Tuesday, June 25, 2024

A refreshed roster: Georgia baseball’s transfer portal transformation

Must read

College football may be the first thing that comes to mind when sports fans think of the transfer portal, but it’s far from the only college sport that has been transformed by the new system.

The Georgia baseball team has been especially active in the portal. This season, its lineup is loaded with transfers.

“Playing the game with four-year buddies is awesome and everything, but sometimes you need a little change in your life,” Baylor transfer Kolby Branch said.

With the addition of 28 new players to his roster, Wes Johnson and the Georgia baseball team are looking to make changes this season and prove themselves as a competitive SEC program.

“When you get into the portal and you start recruiting in there, … yes, you’ve got to go look at their talent and look at their ability, but [you also have to ask] do they fit what you’re trying to do with your program,” Johnson said.

With plenty of new faces, the program has welcomed offensive leaders like Slate Alford, Kolby Branch, Dylan Goldstein and Clayton Chadwick. This group is just a small part of the nearly 20 players the Bulldogs brought in via the transfer portal since last season, not to mention the added freshmen, which takes the group of new additions to nearly 30. Despite new faces, the group got along quickly.

“We all really got along [from] day one here,” Goldstein said. “Our bond [keeps] building every day, so it’s bouncing off each other in that aspect.”

Branch, a former Baylor Bear, made his way to Athens following his freshman season as one of Baylor’s top hitters. That year, he was named a Freshman All-American by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

The sophomore has had big-time moments with the team, including multiple grand slams this season. When he first joined the team, Branch said he was thankful for players like Charlie Condon, Corey Collins and Fernando Gonzalez for welcoming him to the team and taking him under their wings. However, he was also happy to see so many other transfers on the team.

“I guess it’s a comforting feeling,” Branch said. “It’s like a new squad and you get together and you just go play the game you love. It feels like the Sandlot dudes, and you just come together and go play ball and that’s exactly how I like it.”

Alford has also found success as a Bulldog and currently leads the SEC in total plate appearances and at-bats. Between Alford, Goldstein and Branch, the team’s offense has reached explosive levels, breaking Georgia’s record of grand slams in a season with nine. Alongside Condon, Collins and Gonzalez, the offense has helped Georgia to the top of the leaderboard in several Division I offensive categories and kept the Bulldogs hopeful as the SEC tournament looms.

“It’s a seasoned group, I think that’s what’s really exciting about the whole thing,” Condon said before the season. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have a lot of college baseball experience. A lot of guys that have played in competitive conferences and competitive leagues … I think it’s going to translate to a lot of success.”

The Bulldogs didn’t go all offense in the portal, however. Pitchers Christian Mracna and Brian Zeldin were key additions to the pitching staff.

Mracna, a multi-transfer from George Mason, played for several different programs before deciding to join the Bulldogs in January. He’s been a consistent weekend starter all year and has posted an ERA of 4.24 with a record of 3-2 and leads the team in strikeouts with 58.

Zeldin, a transfer from Penn, was recently named for the Stopper of the Year on the midseason watch list and has posted a 2.10 ERA alongside a 3-1 record, 30 strikeouts and five saves. Zeldin quickly found a role as a key reliever and closer.

Johnson has done a good job taking a team that disappointed last season and overhauling the program in one off-season. The team isn’t necessarily World Series-level yet, but its success is largely due to its new head coach and the new roster he’s built.

“Sometimes you don’t really know what you’re gonna get … and so with [Johnson], thank goodness it’s been the same energy,” Branch said. “It’s appreciated and he’s done some great things.”

Latest article