East Carolina was picked to finish in first place in the official American Athletic Conference baseball preseason poll and checked in at No. 25 for the final spot in the D1Baseall.com Top 25, but Baseball America left the Pirates out of its preseason rankings.
Baseball America opted to rank AAC foe UCF at No. 24, highlighting the fact that the Knights recorded a sweep at Auburn early in the 2020 season and added a few graduate transfer pitchers for this year.
Although ECU seventh-year coach Cliff Godwin often harps on not putting too much stock into rankings and projections from outside sources, he is aware of what is out there about the Pirates as they are one week away from opening day.
“I don’t see anybody ranking us No. 1, and a lot of polls have us ranked pretty low,” Godwin said earlier this week. “I told the guys I don’t know what your expectation level is as players, but my expectation as a head coach is to win a national championship. People probably look at me like I’m crazy because ECU has never been to Omaha (for the eight-team College World Series), but our goal is to win a national championship. That’s what we try to go out and do every day is have a national championship practice.”
The Pirates have completed two weekends of valuable scrimmages and will be monitoring the weather for this weekend’s possible scrimmage. They are close to finalizing starting pitching roles, led by Tyler Smith and Jake Kuchmaner being pushed by Carson Whisenhunt and Carter Spivey.
“We would much rather have rain than snow, but it is what it is and you have to play in 35 degree weather early in February,” said Godwin, whose squad went 13-4 in the abbreviated 2020 season and is set open this year Feb. 19 versus Rhode Island at Clark-LeClair Stadium. “They are not going to give you a mulligan because you lost a game in 35-degree weather. They are going to say that East Carolina got beat, no matter the conditions. ... I’ve been impressed, especially with the older guys and the leadership we’ve had. ... They are pretty hungry most days. On Sunday, it was pretty tough conditions outside and it got better as it went on, but I thought our guys had great energy and intent to intrasquad (scrimmage) and take batting practice when it was cool outside and the wind was blowing pretty good.”
Godwin said outfielder Bryson Worrell “has been a beast” at the plate. Worrell and Thomas Francisco are players the Pirates are looking to lean on for production with RBIs from the middle spots in the team’s lineup.
The Pirates’ coach also lauded veteran catcher Seth Caddell for showing his power-hitting ability.
Zach Agnos (third base) and Ryder Giles (shortstop) are key infielders who also can pitch. How Agnos is moved around within games might be tied to the rise of second-year freshman Alec Makarewicz.
“(Agnos) can play and short and play second, so don’t think he will be stuck to third base only, because I keep talking about this guy, Alec Makarewicz. We have to find a way to get him into the lineup,” Godwin said. “I mean, he has been crushing baseballs. He hit a home run on Friday and can play all over the field, so we have to figure out how we can get him on the field. Zach has pitched and he did not have good success in the fall. His slider was good, but he just got hit around.
“Him and (pitching) coach (Jason) Dietrich have been working on his changeup. I’ll tell you that his changeup (last) weekend was swing and miss. ... He will pitch some, but he will be considered as a starter, because we need him to play on the infield every single day.”
Giles made four relief appearances with two saves in 2020 and Agnos pitched twice, throwing 1.2 scoreless innings with four walks and a strikeout.