Updated: Dec 13, 2020
“This is the most talented team we’ve ever had, top to bottom.” East Carolina Head Coach Cliff Godwin had high praises for his 2021 squad when he spoke with College Baseball Nation this week.
Even after seeing seven players drafted in the 2019 MLB Draft (a program record) and an additional pick in the five-round 2020 MLB Draft, consistent recruiting and player development has left ECU with a talented team.
Another luxury for the Pirates—experienced leaders. Matt Bridges, Cam Colmore, and Tyler Smith make up a trio of sixth and fifth year seniors. “They’re basically assistant coaches,” said Godwin. “They have been with us so long that we have great relationships.” The three pitchers do more than just offer leadership. Combined, they threw 40.2 innings to the tune of a 1.55 ERA in 2020. Tyler Smith has already thrown a whopping 196.2 innings in his four seasons pitching for East Carolina.
Godwin had further praise for his pitching staff. “The guys have stuff, but they can also pitch.” That’s true for more than just the Pirates’ seniors. Junior Gavin Williams was up to 100 mph in the fall and freshman Carson Whisenhunt touched 95 mph, according to Godwin. Of course this is all without mentioning junior Jake Kuchmaner who threw a perfect game for the Pirates in 2019 and notched a 0.60 ERA over 15.0 innings in 2020. With experience and depth, the ECU pitching staff is well-positioned for potential four-game weekends, or whatever the 2021 season might entail.
On the offensive side of things, Connor Norby highlights a lineup that will pressure opposing pitchers. Norby hit .403 in the shortened 2020 season deeper in the lineup, and will likely move up in the batting order for the 2021 season. Norby’s contribution extends beyond the plate. The sophomore has a career .989 fielding percentage at second base. Said Godwin of Norby, “he has all-American talent. It is a luxury to have him at the top of the lineup.”
“East Carolina is really special to me. I’d work on a one-day contact if I had to. I’m very blessed to have the opportunity.” -Cliff Godwin, ECU Head Coach
While losing cleanup hitter and two-way player, Alec Burleson, to the draft will be tough to overcome for the Pirates, junior Byrson Worrell will serve as an anchor in the middle of the order in 2021. Worrell hit five home runs and marked a 1.194 OPS in 2020. He represents one of the most projectable bats in the East Carolina lineup.
True to form, East Carolina once again has another physically imposing slugger. Godwin compared 6’ 4” freshman Josh Moylan to former ECU sluggers Spencer Brickhouse and Bryant Packard. Said Godwin of Moylan, “he’s a mature hitter. He is disciplined at the plate.”
Any competitor needs a solid middle infield, and Ryder Giles (in tandem with the aforementioned Norby) helps fill that role. Giles recorded an errorless 2020 season, and Godwin appreciates his efforts. “He’s the best defensive shortstop in the country. I don’t know who’s better.” Godwin also said that Giles would be considered for the closer role in 2021, reflective of how Godwin excels at extracting the most out of his players.
Perhaps what East Carolina has most benefited from in recent years is consistent, high-quality coaching. As recognition of that, ECU offered Godwin a contract extension through the 2025 season. While Godwin mentioned that it is useful to emphasize coaching stability on the recruiting trail, his job is about more than a contact. “East Carolina is really special to me. I’d work on a one-day contract if I had to. I’m very blessed to have the opportunity.”
East Carolina exits the fall at number 19 in College Baseball Nation’s Top 25.