New-look Alabama Baseball, now on its third coach in three years, hosts Valparaiso in a three-game series this weekend at The Joe (Sewell-Thomas Stadium). Friday’s 3 p.m. game is the debut for new skipper Brad Bohannon’s. Game two is set for 2 p.m. on Saturday and the series will wrap up with game three on Sunday at 1 p.m. (Weather permitting for all. The forecast in Tuscaloosa looks much like it has the last two weeks: rain, rain, and more rain.) The Tide were historically bad last year, finishing 19-34-1, including a 5-24-1 mark in the SEC. Valparaiso had a 24-29 record, going 13-15 in the Horizon League. The Crusaders move to the Missouri Valley this year.
Tide opens shorthanded
The Tide will be shorthanded this weekend, as their leading slugger, Jr. outfielder Chandler Taylor, has been suspended for the series. Sophomore pitcher Deacon Medders will also be unavailable due to suspension. In addition, sophomore LHP Sonny Potter is scheduled to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery early next week and Jr. outfielder Keith Holcombe has been limited with a hamstring injury. Taylor hit .286 last year (.295 in the SEC) with 16 home runs. Medders had a 2-1 record with a 4.38 as a true freshman last year.
Junior right-hander Sam Finnerty draws the opening day start, after excelling in the fall and spring practices. Finnerty had a 1-3 record with a 4.60 ERA in 45 innings during the 2017 season. Senior right-hander Jake Walters returns as the most experienced and accomplished pitcher, and he will start in Saturday’s game two. Walters led the team with victories last season, posting a 5-5 mark, with a 3.98 ERA over 72 innings. Walters finished fifth in the SEC in ERA during the 2016 season, at 2.67. Sunday’s starter has yet to be determined by Bohannon and staff. Junior RHP Sam Gardner or Jr. LHP Dylan Duarte are two candidates for the spot.
Expect Bohannon to use his whole pitching staff over the weekend, Davis Vainer, Kyle Cameron, Tyler Adams, Mason Duke, Brady Greene, Brock Guffey, Brock Love, Garret Rukes, and converted outfielder Stutts. Love and Rukes are both less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery, and will be brought along slowly. The Tide was 12th in the SEC in 2017 with a 4.83 ERA.
As a team, ‘Bama hit .263 in 2017, knocking in 46 home runs. Kyle Kaufman led the Tide in 2017 with a .301 average, followed up by Henry at .294, Vance at .293 and Avant at .286.
The lineup for the Tide will be shuffled around with the middle-of-the-order bat Taylor not available. My best guess for the current lineup will probably see the Crimson Tide as follows:
Freshman catcher Sam Praytor will be behind the plate on Friday, while Juco transfer Matt Malkin will see time at C on Saturday. Hunter Alexander (1B), Chandler Avant (2B), Jett Manning (SS), Cobie Vance (3B), Gene Wood (RF), Joe Breaux (CF), Walter McClenney (LF). Sophomore John Trousdale will open the series at DH. Expect the lineup to be very fluid as Coach Bohannon finds the right group of starters and situational players. But, off the bench Senior 1B Cody Henry can DH, as can Junior Connor Stutts. The latter can also play either corner outfield spot.
A look at Valpo
Valparaiso is a private school located in Valparaiso, Indiana and has 4,500 students.
The Crusaders will counter with sophomore RHP Jon Tieman on Friday, fifth-year grad transfer RHP Trey Ferketic on Saturday, and senior right-hander Wes Gordon will close out the series on Sunday. Tieman was a freshman All-American closer last year. He went 4-1 last season with seven saves (46 IP) and posted a 2.93 ERA (51 Ks 15 BBs). Ed Rhodehouse and Michael Mommersteeg look to be mainstays out of the bullpen for sixth-year coach Brian Schmack.
Valparaiso had a .273 team average in 2017 and knocked in 33 home runs. The pitching staff had a 4.79 ERA. Leading hitter Sam Shaikin and his .317 average return. Giovanni Garbella hit .302 with five home runs in 2017, and that makes him the leading returning power hitter for the Crusaders.
The Tide looks to be much improved under the new staff — face it, there is no where to go but up. Bohannon put together a young, energetic, recruiting-focused coaching staff. Pitching coach Jason Jackson, hitting coach Jerry Zulli, and Bohannon all served as recruiting coordinators at their last jobs. Volunteer Assistant Coach Brock Bennett, an ex-‘Bama catcher, is a familiar face and is a great addition to the staff.
All three games will be available on the Watch ESPN App and SEC Network Plus.
Roll Tide, Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
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