What is next for the Alabama baseball team? Wait and see just like the rest of the globe and the sporting world. With word originally that the games would go on, but without fans, then that things would/could resume after March 30th, and now with a look again date of April 15th, the team is in a state of flux. The NCAA seemed to jump the gun on Thursday when they proactively announced the cancellation of the College World Series, a full three months prior to its first pitch.
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey seemed to be caught off guard by the quick jettisoning of the World Series and came out and said there would be a possibility that the SEC Tournament in Hoover could still be played. At that time the March 30th date was still in play, but the next day the April 15th date was brought into play. In addition practice was deemed off limits, and the teams basically sent their players home. The freshmen Alabama players all live in campus housing and they had until Saturday, March 14th, to move out. The upperclassmen find their own housing and they are free to stay, go home, or go on spring break, something college baseball players are never able to do normally.
The NCAA followed up with a statement that all spring sport senior athletes would be granted another year of eligibility. The logistics of the measure haven't been worked out, or at least not announced. The thought that the returning seniors will not be counted against the 11.7 scholarships or roster limits. All the other players would return next season with the same classification that they have this year. College baseball rosters are limited to 35 players, 27 on scholarship. The 11.7 total scholarships are divided among the 27 players, and must all receive at least 25% of aid. Teams that have a large senior class, and have signed a large incoming class have the potential to have a team with upwards of 45-50 on campus in the fall. Bama signed 10 players for their 2021 class that is heavy on pitchers and infielders, and has several highly ranked prospects.
How does this affect the Tide? Alabama has a senior class of seven players. Brett Auerbach and Casey Cobb are the most prominent one, and both are on schedule to graduate, and will surely be drafted in the MLB Draft, whenever that takes place in this new normal. Kolby Robinson is a two year starter at shortstop and is a player that could go on, or come back. Pitcher William Freeman is a draft possibility after being picked coming out of junior college two years ago. Kyle Cameron is a fifth year senior who is working on a graduate degree, Dylan Oliver is a pitcher that has been used sparingly over the last two seasons. Justin King is a senior OF/ INF that has had a limited roll. Johnny Hawk is a catcher that underwent Tommy John surgery in the fall and was on the shelf for this season.
The halting of the season, while understood, was a shame for this group. With a 16-1 record and SEC play set to have begun on March 13th, expectations were high for the team. The incremental improvement under coach Brad Bohannon has been remarkable. The team was looking to break the skid of not being in the SEC Tournament since 2016, or in the NCAA Tournament since 2014. The parts are in place for that to happen this year, if the season played out. In 2021 the Tide seems poised to take a greater step by being in position to win a regional.
If the season is over, and it sure looks like that will be the case, this years team put up some nice numbers. The 16-1 (.944%) is the best in school history, just ahead of the 1919 team that finished 16-2. The team currently has a .308 batting average with 22 home runs, 39 doubles, 29 stolen bases, a .500 slugging percentage, and a .432 on base percentage. The pitching staff has a 2.24 ERA and has allowed only 126 hits in 157 innings, with 49 walks and 185 strikeouts.
Individually Gentry was having a fine season with a .429 batting average with four home runs and 21 runs driven in. Auerbach is hitting .388 with 22 runs, 26 hits, eight doubles, three home runs, 14 runs driven in, 43 total bases, 17 walks and 12 stolen bases, all while starting at four different positions and seeing action at five. Sam Praytor is hitting a solid .350 while leading the team with six home runs and driving in 18 runs. Freshman Owen Diodati is showing advanced power with a .309 average and five home runs with 22 runs driven in, which leads the team.
On the mound freshman Connor Prielipp is having a season to remember with a 3-0 record and a 0.00 ERA. The Wisconsin native has pitched 21 innings allowing only five hits with six walks and 35 strikeouts, all while not allowing a single run to date. Brock Guffey also has a 3-0 record with a 1.04 ERA out of the bullpen. Freshman starter Antoine Jean is 3-0 as well with a 3.18 ERA over 17 innings. Red shirt sophomore Chase Lee has the teams only two saves and is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings, while striking out 19, and exciting the crowd every time he makes an appearance.
Hopefully these young men can all improve on those numbers, but frankly the season is most likely done. The players are banned from being on campus until at least April 15th-subject to change- and will have missed 21 games (plus two rainouts) by that time, as well as not being able to work as a team. There are 17 games scheduled after the date of April 15, but the teams would need some time to acclimate and get ready to play again. Getting back together when summer school starts might be the best option at this point. The Tide has several players scheduled to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer, and hopefully the summer leagues will play. With so many young players missing the experience of SEC play it is paramount that they play in good completion this summer.
Meanwhile we play the wait and see game, and hope for the best.
Alabama Baseball Fever, Catch It.