Dylan spence Citadel

Citadel pitcher Dylan Spence was named to the preseason all-Southern Conference baseball squad. Provided/Citadel Athletics 

Walk into Citadel baseball coach Tony Skole's office at McAlister Field House, and it hasn't changed much from the one Fred Jordan occupied for 26 years.

Heck, it hasn't changed much from the office the late Chal Port used in 1990, when he led the Bulldogs to the College World Series.

"At The Citadel, things change every day," said Skole, who played on that 1990 team. "But sometimes, it seems like they never change. We decided it was time to spend some money and do some things to keep up and catch back up."

That's why Skole, entering his second season atop The Citadel program, spent some $70,000 on upgrades during the offseason — not on office furniture, but on analytics systems and fixes to the practice field at College Park that can make an immediate impact on the Bulldogs' competitiveness.

The Citadel spent about $20,000 each on the advanced metrics systems Trackman and Rapsodo, and about $45,000 on upgrades at College Park, where the Bulldogs practice when Riley Park is not available, Skole said.

"We've done a lot of things, not really from an aesthetic standpoint, but for the development of our players," said Skole, who was 19-34 last year in his first season at The Citadel. "Science is such a big part of athletics now, and you've got to keep on top of it or you will fall behind."

Jeffrey Brown Citadel

Former Bishop England standout Jeffrey Brown of The Citadel was named to the preseason all-Southern Conference baseball squad. Provided/Citadel Athletics

The Trackman system at Riley Park, similar to the one used in golf, monitors data such as exit velocity and launch angle for hitters, and spin rate and movement for pitchers.

"It's in just about every minor league park and Power Five school," Skole said. "It's no different from what you see on TV. That's what the kids relate to now. For an old school guy like me, it's just validation for what you see with your eyes.

"But the kids want to see the facts. It's a day and age now where you keep up with the times or you get run over in this business. These are things we never had in the past, so we're trying to catch up or stay ahead of the game."

The Rapsodo system performs much the same function in practice and in the batting cages.

"For our pitchers, maybe a guy throws a four-seam fastball and a two-seamer," Skole said. "You look at the numbers on the four-seamer, and it's not spinning at the same rate as the two-seamer. So there's really no reason to throw the four-seamer.

"This is not stuff we're inventing, it's there in the numbers for the kids to see. If the spin rate is this and the movement on the ball is this, that's probably what you need to go to."

Overhauling the talent on the Bulldogs' roster might take a little longer, at least two or three recruiting classes. The Citadel loses stalwarts such as William Kinney and Jonathan Sabo (now a volunteer coach) from last year's squad but returns six senior pitchers, led by preseason All-Southern Conference pick Dylan Spence.

"We will be very young from a position player standpoint and very old on the mound," Skole said. "We've got six senior pitchers. I don't think I've ever had that many before, and we will rely on them heavily."

The six seniors have a lot of experience, but not a lot of great numbers. Spence (3-5, 4.00 ERA) and Jordan Merritt (2-5, 7.18 ERA) are likely slated for weekend starts, with Alex Bialakis (3-5, 5.17) the setup man for closer Jordan Buster (4-4, 4.43 ERA).

The infield is anchored by senior first baseman Ben Peden (.255, 2 HR, 35 RBI), who had an outstanding fall.

"He probably had the best fall and winter of anybody I've coached in 25 years," Skole said. "He hit .588, and every time up, it seemed like he hit the ball hard. He needs to be an all-conference type player for us, and he's been a tremendous leader."

Speedy center fielder Jeffrey Brown (.325, 30 runs) is rated as the top MLB draft prospect in the SoCon by D-I Baseball, and outfielder Ryan McCarthy (.262) seems poised for big gains in his second year as a baseball/football player. Catcher Bryce Leasure (.297) joined Brown and Spence on the All-SoCon preseason team.

Bryce Leasure Citadel

Catcher Bryce Leasure of The Citadel was named to the preseason all-Southern Conference baseball squad. Provided/Citadel Athletics 

Freshman Tyler Corbitt, who hit .488 during fall baseball, is set to start at second base, with J.D. Davis, Brooks O'Brien, Mike Ray and Tilo Skole battling for other infield spots.

