Rebuilding Crimson Tide Baseball Beginning to Look More SEC Caliber
Alabama coach Brad Bohannon has absolutely no problem with saying that the Crimson Tide baseball team will be better in 2020.
He’s said so on the radio show “Hey Coach,” and nothing happened during the fall to cause him to second-guess that pronouncement.
Bohanon’s excited about the upcoming season. He just doesn’t know how much better the Crimson Tide will be when it comes to wins and losses.
“We have talent,” he said. “We have an SEC roster. I’m really, really pleased with where we are physically, athletically. From the intangibles standpoints we have a great group of kids who really work hard and they’re very serious about baseball.
“I’m very comfortable in saying that we’re going to take a step forward this year.”
How big of a step will likely depend on the starting pitching, where Alabama doesn’t have anyone with experience returning.
Among those who have shown noticeable improvement include sophomore Tyler Ras (1-3, 4.14 ERA), redshirt freshman Landon Green (out last year with an injury), sophomore Jacob McNairy (0-0, 6.23), sophomore Dylan Smith (0-0, 6.48) and sophomore Connor Shamblin (2-1, 6.26).
Two freshmen to keep an eye on are left-handers Antoine Jean and Connor Prielipp.
“Very impressive to this point,” Bohannon said.
Meanwhile, the bullpen boasts sophomore Chase Lee and junior left-hander Brock Guffey. Lee (1-0, 2.73 ERA), gave up only two extra-base hits last season, and over the summer was named the Cal Ripken League Player of the Year.
“I could coach here another 20 years and not have a situation like that come up, going from a true, genuine walk-on, converting from shortstop to sidearm pitcher,” Bohannon said about the engineering major. “He was a neat story at first, now this guy could pitch for anybody in the country and play pro baseball at some point.”
Where fans will notice an immediate upgrade is in the everyday lineup. Whereas last season Bohannon would make out his lineup card and often hesitate after jotting down five or six names, he’s going to have the opposite problem in 2020. He’ll have about 12 regulars fitting into those nine slots.
The nucleus of the position players will center around four players especially: junior Tyler Gentry, sophomore T.J. Reeves, senior Brett Auerbach and redshirt sophomore Sam Praytor.
Bohannon calls Gentry an All-SEC caliber talent. In 2019, the outfielder paced UA in average (.310), hits (65), home runs (13), RBIs (42), slugging (.552) and total bases (116) while tying for the team lead in doubles (12) and runs scored (37).
In SEC play, he topped he Crimson Tide in average .310 (35-for-113), RBIs (14), slugging (.496) and total bases (56) and tied for the team lead in hits, doubles (six) and home runs (five)
Reeves, who is also an outfielder, came on the strongest during the second half of last season. He tied for the team lead in runs (37) and stolen bases (nine) while hitting nine home runs, slugging .482 and drawing 30 walks.
Praytor, a catcher, is back after suffering a season-ending arm injury during just his sixth game of 2019 – after hitting two home runs with three RBIs and six runs. He had finished the previous season by batting .301 (22-73) over the final 21 games, with four doubles, three home runs, 10 RBIs, 11 runs scored and 15 walks.
Auerbach helped fill in behind the plate, but also played third. He still hit .270 (57-for-211) overall, and topped .300 over the back half of SEC play. For an encore he led his team in the Cape Cod summer league in runs (25), hits (43), walks (15) and stolen bases (11).
Also back are senior shortstop Kolby Robinson and sophomore first baseman Drew Williams. As a 6-foot-5 freshman, Williams was third in batting average at .290 (51-176), but led the team in walks (40) and on-base percentage (.425).
Three freshmen who will be pushing them are Zane Denton, Miles Austin and Jim Jarvis.
“I really like our depth in the infield,” Bohannon said. “I think we’ll defend at a really high level. We set a school record for fielding percentage last year. I don’t know if we’ve showed that level of consistency collectively, but we’re more athletic and we’re going to have more range.”
Two other position players to note are center fielder Jackson Tate, a transfer from Lawson State Community College, where he hit .377 with 14 home runs, and freshman Owen Diodati.
“I think it’s important to be aggressive in every part of the game,” Bohannon said. “I said it from day one, I would like for our team to have balance. I’d like to have speed and power. It’s one of the many reasons why we like T.J. Reeves. Besides hitting the ball over a fence, he can steal a base and score from second on virtually anything hit to the outfield.
“Friday night in the SEC, you’re not going to face a lot of pitchers who you can string six or seven hits against. You’re going to have to manufacture some runs … I love three-run home runs, but sometimes the wind is blowing in and that guy on the mound is pretty good.”
Which is why it’s hard to estimate where Alabama might end up in the standings because like last season the Crimson Tide could conceivably face a ranked opponent during every weekend of league play.
Alabama is coming off a 30-26 year, with 23 of the losses against SEC foes.
“If you look at the SEC West last year, the other six teams were all ranked in the top 12 at some point,” he said. “In theory for us to get out of last place we have to be a top-15 team in the country. I would say the SEC West may be the toughest division in all of amateur athletics.”
This is the second story in a "What's Next" series on Alabama's winter and spring sports that will appear on BamaCentral this week.