The Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team began spring training on Friday, January 26th. Rob Vaughn was named the team’s head coach in June, 2023 and is preparing for his first season at the helm of the Tide after spending six years at the head man at Maryland. Vaughn had an overall recored of 183-117 and his last two Terrapin squads won the Big 10 Championship. With a mostly new coaching staff and a big roster turnover, the team spent the fall practice time learning new faces and new ways, but had a productive and successful first semester. In exhibition games Bama swept Auburn two games to none, and split a double header with Florida State.
Vaughn’s staff consists of holdover pitching coach Jason Jackson. Jackson took over as head man on an interim basis late in the 2023 season and led the Tide to a strong finish as the number 16 national seed. Under Jackson’s tutelage the Tide hosted, for the first time since 2006, a regional. They won that and thus advanced to Super Regional play for the first time since 2010. The first move Vaughn made was to make sure Jackson would remain on the staff. A promotion to Associate Head Coach/Pitching coach, and a well deserved raise made sure that happened.
Mike Morrison and Anthony Papio both followed their boss from Maryland and joined the Tide staff. Morrison served as the Terps’ pitching coach and will assist Vaughn in all on field areas as well as the teams recruiting coordinator. Morrison had an All-American career at Coastal Carolina as a pitcher and helped the Chanticleers win the 2016 College World Series. Papio was an outfielder for Vaughn at Maryland before joining the coaching staff after graduation. The Olney, MD native was team captain and is the programs all time leader in wins participated in at 174.
Vaughn added some Alabama flavor by bringing in former Tide All American shortstop Mikey White as his Coordinator of Player Development. White was a 2nd round draft pick of the Oakland A’s and reached as high as Triple A in his multi year pro career.
The Tide lost much of the team that had such a successful 2023 season, losing all three weekend starters and eight of the nine position players to graduation, pro ball, and the transfer portal. In addition to the 8th ranked signing class coming in, Vaughn and staff mined the portal to fill potential holes.
Position by position battles:
Catcher- Mac Guscette, the Tide’s starter in 2023 is the only full time returning position player from last season. Guscette began his career at Florida and came to Tuscaloosa last season. Guscette is considered one of the best receivers in the SEC and his return was big for the team. In 48 games the senior backstop hit .260 with nine home runs with 34 RBI. His defense and throwing ability are his main assets. The staff brought in graduate student Kameron Guangorena from Coastal Carolina to provide help behind the dish. The sixth year player will provide needed experience to the squad. Ole Miss transfer Will Plattner, freshman Luke Vaughn, and redshirt freshman Sammy Leis add depth to the group.
First Base- Junior Will Hodo returns for his third year with the Tide and is in the mix to start at first base and/or DH. Hodo hit .280 in 100 at bats as a sophomore, and brings a big, powerful, left handed bat. Kade Snell was National Junior College player of the year playing for Wallace CC in 2023. Snell is a two way player, a left handed pitcher and first baseman. The Dothan native was 10-0 on the mound with a 1.86 ERA while hitting .393 with 13 home runs and 70 RBI in his sophomore year at Wallace. Junior Walt Bailey has worked at first base and third base. Bailey transferred from Shelton State and missed all of last season with a knee injury.
Second Base- Several players are battling for the second base spot. Max Grant is from Fredericton, New Brunswick Canada and transferred in from Canisius. In three season’s with the Golden Griffins, Grant hit .298, .386, and .398 and was the schools male athlete of the year in 2022. Joey Rubin was brought in from Rollins College by way of Charlton, MA. Over two seasons and 500 at bats, Rubin hit .300 with 117 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. Retuning sophomore Mason Swinney, senior’s Bryce Eblin and Will Portera, and JUCO Gage Miller have all worked at second base, as well as shortstop and third base.
Shortstop- Freshman Justin LeBron looks like the starter here. A smooth athlete from Miramar, Florida, Lebron was a top 200 national recruit coming out of Edward McCarthy High School in 2023. Lebron impressed the staff from the get-go and would be a nice replacement for Gold Glove winning shortstop Jim Jarvis. Eblin is next man up here, and will start at one of the infield positions. Swinney as put in a lot of work at the spot and is also an option.
Third Base- Eblin and Miller have put in the most work at the hot corner. Eblin has been on the verge of breaking out every year at the Capstone, but has battled injuries all three seasons. The two time MVP of the Cape Cod League playoffs is poised to finally stay healthy and have a big season for the Tide. Miller hails from Palmyra, PA and played junior college at Bishop State CC in Mobile, AL. In his two seasons at Bishop, Miller hit .391 and .397 and was one of the Tides hottest hitters all fall. He should find his way to a lot of playing time. Swinney has also worked at third and looks to get into the lineup somewhere. Rubin and Portera have also been spotted at the spot.