"The great thing for this season is that, last year, we had just three months with the guys before the season started," Skole said. "And it seemed like we were just putting a band-aid on everything.

"This year, our relationships with the players is so much better. They know what to expect, and we know them, and there's been great retention, which allows us to practice at a much higher level."

Another upgrade Skole is eager to make: Additions to The Citadel's trophy case.

"We're trying to build a brand of baseball and get back to the championship level of Citadel teams in the past," he said. "We've got to pitch and defend at a high level and find different ways to score runs.

"More than anything, this group loves to compete and understands our concept of playing with an edge and with a chip on the shoulder."

THE CITADEL 

2018 RECORD: 19-34 (8-16 SoCon)

COACH: Tony Skole, 555-602 in 22 seasons, 19-34 in 1 season at The Citadel

TOP PLAYERS: OF Jeffrey Brown (.325, 30 runs, 20 stolen bases); RHP Dylan Spence (3-5, 4.00 ERA, 92.1 IP); C Bryce Leasure (.297, 22 runners caught stealing); OF Ryan McCarthy (.262, 2 HR, 15 RBI); 1B Ben Peden (.255, 2 HR, 35 RBI).

TOP NEWCOMERS: INF Tyler Corbitt (6-0, 170), Columbia; LHP/OF Cole Simpson (6-2, 215), Pendleton; OF Wes Lane (5-9, 165), Socastee HS; RHP Cameron Reeves (6-2, 195), Rock Hill.

THE CITADEL BASEBALL SCHEDULE

FEBRUARY

15 – Delaware State, 4 p.m.; 16 – Delaware State, 2 p.m.; 17 – Delaware State, 1 p.m.; 22 – Michigan, 5 p.m.; 23 Michigan, 4 p.m.; 24 – Michigan, 1 p.m.; 27 – Kent State, 3 p.m..

MARCH

1 – North Alabama, 6:30 p.m.; 2 – North Alabama, 2 p.m.; 3 – North Alabama, 1 p.m.; 5 – at South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 6 – Winthrop, 6:30 p.m.; 8 – Charleston Southern, 6:30 p.m.; 9 – at Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 10 – Charleston Southern, 1 p.m.; 12 – South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 15 – at Indiana State, 2 p.m.; 16 – at Indiana State, 2 p.m.; 17 – at Indiana State, 1 p.m.; 19 – Georgia Southern, 6:30 p.m.; 20 – at Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 22 – VMI, 6:30 p.m.; 23 – VMI, 2 p.m.; 24 – VMI, 1 p.m.; 26 – at College of Charleston, 6 p.m.; 29 – at Furman, 6 p.m.; 30 – at Furman, 4 p.m.; 31 – at Furman, 1 p.m.

APRIL

3 – at Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 5 – Mercer, 6:30 p.m.; 6 – Mercer, 2 p.m.; 7 – Mercer, 1 p.m.; 9 – College of Charleston, 6:30 p.m.; 12 – at Samford, 7 p.m.; 13 – at Samford, 3 p.m.; 14 – at Samford, 1 p.m.; 18 – at South Florida, 7 p.m.; 19 – at South Florida, 6:30 p.m.; 20 – at South Florida, 1 p.m.; 23 – at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.; 26 – at UNCG, 6 p.m.; 27 – at UNCG, 3 p.m.; 28 – at UNCG, 1 p.m.; 30 – Georgia, 6 p.m.

MAY

3 – Wofford, 6 p.m.; 4 – Wofford, 2 p.m.; 5 – Wofford, 1 p.m.; 8 – at Clemson, 6 p.m.; 10 – ETSU, 4 p.m.; 11 – ETSU, 2 p.m.; 12 – ETSU, 1 p.m.; 14 – at College of Charleston, 2 p.m.; 16 – at Western Carolina, 5 p.m.; 17 – at Western Carolina, 5 p.m.; 18 – at Western Carolina, 2 p.m.; 22-26 – SoCon Tournament, Greenville.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC