(The following article was published Friday, Feb. 3 in The Macon Telegraph)
By Michael A. Lough
TELEGRAPH STAFF WRITER
Craig Gibson has been around Mercer baseball most of his adult life.
This year will be one of adjustment.
There's more pitching talent on hand than the Bears head coach recalls ever seeing, and there was immediate chemistry and cohesiveness in fall practice and preseason despite assorted departures and arrivals.
"It's sort of different coaching and managing those numbers," Gibson said. "I've never had the luxury of that many guys."
Brantley New, a junior from Dublin, is the mainstay of the staff and will get the ball when Mercer opens the season today at 4 p.m. against Florida A&M, the first game of a weekend series.
Mercer outscored the Rattlers 27-6 in winning three games to open last season.
New went 5-4 last year with a 3.55 earned run average and a .242 opponents batting average. He made the preseason all-Atlantic Sun first team.
"Brantley's ready to go," Gibson said of the 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-hander who underwent elbow surgery two years ago. "He's 100 percent and looks like it."
Hunter Abercrombie and Shawn Barrett went 12-12 and will round out the rotation. Barrett will also be in the lineup at first base. Gibson said junior Kyle Johnston (Stratford) has improved since last season and will join Josh Young and closer Andrew Urena in the bullpen.
"We have 11 or 12 guys that can pitch for us," said Gibson, expecting big things from sophomores Kyle Bedrosian - son of former Major League pitcher Steve - and Lath Guyer. "That's the most we've had since I've been here. By far."
Urena has developed a slider, and Abercrombie has added some speed to go with his control.
Mercer will have new blood at third base and two outfield spots, and Bill Shaughnessy will move in at shortstop full-time. Josh Thompson is the biggest power threat back, and his 12 homers last year ranked second on the team. He, designated hitter Andrew Einert and Barrett are the top hitters returning.
Center fielder Eric Renfroe (Tattnall) and second baseman Sean McCahill topped the order last year but will be expected to improve on their sub-.280 batting averages.
Gibson said scouts are keeping an eye on New, Renfroe, Urena and Thompson. Making strides in the A-Sun would help that foursome and the team as a whole. In preseason voting, the Bears were picked to finish eighth in the conference by coaches and ninth by media.
"We're going to be in the games," Gibson said. "Our makeup, our leadership, everything has been phenomenal. If we don't win, it won't be because of the makeup of our team.
"But we feel pretty good about what we have."