As a junior, he batted .410 with 37 RBIs. His numbers were even better as a senior year, as he batted .430 with 19 doubles, six triples and four home runs. A two-time Georgia Dugout Club all-state selection, he also stole 22 bases in his final season at Walton.
Little did Merrigan know how well his offensive prowess would translate at the college level.
“I expected to have some success in college, but not like this,” he said.
Merrigan quickly worked his way into the starting lineup at Georgia State, and by the end of the season, put together what has been regarded as the most productive freshman season in Panthers history. It earned him a spot on the Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman All-American team, as well as second-team honors as a Freshman All-American from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.
Merrigan, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound left-handed center fielder, batted .353 with 15 doubles, five triples, four home runs and 52 runs scored for Georgia State. He totaled 36 RBIs and was 12-for-12 in stolen base attempts with 53 starts in 55 appearances.
Merrigan shattered the Panthers’ freshman records for average, hits (84), and runs scored in a season, while his RBI total was the sixth-best by a freshman.
Merrigan was named the Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year — a first for the Georgia State program — and garnered second-team all-CAA consideration to go with his place on the CAA all-rookie team.
“I’ve worked hard on my craft to get better,” said Merrigan, who had 28 multi-hit games and led all conference freshmen in average, hits, RBI, runs scored, total bases (121) and stolen bases. “It was a roller-coaster season, because there were times I would be hot at the plate, and other times when I would go 0-for-7 or something, so that took some getting used to. But it’s good to see how all of the hard work has really paid off, because the awards do mean a lot.”
Hitting, which Merrigan said is his strength, put him in the lineup, and it’s what’s kept him there. He batted third during the first half of the season, but went to the leadoff spot during the second half — he thinks, because of his speed.
Coaches worked with Merrigan all season to get in extra batting practice and to keep his confidence up so he’d remain effective. He also worked with weights and ran agility drills in the fall to improve his speed.
“It really was a thrill to coach Josh this season,” Georgia State coach Greg Frady said. “It was so fun to watch him play and have the kind of success he had. He’s a great baseball player and a tremendous talent. He has a good work ethic and makes the adjustments that he needs to make to get better. His personality doesn’t stay down for long.”
With all of the attention Merrigan received for his stellar freshman campaign, he’s more interested in having the limelight focused on his team’s exploits.
“It’s been pretty rewarding to get all of these awards that I’ve gotten,” he said. “It’s just a reminder of my ultimate goals, which is to get drafted after my junior year. But I want the team to do well even more than that, and for us to compete for the College World Series. With the guys we have coming back, there’s an opportunity for us to do that next year.”
Frady doesn’t see Merrigan’s production dropping off much next season.
“I don’t take what Josh did for granted,” he said, “but for a freshman to play the way that he did is unrealistic. That kind of production is reserved for experienced players, but he beat that process and his numbers speak for themselves.
“Josh hasn’t peaked yet. I believe in him, and I see him with a strong professional career down the road. He’ll have to keep working hard, though, because he’s a target now. Teams know about him, and that will be a challenge for him to overcome. He’ll have to adjust and continue to be confident in his development as a player.”
In order to keep his skills sharp, Merrigan joined the Brookhaven Bucks of the wooden-bat Sunbelt League, a league of eight summer teams based around the metro-Atlanta area. Merrigan’s team, which includes several of his Georgia State teammates, is coached by the Panthers’ director of baseball operations, Nick Hogan.
“It’s fun,” Merrigan said. “I know a lot of the guys, and the teams in the league are pretty good. It’s a good way to prepare for next season.”