RELOADING: Pirates boast strong contingent at the plate
Published 5:52 pm Monday, February 1, 2016
GREENVILLE — Despite losing three of its top-five hitters off a 2015 American Athletic Conference championship team, the 2016 ECU baseball team may be looking at more of an offensive reload than rebuild.
The departing trio of Hunter Allen, Reid Love and Luke Lowery hit a combined .317 last season and accounted for over a third of ECU’s runs. However, the junior and senior classes have the ability to cover the void left by graduated or drafted position players.
During the summer, most ECU players, like redshirt junior catcher Travis Watkins, chose to stay in Greenville rather than play summer ball out of town. Many players reiterated that it helped cause a major chemistry boost within the team, but it was important for other reasons, too.
Watkins said building strength was a focus of the team this summer in Greenville.
“Most of the guys stayed here this summer and worked in the weight room with Blaine Kinsley. We’ve got a great strength coach,” Watkins said. “We all got stronger and put on weight but we maintained our speed.”
Individually, Watkins worked offensively with his head coach, Cliff Godwin.
“We really worked on my strength because, I talked with coach Godwin, me on first base isn’t really that much of a help to the team,” Watkins said. “I want to hit balls to the gap and stuff like that so I worked with coach Godwin on my swing. He’s a great hitting coach. I think it’s going to benefit me this season.”
Watkins saw his power numbers improve late last season and hit a home run in the AAC tournament. He finished with three homers and five doubles on the season.
Last year, Wilson product Parker Lamm made his debut in Division I baseball after playing two years at Pitt Community College. He appeared in 42 games for the Pirates and hit .238. Lamm believes he is prepared to be in a starter role this year in left field.
“The main thing I worked on was my confidence. Last year, I wasn’t very confident,” Lamm said. “Coach talked to me about that so I really have to focus on that more. But I also got stronger because I stayed here this summer. I worked on my hitting with the coaches. I just tried to get a little better for the team.”
Just to Lamm’s left in center field this season will be senior veteran Garrett Brooks, one of two three-year letterwinners for the program this year.
Brooks was previously known more for his glove as an underclassman. Late in his junior season, he turned things on offensively and finished with a .270 average, three home runs and a .375 on base percentage. He produced more walks than strikeouts, for the second time in his career, by a 21-17 ratio.
Brooks said it all came down to his approach.
“It all just came down to being aggressive at the plate, and that carried over to this fall and into the season, so I’m looking forward to it,” Brooks said.
The junior class comprises most of the infield and represents a strong returning offensive group. Bryce Harman will start at first base and should be a source of power for the Pirates. Harman stayed level at a .244 average and seven home runs in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. However, he hit 12 doubles and two triples last year and saw his slugging percentage spike to .424.
Third baseman Kirk Morgan played well defensively last year and spent most of the season hitting over .300 before finishing with a .293 average, good for third on the team.
The last returning junior infielder comes in the form of second baseman Charlie Yorgen, who started all 62 games for the Pirates last year and hit .283 with four home runs.
“I don’t think there’s any added pressure (on the juniors). They put pressure on themselves internally to be the best player they can be,” Godwin said. “They played great last year and I think they’re going to have great years personally this year.”