Alabama baseball team hits with more power

Kevin Connell

More times than not last season, the Alabama baseball team had to rely on the arms of its pitchers and the gloves of its fielders to help bail out the bats of its hitters to get by.

This season, that is no longer the case.

The Crimson Tide’s pitching has become even more dominant, and its defense remains sharp, but it’s the offense that has given Alabama its best start to a season since 2006 this year. Through 31 games this season – roughly half the amount of the 63 games it played in 2013 – Alabama has scored 177 runs, more than half of the 325 runs it scored all of last season.

Why? Power.

Collectively, Alabama has 20 home runs, 51 doubles and a .387 slugging percentage this season, ranking them third, fifth and sixth in the Southeastern Conference, respectively. Last season as a whole, the Crimson Tide hit 26 home runs (10th in the SEC), 85 doubles (8th SEC) and had a slugging percentage of .344 (13th SEC).

(See also “Alabama offense explodes in 17-3 win“)

Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard said the reason for that can be answered in two parts: new player personnel and the strength and conditioning program.

Junior catcher Wade Wass, who has hit a team-leading 11 doubles to go along with a .450 slugging percentage and two home runs, has been a vital addition to the lineup this season after missing all of last season with injuries, save for one at bat. Another is freshman left fielder Casey Hughston, who is in a three-way tie for the team lead in home runs with three.

But as much as anything, it was a matter of building on what was already in store under new strength and conditioning coach Ben Ashford.

“We played a lot of freshmen last year, and those kids are stronger, more physical in year two than they were in year one,” Gaspard said.

(See also “White’s home run claims series“)

As freshmen, current sophomores Mikey White, Kyle Overstreet, Georgie Salem, Chance Vincent and Daniel Cucjen, combined for three home runs, 25 doubles and a .309 slugging percentage.

This season, that group already has seven home runs, 17 doubles and a .360 slugging percentage. Gaspard said much of the credit for the increase in power goes to the work Ashford has done.

“I think he’s done a great job both in the weight room and with the mentality of the team,” Gaspard said. “I think that he’s really helped instill that through the coaching staff, as well, too. To hit homers and doubles now, especially with these new BBCOR bats that came out four years ago, you have to have strength and as much developed in the weight room. I feel like we have a terrific plan, and that started on day one of the fall.”

The increase in offensive power has been more than just for show, however.

The Crimson Tide is now No. 9 nationally, just two weeks after it was unranked. That number, though less important than the ones produced by the offense this season, is a good sign of where the team stands moving forward, Gaspard said.

“For our program, I think it’s really important to have high rankings,” he said. “I think it helps in a lot of areas, and it gives you credibility of what’s going on. And if you’re moving up, that means you’re continuing to play good baseball.”

(See also “Baseball team wins 5th straight“)