Brad Bohannon and T.J. Reeves both used the word fun in describing the 2020 University of Alabama baseball team. Especially fun for those that enjoy seeing runs scored.
UA held its first official practice Friday evening, three weeks before its opening day against Northeastern on Feb. 14. It’s the beginning of the season for a team that is expected to deliver more hitting, more power and more scoring as an inexperienced 2019 lineup turns into an experienced 2020 lineup.
“We might be a group that hits 60 or 70 home runs. We’re pretty physical,” Bohannon, UA’s coach, said. “I could easily see us having three or more guys with double-digit home runs in our lineup. Whether it’s (catcher Sam) Prayter, (outfielders) Tyler Gentry or T.J. Reeves, and there’s some other guys that are showing it in practice and scrimmages that haven’t done it in games. You put those three guys in a row and pitchers are going to have to bear down that inning.”
For context on a 70-home run season: 70 would have been just outside of the top five in the SEC last year, but those home run totals were aided by lengthy NCAA postseason runs. Putting up 70 home runs before the NCAA Tournament begins would put UA in nationally renowned territory, if that potential is realized.
The reason for optimism in that lineup is based on UA returning 62.88 percent of its hits against SEC competition last season, which is higher than four of its six SEC West opponents and more than or effectively even with three of the four SEC East teams it will face this year (Vanderbilt, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee).
Among those returners is Gentry, coming back after leading last year’s team in batting average (.310) and home runs (13), the latter also tied for 11th in the SEC despite no postseason games. Also returning: Brett Auerbach, part of the four-way tie for the team lead in doubles last season. Reeves found something against top competition late last season, as three of his nine extra-base hits against SEC teams came in the final seven games.
“My expectation is that we’re going to come out swinging hard,” Reeves said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun doing that.”
Just as important as the returning production is the return of a player who could not produce last year: Praytor, who played just six games and missed the rest of the season with an elbow injury. Praytor still hit two home runs in those 18 at-bats and was coming off of a productive freshman season in which he was UA’s leader in walks and on-base percentage against SEC opponents, on top of raising his batting average 22 points in the final 21 games.
Praytor returning to an experienced lineup can be a catalyst for change for a program that has 15 SEC wins over the previous two seasons.
“We’re not thinking about, ‘I hope we win,’ or, ‘I think we’ll be better this year,’” Praytor said. “We’re really thinking about making it happen. We’re not saying we hope we win anymore. We’re really holding ourselves to a higher standard to play better day in and day out.”