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Alabama Baseball Spring Preview: Preparing for a new era under Brad Bohannon

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The Crimson Tide, with their third coach in three years, began spring practice this weekend

NCAA BASEBALL: MAY 26 SEC Tournament

The Roster Mess

New ‘Bama baseball coach Brad Bohannon inherited a mess of a roster from Greg Goff, who in his one season had a record of 19-34 overall and 5-24-1 in the SEC.

When Bohannon was hired in June of 2017, he had to deal with a roster of over 50 players, when only 35 are allowed. It took Bohannon several months to sort out the numbers and now is working with a total of 31 players at his disposal. NCAA baseball allows 11.7 scholarships for 27 players, and eight walk-ons per school. (Goff had replaced Mitch Gaspard, who coached the Tide for seven seasons.)

The team started full squad practice on Friday, January 26th with a workout and a five-inning scrimmage. Saturday was rained out, so Sunday they had a longer scrimmage.

Spring Pitching

Bohannon has had to deal with a short pitching staff, both during fall workouts and to begin the spring practice. Right handed pitcher Brock Love, and lefty Garret Rukes are both returning from Tommy John surgery from last season. They are both ahead of schedule and have been on a throwing program. Bohannon expects both to be ready for the season.

In the fall, staff ace Jake Walters dealt with some arm issues, but has recovered and is back full speed. LHP Sonny Potter is dealing with a balky shoulder, also Kyle Cameron and Sam Gardner were not available in the fall. Gardner participated in the Friday scrimmage, while Cameron has yet to throw live. The lack of healthy arms has led to Notre Dame transfer, OF Connor Stutts, to be tried out on the mound. Stutts threw in Sunday’s scrimmage and acquitted himself quite well.

Walters and Finnerty almost certainly will be two of the weekend starters on the mound. Deacon Medders and Dylan Duarte will get first look at the third spot. A mid week starter will also be needed, and one of those two could fill that role. Davis Vainer was the main closer last year, and possibly could be there again this year. Mason Duke, and Gardner, both JUCO transfers, look to add depth to the bull pen, along with freshmen Brock Guffey and Brady Greene. Love, Rukes, and Cameron will all be brought along slowly, and hopefully will be major contributors by the time SEC play begins. Fifth year senior Tyler Adams returns for his final season as a graduate and a married man. Potter is wait and see at this point.

Position Players

Offensively, the Tide returns 40 of the 46 home runs they hit last season, led by RF Chandler Taylor’s 16 dingers. Taylor will guide what should be a potent attack. Cobie Vance returns for his junior year, and, after two years of starting at second base, looks to be moved to third base this year. Last year’s short stop, Chandler Avant will slid over to second with junior college transfer Jett Manning taking over at short. Cody Henry and Hunter Alexander will compete for first base, with one playing the position and one most likely the DH. Freshman Sam Praytor looks to be leading JUCO transfer Matt Malkin and returnee Kyle Kaufman to get the first look at catcher. Gene Wood, returning from a gruesome knee injury, is ahead in the battle from left field over Keith Holcombe, who just came over from football. Another junior college player, Joe Breaux, will be the opening day centerfielder, with Taylor firmly entrenched in right.

Fifth-year senior Connor Short, last year’s primary third baseman, missed most of the fall with an injured thumb, and is battling to get back in the mix. Senior Kaufman, hit over .300 last year, dividing time between catcher and DH. Sophomore John Trousdale swings a good lefty bat and will provide depth at all four infield spots. Landon Sartain transferred in from Marion Military Institute and can play short stop or second base. In the outfield Walker McClenney provides speed and good defense to the mix. Sam Finnerty, primarily a pitcher, played some outfield and DH last year, and Stutts is available for corner outfield duty as well.

Outlook

‘Bama should hit and play defense at a high level. As always, at all levels, the team will go as far as the pitching takes them. With the injuries, the Tide’s margin of error is small. They need to get healthy and stay healthy, as well as have some guys step up and grab the bull by the horns.

Bohannon ideally would like a balanced team that can play small ball when necessary, and long ball when needed, saying, “I think it is important for us as a coaching staff to coach to our personnel initially, but I hope, over time, to have a very balanced team.” The best-case scenario for Alabama is to have athletic guys that can play multiple positions, and big, strong, hard-throwing pitchers.

What’s Next?

The team is practicing this week, with open scrimmages being held on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and then again next week, prior to opening the season at 3 p.m. on Friday, February 16th against Valparaiso. Bohannon and staff have chosen to play day games in the early season to try and beat the cold weather. The first home game under the lights will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 7th, when Southern Miss comes to town. Until then, the early games will rule, highlighted by a 9 a.m. Sunday morning game with Washington State.

RTR

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