Alabama baseball opens its 2018 season on Friday with a three-game home series against Valparaiso. TideSports.com will look at the team this week before the season begins.
Both Cody Henry and Hunter Alexander have plenty of experience here, and both should find themselves in the lineup more often than not. One will probably play first and the other will be a strong candidate to be a regular at DH.
Both Henry (6-2/235) and Alexander (6-2/250) are big, physical players. Henry can switch hit and is probably the better defensive option, so he may be the starter to begin the season. Henry hit .294 last season with a .348 OBP and was second on the team with eight home runs. Alexander hit .282 with a .362 OBP, six home runs and was second on the team with 33 RBI.
Sophomore John Trousdale has also spent time working at first base this spring. Playing time at first may be difficult to come by, but Trousdale has worked at other infield positions and should be able to fill in at multiple spots if needed.
Chandler Avant isn’t a new name at Alabama, but he hasn’t spent much time at second base. Avant started all 54 games at shortstop last year and 34 there as a sophomore in 2016 before an ankle injury ended his season. Teammates said his range at second base has helped turn double plays no one else on the roster can. He made 19 errors at short last season, so a change of scenery might help him be more consistent.
Avant isn’t going to steal 20 bases, but has some speed. He led the team with 15 doubles last season. Trousdale could also play second, and Cobie Vance could move back here if needed.
Junior Cobie Vance is another returning piece at a new position. He moved from second to third. He appears to have the arm to play the hot corner and is settling in well. This will be a new position for him in games, but previous coaching staffs have tried him at third in practice. It’s not totally new to him.
Senior Connor Short has the most experience at third and started 53 games last year. He struggled at the plate in 2017, batting .196, but was better in 2016 when he hit .270. He could end up playing a major role if things shuffle from how they’ve appeared in preseason. Trousdale is also an option here.
The new face in the infield is Jett Manning, a junior college transfer. Teammates and coaches like the double-play tandem of Manning and Avant up the middle. He hit .430 in junior college last season and stole 33 bases. He’s among the more athletic players in the lineup. That should show up on the base paths and on the field.
If Manning struggles or injury strikes, Alabama might rework its infield to look more like last season. That could move Avant back to short and potentially see a few more dominoes fall after that.
Alabama kept shuffling between three catchers last season, but only junior Kyle Kaufman is back from that group. He hit well (.301 with a .396 OBP), albeit not with much power. He also struggled defensively, going 0-10 against runners who were stealing. He’ll be an option at DH.
That means freshman Sam Praytor has an opening to play early. Catcher is a difficult position for freshmen to manage but Praytor seems to have the inside track on the position. He was Alabama’s top high school signee to reach campus, hitting .458 with nine home runs and 40 RBI at Helena.
Junior college transfer Matt Malkin will get his chance, too. He hit 10 homers and 20 doubles for his Arizona junior college last year. All three players could find some role on this team.