baseball Edit

Bulldogs will be relying on young starting rotation this spring

Sophomore Kevin Smith figures to take over as Georgia's Friday night starter.
Sophomore Kevin Smith figures to take over as Georgia's Friday night starter. (UGA Sports Communication)

It’s a young group of contenders that Georgia skipper Scott Stricklin and pitching coach Fred Corral expect to comprise Georgia’s starting rotation this spring.

How young are they?

Well, projected Friday starter Kevin Smith has the most experience and he only pitched in 13 games as a freshman last year, going 5-1 with an ERA of 3.91.

With the exception of junior college transfer Chase Adkins, the majority of the other candidates mentioned by Stricklin are freshman yet to throw a pitch on the collegiate level.

Not that the talent isn't there.

“Kevin Smith is the logical guy to go on Friday, he’s got the most experience. He had a good summer in Cape Cod and he was really good,” Stricklin said. “His velocity is up, he’s very athletic, moves around very good, he’s confident and he does all the little things – he commands his fastball, he fields his position and does all the things that you need to be able to do.”

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Stricklin said the lefty Smith reminds him of former Bulldog and current Los Angeles Dodgers hurler Alex Wood.

He has has tasted success before.

Last year, Smith – who made seven starts – finished the season with a scoreless streak of 14.1 innings over his final six relief outings. He says the confidence he gained from that carried over into the fall and so far into preseason camp.

“It gave me a lot of confidence,” Smith said. “I just was able to find my rhythm … I just found it. All I try to do is pound the strike zone and do what I can to give my team the best chance to win.” As for the rest of Georgia’s weekend rotation, decisions are still being made.

Freshman Tony Locey figures to have a good a shot as any.

A teammate on the baseball field of Jake Fromm at Houston County, Locey helped lead the Bears to a state championship last year going 9-4 with an ERA of 2.04 with 120 strikeouts in 77 innings. During Game 7 of Georgia’s Fall World Series, Locey pitched four hitless innings, striking out seven.

But his talented right arm is not all that Stricklin has come to appreciate – it’s his confidence and demeanor in which he plays.

“He acts like he’s the best guy on the field and when he gets on the mound a lot of times he is. He believes it, he’s really confident, he’s going to come right at you,” said Stricklin, who likens Locey’s mound presence to that of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher John Lackey. “He’s going to ruffle some feathers. He’s going to strike you out and he’s going to look at you a little bit. He’s that guy, and we need a little bit of that. He’s got some attitude, he’s a big kid, a hard worker and the kids love him.”

Adkins (8-2 with an Alabama Community College-best 1.81 ERA) and sophomore Blakely Brown are in the mix as well.

Although neither are big in stature, Adkins (5-11, 173) posted some eye-popping numbers for Chattahoochee Valley Community College, striking out 82 batters in 79.2 innings, while Brown may have the most exciting arsenal of anyone on the Bulldog staff.

“Blakley, you watch him and he’s a big-leaguer. He’s Josh Fields-like. Electric fastball, electric breaking ball and he’s got some confidence,” Stricklin said. “Last year, he struggled with some confidence like a lot of freshman do, but he’s got it back, he feels like he’s made strides, he’s gotten better, so Blakley could be a guy.”

Stricklin also listed a trio of freshmen – North Paulding’s Christian Ryder, Buford’s Justin Glover and Walton’s Zac Kristofak – as potential starting candidates, with Kristofak also someone who could ultimately figure into Georgia’s backend pitching plans.

Others on the periphery include veterans Andrew Gist, Drew Moody and Ryan Avidano.