Baseball starts preparation for 2018 seasonBy Cody Estremera | 01/29/2018 7:55am
A lot has happened since Alabama played its last game on May 20 last year, when it tied Vanderbilt 3-3. It fired its coaching staff, and brought in an Auburn assistant to be the 32nd head coach at Alabama.
Most eyes are focused on Alabama's opener 19 days away when it takes on Valparaiso, but first-year head coach Brad Bohannon was more focused on its first day of spring practice.
The Crimson Tide hosted its first spring practice on Friday, when it practiced for an hour and a half, followed by a five-inning scrimmage.
“I felt the energy was outstanding,” Bohannon said. “It’s the healthiest we’ve been since I’ve been here. It was a good first day.”
Injuries plagued the Crimson Tide during the fall, especially on the mound. Many pitchers, most notably ace Jake Walters, dealt with some kind of issue forcing the pitching evaluation to the spring.
“That’s really going to be to be the focus the next three weeks,” Bohannon said. “We’ve got some guys that we expect to be in our top 8 or 10, that this is the really first time we’ve seen them pitch to live hitters. You evaluate pitchers in the bullpen, and you see their pitches, but there's nothing like the feedback from the hitter that they give you.”
Walters, who pitched 72 and one third innings last year, is fully healthy, as are left handers Sonny Potter and Dylan Duarte.
Left-hander Garret Rukes and right-hander Brock Love, who are both coming back from Tommy John Surgery, are expected to be back by opening day.
“They finished their throwing programs at the end of December pain-free,” Bohannon said. “They are right where they are supposed to be.”
Alabama’s roster is loaded with older players. Fourteen of the 32 players on the roster are juniors, while six are seniors.
“We have a lot of experience,” Bohannon said. “No matter who we end up playing opening day, there’s going to be a lot of juniors and seniors out there. No matter what level you are at, experience is vital.”
Alabama is bringing back players who hit 40 of its 46 home runs and 212 RBIs from last year. Of the returning 22 players, Alabama brings back its entire 2017 starting infield, but there were differences in positions when the team split up for the scrimmage.
Cobie Vance, who started every game at second last year, was at third base, while his double play partner Chandler Avant, who was the shortstop in all 54 games last year, was at second base.
“They’ve handled it very well,” first baseman Hunter Alexander said. “I had to move to right last year. It was a little bit tougher, because I had never played out there. They’re all athletic guys, so they know what to do. They work constantly.”
The gray team beat the crimson team 3-2 in the scrimmage. Right-handed pitcher Sam Finnerty started for the crimson, while Duarte started for the grey.
“Scrimmages are tough for a coach,” Bohannon said. “We played five full innings. If the score is 6-4, you’re really concerned about your pitching. If the score is 1-0, you think you can’t hit, so today was pretty good… I thought we had a lot of hard contact, and only two walks… All around, it was all you could ask for.”
Freshman Sam Praytor came up with the big hit for the grey team in the top of the fifth inning. He hit a liner off the right field fence doubling in the game winning run.
“I went to high school with Praytor,” Finnerty said. “He’s a good catcher. I knew that Praytor [wouldn't play like a freshman] coming in. He doesn’t have pressure. He loves playing baseball and he’s pretty good at it.”