Gone from the Tide are seniors Jeremy Brown, Lance Cormier, Brent Boyd, Shane Sanders, and Scott McClanahan, but an abundance of pitching returns, coupled by some talented young hitters. Wells will be heading into his ninth season in 2003, and there's no reason to think that next year's team will be any less competitive than this year.
It all starts with pitching…Something that carried the Tide this year. Cormier and Sanders both depart, but next year's Friday night slot could fall into the hands of Taylor Tankersley (8-5, 2.62 ERA, 7 saves). The left-handed pitcher from Vicksburg, Miss. was named to the Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball First-Team Freshman All-America team.
An abundance of arms will fight for the other two spots in the weekend rotation. Josh Baker (3-1, 5.92, RHP, Soph.), a fourth-round draft pick by the Texas Rangers, had an injury-marred freshman year, but if he returns to form, he will be tough.
Brent Carter (2-0, 3.31, LHP, Soph.) showed what he could do in throwing a complete game against FAU in the first game of the regional championship. He could be a valuable asset in the bullpen or as a starter.
Jeffrey Norris (6-1, 3.34, LHP, Jr.) came up big in postseason wins over Florida, South Carolina, and Southeast Missouri State. The Saturday starter for the last half of the year, Norris also has a chance to play a large role.
Jared Woodward (6-1, 4.52, RHP, Jr.), a Tuscaloosa native, filled in the role as midweek starter and had some key appearances out of the bullpen this year.
Brian Reed (5-0, 1.75, RHP, Sr.) should return as the closer and will be a very effective "shut the door" type guy.
The youngster with the most credentials coming in will be Allen Ponder, a hard-throwing righty from Auburn. Ponder sported an 0.09 earned run average during his senior season at Lee-Scott Academy.
Other players with a chance to contribute include Landon Brazell (0-0, 6.75, RHP, Jr.) Eric Mennen (2-0, 4.66, RHP, Soph.), and Martin Larocca, Coley Blakeney, Jacob Legg, and Dewayne Marlowe. Larocca, Blakeney, Legg, and Marlowe all redshirted during the 2002 season.
At the catcher position…Replacing Jeremy Brown will be tough. Wells had signed two guys who could easily have stepped in to fill the void, but 15th round draft pick C.J. Medlin (a junior college All American) was drafted by the Chicago Cubs, and it appears 2nd round draft pick Brian McCann will sign with the Atlanta Braves.
John Marshall and Eddie Ferguson were the only catchers on the roster who started games at the position last season, and will have a chance to compete for the starting job. Charlie Lyons, who hails from Northport's Tuscaloosa County High School, was also signed for the 2003 season. Wells said in an interview on draft day that he expected to lose McCann, but didn't think he'd lose Medlin.
Look for this position to see more signees before the 2003 season starts.
In the infield…As many as six player with starting experience should return. Second baseman Peter Stonard (.411, 5 HR, 41 RBI, Jr.) highlights the group. With a productive season, Stonard could be a first-round draft pick in 2003.
Shortstop Adam Pavkovich (.272, 6 HR, 31 RBI, Jr.) and third baseman Allen Rice (.247, 0 HR, 17 RBI, Soph.) also return, but they will be pushed by senior Carlos Sosa (.269, 1 HR, 16 RBI, Sr.) and two highly touted freshmen in Billy Hogan and Evan Bush.
At first base, both Spencer Pennington (.180, 1 HR, 4 RBI, Soph.) and Zac Welch (.229, 1 HR, 14 RBI, Soph.) return with experience, although both had never played the position before 2002. Welch started to show signs of life as a hitter towards the end of the season, but some think Pennington has more natural ability. It will be interesting to see how the first base position shapes up for next season, as Brent Boyd is departing.
Beau Hearod (.335, 12 HR, 54 RBI, Sr.), used as a designated hitter as a result of injury, has a chance to play either infield or outfield. Hearod will return as the team's top power threat.
In the outfield…Scott McClanahan's departure from the center field position will be noticed, but the Tide has several athletes that are up to the challenge. Travis Garner (.323, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 26 SB, Sr.) will likely start somewhere in the outfield.
Chad White (.330, 0 HR, 17 RBI, Jr.) hit the ball well towards the end of the season, and will battle Grant Redding (.421, 2 HR, 18 RBI, Sr.) and Gabe Scott (.381, 0 HR, 8 RBI, Soph) for playing time.
Wells signed Ryan Beagle from Shelton State Community College as a left-handed outfielder/pitcher, and he will fit into the mix somewhere. Also, Brandon Avalos, an excellent athlete on scholarship to play quarterback on the football team, was a standout centerfielder in high school.
Also returning are redshirt freshmen Matt Alling and Chad Abernathy.
Stonard is also a possibility to return to the outfield, as he played right field for all of 2001 and half of 2002.
Wells likes his talentFollowing his team's disappointing loss in the Regional, Tide Head Coach Jim Wells talked about the outlook for next season. "I think we have a chance to have a good pitching staff," Wells said. "We have some good freshmen hopefully coming in, and hopefully we can get some guys to swing the bat.
"We'll have a big loss behind the plate and in center field, but we were very strong up the middle. Stonard can play anything. We'd like to keep him at second base, but could move him to center field.
"Hopefully, even with the loss of Cormier and Sanders, we can put together a strong pitching staff. We'll certainly have the numbers."