The '‘Bama baseball team wrapped up their fall practice schedule with a scrimmage on November 7th and the team looks to build on last season's successful campaign, where they finished 35-28, losing in the Tallahassee regional to instate rival Troy. Coach Mitch Gaspard is excited about the prospects for the coming season, and the buzz around the program with the announcement of the new baseball stadium. The strengths of this year's team should be pitching and defense with improved hitting also.
On the mound Gaspard will have more options, and more live arms, than he has had in his tenure. Junior right hander Spencer Turnbull, a strapping 6'3'' and 240 pounds possesses a fast ball clocked in the mid 90's, and is looked at as a potential top round draft pick in the next MLB draft. In 90 innings last year Turnbull posted a 4-3 record with a 3.70 ERA, allowing 92 hits with 38 walks and 51 strikeouts. Junior lefty Justin Kamplain returns for his third year coming off of a very successful summer in the Cape Cod League, where he lead the league in strikeouts and ERA. Kamplain raised his draft status with a stellar performance this summer. Last season Kamplain moved back and forth between the bull pen and starting, with 20 appearances and six starts. In 54 innings the Jasper native posted a 1-0 record with two saves and a 4.77 ERA, striking out 50 and walking 20. Freshmen All-American Ray Castillo filled the closer role last year and saved 12 games. In 26 trips to the mound Castillo had a 2-3 record with a 3.38 ERA in 42 innings. This season Castillo will be moved into the starting rotation, where he is better suited to use his array of pitches.
Fifth year Senior Tucker Hawley is back, and could fill a number of roles, from starting, to long reliever to closer. Gaspard says of Hawley, "Tucker is a veteran guy that battles and you know what you are going to get, a ton of strikes, he is a guy you can trust." Being another year removed from Tommy John surgery is a big plus for Hawley. The Aiken SC native pitched in 20 games last year, with a record of 5-2 and a ERA of 2.93. Big sophomore right hander Mike Oczypok returns after turning heads in the SEC tournament with his standout game vs LSU. The walk-on from Pennsylvania had a 5-2 record with a 3.02 ERA in 44 innings, walking only 10 batters on the season. Junior lefty Taylor Guilbeau was limited in the fall with some shoulder issues, but is a veteran arm that can be counted on to contribute in the spring. Guilbeau, who, surprise, surprise, hails from Zachary Louisiana, had a 4-2 record with a 3.14 ERA in 51 innings in 2013.
Jonathan Keller is another junior left hander who was limited at the start of the fall with a knee issue, but once released pitched very well out of the bull pen. Gaspard seems to like him out of the pen, and would like the ability to match up lefty on lefty in the late innings. Keller had a 3-6 record with a 5.23 ERA in 53 innings last season. Jay Shaw is a live righty arm out of the pen. The redshirt junior came on late last season and in 28 innings posted a sparkling 1.61 ERA. Mitch Greer returns for his sophomore year after struggling with some arm issues last year. In 12 innings Greer won 2, lost 1 and had a 3.65 ERA. Jake Hubbard is working his way back from Tommy John surgery that ended his season last year after only seven games. Hubbard did post one win and three saves in limited work. The hard throwing righty has begun throwing and will battle hard to get back for the 2014 season.
The freshmen class of pitchers impressed Gaspard in the fall workouts. The highly recruited Nick Eicholtz, from Odessa Florida, is a 6'4'' hard throwing right hander, and Gaspard feels he will be ready to help this season. Also lefty Thomas Burrows from Florence, AL was a steady all through the fall and should see action as well. Burrows is a two way player who also plays first base. Geoffrey Bramblett from Hoover is a 6'2' right handed pitcher and pitched well for most of the fall scrimmages. Tyler Adams, a big 6'4' right hander from Headland, Ala'Bama also had his moments. Red shirt freshman Jonathan Hess, junior Cary Baxter, and RS freshman Colton Freeman all look to get a look as well.
Gaspard also has a ace in the hole with gold glove second baseman Kyle Overstreet, who can, and most likely will, be used as the closer at times. From observing the practices and scrimmages, the best guess at a rotation would be Turnbull, Kamplain and Castillo in some order. Oczypok, Guilbeau and Hawley could be considered for starting roles, and most likely would start most of the mid-week games.
All in all, this group appears to be deeper than any staff in several years, with a lot of guys that can mix and match, start and relief, and fill all roles for the team. Ideally a big, hard thrower with great control will step forward and grab the closer position,so the slick fielding Overstreet can stay at his natural position. However, if called on, Overstreet will get hitters out with his change-up and his outstanding curve ball.
The Tide returns a core of outstanding position players, led by the dynamic keystone duo of shortstop Mikey White and second baseman Overstreet. The sophomores were outstanding as freshmen, helping the team turn 80 double plays on the season. White was second on the team with a .287 average, hit 11 doubles and drove in 30 runs. Overstreet had a .271 average with 37 RBI. Sophomore center fielder Georgie Salem returns as well. Salem turned in many highlight reel plays in 2013, and hit a solid .269. Ben Moore returns for his junior year and lead the team in RBI last year with 41, while hitting .280 with 13 doubles, four triples and four home runs. He also stole 16 bases and played a solid right field. Moore hit .340 as a freshman, and was a freshman All-American. Austen Smith returns for his senior year, and looks to have a huge season. Smith is an under rated first baseman, who saved many errors for his fielders with scoops on throws in the dirt. Smith struggled early in 2013 as he recovered from surgery, but finished strong and had .279 batting average with seven home runs and 40 RBI.
Third base will most likely be manned by sophomore Chance Vincent, who Gaspard mentioned several times as "the most improved player we have seen this fall." Vincent took over the DH spot in the second half of the 2013 season and he hit .225 in 102 at bats. Slick fielding sophomore Daniel Cucjen is in the mix for third base, as well as back up to White and Overstreet. Junior college transfer Trevor Sprowl, son of former ‘Bama great Bobby Sprowl is also in the mix.
Brett Booth spoiled Tide fans last year by catching all but 20 innings on the season. This year the load should be spread out a little more. Junior Wade Wass is back after being limited to one at bat in 2013. Wass is known for his very strong arm and his power, having hit 23 home runs in Junior College in 2012. Freshmen Will Haynie, a 6'5'' catcher from Nashville, looks to receive playing time. Wass and Haynie will split catching and DH duties at times.
Left field has been a battle royale between sophomore Ryan Blanchard, and two freshmen, speedster Hunter Webb and the powerful Casey Hughston. RS freshmen Matthew Goodson swung his way into the mix by showing his power in the fall scrimmages. Gaspard says of Webb, "his speed is game changing." Gaspard also says, 'I've been very proud of Blanchard," and "Casey (a left handed hitter) is big, can run, and has power."
DH should be a combination of who's hot at the time and who's playing elsewhere (i.e. when Wass is not catching, he most likely will DH.) Webb, Hughston, Haynie, Juco transfer J.C.Whilite and Goodson should all get a look, depending on match ups.
This team, more than any in recent memory, seems to have legitimate depth, both on the mound and in the field. There are several guys that can play multiple positions, with a good mix of right handed and lefty swingers. The pitching should be deep, and as long as they pitch from ahead and not walk batters, should be outstanding. The staff is very excited with the group that they have, and look for a great season.
‘Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
Roll Tide Y'all, Roger