ed- This is a collaborative effort by our very own 5026 and Rogers_RBR. Be on the lookout for bi-weekly baseball updates starting in the next few weeks.
This is year 4 of the Mitch Gaspard era and to be honest this is a tough season to forecast. Alabama Baseball had one of its worst years ever last season. We finished 11th of 12 teams and did not even qualify for the SEC Tourney. To be perfectly honest, we were, in 2012, one of the worst teams in the NCAA. And, as if that were not bad enough, we are now without the best player from last year's squad, Taylor Dugas, who finished his four years in 2012.
Although the four returning position players, with one exception, are probably not (based on last season's efforts) future major leaguers, there is great hope and anticipation in Tuscaloosa. That anticipation is based on an outstanding recruiting class in 2012 which was ranked the number 4 class in the country. The hope in and around the Alabama camp during fall practice was that the veteran players will be improved, and that the newcomers will be as good as advertised. If the two can mesh, then we should see marked improvement over last season. A season in which we did not win one SEC ROAD GAME. Not one!!
Improvement has got to be the theme of this team. In Mitch Gaspard's three previous years, the team's record has gotten worse each season. He went from 42-25 and nearly making the CWS in his first year (2010) to 35-28 the next year to 21-34 last year. With this trend in mind, baseball experts are picking Bama to finish near the bottom of a strong SEC.
Now, this team may give us a surprise. However, my personal feeling is that we are still at least one year away from returning to the upper levels of the SEC. Last year, the strength of the team was the freshman pitchers. Unfortunately, they were called on too early and too often. Nevertheless, the freshman pitchers are now sophomores and Bama should now have plenty of depth and experience on the mound. Furthermore, with this new class we have added some power which was non existent in 2012.
So, the future looks bright for Bama Baseball even if 2013 does not produce any championships. We have already signed (in the early signing period) a good nucleus for next year. Put two great recruiting classes together and we should return to our traditional spot as one of the top baseball programs in the SEC come 2014.
Anyway, here are some of the guys that will be key players this year.
The most significant development on this year's staff may very well be the return of two guys that were out last year, both with Tommy John surgery. Tucker Hawley (3.65 ERA in 2011) and Taylor Wolfe (4.15 ERA in 2011) hope to be at or near 100%. At present it looks like Hawley will be 100% by the opener, while Wolfe is still coming along. If they can return to their 2011 form, this will bode well for the team.
The heart of the staff is made up of a couple of Seniors, Charley Sullivan and Trey Pilkington. They are joined by five Sophomores, Spencer Turnbill, Jake Hubbard, Jon Keller, Taylor Guilbeau, and Justin Kamplain. At present it looks like Turnbill is going to be the ace of the staff and reports are he may be very good this year. Last year Turnball showed flashes of brilliance but finished just 2-6 with a 5.60 ERA. These numbers should improve. Keller and Kamplain also were much improved in the fall and early spring work.
These returners, plus Hawley and Wolfe, along with other upperclassmen (with less experience), and several Freshman pitchers give Gaspard multiple options on the mound. I fully expect the overall team pitching to improve in 2013. And, if we were to get into the SEC Tourney, we may actually have enough good arms to make a run. In years gone by Bama has, at times, not had enough quality arms to play several games over just a few days. That trend may now be reversing.
Returning Position Players:
Alabama returns four starters from last year, but there is a good chance they may not all start in 2013. One returning player who surely will start is Sophomore Ben Moore. Moore batted .342 last year, and was on the All SEC Freshman Team. He played catcher and outfield last year, but might be primarily in right field this year. (Although a recent injury, see below, could change that.)
The other returning starters, 2B Kenny Roberts (.162), C Brett Booth (.240), and 1B Austen Smith (.240) need to pick up their offensive production this year. For example, Booth was tied for the team lead in home runs last year. That sounds pretty good, until you realize that he only hit four home runs. A recent injury may insure that Booth, who was working at 3B, returns to catch. Kenny Roberts now looks like he will get a shot at 3B.
Rarely has a sports team been so dependent on newcomers to turn the team around, but that is where Bama finds itself. And, as mentioned earlier, there is plenty of potential.
Perhaps the most highly anticipated newcomer is Junior College player Wade Wass. A catcher, Wass had 23 home runs and batted .427 at Meridian last year. He was being counted on to start behind the plate and provide power to last year's power-starved team. Unfortunately, Wass was hit by a pitch on Feb, 1 during a scrimmage and broke his foot. Alabama will start the season without him and his bat.
True Freshman Mikey White, whose dad Mike White played football at Bama in the 80's, should be an early contributor. White, who was Mr. Baseball in the State of Alabama last year, was drafted in the 2012 MLB draft. An infielder, White has some power and hit for a good average in high school. He could be a major contributor right out of the gate.
Another Freshman infielder, Kyle Overstreet, appears to be a possible starter. He is not as heralded as White, but he has shown the ability to hit, and hit with power. Some think White and Overstreet will take over the middle infield positions sooner rather than later.
Freshman outfielder, Georgie Salem, who comes from a family of Bama athletes (father, grandfather, uncle and cousin all played either football or baseball) looks to be a good one. Salem has hit for a high average in the past, and is an excellent fielder. He may very well start in CF vs. VMI.
The Freshman class also has nine pitchers in the group. The best appears to be Ray Castillo, who had a .72 ERA in high school and was drafted in the 2012 draft. However, any Freshman getting to pitch a lot will probably be a result of the veterans on the pitching staff failing to get the job done.
Other Guys To Watch:
Just a couple of quick hitters. Red Shirt Freshman Ryan Blanchard and Senior Cameron Carlisle are two guys flying under the radar who may make some noise.
Senior Ricky Doverspike is currently listed on the roster. Doverspike last played baseball in high school and for the last 4 years has been a member of the Alabama Tennis Team. In fact he was 2nd Team ALL SEC last season in tennis. Having used up his tennis eligibility he decided to walk on the baseball team.
As I said, this is a tough year to predict. Gaspard will likely experiment with his line up in the early going, especially in Left and 3B. We start with VMI for 3, and that should be easy enough. But, then we get a good Southern Miss team for a single game before we head to Florida to play Florida Atlantic for 3. You may remember that FAU swept us 3 straight to begin the 2012 disaster. Without a good start, this very young club could be 3-4 before we even know what the rotation will be or who will play where. Starting strong will be very important for this team. If we return from Florida on Feb. 24 with a 5-2 record, or better, we should be alright.
If we go 30-26 in the regular season I would consider that to have been a good season for such a young squad. The future may be bright, but right now Bama can take nothing for granted. A sudden injury to our most anticipated new comer could very well show us how fragile this season can be.