Ah, we made it. Zero #DaysToAggieBaseball, and boy does it feel good. Nick McKenna (@aggiefieldguy) and the field staff are putting the finishing touches on the finest, most beautifully manicured field in college baseball. PA Rick Hill (@OlsenPA_Rick) is gearing up for the barrage of Dixieland Delight requests during every installment of #RickHits (maybe we can get Rick to play Migos this year? Please, Rick?). If you listen closely, you can already hear Thunderstruck playing in the distance. Are your bubble machines ready?
In 2016, the Aggies truly had a year to remember. A senior/upperclassman-laden team, featuring some of the more talented players that have played under Rob Childress here at Texas A&M, finished their season at 49-16 (20-10 SEC, 8-3 Postseason). They fought their way through the losers bracket of the SEC Tournament en route to becoming the 2016 SEC Tournament Champions, their first conference tournament championship since joining the SEC.
That team featured one of the most prolific offenses in college baseball last year. They finished the year with the 15th highest batting average in Division I, hitting at a .311 clip, which was behind only Louisville (ACC) and Minnesota (B1G) among the Power 5 conferences. They also posted a team slugging percentage of .467, good enough for 22nd among all DI schools and second among P5 schools.
The 2016 team also featured an incredibly talented pitching staff. RHP Mark Ecker posted a sparkling line of 4-2, with a ridiculous 0.39 ERA, eight saves and 56 strikeouts in 46.2 innings pitched. RHP Andrew Vinson had a pretty fantastic season of his own, posting a 4-3 record, with an ERA of 2.32 while striking out 57 batters in 50.1 innings. Those two combined to make up one of the strongest back-ends of a bullpen in the SEC.
The 2017 Aggie Baseball Team will look a bit different than last year’s iteration. That’s not to say that there won’t still be plenty of bubbles flying around Olsen. But when you have to replace six regular starters from the previous year, all of whom played vital roles for a team that was ranked #1 in the country multiple times, there will inevitably be some growing pains. That said, there is potential for this team to make some noise in conference and the postseason.
Position Players (2016 Stats)
That is quite a bit of firepower that the Ags will be replacing this year. 3B Boomer White was easily the most consistent hitter for the Ags last year. You could always count on Boomer to get you a few knocks and drive in a few runs every game, which is how he ended up hitting over .400 for a majority of the season. Boom was drafted in the 10th round by the San Diego Padres. Where Boomer supplied the consistency, 1B Hunter Melton (18th Rd. - Colorado) provided the power. With those two guys manning the middle of the order, you can see why the offense was so explosive. C Michael Barash (9th Rd. - LA Angels) had quite the breakout party in 2016, upping his numbers across the board from 2015. OF Nick Banks (4th Rd. - Washington) had a roller coaster-type season, but his performance in the SEC Tournament is what fueled the Ags on their run to the championship. OF J.B. Moss (7th Rd. - Atlanta) had a breakout hear of his own, and J.B.’s at the top of the lineup really set the tone for the offense. 2B Ryne Birk (13th Rd. - Houston) usually hit a bit down the order, which made the lineup seem so long to opposing pitchers. Then you had guys like OF Jonathan Moroney (undrafted) and 3B Ronnie Gideon (35th Rd. - Colorado) who could come off the bench and provide a spark that not many other teams had.
Pitchers (2016 Stats)
We’ve already mentioned Ecker (5th Rd. - Detroit) and Vinson (10th Rd. - LA Angels), but one guy that had just as much of an impact was RHP Kyle Simonds (14th - Washington). Mr. Simonds gave us some pretty good moments last year. RHP Ryan Hendrix (5th Rd. - Cincinnati) didn’t have his best year for the maroon and white, but he was still one of the most talented arms that Childress has had at his disposal since the days of Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling. RHP Jace Vines’ (4th Rd. - Kansas City) time in Aggieland was short-lived, but he was a talented arm that was capable of taking a game over.
Position Players (2016 Stats)
A good portion have plenty of experience. During a season of notable stories, one of the more intriguing was SS Austin Homan stepping in mid-season and taking the starting job at short. His bat lengthened an already long lineup, and provided a huge spark at a position that needed it. Homan will likely start the year as the primary shortstop. Prior to last season, OF Nick Choruby‘s role had been a speedy baserunner and defensive replacement. But 2016 served as a breakout year for the senior outfielder. Expect to see Choruby manning centerfield in 2017. Seniors 1B Joel Davis and OF Walker Pennington played some big parts on last year’s team, but the team will likely look to these two to provide the thump in the middle of the lineup. While they both saw their share of ups and downs, the consistency of playing everyday should do them both well. 3B George Janca began the 2016 season as the starting shortstop, but lost his job mid-season after some struggles adjusting to the college game. This season, Janca is sliding over to the hot corner, and by all accounts this has been huge for him. OF/LHP Blake Kopetsky was sidelined with an injury for all but two plate appearances last season. Expect the Bryan native to nab a starting corner outfield spot. Last, but certainly not least, sophomore C Cole Bedford will look to take over the spot vacated by Michael Barash’s graduation. He’ll have some huge shoes to fill, and there should be plenty of competition from one of the newcomers.
Pitchers (2016 Stats)
The easy place to start here is RHP Brigham Hill, who will likely man the Friday night duties for the Aggies this season. As a sophomore last year, Hill was one of the brightest spots and the most consistent starter on the pitching staff. He’s poised to take over as “The Man” in the weekend rotation. RHP Corbin Martin, who was recently named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list, began last season in the starting rotation before succumbing to the control issues that have plagued him since he arrived in Aggieland. This year, however, Martin should start the season as Childress’ closer. He’s a guy with crazy arm talent, and if he can get his control issues fixed, he could be a first-round pick in the MLB Draft. The rest of the starting rotation this weekend will be filled by righties Stephen Kolek and Mitchell Kilkenny.
