Brad Bohannon isn’t standing still and he doesn’t intend to let the University of Alabama baseball program stand still either.
“Since the season ended (on May 18), I think I’ve been at home two nights,” Bohannon said on Friday during a lengthy interview with The Tuscaloosa News. “I’ve been to Canada, the Dominican Republic, Wisconsin plus all over this state and the states around us. I don’t plan on spending much time in Tuscaloosa this summer.”
Bohannon’s focus is on recruiting, part of what continues to be a long-term rebuilding effort for the Crimson Tide. He said he was proud of the effort put forth by the 2019 team and expects improvement in 2020, but repeats, almost like a mantra, that his focus has to be long-term in nature.
“You can’t get your butt kicked in recruiting for three or four years and expect it to get fixed in one cycle,” Bohannon said. “Not in the SEC West.”
Another factor, as Bohannon noted, is baseball players (like softball players) tend to make their college decisions early.
“A lot of players already know where they are going to (college) by the time they are in the 10th grade,”he said. “So you have to have done the groundwork.”
The gradual process continues and the next immediate step for Alabama, which finished the 2019 season 30-26 overall and 7-23 in the SEC, comes on Monday when the Major League Baseball draft begins. The Crimson Tide will be affected early, Bohannon said. The question is how deeply Alabama will be impacted.
“CJ Abrams (an infielder from Alpharetta, Georgia) should go fairly high in the first round and get a few million dollars to sign,” Bohannon said. “We knew that when we signed him, but signing him was based on a two-year relationship with his family and it was a good thing for our program. But the rest of the draft will have a huge impact on us. We should have a better idea of where we stand by Tuesday afternoon.”
Myles Austin, a shortstop/center fielder from Atlanta who is rated the No. 94 overall prospect in the draft, is “probably 50/50 depending on where he’s drafted,” Bohannon said.
None of Alabama’s draft-eligible players from the 2019 roster are likely to be drafted highly but some could be chosen and face a decision about whether to return.
“Deacon Medders and Brock Love (both pitchers) and (second baseman) Morgan McCullough could all be picked,” Bohannon said. “We’d like to have them back but it just depends on exactly what it is that they are looking at, draft-wise.”
Alabama will also be looking to replace four seniors who contributed in 2019: outfielders Joe Breaux and Keith Holcombe and pitchers Sam Finnerty (the staff workhorse who finished with a 6-8 record against stiff SEC competition) and Jeremy Randolph.
The core of next year’s team will come from the returning position players, Bohannon said.
“You take Tyler Gentry, Drew Williamson, T.J. Reeves, Brett Auerbach, Sam Praytor and Matt McCullough and that’s six legitimate SEC players right there,” he said.
Gentry, an outfielder, finished 2019 as Alabama’s leading hitter, batting .310 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs. Williamson at first base and Reeves in the outfield are in-state players who became regulars and showed promise as freshmen. Auerbach was a regular at third base and McCullough, who hit .309, would be a solid second baseman pending his draft status.
Praytor, a sophomore from Helena who was projected as the Crimson Tide’s starting catcher and cleanup hitter, appeared in just six games in 2019 before being sidelined by an elbow injury.
“Sam had Tommy John surgery and his rehab is progressing on schedule,” Bohannon said. “He’s expected to be full go by opening day.
“You take that group plus (shortstop Kolby) Robinson, plus you add in Owen Diadati who is a corner outfielder with big power from Canada. We will have to watch him in the draft, too, but I was just in Niagara Falls (Ontario, Diadati’s home) to visit with him. That’s a good group and we can fill in around them.”
Pitching may be more problematic for the 2020 Crimson Tide.
“Some of it will depend on what happens with Brock and Deac (Medders),” Bohannon said. “Connor Shamblin was up and down this year but has a good arm. Garrett Rukes needs to be a contributor for us. Davis Vainer transferred to Arizona (but) we will have some returning guys — Casey Cobb, Brock Guffey, Chase Lee, Tyler Ras (who also saw outfield duty in 2019), Jacob McNairy and the group coming in, which includes some good arms but will be young and inexperienced.
“We pieced it together last year. Jason Jackson (the Crimson Tide pitching coach) is fabulous, the best there is, in my opinion. But when you get late into the season and you are playing high-end SEC teams, your pitchers have to have stuff. Everyone has you scouted by then. You aren’t fooling anyone. For instance, we go to Georgia for the last series and their No. 1 guy is throwing 97 or 98, and their No. 2 guy is throwing 95 with a strong slider. We are just not at that point yet.”
Despite those frustrations and limitations, Bohannon called 2019 “a year where we made some progress.”
“It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, like a lot of seasons where you don’t win your last game,” Bohannon said. “We did a really good job with the non-league schedule. We were 23-3 in the non-conference. Our RPI was No. 41 (nationally) If you include South Carolina, we did a really good job when the talent was equal. But we didn’t get enough big plays, big hits, in the games where the other team had more (talent) than we did.
“We had some young guys who did some good things. That’s encouraging. We have some obstacles but we also have some advantages. We’re going to keep it moving in the right direction.”
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.