Left Field- Ian Petrutz followed his coaches from Maryland for his junior year. The New Jersey native hit 23 home runs in two years for the Terrapins with 14 of those in 2023. Petrutz is a physical 210 pounds and should provide power for the Tide. Returning Alabama junior Camden Hayslip has worked in all three outfield spots since the fall. Hayslip, from Lebanon, TN, has major power in his left-handed bat and led the team in long balls in the fall. In the four exhibition games Hayslip slammed three long home runs, including a grand slam. Fifth year senior William Hamiter also returns and brings valuable experience and leadership to the group. Freshman Parker Picot offers more depth to the spot.
Center Field- Ole Miss senior transfer TJ McCants was brought in to replace last year starter, Caden Rose. Rose was drafted in the 6th round by the Red Sox and signed a pro contract. McCants was a Freshman All-American for the Rebels in 2021 and was on the World Series winning team in 2022. Hayslip, freshman Evan Haeger, and redshirt freshman Luke Williams have also worked in centerfield.
Right Field- Rutgers graduate transfer Evan Sleight is the Captain of the team and will get a lot of work in right field. Last season Sleight hit .315 with 12 home runs with 44 RBI. The staff awarded Sleight the #3 jersey, which represents the three tenants of Vaughn’s philosophy, toughness, ownership, and grit. In a team vote Sleight earned the honor of being the recipient. Hayslip has worked in right field as has freshman Coleman Mizell. Mizell is a Hartselle, AL native and was the Alabama High School Player Of The Year in 2023 by hitting .500 with 15 home runs his senior year. The powerful 6’3”, 230 pound athlete could also see action in left field or designated hitter.
Designated Hitter- Vaughn and staff have a plethora of choices to choose from. Miller, Hodo, Hayslip, Snell, Mizell, and Hamiter could all get looks at the spot.
Pitcher- the strength of the team should come on the mound. The staff is loaded with big, strong, hard throwing athletes. The leader will be junior Ben Hess. The 6’5” 250 pound right hander was the Friday night starter last season before being injured against Arkansas and missing the last half of the season. Hess is poised to have a huge season and is being touted as an All American and potential first round draft pick.
Sophomore right hander Riley Quick was a contributor as a freshman, and looks to have made a huge step. The 6’6”, 260 pounder should man one of the weekend spots. Both Hess and Quick throw in the mid to upper 90’s with good secondary pitches. The third starting battle for weekend play seems to be a three way affair between Alton Davis II, Aidan Moza, and Greg Farone. Davis is a sophomore who was a Freshman All-American as a closer for the Tide in 2023. Moza has worked out of the bullpen the last two seasons after transferring from Birmingham U. Farone is a 6’6” 250 pound left hander that transferred from Louisville this fall. The two of the three that don’t start will hold down the back end of the bullpen.
Other returning pitchers include junior Hagan Banks who has been very affective out of the pen for the Tide over the last two seasons. Tyler Fay is a redshirt freshman right hander who was very impressive in fall play. Lefty Connor Ball and righty Braylon Myers are both juniors that have helped Bama the last two seasons. Right hander Zane Probst returns for his senior year, his second with the Tide after transferring from Seton Hall.
Junior transfers Coulson Buchanan and Bobby Alcock should both see plenty of innings of action. Buchanan transferred from Wofford while Alcock came aboard from Gardner-Webb. Sophomore Pierce George is a 6’6” and 245 pound right hander that transferred from Texas. George has a fast ball that clocks at 100 mph plus. Last weekend he bumped 101 multiple times in a scrimmage. Snell should be in the mix for some mound time as well. Tate Robertson is a junior left hander transfer from Shelton State CC.
Freshman left hander Zane Adams, from Porter, TX was highly sought after by pro teams, but decided to come to school. Adams could work as a midweek starter or out of the pen. Another freshman lefty, Jansen Kenty, has also impressed. Other freshman that look to earn playing time include left hander Matthew Heiberger, right hander Sam Mitchell, right hander Jonathan Stevens, right hander Jackson Baker, right hander Austin Morris, side armer Beau Brailey, and reclassified mid year enrolle Ariston Veasey. Veasey was a highly regarded prospect for next year but graduated high school early and enrolled in January.
Over the next three weeks the coaches will decide on opening day starters for the team. However, position battles will go on throughout the season. The team appears to have elite depth up and down the lineup. Early in the season I would expect multiple combinations of players to receive chances. Practice is being held Tuesday through Sunday as of now and is always open to the public. Scrimmages will be held on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays. Coach Vaughn looks to have a hungry team that will play an exciting brand of baseball.