The 2018 addition of the Alabama baseball team began fall practice four weeks ago, under their third coach in the last three years. Mitch Gaspard left after seven seasons and was inexplicably replaced by Greg Goff out of Louisiana Tech. Goff spent one disastrous season in Tuscaloosa and was fired by new Athletic Director Greg Byrne. Goff's one year produced a record of 19-34-1, 5-24-1 in the SEC. Goff was let go after much deliberation. Byrne went out and hired long time SEC assistant coach Brad Bohannon away from Auburn. Bohannon was on the Plains for two years, after spending 12 years at Kentucky.
Bohannon hired Jason Jackson as pitching coach and Jerry Zulli as hitting coach. All three, including Bohannon, have served as recruiting coordinators in their careers. Jack Hoehl was hired away from Kentucky to be in charge of operations, which is a fantastic hire. Strength coach Josh Hampton moved over from football and is rounding the players in to tip-top shape. Long-time Athletic Trainer Joe Hoeffer left to return back to his home state of Minnesota, and he has been replaced by Sean Stryker.
Bohannon has put together a well-rounded, hard-working, player-oriented staff.
The Scholarship Situation
Bohannon inherited a roster that was bloated to almost 50 players because of some oversigning issues. NCAA rules allow 35-man teams, with 27 of those splitting the oh-so generous 11.7 scholarships they are allowed. The first two months of Bohannon's tenure was spent sorting out the mess he was handed. When fall practice started the Tide did so with a roster with 35 names on it, which is a little bit misleading. One of the spots is filled by linebacker Keith Holcombe and three are filled by pitchers that have recently had Tommy John surgery. Brock Love and Garret Rukes went under the knife last spring, and JUCO transfer Sage Diehm had surgery this month.
Returning to the Tide is the whole starting infield, first baseman Cody Henry, second baseman Cobie Vance, shortstop Chandler Avant, and third baseman Connor Short. Stud right fielder Chandler Taylor passed on signing with the Minnesota Twins to return for his junior year. Hunter Alexander, who split time at first base, right field and DH, also returns, as well as Gene Wood who missed half the season last year after knee surgery. Wood was the starting center fielder at the time of his injury. Kyle Kaufman spent the first part of last season at catcher, but after a wrist injury, was the full time DH there after. OF-P Sam Finnerty. outfielder Walker McClenney, and infielder John Trousdale also return. Connor Stutts is an outfielder that transferred from Notre Dame and sat out last year.
Kaufman is the leading returning hitter with a .301 average last year. Henry hit .294 with eight home runs, while Vance hit .293. Avant checked in with a .286 average and Alexander and Taylor both posted .282 marks. Alexander slapped six home runs and was second on the team with 33 RBI's. Taylor was third in the SEC with 16 home runs and lead the team with 34 driven in. This summer Taylor put on a show at the College World Series in the home run derby, finishing second with 49 long balls.
Newcomers among the position players that have joined the team are infielders Jett Manning, Landon Sartain, and John Shields. Manning and Sartain are juniors and Shields is a freshman. Catchers added on are JUCO transfer Matt Malkin and freshman Sam Praytor. Joe Breaux is an outfielder that transferred in from junior college.
The pitching will be lead by senior Jake Walters, the Tide’s Friday night starter last year. Walters was 5-5 with a 3.98 ERA last year, after having a stellar 2.67 ERA as a sophomore, then -third in the SEC. Finnerty, Deacon Medders, Dylan Durate, Davis Vainer, Sonny Potter, and Tyler Adams also return. Kyle Cameron will be back after missing last year with a medical redshirt. Love and Rukes are question marks to when they will be healthy enough to return. They may be the key to Bama's season, if they are able to contribute less than a year after surgery.
On the mound freshman Brock Guffey, Brady Greene, Chris Holcomb, and Jared Shemper will battle for innings. Junior college arms that were added are Mason Duke, and Sam Gardner, along with Diehm.
Position battles and season outlook
Their will be plenty of competition for playing time among the position players. Taylor, Vance, Henry, Avant, Kaufman and Alexander are proven hitters in SEC play. Manning is an outstanding defensive infielder, who's best spot is shortstop. Breaux looks to be very good defensive center fielder that can swing the bat. Stutts can play either corner outfielder spots, and is a switch hitter with power. There are only three catchers on the roster, but all bring plenty to the table. Kaufman has hit over .300 as a SEC player. Praytor has a great arm and receives the ball well, and has a good bat. Malkin is a big, strong player with tons of power and also a strong arm.
The newcomers on the mound will need to come through for the Tide to have a successful season. Guffey, Greene and Duke have thrown well in inter squad scrimmages. Walters will carry the staff, but will need steps forward from Durate, Finnerty and Medders, who all showed flashes last season. Vainer had an up and down season, but has electric stuff. Big left hander Potter was criminally under used last season and will need to be counted on this coming season. Adams is a fifth year graduate with a wicked curveball that has never gotten a chance beyond a very few mop up innings.
The team should hit and score runs, as well as be above average defensively. Pitching will be the key to how far they can go. Hopefully the rest of the staff will stay healthy, and the injured guys will be back.
How its coming together
The fall workouts have been energetic and high-spirited. The attitude adjustment from last year is remarkable. The players are responding to Bohannon and staff in a positive manner, and seem to be genuinely having fun playing a game they love. Practices are fast-paced and little time is wasted. A premium seems to be placed on working smart and fast and not as much on spending a lot of time just for the sake of spending time. Bohannon, unlike his predecessor, has told the players that they are "his players" and he is their coach.
The rest of this week the practice schedule is as follows: Thursday- 2:30 practice, Friday- 2:30-3:45 practice, 3:45 scrimmage, Saturday-practice 10:15-11:30 practice, scrimmage at 11:30, Autographs on the quad at 3 p.m.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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