Alabama baseball opens its 2019 season on Friday with a three-game series against Presbyterian. The Tuscaloosa News will examine the team in a four-part series this week before the season.
INFIELD | OUTFIELD | STARTING PITCHING | BULLPEN
The pitching situation for Alabama will need more than one recruiting class to rebuild. The starting rotation in 2018 gave a decent account for itself, but depth was a constant worry and the talent was often overmatched by SEC opponents.
Four SEC pitchers were chosen in the first two rounds of the draft last year and more talent is always on the way up. It’s not an exaggeration to say the top third of No. 1 pitchers in the conference have first- or second-round potential, and Alabama isn’t there yet.
Friday night starter Sam Finnerty is back for his senior season and was announced as the Friday night starter earlier this week. He went undrafted after his junior season. Despite that, he acquitted himself well last season and gave Alabama a chance in nearly every outing. He didn’t get roughed up consistently, managed and minimized bad innings and didn’t put undue burden on the bullpen. That’s more than enough for him to be a reliable starter to open a series.
Freshman Tyler Ras was announced as the Saturday starter. The righty was Alabama’s top-ranked recruit in the class. Perfect Game ranked him No. 74 overall in the nation, and he has as much potential as any player on the roster.
The Sunday starter and midweek starter are still up in the air, and those positions may not be decided until competition sorts things out in the first few weeks.
Junior college transfer Wil Freeman was chosen in the 36th round of the draft but chose to attend school instead. He should be steadier than some of the freshmen, a quality which has real value when you’ll be counting on so much unproven talent. Freshman Connor Shamblin has also drawn strong reviews and will likely get an opportunity.
Redshirt junior Brock Love, now almost two years removed from Tommy John surgery, should be better off than he was in 2018. He’s always been seen as a pitcher with good stuff who just needed to stay healthy. Lefty Garret Rukes was the Sunday starter last year could be used similarly, though he never stretched out last year to the load of the other starters. Having a lefty somewhere in the weekend rotation can make things more challenging on opposing lineups.
Regardless of who is involved, look for lots of combinations in the early parts of the season. The Tampa Bay Rays had some success last season using what they called an “opener.” That essentially means using a reliever to pitch for one or two innings before bringing on a “starter” to throw the bulk of the game. That could be a possibility, but there may be even more unusual strategies waiting to be seen.