The 20th ranked Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team opens the season with a three game series Friday, February 13th against Maryland-Eastern Shore at the team's temporary home, The Hoover Met. Friday's game one is set for 6:30 p.m. CST, Saturday's first pitch is at 2:00 p.m. and the Sunday game will begin at 1:00 p.m. The games will be available on SEC Network Plus, and local radio.
Coach Mitch Gaspard and his staff welcome a team with a good mixture of veterans and youth, and look to build on the regional appearances of the past two seasons. The Tide finished 37-24 last season and lost in the Tallahassee regional for the second year in a row.
Any talk of the 2015 Tide team has to begin with junior shortstop Mikey White. White, a junior from Spain Park High School in Hoover, is 'Bama's leading returning hitter, having hit an even .300 with seven home runs, 33 RBI and 50 runs scored last year. White is listed as a pre-season second team All American by D1 Baseball and third team by Perfect Game. The slick fielder is also one of 50 players in the country named to USA Baseball's Golden Spike Award Watch List, the equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy. White has started in every game at shortstop in his first two seasons at the Capstone, and is projected as a possible first round draft choice in this June's MLB draft.
Georgie Salem, also a junior and a two year starter in center field, hit .282 in his sophomore campaign with 11 doubles and two home runs. Salem also stole six bases and did not make an error while patrolling the outfield in 2014. The Vestavia Hills native has been locked in at the plate in practices and scrimmages, hitting .800 with two doubles , a triple and a home run in last weekend's scrimmages. Salem has also started every game since he stepped on campus. He is an intriguing prospect to pro scouts, look for him to be drafted in June.
A third member of the junior class is second baseman Kyle Overstreet from Boaz, Alabama. Overstreet, like his classmates, has been a mainstay in the lineup since arriving in 2013. Overstreet hit .278 in 2014 with four home runs and 30 RBI, however he is more known for his spectacular glove work. As a freshman in 2013 Overstreet became just the second Tide player (after center fielder Taylor Dugas in 2011) to win the Golden Glove award for fielding brilliance. The slick fielding second-sacker has been charged with only 10 errors in his first two seasons. Overstreet is projected by several scouts as a catcher at the next level, and could get some innings there this season.
Sophomore Casey Hughston made a splash as a true freshman last season, playing in 52 games, starting 47, mostly in left field. The slugging lefty from Baker High in Mobile hit a solid .270 and hit four home runs while driving in 25. Hughston has been moved to right field for the 2015 season, but has also worked at first base in pre-season workouts. Hughston is a rare draft eligible sophomore, and is a candidate to be taken in the June draft as well.
Another junior, Chance Vincent played in 56 games in 2014, starting in 53, mostly at third base. The Scott, Louisiana native has moved to first base for the 2015 season. Vincent hit .254 with one home run and 24 RBI during the 2014 season. Vincent, of course, can still fill in at third base, as well as shortstop if needed.
A big key to the 2015 season for the Tide will be sophomore catcher Will Haynie out of Nashville, Tennessee. Haynie is a big, physical specimen at 6'5" and 230 pounds. The strong armed backstop battled with a back injury and a concussion during his freshman year and struggled at the plate, hitting .177 , but showed his power potential with three home runs with 12 RBI. Haynie is as good a defensive catcher as there is in the college ranks, with a rocket arm and a good feel for controlling the game from behind the dish. Haynie will need to stay healthy and hit to his potential for the Tide to fulfill their goals. Haynie is also a draft eligible sophomore since he will turn 21 before July.
Junior Daniel Cucjen, from Shreveport, Louisiana, is in the mix to start at third base on opening day. Cucjen can play any of the infield positions and is primarily known for his glove. In 2014 Cucjen hit .283 with one home run in 53 AB.
Freshman Chandler Avant will be in the line-up either at third base, DH, or left field, and will most likely open the season as the team's lead-off hitter. The Troy, Alabama native turned heads in the fall showing off his powerful stroke, leading the team in home runs during scrimmage games, despite measuring 5'11" and weighing 170 pounds. Avant is an exciting addition to the Tide line up and the coaching staff is expecting a big year from him.
Redshirt junior Ryan Blanchard returns from a devastating knee injury suffered early in the 2014 season. Charging after a fly ball in a game at Lafayette, Blanchard slid into and collided with the brick wall and shattered his knee cap. After surgery and a long rehab the Irmo, South Carolina native is almost back to full strength. Blanchard has stated that the knee still aches in cold weather, but does seem to be improving. He only batted 12 times last year before his injury, and is a strong candidate to play left field.
Senior Tuscaloosa native J.C. Wilhite has shown a lot of versatility and had an outstanding pre-season camp. Wilhite can play left field, right field, or third base, and has done work at catcher and on the mound. The Northridge High graduate can be used out of the bullpen as a side-arm specialist. Wilhite may very well grab the starting spot in left field to begin the season.
William Elliott is a sophomore from Oxford, Mississippi that swings a powerful left-handed bat. In limited play as a freshman Elliott received 28 at bats and hit .107. He can play right field, left field, DH, has seen some work at first base, and looks to increase his playing time this season.
Big Cody Henry, a 6'1" product of Pensacola Catholic High School, carries a solid 230 pounds on his frame. Henry is a switch hitter who has worked at first base and catcher in the pre season.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Poe is a catcher who looks to receive some playing time as a back up receiver this year. Poe had nine at bats last year and collected two hits. Poe has worked hard and has had a solid preseason camp, hitting one of the teams four home runs during their Hoover scrimmages.
Mitch Greer and Colton Freeman are both pitchers that also swing the bat. Greer has done work at first base, DH and catcher, and his a big, strong power hitter. Freeman plays the outfield on top of offering a hard throwing left handed arm out of the bull pen.
Junior Riley Colburn plays center field and uses his great speed to cover ground. Colburn was used as a pinch runner on occasion in 2014, and looks to expand his role in 2015.
Freshman outfielder Jamal Howard is a big, strong player that has shown power in the team's scrimmage games. The Phenix City product has suffered from injuries through the fall and spring, which has limited his progress.
Freshman infielder Zack Coker from Tuscaloosa's Northridge High can play anywhere in the infield, but doesn't look to break into the established line-up this season.
The Tide has several options at several positions, versatility that will allow the coaching staff to adjust the line-up according to match-ups and ride the hot hand. 'Bama looks to have a successful season, and progress further in the NCAA tournament this year.
The pitching rotation for the season opening series is expected to be senior left-hander Taylor Guilbeau on Friday night, junior righty Will Carter on Saturday and Hoover native, Geoffrey Bramblett on Sunday. The weather is expected to be in the 20's to 40's for the weekend.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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