Brett Auerbach has a lot to do when he shows up for a day of practice.
He may be Alabama baseball’s best option at third base and center field, plus its best rotational player at catcher, second base and in left field. The catcher role is more important than the average No. 2 catcher, given UA is still working Sam Praytor back from Tommy John surgery; Auerbach is much more than an emergency catcher.
Balancing all of those disciplines — and being sharp enough in all of them to thrive on a SEC team — is a delicate balancing act. So one day in the preseason, Auerbach approached coach Brad Bohannon and asked if he can throw from the outfield that day.
“I was like, ‘Hey man, how about this. How about you tell me what you’re doing today,’” Bohannon said. “We joked last week, ‘Brett, just be good at everything, no problem.’”
Through the first week of the season, Auerbach was exactly that. He started at three different positions (center field, catcher and third base) and did it all while maintaining some value offensively. That’s not likely to change at any point in Auerbach’s senior season, which continues this weekend with a three-game series at UNLV.
“Brett is valuable in so many ways: he can play any position, he can just help you win without getting a hit,” Bohannon said. “I tell him all the time, ‘You’re gonna play based on how other guys do, is what we’re going to do with you.’”
What Bohannon means is Auerbach will be used to fill in whatever gaps come in the inevitable ups and downs of inexperienced players in their first SEC season. Unless UA moves left fielder T.J. Reeves to center field, its option to date has been Jackson Tate, in his first season at UA out of Lawson State Community College. If Tate hits a cold stretch, Auerbach can fill that hole. Auerbach started in center field on opening day and did so again on Wednesday against Alabama State.
Auerbach can also fill in for freshman Zane Denton at third base, plus the aforementioned need at catcher behind Praytor. Auerbach has yet to start a game in left field or second base, but he can play left in the event Reeves does move to center field or play second in the place of freshmen Jim Jarvis and Myles Austin if needed.
That variety of positions requires excellence at a lot of specific disciplines that don’t intersect with one another, in many ways. There’s only one way to manage it.
“A lot of extra work,” Auerbach said. “Just trying to split my time between getting down to the pen, infield defense or taking my reads during batting practice. It’s not easy but it really keeps it on me on the edge of my toes and it’s exciting, for sure.”
On top of those responsibilities, Auerbach has been a solid — and versatile — hitter. He drew three walks on opening day and is tied for the team lead with six; he hit a game-tying home run in the Sunday win over Northeastern, had a multi-hit game with a double the day before and has scored a run in three of UA’s four games. He’s hitting .308 with three of his four hits going for extra bases.
Auerbach and Drew Williamson are the only players on the team with multiple stolen bases this year (three) and the only ones to be successful on every attempt.
Given his offensive numbers, it’s a good thing Auerbach is as defensively versatile as he is. Bohannon can’t afford to take Auerbach out of the lineup, and Auerbach makes it easy for Bohannon to find him a spot.
“I really trust him,” Bohannon said. “He works and competes. He’s a very bright young man and a really valuable piece for our team in a lot of ways.”