It's here! Zero days to Aggie Baseball. Man, does that sound good. I hope you have plenty of refills for your bubble machines because it's Fightin' Texas Aggie Game Day at Olsen! Coming off of another up-and-down 2015 campaign (although last year had quite a few more ups than downs), Rob Childress' Aggies look to build off of the program's best seasons since their CWS berth in 2011, where they won 50 games for just the fifth time in program history. The addition of Hitting Coach Will Bolt prior to 2015 paid off very well for Childress. The Ags ranked 21st nationally in batting average (.299) and seventh in hits (655), which was up from 52nd and 30th in 2014 respectively. They also jumped 92 spots in total home runs from 95th to 3rd in the country after hitting 45 more #WHAMMYs in 2015 than they did the year before.
Like most teams around the country, the Ags lost some major contributors from last year, but they return a huge nucleus of veterans that were key to their success a year ago. Add in a few impact transfers and freshmen, and the maroon and white should be set to pick up right where they left off.
Position Players (2015 Stats)
The most significant departure is, without question, team leader SS Blake Allemand. More often than not, the offense went as Allemand went, and his ability to not only set the table for the rest of the lineup but drive in runs himself was key to the Ags' powerful offensive attack. Allemand was selected in the fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers, which was very, very well deserved. DH/C Mitchell Nau, whose consistent bat led the team in hits and batting average, will be missed as well, but he remained in College Station as a graduate assistant upon graduation. LF Logan Taylor, who served as one of the primary power outlets for the Ags in a breakout year in 2015, chose to forego his senior season after being drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 12th round, and slugger Logan Nottebrok signed with the Kansas City Royals upon graduation. G.R. Hinsley and Patrick McLendon, the Aggies' primary pinch-hitter and defensive infield substitution, also graduated following 2015. Both Hinsley and McLendon played important roles for the Ags, and finding guys to step into those roles will be key. The great news is that there are plenty of options for Childress in terms of replacements, but we'll get to that later.
Pitchers (2015 Stats)
Matt Kent, as many Aggie fans remember, was the unsung hero of the 2015 pitching staff. His ability to come up with clutch performance after clutch performance throughout the regular season and postseason was amazing to watch. Kent, who graduated following the season, was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round. A.J. Minter started the year as the Friday night starter, and until he injured his throwing arm during the Houston College Classic, he was dominant. Minter was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the second round. Grayson Long, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the 3rd round, took over Friday night duties after Minter went down, and gave the Ags just what they needed when facing the other teams' ace. I've included Tyler Stubblefield on this list because, as I'm sure you've heard at this point, he was dismissed from the team just last month.
Position Players (2015 Stats)
It's no secret that OF Nick Banks, who was recently named to the Golden Spikes Award Watchlist, is one of, if not the most important returning position player for Rob Childress and the Aggies. Banks will likely move over to center field full time this season after spending the last two seasons in right. 2B Ryne Birk is also a huge piece for the Aggies' offense, given that he was the team co-leader in home runs in 2015. Big boppers Hunter Melton and Ronnie Gideon will look to build off of their own strong 2015 campaigns, and J.B. Moss, Jonathan Moroney, Blake Kopetsky and Nick Choruby will battle for the corner outfield spots. C Michael Barash will no doubt be the man behind the plate once again, and his relationship with the pitching staff and his leadership both on and off the field will be vital for the Ags this season.
Pitchers (2015 Stats)
|Lee May Gonzalez||0-0||1||0||1.0||0.00||1.000||0||0||.333|
A&M's biggest strength, as has usually been the case since Childress took over the program 10 years ago, lies in the pitching staff. Much like last season, they will be without their probable Friday night starter (Stubblefield), but have the pitching depth to overcome that loss. Earlier this week, it was announced that RHP Kyle Simonds and RHP Corbin Martin will be the Friday and Saturday guys to start the season. Both Simonds and Martin looked very, very strong throughout the fall and spring scrimmages. The two-headed bullpen monster of Mark Ecker and Ryan Hendrix are back, and both are throwing in the upper 90s with consistency. Hendrix even hit 101 in a scrimmage recently (lolwat). Throw in curveball specialist Andrew Vinson, who had the lowest ERA on the team last year, and you can see why so many people are excited about Childress' veteran pitching staff.
