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Alabama Baseball End of Year Review: What went right? What improved? And what’s next?

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The Tide is showing slow and steady improvement. Where do they go from here?

Incremental Improvement:

The Crimson Tide baseball team has made incremental improvements under coach Brad Bohannon.

The second-year manager took over prior to the 2018 season, after one disastrous year of in-over-his-head coach Greg Goff. The Tide went from 19-34-1 under Goff, to 27-29, and then 30-26 under Bohannon. In SEC play, the last three years are the worst over that span in Alabama history: 5-24-1, 8-22, and 7-23.

In garnering the 30 wins this season, the Tide was 20-13 at home, 9-13 on the road, and 1-0 in neutral site games. Midweek games, all against in-state teams, brought a 13-1 mark. And in all out-of-conference games, the team was 23-3, both of which were big improvements.

There was improvement in the RPI over the last three years, from 175 under Goff in 2017, 85 in 2018, and up to 40 in 2019. This season’s strength of schedule, a byproduct of the ridiculously good SEC, was eighth in the nation.

Offense:

The team batting average improved from .256 to .263, while hitting 48 home runs compared to 44 last season. The 2018 squad had more doubles over last year, 104 to 87. The team’s stolen bases saw a nice jump from 34-51 in 2018, up to 60-81 in 2019. Defensively, the Tide improved from a .969 fielding percentage to .978, cutting errors from 65 down to 41. And, Alabama went from last in the league in fielding, to fourth this season. The on-base percentage was .372, while the slugging mark was .393. In 2017 under Goff, the team hit .263 with 46 home runs.

Individually, the team boasted two .300-plus hitters in 2019 after not having anyone hit over .295 last season. Tyler Gentry led offensively in virtually every category: .310 average, 13 home runs, 42 RBI, 116 total bases, .552 slugging percentage, and 12 doubles. Morgan McCullough was just behind at .309 and tied for the team lead with 12 doubles. Freshman Drew Williamson had a nice season at .290 and a team leading 40 walks. Kolby Robinson checked in at .280, with Joe Breaux at .273 and Brett Auerbach at .270. Breaux, Auerbach, and Keith Holcombe (.263) also tied for the team lead with 12 two baggers. Freshman outfielder T.J. Reeves was second on the team with nine home runs, and hit .255 with 25 runs driven in.

Pitching:

On the mound, senior Sam Finnerty led in wins with his 6-8 record and a 4.50 ERA. Finnerty had the most innings pitched with 74, and only walked 12 batters all season. RS Junior, Brock Love, was second in the win total with his 5-5 record with a 4.65 ERA, and led the team with 66 batters struck out. Redshirt sophomore Garret Rukes led the team with a 2.64 ERA, followed by RS freshman Chase Lee at 2.67, and sophomore Brock Guffey at 2.92. Grad transfer Jeremy Randolph was the save leader with nine and struck out 50 batters in 38 innings pitched.

The team had a 4.27 ERA, a tick up over last season’s 4.10. Strikeouts jumped to 469 from 370, while walks went down to 185 from 195. Batting average allowed went down from .267 to .255. The 2019 staff had 36 wild pitches, with five passed balls. In 2018, there were 39 wild pitches with six passed balls. In 2017 under Goff, the team ERA was 4.83 with a .276 batting average allowed with 421 strikeouts and 260 walks, with 88 wild pitches and 21 passed balls.

OVERVIEW

To the uninformed, the improvements don't look that dramatic. To the people that were there day-to-day, including many in the media, opposing coaches, and professional scouts, the product on the field has improved more than it appears by the results.

The SEC has more great teams, and more very good teams, than at any point in memory. Eleven different teams have been ranked in the top 20 for most of the season. Four teams, Vanderbilt, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Georgia are national seeds, and have a very good chance to reach Omaha and take home the title. Throw LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, and Texas A&M in the mix and you have a true gauntlet to face. Those eight, as well as Auburn and South Carolina were the 10 SEC series the Tide faced this season.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Wait on the MLB Draft in early June, and see how much damage it does to the incoming recruiting class, presently ranked 10th ranked nationally.The Tide signed C.J. Abrams, a 6’2’, 180-pound shortstop out of Alpharetta, GA in the early signing period. However Abrams is considered by many to be the best player in the draft, and will almost assuredly be one of the top five overall picks. Another shortstop from the Peach State, Myles Austin, 6’3’ 185 out of Smyrna, is another possible first round talent. The chance of either making it to campus are somewhere between slim and none.

Other incoming players including LHP Connor Prielipp from Tomah, WI, and junior college pitcher Britt Sparks, from Shelton State are also possible draft casualties. As far as current players that are draft eligible, pitchers Deacon Medders, Wil Freeman, and Casey Cobb are all looking for their names to be called. Davis Vainer is draft eligible, but as already announced as a grad transfer to Arizona if he is not. Infielder Morgan McCullough, and C-INF Brett Auerbach could also be picked.

RETURNING

Who is back? A good nucleus comes back in 2020 with the return of catcher Sam Praytor. Praytor was set to be the Tide’s cleanup hitter and everyday catcher, but was lost for the season after just six games. With Gentry, Reeves, and Williamson back for sure, they form a nice core. Starting shortstop Kolby Robinson also will be back for his senior season. If McCullough and Auerbach return, that is the beginning of a solid lineup.

Pitching-wise, the four freshman that the team is so high on — Tyler Ras, Connor Shamblin, Jacob McNairy, and Dylan Smith — should all take a step forward. Rukes, Guffey, Lee, and possibly Freeman and Cobb, are nice pieces to start with. With only three left-handed pitchers on this season’s staff, it is a priority to add more southpaws. Fortunately, the incoming class has four, including late addition Antoine Jean from Canada.

The roster will begin to take shape in the first week of June after the draft. Drafted players will have into July to either sign with a MLB team or enroll/return to Bama.

THE FUTURE

Some fans are getting restless after three straight seasons of missing the SEC Tournament (the top 12 teams in the league make it), and five straight years of not making an NCAA Regional. However, patience is needed, and I would look for next season to be the start of something big. Obviously making the SEC field each year is a valid expectation. Reaching a regional year after year isn't an unrealistic expectation either. With an improvement of 11 wins in two years, Bohannon seems to be on the right track. Known for his recruiting prowess, the soon-to-be third-year head coach will get the players here.

Finishing ahead of Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri, and even Auburn next year are not out of the question. If that happens, a regional would be a lock. The next step after that is to get to host status, first for Regionals, then eventually for Super Regionals. Given the landscape of the SEC, and with the severe adversity of the scholarship limits without the of a state lottery, it will be a tall order, but one I feel Bohannon and staff are up to.

The future is bright, but rebuilding this program will be a marathon, not a spring.

Roll Tide

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