Alabama baseball’s 2018 recruiting class was the first group that was recruited for a full year by coach Brad Bohannon and his staff after their arrival in summer 2017. It’s a large group, with 22 first-year players occupying the NCAA-permitted 35-man roster.
It will play a large role in the program’s future, with 10 freshmen. But it’s also a group that’s taken a central role for the team this season.
“I would say the first year-and-a-half on the job, it’s just been about ‘Let’s go get the best players we can get, we just need to get SEC level players,’” Bohannon said. “Now that we’ve been here, we’ve got some talent. Going forward, we have to do a better job of getting balance and that just takes a lot of time.”
Alabama at No. 5 Mississippi State
Schedule: Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 1 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.
Where: Dudy Noble Field (Starkville, Miss.)
Records: Alabama 23-11 (4-8 SEC), Mississippi State 28-6 (7-5 SEC)
Radio: 102.9 FM
The team is still on the younger side as it heads to face No. 5 Mississippi State this weekend in Starkville. Three true freshmen are regulars in the lineup; two true freshmen started the Saturday and Sunday games on opening weekend and are still among key contributors to the pitching staff.
Among the 10 position players who started a game against South Carolina last weekend and injured sophomore catcher Sam Praytor, there are four returning players, five junior college additions and two freshmen. They’re regulars in the lineup.
“One thing I know about those guys right now, they don’t get really wrapped up on what happened before,” said senior outfielder Keith Holcombe, a four-year contributor from Hillcrest High School. “They’re just relaxed, playing ball like they know how to play ball. That’s one thing that I really love watching these new guys coming in, enjoying it.”
The two freshmen – outfielder T.J. Reeves and first baseman Drew Williamson – are in-state products. Seven of the 11 position players counted above played either high school or junior college in the state. But third baseman Kobe Morris is originally from Canada’s west coast, catcher Brett Auerbach is from southern California and second baseman Morgan McCullough hails from Seattle.
“When I got here, initially I thought a very large portion of our team would all be southeast kids because there are so many good players within a four- or five-hour drive.” Bohannon said. “But as I’ve been here for 18, 19 months now, you can call a kid anywhere in the country or even Canada and their ears perk up when you say ‘Alabama.’ I think a lot of that is just the brand of our school and what our football program has done for the entire university and athletic department.”
Among the 11 pitchers with 16 or more innings this season, there are five returning players and six newcomers, including three freshmen, two junior college transfers and one graduate transfer.
The newcomers were added to the program in a variety of ways. Closer Jeremy Randolph is the lone graduate transfer, and he committed to the program late in the summer. Freshman reliever Chase Lee made the team from walk-on tryouts. Freshman pitcher Tyler Ras, who has started eight games this season, was committed to the program when Bohannon and his staff arrived and came to school despite being a highly-ranked MLB draft prospect.
Ras is from New Jersey. Six of Alabama’s top eleven arms played high school or junior college baseball in the state.
All of the newcomers – even Randolph, a 23-year-old who graduated from Wright State – have needed some guidance from the pitchers who have experience in the rugged SEC.
“Obviously it’s a lot different league than what I’m accustomed to,” he said. “There are some times in the Horizon League where you don’t have to play your best and you can just have more talent than another team and sweep them. In this league, everyone is talented, everyone has got high-caliber arms, really good hitters.”
Bohannon said he believes the roster will continue to have a significant amount of talent from around the country. One recruiting class doesn’t make a trend, but it’s a start for building the roster back to the point where it can be competitive in the conference.
“I’m a big believer in balance of left and right, speed and power,” Bohannon said. “Everybody loves three-run homers but if you put a bunch of big-bodied, slow twitch guys in the lineup then you can’t score when the wind is blowing in. Your best offensive lineup is never the same as your best defensive lineup and all that. When I got the job, the roster was just exceptionally out of whack. I’m not saying that’s anybody’s fault. It would be nice to have a similar number of freshmen, sophomores and seniors, have balanced of left and right and all that. That’s not something you can change in one year or one cycle.”
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.