ATHENS, Ga. -- Stephen Wrenn is in an unusual position. He was a member of David Perno’s final recruiting class as the Georgia baseball head coach. And on Saturday, Wrenn is set to become the first Georgia player to go to the plate under new head coach Scott Stricklin.
It’s not a symbolic move. Wrenn, a freshman center fielder who was drafted last year (albeit not very early) by the Atlanta Braves, won the leadoff in fall practice.
And the first pitch of the Stricklin era will be thrown by a holdover, sophomore pitcher Sean McLaughlin.
Georgia is not expected to do much in Stricklin’s first year. The Bulldogs were picked to finish sixth in the SEC East in a vote of conference coaches. But given the benefit of the honeymoon period, Stricklin has not been seeing the bar low.
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“His first message to me was we were gonna compete, and we were gonna get after it,” Wrenn said. “There probably weren’t too many expectations for the team this year, but his expectations are pretty high. And ours are, as well.”
Stricklin’s debut was pushed back a day because of the bad weather. Georgia and Georgia Southern will play a doubleheader starting at noon on Saturday, with a third game scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Wrenn wasn’t going to be the only freshman starter. Shortstop Mike Bell was also set to start, but he broke his hand and is out as the season begins.
Otherwise, there will be familiar faces from the Perno era. And the season starts with some familiar concerns. A major undoing of the past two teams was the lack of a Friday ace and a top hitter to build the rest of the lineup around.
The hope is that McLaughlin (5-6, 3.28 ERA as a freshman) can eventually become the staff ace. But Stricklin hasn’t talked about a shut-down ace as much as he has pitching depth. Holdovers Patrick Boling, Jared Walsh and Luke Crumley and newcomers Patrick Tyler and Ryan Lawlor have all been candidates to start. And in the bullpen, Stricklin plans a closer by committee.
“We have a lot of guys on this staff and a lot of guys who can contribute. When you look at championship teams you usually see eight to 10 guys who can contribute,” Stricklin said. “I see more guys doing that for us.”
The new coach is also excited about the potential of the every-day players. There isn’t a surefire major leaguer in the middle of the lineup, but that doesn’t mean one can’t develop.
“I think we’ve got some good versatility,” Stricklin said. “I think we’ve got some guys who can hit for power, once we get everybody back. I think we’ve got some power in the middle of the order. I think we’ve got some guys that can run and bunt and put pressure on defenses in the beginning and the end (of the order).
“I think when you look at 1, 2, 7-9, we can be a team that causes some trouble for defense. And when you look at 4, 5, 6, we can be a team that hits for some power. So I like our versatility, and I like what we have offensively.”