HOWDY! Welcome back to Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park! The countdown clock officially reads ZERO #DaysToAggieBaseball; an unbelievably welcome sight. A lot has changed in Aggieland since we last saw the Maroon & White take the field at Olsen. Approximately every 32.61 minutes, a new, annoyingly- and uber-luxurious student housing complex sprouts up from the cracks in the concrete, the new Music Activities Center over on Duncan Field is underway, and then there was this:
Brought to you by #TAMU & @Whataburger...— Texas A&M University (@TAMU) December 10, 2018
The Taquito Taxi, serving up hot & fresh taquitos, gift bags, shirts, & more to help Aggies #BTHOfinals!
Find the Taquito Taxi tonight around Evans & WCL starting at 11 p.m.! pic.twitter.com/0s2j1VL9UN
On the athletics front, change is a-flowin’ as well. The football team only lost four games (okay, yes, I hear you, but Jimbo! Seven overtimes!), the softball team got a beautiful, brand spankin’ new stadium (yes, I know it opened last year, work with me here... sheesh), and the basketball team... you know what? Never mind.
For our beloved Olsen boys, aside from the usual changes to the cast of characters Rob Childress runs out there due to the MLB draft, transfers, etc., this year marks the first season in which the Ags were left out of D1Baseball’s Preseason Top 25 since their inaugural rankings back in 2015. In fact, the only publication of the big four to rank the Aggies at all was Collegiate Baseball, who has A&M at 29. It’s safe to say that the general expectations for this team nationally are not quite where they were leading into 2016. But hey, at least they’ll be rocking some badass new threads this year!
If there is one constant we can count on, however, it is the production that is game day at Olsen Field. Down on the field, Nick McKenna (@aggiefieldguy) and his crew are putting the finishing touches to the most well-manicured playing surface in the biz. Olsen never disappoints in its beauty, thanks to the best damn field staff in the country. Out behind the left field wall, Beefy Sausage is running wind sprints as he once again prepares to defend his Slovacek Sausage Races regular season championship. I’m hearing from sources that Jalapeño Sausage put in a ton of work this offseason and is in the best shape of his life. Up in the press box, PAs Rick Hill (@OlsenPA_Rick) prepare for the onslaught of totally legitimate, not-at-all-insane requests for everyone’s segment, #RickHits. In the past, we’ve lobbied for Rick to play Migos, Future, and others, but our efforts were to no avail. The plan entering 2019 was to suggest that Rick play Travis Scott. However, one Good Ag took the bull by the horns and made Travis Scott his walk up song to start the season, forcing Rick’s hand (shout out Hunter Coleman because Mamacita is a banger). Now, the plan has shifted to Sheck Wes’ cultural phenomenon Mo Bamba. Do it, Rick. You know you want to.
Entering the 2018 season, some pretty heavy expectations were heaped on the Aggies. The previous year, the Ags rode a hot streak and a few fortunate breaks all the way to the College World Series, and the majority of the biggest contributors to that run were back for 2018. Yet the team struggled mightily, losing seven of their 10 SEC series and finishing the year 13-17 in conference. Despite a top-15 RPI, they wound up needing a deep run in the SEC Tournament to make a regional, which then ended in disappointing fashion. That said, at least didn’t lose to TCU again. Silver linings and what not. The good news is that the core players from 2018, which includes the main offensive contributors from the 2017 team, are back, as are the two arms that shone brightest at the end of last season. D1Baseball has A&M projected as a two seed in a regional hosted by Baylor, which feels even more gross than last year’s regional destination. Should be an interesting ride, at the very least!
