It’s been 272 days since the Alabama baseball team walked off the field following a 9-1 loss against Georgia to close out last season with a 30-26 record. A 23-3 non-conference record was nullified by a 7-23 mark in SEC play.
Now heading into the 2020 season, the Crimson Tide is not concerned with the past; it’s preparing for the present with a new-look team boasting numerous new faces but familiar ones as well.
“The whole team looks good from top to bottom,” sophomore pitcher Tyler Ras said. “From the new freshmen to the upperclassmen with SEC experience, everyone has a role on this team.”
Alabama hosts Northeastern this weekend for a three-game series beginning on Friday. The Crimson Tide returns three of its top four hitters from last season in junior outfielder Tyler Gentry, sophomore infielder Drew Williamson and senior infielder Kolby Robinson. Adding sophomore outfielder T.J. Reeves and senior utility man Brett Auerbach into the mix, Alabama returns a combined 138 RBIs, 25 home runs and a batting average of .291 from last season.
The Crimson Tide is also aided by the return of catcher Sam Praytor behind the plate. Praytor suffered a season-ending elbow injury just six games into last season that required Tommy John surgery. The redshirt sophomore earned four hits through those six games — two of which were home runs — as well as three RBIs and six runs scored.
However, the wait for the return of Praytor may be extended due to a jammed thumb suffered during practice last week sliding into a base. If Praytor is a scratch, Auerbach, who split time at third base and catcher last season, will be asked to step behind the plate on opening day. Auerbach has already worked at five different positions in the preseason: second and third base, left and center field and catcher.
“It’s not easy but it keeps me on my toes,” Auerbach said. “I just try to have fun with it and do my best.”
Northeastern is a good gauge for the Alabama club to measure how some of its younger players stack up. The Huskies are picked to finish second in the Colonial Athletic Association and have the CAA Preseason Player of the Year in redshirt junior infielder Ian Fair. Fair won the CAA batting title last season with a .357 batting average and brings a 14-game hitting streak from last year into 2020. Huskies senior infielder Scott Holzwasser joins Fair on the Preseason All-CAA team and four players earned honorable mentions on the team.
Northeastern returns six of the nine position players that started a majority of the team’s games last season. Freshman pitcher Sebastian Keane, an 11th-round selection of the Boston Red Sox, is the most highly touted new player for the Huskies this season. The right-hander posted a 21-5 record at North Andover High School in Massachusetts with an ERA of 0.66.
“They’ll be a good club this year,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “It’s an older group and we’ll have our hands full.”
On Friday the Crimson Tide will send true freshman Connor Prielipp to the mound while Northeastern counters with senior Kyle Murphy. Saturday will feature the pairing of Alabama sophomore Connor Shamblin and the Huskies junior Sam Jacobsak. The series finale on Sunday will feature Keane and Alabama true freshman Antoine Jean. It will be the second straight year that Alabama starts two freshmen on the mound in the opening series.
Alabama’s season last year was launched into a 17-2 record behind a strong non-conference start. With a loaded SEC schedule featuring seven series against preseason top 25 teams, a fast start to the season will be needed again for the Crimson Tide if a postseason berth is in play for the 2020 season.
“The biggest thing I want to see are three wins – we need to learn how to win,” Bohannon said. “Out of 56 games you’re not always going to play your best, but we need to learn to win when we aren’t playing our best.”