Shamblin using summer league experience to boost confidence


CW / Hannah Saad

Carey Reeder | @_CareyReeder, Staff Reporter

The move from clean-shaven to a lush beard is the first noticeable change in Alabama pitcher Connor Shamblin from his freshman season.

While perfecting that facial hair, the sophomore worked hard throughout last summer and fall and into this spring to help erase some of the memories from his freshman season.

“The way he goes about his business and his approach to his game has just come light-years, and he’s still learning about himself and what kind of pitcher he’s going to be,” pitching coach Jason Jackson said. “He really loves pitching, and Connor is a student of the game, and he works really hard at it. He’s grown up, matured and [is] earning the right to be great right now.”

Shamblin dropped his first game of 2020 on Saturday against Lipscomb to give the Crimson Tide its first loss of the season. That’s not to take away from the improvement Shamblin has shown from last season in his four starts this year.

The Lakeland, Tennessee, native made 14 appearances, including four starts, in 2019 and earned a 2-1 record. He began his Alabama career with two wins over Presbyterian and Ball State to become the first freshman to win his first two career starts since Taylor Wolfe in 2012.

It was after those outings that Shamblin seemed to regress. He went two-thirds of an inning against South Alabama, giving up one hit, one run and three walks. In his final start against Troy, Shamblin gave up three walks and a grand slam in the second inning that ended his day after two frames. He saw one inning of work against Florida last season, surrendering three hits and two runs, which was the lowlight of his freshman SEC experience.

“Connor was just a freshman last year, and he’s a great kid and very talented, but that’s how it goes for most freshmen,” coach Brad Bohannon said. “It’s the biggest adjustment for a baseball player going from high school to the Southeastern Conference.”

After his freshman year, Shamblin said he “took a look at where he was as a baseball player” and began to question if he belonged on the field at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. The mental aspect of his game was lacking.

Then Shamblin took a trip to Brewster, Massachusetts, and joined the Brewster Whitecaps for the 2019 Cape Cod League season. Shamblin saw action in eight games during his summer with the Whitecaps. After a slow start to the season, he combined to go nine innings over his final four games, giving up six hits and three earned runs and striking out seven batters.

“Summer ball helped me grow as a player and get my confidence back,” Shamblin said. “Being able to bring my success from the back half [of the Cape Cod League] into the fall, my whole mindset changed, and now I have this success. I can start developing as a pitcher more than someone who just goes out there and throws for five or six innings a game.”

Bohannon elected to go with Shamblin as part of Alabama’s starting weekend rotation, starting him Saturday on opening weekend and every Saturday since. Bohannon and Jackson valued the more experienced pitchers on their staff in later-game situations rather than starting them. 

The opening Saturday against Northeastern saw Shamblin throw five innings of scoreless baseball with three hits while striking out five batters. He is commanding his fastball better this season, and the coaches are impressed with his ability to limit his frustration and his drive to compete.

Shamblin is sandwiched between two freshmen, Connor Prielipp and Antoine Jean, in the weekend starting rotation and is the leader based on experience. The team hopes Shamblin’s presence last season will help contribute to some guidance for those two freshmen as SEC play gets started on Friday, with Missouri coming to Tuscaloosa.

“I think when we get into league play, and especially on the road, Connor’s experience is going to be valuable,” Bohannon said. “Just him being in the dugout was a learning experience for him. Him between the two freshman lefties, the value of that will show up more going forward into league play.”

Shamblin has already matched his starts from last season in 2020 and is 1-1 through those four starts. His 20 innings pitched this season are only three behind his season total in 2019. 

He has lowered his ERA from 6.41 in 2019 to 4.05 in 2020, and his WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) has decreased from 1.61 in 2019 to 1.45 in 2020. Most importantly for the sophomore, his confidence in his arm and himself have increased.

“I tell myself all the time, I’m going to work as hard as I do all the time, and whatever results come out, that’s what it is,” Shamblin said. “I’ve put in the work to be in this position again.”

While Shamblin won’t be available to pitch in Alabama’s midweek game against UAB on Tuesday, fellow sophomore Tyler Ras will get his first start of the season against the Blazers. 

Last season, Ras and Shamblin became the first freshman duo to start on opening weekend since 2012, when current Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Taylor Guilbeau and Justin Kamplain did it. Tuesday’s game marks the final non-conference game for the Crimson Tide before its SEC schedule gets underway on Friday against Missouri.