In the interest of time and word count (this is a lot to read I know), I'm not going to list every new addition to the maroon and white. Instead, here's a list of the guys that have a very good chance to have an immediate impact this season. They are listed alphabetically because playing favorites is just wrong. *Admires vast collection of participation trophies from the YMCA*
Joel Davis (OF; JUCO) - A junior from Midwest City, Oklahoma, Davis transfers to A&M from Seminole State, where he played for two seasons. He got plenty of at bats throughout the fall and spring, and will battle for the starting spot for the corner outfield positions. Don't be surprised to see his left-handed bat platooned with one of the many right-handed bats on the roster.
Austin Homan (INF; JUCO) - A junior from Houston, Texas, Homan comes to A&M from San Jacinto College after helping San Jac reach the JUCO World Series in 2015. If he doesn't snag the starting spot at shortstop, he will be a very good candidate to fill in the role vacated by the graduation of Patrick McLendon.
Tyler Ivey (RHP) - As you've probably seen already, Ivey was announed as the Sunday starter for the maroon and white. It was a bit of a surprise to see him crack the starting rotation as a true freshman, but the fact remains that Ivey was one of the most prized signees in the 2015 signing class. Ivey comes to A&M from Rockwall Heath HS in Rockwall, Texas.
George Janca (INF) - Many expect Janca (pronounced YAHN-chuh according to 12thman.com) to be the starting shortstop heading into the season. The freshman from Georgetown, Texas helped lead Georgetown HS to the state championship his senior year. There may be some growing pains while adjusting to the college game, but he should be a good one for the maroon and white.
Walker Pennington (OF; JUCO) - Originally a TCU Horned Frog coming out of high school, Pennington transferred to San Jac in 2015 before transferring again to A&M this season. The junior from Houston, Texas and Memorial HS will battle with Davis, Moss, Moroney, Choruby and Kopetsky for those corner outfield spots. Pennington looked strong during the fall and spring scrimmages, and has a very good opportunity to snag one of those starting positions. Much like Davis, don't be surprised to see Pennington platoon with one of the left-handed bats in the outfield.
Jace Vines (RHP; JUCO) - A sophomore from Prosper, Texas, Vines transfers to A&M from Tyler Junior College, where he was named the NJCAA Division III Pitcher of the Year in 2015. Vines competed to win a job in the weekend rotation, but will now likely pitch in relief. As evidenced by his performance in 2015, Vines has great control, and that demeanor that you want out there on the mound.
Boomer White (INF; TCU) - Another former Horned Frog, White comes into his "money" year after sitting out 2015 due to transfer rules. You may remember him from his stellar performance during the 2014 season and the 2014 CWS, where he made clutch catches and came up with clutch hit after clutch hit. White will take over third base duties this season, and his the potential to have the biggest impact on the entire team. This was a huge pick up for Childress and the Aggies.
Dates to Know
February 19-21: Opening Weekend vs. Hofstra
February 26-28: Road Series at Pepperdine in Malibu, California
March 15: Tuesday game vs Texas and the first meeting between the two since the 2014 Houston Regional
March 18-20: Ags open up SEC play at Auburn
March 24-26: LSU comes to Olsen
March 29: Ags travel down to Houston to take on the Cougars in a midweek match up
April 1-3: Aggies head over to Gainesville, Florida to take on the Gators in a possible top 10 match up
April 5: A&M head back down to Houston to take on the Rice Owls
May 5-7: The Vanderbilt Commodores come to town in what could be yet another top 10 showdown
There is a lot of hype surrounding the Ags coming into this season, and rightfully so. This is a team that has the potential to host not only a Regional, but a Super Regional as well. Will that happen? You never know, but given the amount of talent and veteran leadership that the Ags return from 2015, plus the talent that the coaches brought in, the sky is the limit for this team. After a heartbreaking exit from the postseason in the Fort Worth Super Regional, this team is out to prove that they really are the championship contenders that they were thought to be last season.
I'm not usually a guy that likes to make predictions because of how wrong they would probably be, but if you really twisted my arm in regards to a possible starting lineup, I'd probably go with:
1. Ryne Birk (L), 2B
2. Boomer White (R), 3B
3. Nick Banks (L), CF
4. Hunter Melton (R), 1B
5. Walker Pennington (R), LF
6. Ronnie Gideon (R), DH
7. Michael Barash (R), C
8. George Janca (R), SS
9. J.B. Moss (R), RF
Depending on whether or not the coaches decide to go with a platoon system in the outfield, you could interchange the Moss and Pennington with Davis and Kopetsky.
I hope you have your bubble machines ready and rearing to go. The weather for this weekend is looking nice, so make sure you get to Olsen. First pitch is slated for 6:35 pm on Friday, 2:00 pm on Saturday and 12:00 pm on Sunday. Let's enjoy some Fightin' Texas Aggie Baseball, and BTHO Hofstra!