs. So excited for those guys and the professional opportunity that they have.”
Former Pirate Gavin Williams has moved into the starting rotation for Cleveland and is scheduled to start for the Guardians on Friday night against visiting Philadelphia.
Outfielder Alec Burleson is hitting .241 with six home runs and 21 RBIs in 64 games. The former ECU lefty has also seen mound duty in a pair of games for the Cards.
“Just so excited for those guys,” Godwin said. “And, obviously, Burley’s debut last year in the big leagues. We took the staff up there and then this year I actually flew to D.C. to see MacKenzie Gore (former ECU commit) pitch against the Cardinals. That was the Tuesday before Gavin’s debut on Wednesday. So got to go out to dinner with MacKenzie and Burley after the game, which was awesome and spend some time with them.
“The next morning I flew to Cleveland from D.C. and got a chance to see Gavin make his major league debut, which was one of the coolest things I’ve ever been associated with personally. Just to see one of our guys make his major league debut and there was a couple hundred people from North Carolina to see Gavin, which was awesome. And just continuing to follow his young career in the big leagues has been awesome.”
Baseball will have a new look in the American Athletic Conference in 2024 as Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston join the Big 12 while Alabama-Birmingham, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice and Texas-San Antonio move to the AAC from Conference USA.
‘We’re bringing some really quality baseball programs in with the teams that are coming in and I think it’s going to probably help our conference a little bit just with the way things have been in the past couple years with those teams coming in,” Godwin said. “So, it’ll be another conference that I feel like will be one of the best baseball conferences in the country and you’ll need to play at your best. So, we’re excited to welcome those schools in.”
ECU has announced the promotion of Colby Bortles from volunteer assistant to assistant coach/hitting coach
“The NCAA passed where you could have a third assistant paid through university,” Godwin said. “So, Colby has been an assistant in our program — just all his earnings had to come through our baseball camps and that was the way he was able to have a life and make some money and we took care of him in that capacity. But now the university, not every university’s doing it, but East Carolina hired Colby, which is awesome.
“That was really important to me. And so he’ll be able to make a salary from East Carolina University and then I can supplement him and our other assistant coaches with the money we make off camp and what he’s done.
“I gave him a lot more rein last year with working with our hitters because he wants to continue to develop as an assistant coach and he did a really good job working in the cages with our guys and stuff. And I thought it was a good time to, once he was hired on full-time, to also get the hitting coach title and give him that responsibility. And of course, myself, Coach (Jeff) Palumbo, all the coaches will still work with our players and work with Colby at the same time, but he’s earned that opportunity and he’s been loyal and a hard worker for me, specifically, and I wanted to make sure he got rewarded.”
Parker Byrd’s status
ECU signee Parker Byrd lost a portion of a leg due to a boating accident before arriving on campus but has not given up on the dream of playing for the Pirates.
“Parker is obviously closer today to getting on the field than he was even a few months ago,” Godwin said. “I think he’s still figuring out how to move his body athletically with a prosthetic. He’s working his tail off as you can imagine. So like I tell people all the time, I just wouldn’t bet against him. He’s still having to figure out, like I said, how to move athletically with that prosthetic and getting into some more baseball movements.
“I would say hitting, and I don’t want to speak for him, is probably the thing that he’s done the most of. And now we got to get him into some defensive stuff and take ground balls, all that good stuff. So that’s kind of the next step for him to continue to strengthen that side of his body and continue to move with that prosthetic.”
Trey Yesavage pitched well for the USA colleguate team this summer as a number of Pirates sought to improve their competitive skills during the summer.
“He pitched great,” Godwin said. “Trey’s a stud. That makes five straight years that we’ve had a guy from East Carolina to be a part of the collegiate national team, which is a huge honor. So, we were super excited about that and just the success he had this summer was great to see.
“You go from (Wyatt Lunsford-) Shenkman, Jake Hunter, Luke Nowak, Dixon Williams, Zach Root, the guys that have played the majority of the summer, J.C. (Jacob Jenkins-Cowart) had a little bit of an arm issue, so he just came back from the Cape (Cod League) and was having a good summer as well. Ryan McCrystal played just a little bit and swung the bat really good, but we’re really just worried about him staying healthy. So, we wanted to get him back here and to make sure his core was strong so we could take pressure off that back. So, he’s back here now working on that and just a lot of guys that have gone out and just performed at a high level this summer.”
Pitchers from the portal
ECU has gotten three pitchers through the transfer portal including Chris Kahler from George Washington, Drew Bryan from Chicago and southpaw Aaron Froller from Seton Hall.
“We’re excited about those guys,” Godwin said. “They’re older and experienced and we think all three of them can be definitely an asset to our program come springtime.”
Kahler has appeared at Clark-LeClair Stadium.
“Kahler pitched in game two against us and actually shoved well against us for I think five and a third,” Godwin said. “We were behind in that game when he came out of the game. So when you get to see a guy firsthand that makes you even feel more comfortable about what you’re getting when he’s pitched really well against our offense.”
Alec Makarewicz transferred to N.C. State after hitting .258 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs as a junior for the Pirates in 2023.
“Yep, guys have to make the decisions,” Godwin said. “It was totally his decision, and he thinks that’s the best thing for him. So, I don’t wish ill on anyone. We’ll see how that works out. But that was his decision and he’s made it and we’re going to be a great baseball program because we got great players in our program.”
Former ECU pitching coach Jason Dietrich will bring Cal State-Fullerton to the Keith LeClair Classic during the 2024 season.
“We’re excited to welcome Coach Dietrich back to Greenville,” Godwin said. “It’ll be a quality field. They made the NCAA tournaments for the first time in a couple of years, so he’s doing a really, really good job out there.”
Trio coming back
Godwin has done some successful recruiting within the program.
“Jacob Starling and Justin Wilcoxen and Carter Cunningham are going to be on our team next year,” Godwin said. “I mean, that’s guys that were on our team that could have gone out and played professional baseball probably. They were three of our biggest recruits in my opinion for this summer.”
Vacation time, peace of mind
College baseball coaches don’t know where the draft and the portal will leave their rosters.
“Get me to August 1st and I will be real happy because I feel pretty confident and we’ll know exactly who’s going to be on our roster, which we got a really good idea now once you get through the draft,” Godwin said. “Just get to August 1st and I’ll go on vacation.”