Projecting Alabama baseball's opening-day lineup, starting rotation and more

Brett Hudson
The Tuscaloosa News
Alabama freshman left-handed pitcher Connor Prielipp (4) throws during a fall practice game against Southern Miss at Sewell-Thomas Stadium in Tuscaloosa. (Photo courtesy of Alabama athletics)

When it starts its 2021 season Friday, Alabama baseball will be attempting to make the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2016 and the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. It will do so having lost three position-player starters and two useful bullpen pitchers, all while a youth movement pushes for immediate playing time.

Here is our shot at projecting Alabama’s opening-day lineup, starting rotation and other key roles.

Leadoff hitter, 2B Peyton Wilson

Peyton Wilson made a convincing case for more at-bats as the 2020 season was ending and has good baserunning skills. His ability to player center field, catcher and more than one infield position makes him likely to be a consistent feature in the lineup, giving UA a chance at a consistent presence in this spot.

The Alabama baseball team opened practice Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Head Coach Brad Bohannon talks with his players as they stretch before practice. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Heart of the order: LF T.J. Reeves, C Sam Praytor, DH Owen Diodati and 1B Drew Williamson

Owen Diodati and Sam Praytor slugged .673 and .667, respectively, in the shortened 2020 season, and Drew Williamson is poised for a breakout from a power perspective after hitting .340 in 2020 and drawing 18 walks in 16 games.

T.J. Reeves’ 2020 numbers are out of context due to a slump to start a shortened season, but the expectation is for him to return to his form from the end of 2019, when he had hits in eight of his last 12 SEC games

Proving grounds, five through eight: 3B Zane Denton, CF Jackson Tate and RF William Hamiter

All three had inconclusive results in small sample sizes in 2020, the three combining for 79 at-bats; for context, Praytor had 60 and did not lead the team in that category. Jackson Tate is the team’s best defender in center field, thus average offensive production would likely be enough to keep him in the lineup daily. Zane Denton and William Hamiter are both second-year players who have earned the coaching staff’s praise in their development over the offseason, but neither has seen a single pitch from an SEC pitcher.

No. 9 hitter, shortstop Jim Jarvis

Jim Jarvis has a strong two-strike approach and speed on the base paths, making him both an attractive option to help turn the lineup over and a viable option to score on the power potential from the top of UA’s lineup. On pure talent, Jarvis is better than UA’s ninth-best hitter, but putting him ninth increases the likelihood of runners on base when Wilson, Reeves and others step into the box.

Starting rotation: Connor Prielipp, Antoine Jean, Dylan Smith

UA coach Brad Bohannon announced the rotation for opening weekend Tuesday morning, shocking no one by keeping Connor Prielipp in the opening-day starter role but shifting the other two spots with respect to last year's rotation.

Prielipp was a shoe-in to hold the space he held last season, after allowing no runs and five hits over 21 innings. Antoine Jean gets a bump from third starter to second starter, but Dylan Smith is the winner of the preseason on the pitching staff. Smith was seventh among bullpen pitchers in innings last season, handling just 6 1/3 innings in UA's 17 games, and now he has worked his way up to a starting role.

This rotation is no guarantee to stay in tact for a week, much less the entire season: Bohannon said seven or eight pitchers will get extended outings in the season's opening weeks, making it easy for pitchers to work their way into or out of the starting rotation.

Projecting Tyler Ras to take the place Connor Shamblin held last year is primarily a reflection of their respective performance: Shamblin had a 4.05 earned run average over four starts, while Ras did not allow an earned run 11 1/3 innings, often taking longer stints out of the bullpen.

Whether as a starter or reliever, Shamblin and several others are likely to receive extended outings early in the season. Bohannon said seven or eight pitchers will get extended outings in the season’s opening weeks.

Peyton Wilson flips a ball to himself as he waits to take the field. The Crimson Tide played Harvard Crimson in the first game of the weekend series Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Sewell-Thomas Stadium. [Staff Photo/Gary Cosby Jr.]

Bullpen stars

Chase Lee and Brock Guffey will be the ones UA turns to in late-game situations, given the two held the roles last year and combined to allow eight hits in 19 2/3 innings.

If UA needs a bridge between starters and long relief options to Lee and Guffey, Landon Green could fit the task. He has big shoes to fill after Casey Cobb thrived in the role, managing 12 1/3 innings with a 0.73 ERA.

Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or bhudson@tuscaloosanews.com or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson