Tide lined up for success in 2012

Taylor Dugas during regular practice session at Sewell-Thomas Baseball Stadium. CW|Harish Rao

The spring season brings with it new styles. This season, the Crimson Tide’s baseball team will fashion a lineup based more on power than last season’s small-ball approach.
The Tide only hit 23 home runs all season, but with six returning starters and an influx of new talent, the team figures to drive the ball more this season.
The new 2011 NCAA standard placed on bats has made it more difficult to hit the ball out of the park. In its first season with the new bats, the Tide also dealt the departure of power hitters Jake Smith, Ross Wilson and Clay Jones. This resulted in an efficient, yet boring, lineup based on sacrifice bunts and well-timed base running.
This year, I expect a little more sizzle in the Tide’s line up. Leadoff hitter Taylor Dugas will return to the lineup for his senior season. Dugas defied logic last year, leading the team with eight home runs, despite the dulled bats. This year Dugas will be playing to improve his draft status from last season and should be the key to the Alabama lineup. Dugas is an ideal leadoff hitter for any lineup. At 5-foot-7, the speedy centerfielder is always in the top of the league in on-base percentage and poses a treat to steal anytime he reaches base. If Dugas continues the power he demonstrated last season, he will prove deadly for opposing pitchers this season.
The Tide also returns its No. 3 hitter from last year, Jared Reaves. The senior shortstop hit an impressive .340 last season, while driving in a team-high 47 RBI. Reaves will be the key for the Tide this season, as the team will rely on him to knock in Dugas. Though he only hit four home runs last season, Reaves is in his second season after transferring form Southern Union Community College and should now be more confortable with SEC pitching.
The Tide player with the most upside is sophomore Austen Smith, who displayed his raw power last season, hitting five home runs and knocking in 44 RBI. At 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, Smith is built like a power hitter. I not only expect Smith to increase his power numbers in his second year, but also to improve his average as well. If Smith, who batted a respectable .297 last season, is able to make more contact, he could be one of the premier hitters in the SEC.
Perhaps one of the biggest pieces to the Tide’s lineup will be Meridian (Miss.) Community College transfer Kenny Roberts. The talented second baseman batted .399 with 12 home runs, 48 RBI and 96 runs scored this season – Roberts also posses good speed on the base paths, stealing 21 bases in 26 attempts while at Meridian. Head coach Mitch Gaspard said he plans to use Roberts in the two-hole of the lineup.
“I think he’s going to be a terrific offensive player,” Gaspard said in an interview with The Birmingham News. “He’s a guy that has power, kind of a Kirby Puckett-type guy.”
The switch in offensive philosophy should bring an exciting team to Sewell-Thomas Stadium this spring as the Crimson Tide looks to achieve something that never goes out of style – winning.