What the Ags lack in experience (relatively speaking, of course), they make up for in incoming talent. This group of freshmen and transfers is something to get very excited about. In the interest of time and word count, I’ll only mention a few, but these guys have people around the program very excited. They’re listed alphabetically, because we love them all equally <3.
Jorge Gutierrez (INF/C) - A freshman from Sugar Land, Gutierrez spent two years at Clements before moving over to Kempner. He was named All-District 23-6A First Team in his final two seasons at Kempner, and he was named the District 23-6A MVP as a junior in 2015. The kid can play ball.
Braden Shewmake (SS/2B) - A freshman from Wylie Shewmake comes in as one of the most talented freshmen to suit up for the maroon and white in quite a while. He lettered all four years at Wylie East, and he hit .495 in his senior season. He was also named to the Texas SportsWriters Association Class 5A All-State First Team, the District 10-5A MVP and All-District 10-5A First Team last year. By all accounts, this kid is something to watch. Expect to see him starting at second tonight.
Hunter Coleman (C) - A freshman from Midland, Coleman comes in hoping to battle Cole Bedford for the starting job behind the dish. He was named the District 3-6A Offensive MVP and garnered First Team All-District honors in his senior season at Midland Lee. His father is David Coleman, who many might remember served as an assistant coach under Mark Johnson from 1998 to 2005. Expect to see plenty of Mr. Coleman this year.
John Doxakis (LHP) - A freshman from Houston (Hol’ it Dine), Doxakis was a three-time all-district pitcher, including All-Greater Houston in his senior year at Lamar High School. Doxakis logged a 0.84 ERA and a 1.40 ERA in his junior and senior seasons, respectively. Oh, and he also hit .320 and .301 in those years. He good.
Cam Blake (OF) - A freshman from Round Rock, Blake lettered all four years at Round Rock High School, and was named to the All-District 13-6A teams in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Blake will fight for one of the corner outfield spots behind Walker Pennington and Blake Kopetsky, but expect to see plenty of him as the season progresses.
Logan Foster (OF) - A freshman from Lincoln, Nebraska, Foster also lettered all four years at Lincoln Southwest High School, and he was twice named to the All-Nebraska First Team by the Omaha World-Herald. Much like Cam Blake, Foster should see his share of action this year.
Tim Lichty (OF/1B) - A junior from Reno, Nevada, Lichty transfers in from Western Nevada CC, where he “mashed to the tune of a .369 (nice) batting average, 20 doubles, 10 home runs, and 55 RBI” in his sophomore season. Don’t be surprised to see Lichty fill in for Joel Davis at times over at first, or in the outfield at some point.
Dates to Know
February 17-19: Opening Weekend vs. Bowling Green
February 24-26: Pepperdine makes the return trip to College Station.
March 3-5: Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston. The Ags will take on Texas Tech (gross), TCU (why can’t we ever get away from those guys my BAS is already inflamed) and Baylor (eye roll emoji).
Tuesday, March 14: The Ags make a return trip to Austin (ew) to take on the now-Garrido-less sips, er, Longhorns. Take a minute to remember one of the reasons we all love Michael Barash so much.
March 17-19: Ags open up SEC play, as they host Kentucky.
Tuesday, March 21: Rice is in town, and they’ll probably start throw their Friday night starter against one of our midweek starters because Wayne Graham.
March 24-26: Who wants to go to Nashville with me? The Ags take on those #VandyBoys.
March 30-April 1: Ags return to Alex Box Stadium for the first time since their epic #1/#2 showdown in 2015. This one will be fun.
April 13-15: TUSCALOOSA PAWL GET TO SEENT THEIR NEW STADIUM PAWL
May 18-20: The Hogs will be in town for the final regular season series.
May 23-28: SEC Tournament in Hoover. My sources tell me that the Ags had fun there last year, but I can’t quite confirm just yet. That’ll be $12.95.
This season is should be an interesting one. The team won’t have as many big boppers as they did last year, but there’s no reason not to have faith in the offensive system Will Bolt and Justin Seely have in place. So while there might not be as many baseballs almost literally hitting the Rec, there should still be enough offense to fill the Olsen sky with bubbles.
One thing about this team that should be an upgrade, however, will be their defensive abilities. Outside of the catcher position, where it’s almost impossible to replace Michael Barash, each of the new starters in the infield should be a boost defensively. Boomer White, Ryne Birk and Hunter Melton were all very capable defenders, but each of them had their limitations. Boomer was playing third for the first time in his life, and Melton and Birk had limited range. But this year’s infield will feature a renewed George Janca at third, the scrapper that is Austin Homan at short, wunderkind Braden Shewmake at second, and the dependable Joel Davis at first. They should be very fun to watch.
The true strength of this team will be on the mound. Brigham Hill has shown that he can be that guy on Friday nights in this conference, Stephen Kolek’s power arm will be on display, and Mitchell Kilkenny showed us last year that he’s ready to pitch on this stage. The key will be the bullpen. Their ‘pen last year had two of the best relievers in the SEC, but both of those guys are gone. Can Corbin “Whammy” Martin take the reins? He’s definitely got the talent, what with his 100-mph arm and wicked offspeed stuff, but his performance will most likely be the deciding factor for the bullpen.
The sky is the limit for the potential of this team. And if they can fight through any early growing pains, this season should be a pretty good one. I hope your bubble machines are primed and ready to go, and you’re loaded up on bubble soap refills. First pitch is slated for 6:30 pm tonight, 1:00 pm Saturday afternoon and Noon on Sunday. See y’all at Olsen, and BTHO Bowling Green!