The first installment of the 2015 SEC baseball team previews is the Alabama Crimson Tide. This season will be interesting for the Tide as they will play an hour away from campus at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, while Sewell-Thomas Stadium undergoes a $42 million renovation. The Tide look to improve upon their runner-up finish at the Tallahassee Regional last season.
Manager: Mitch Gaspard, 6th Season
2014 Record: 37-24 (15-14 SEC), 5th SEC West
Preseason Rankings: NR (Baseball America), #20 (D1Baseball.com) #27 (USA Today)
Key Returning Players: LHP Thomas Burrows, UTIL Casey Hughston, INF Kyle Overstreet, OF Georgie Salem, INF Mikey White
Key Losses: LHP Justin Kamplain (Draft, Signed with New York Yankees), LHP Jon Keller (Injury), OF Ben Moore (Draft, Signed with Boston), RHP Spencer Turnbull (Draft, Signed with Detroit), 1B Austen Smith (Draft, Signed with Miami), C Wade Wass (Signed with Los Angeles Angels)
Top Addition: RHP Will Carter (JUCO Transfer)
Maintaining a roster in college baseball is never easy. The roster turnover is probably worse than any other collegiate sport. Alabama may have it worse than most teams, however. Mitch Gaspard and the rest of his staff will have to replace both their top three pitchers and hitters from 2014.
The rotation will be the biggest question mark in 2015. The Tide will be without RHP Spencer Turnbull, LHP Justin Kamplain, and LHP Jon Keller. The trio accounted for nearly 50 percent of Alabama’s innings a year ago. While Turnbull and Kamplain were both lost to the draft, Keller will miss the 2015 season due to injury.
While a lot of talent has certainly left Tuscaloosa, the Tide is ready to reload with preseason third team All-American junior shortstop Mikey White leading the way. Last year, White hit .300 with seven HR and 33 RBI, but he only hit .241 in SEC play. Look for him to emerge as a leader of the offense and put up big numbers in 2015 if Alabama expects a postseason run.
White’s middle infield partner, junior second baseman Kyle Overstreet, looks to continue to improve at the plate in 2015. He finished SEC play with a .295 average and helped anchor the Crimson Tide’s defense up the middle. In 2013, he earned the Rawlings Gold Glove by the American Baseball Coaches Association.
Other returning starters for the Crimson Tide on offense will be junior OF Georgie Salem, sophomore utility man Casey Hughston, and junior infielder Chance Vincent. Salem was a solid contributor last year, making no errors in the outfield and hitting .282 with two HRs and 22 RBI at the plate. Hughston finished the year strong in SEC play, posting a .309 average with five extra base hits in 81 at bats.
The rest of the line-up however, is a little uncertain, but the Tide have no shortage of talent with their last few recruiting classes. Most notably, 6-5 sophomore catcher Will Haynie and 5-11 freshman infielder Chandler Avant should contribute consistently throughout the year. Haynie could provide power that the Alabama desperately needs. Last season, the Tide hit 42 HRs in 61 games. When speaking of Avant, Alabama assistant coach Dax Norris said that he will be able to make an immediate impact. Gaspard has had success with developing freshmen in the past, many of his current and former players were selections to the SEC All-Freshman team. Avant ranked 201st overall in the 2014 class by Perfect Game USA.
In the rotation, junior college transfer RHP Will Carter and sophomore RHP Nick Eicholtz should lead the way in 2015. Although Carter underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013, he still features a 92-95 MPH fastball with a great curve. The Texas Rangers drafted Carter in the 35th round in last summer’s draft, but he elected to go to Alabama to continue to improve his stock. Ericholtz and sophomore RHP Geoffrey Bramblett were the only returning pitchers to register at least five starts for Alabama last year. While they were both solid options and registered sub-4.00 ERAs in limiting roles last year, they will need to become consistent weekend pitchers for the Tide to have success.
In the bullpen, first team freshman All-American Thomas Burrows should continue to be a premier option in the late innings. Last year, he converted 11 save opportunities with a 2.15 ERA in 37 2/3 innings. Senior lefty Taylor Guilbeau had a great year as well with a 3.65 ERA in 15 appearances. Guilbeau’s highlight of the year was a complete game against Kennessaw State in the Tallahassee Regional last year (his lone start). Finally, junior righty Ray Castillo should also be a key bullpen piece. The former freshman All-American looks to bounce back in the bullpen after a few rough starts in 2014.
Overall, Mitch Gaspard has something good going on in Tuscaloosa. Look for Alabama to return to the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season. It may be a year or so too early for them to compete for an SEC title, especially with its draw of Vanderbilt and Florida in the SEC crossover.
Prediction: 4th SEC West, NCAA Regional Appearance