At this time last year, the Alabama baseball team was in disarray. The Crimson Tide was coming off its worst season in recent memory and didn’t know what to expect.
This time around, there is reason for optimism.
The Crimson Tide will enter the 2014 season ranked No. 21 in the preseason polls by both Baseball America and Perfect Game USA after finishing with a record of 35-28 and a bid to the NCAA Tournament last season.
“This is a group we’re pretty excited about,” Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said. “I think that coming off of the fall, and what we’ve seen up to this point, we think that this is a group that certainly can restore pride back into the program and do some things we certainly want to accomplish here.”
Alabama retains five position starters from the 2013 campaign, including sophomore 2013 Gold Glove second baseman Kyle Overstreet, sophomore shortstop and 2013 Freshman All-American Mikey White and sophomore center fielder Georgie Salem. All three started all 63 games for Alabama last season as true freshmen.
The Crimson Tide will have two new starters at both third base and catcher to fill the void left by Kenny Roberts and Brett Booth, who both graduated after last season. Sophomores Chance Vincent and Daniel Cucjen are competing for the job at third base, while redshirt junior Wade Wass and freshman Will Haynie will split time at catcher.
Wass, who had only one at-bat all last season after sustaining injuries to his ankle and wrist, is expected to play a big role for the Crimson Tide in 2014 with help from Haynie.
“I think one beauty with having Will Haynie with Wade is that’s going to be a nice combination for both to be able to catch and DH,” Gaspard said. “We’re not going to beat up the legs like we had to with Brett Booth, who caught just about every game for us last year and did a heck of a job, but it’ll be a nice combination with those two guys.”
Sophomore Ryan Blanchard is the favorite to start in left field after splitting time at the position with Andrew Miller, who also graduated, last season. Junior Ben Moore and senior Austen Smith round out the expected position starters in right field and at first base, respectively.
On the mound, sophomore Ray Castillo, last year’s closer and 2013 Freshman All-American, will move into the starting rotation, joining juniors Spencer Turnbull and Justin Kamplain, who both started last season along with now-graduated Charley Sullivan.
Though last season was a step in the right direction for Alabama, the Crimson Tide is ready to get the season started to move past last season’s ending.
The Crimson Tide blew an 8-5 lead in the bottom of the ninth in an elimination game at the Tallahassee Regional to fall 9-8 to Troy.
“Last year, it kind of leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” White said. “We saw that in the fall where everybody’s just motivated and ready to get back out there and get the season started, so we can kind of get back to where we were and maybe have a better outcome.”
Alabama will open the 2014 season with a three-game series against the Saint Louis Billikens beginning Feb. 14.