Position Players (2018 Stats)
Each of the players on this list had their hand in some important moments last season and during their entire time in Aggieland. Like a flash of intense, bright light, 2B Michael F. Helman proved to be a perfect complement to Braden Shewmake up the middle during his only season in maroon and white. He led the team in most offensive categories, and he even took home the SEC batting title, edging Kentucky’s Kole Cottam by a full 17 points. Helman was taken by the Minnesota Twins in the 11th round of the 2018 MLB Draft, and his production will be tough to replace. 1B/RHP Chris Andritsos, like Helman, was another big producer to only play a single season in Aggieland. On the second weekend of the season, he hit for the cycle against Cornell, which was the second cycle by an Aggie that week. A nagging injury caused Andritsos to come in and out of the lineup as the season progressed, but in the SEC Tournament, he found his stroke again against Georgia, smacking two homers and leading the Ags to a 7-0 victory. C Cole Bedford saw some regression at the plate last season after his breakout 2017, but he always seemed to come up big when they needed him. Andritsos and Bedford each decided to retire from baseball in the offseason. 3B George Janca also had a bit of a setback at the plate in 2018, but his knack for Olsen Magic will live on in Olsen lore forever.
Pitchers (2018 Stats)
Arguably, the pitching staff took the biggest hit from the draft and graduation. RHP Mitchell Kilkenny, who was taken in the second round by Colorado, began the season as the Aggies’ Sunday starter, but by season’s end he was battling SEC aces on Friday nights. He was consistently A&M’s best, most reliable starter. It wasn’t until his tenth start of the season that he allowed more than three earned runs in an outing. RHP Nolan Hoffman (5th Rd. — Seattle), yet another huge contributor to forgo his senior season after just one year in Aggieland, was simply phenomenal. With his unorthodox style (by unorthodox, I mean insane and insanely awesome) combined with his submarine pitching motion, Hoffman will forever be remembered by the Aggie faithful. That he tied the single-season program record for saves at 14, with 11 of those being the multiple-inning variety, is just icing on the cake. RPH Cason Sherrod (7th Rd. — Miami) and LHP Kaylor Chafin were both huge parts of the bullpen in 2017, but they both struggled with their consistency in 2018. RHP Stephen Kolek (11th Rd. — LA Dodgers) began the season as the Friday night starter, was never able to put it all together, and ended up falling out of the rotation altogether by season’s end.
Position Players (2018 Stats)
Luckily for the Aggies, the majority of the team’s core is still intact. OF Logan Foster burst onto the scene his freshman year in 2017, before he hit the figurative wall a lot of fish seem to hit. But in 2018, Foster was back and better than before, leading the team in homers, ranking second in RBIs, extra base hits, OBP, SLG, and walks, and ranking third in total bases. OF Zach DeLoach got off to a white-hot start in his freshman campaign, hitting for the cycle the first week of his Aggie career. He hit a similar wall, his production at the plate waned, but he found his stroke about halfway through conference play and finished the season on a strong note. INF/OF Allonte Wingate became the team’s almost Ben Zobrist-/Marwin Gonzalez-like utility player in his first season at A&M, with solid production whenever he saw the field. He had about half the number of ABs than that of the more regular contributors, and he should see the field much more this season. With the regular ABs, hopefully Wingate can expound on his solid first season.
Now for your first weekly reminder of 2019 that SS Braden Shewmake is REALLY GOOD AT BASEBALL:
"Yeah, we're just trying to play good base-"— Nick Early (@Nurly13) March 15, 2017
"BRADEN SHEWMAKE IS BETTER THAN YOUR ENTIRE TEAM!!" pic.twitter.com/fZhyz7l5bT
Pitchers (2018 Stats)
Though the Aggie pitching staff lost some incredible arms, the guys that are back have a chance to be special. LHP John Doxakis was outstanding in his sophomore campaign in 2018, which included him out-dueling the eventual No. 1 overall pick in last year’s draft, Auburn’s Casey Mize, in the SEC Tournament. He’s getting the ball tonight, and should he continue to build on his impressive showing last season, watch out. LHP Asa Lacy was one of the most dependable multi-inning arms out of the bullpen in his freshman season last year, and his stock really took off after his start against Georgia in the SEC Tournament. In that start, he threw 6.0 innings of shutout baseball, allowing just three hits and a hit batter, walking three, and striking out eight. He’ll be the Saturday guy to begin the season, and word around town is that the 1-2 punch of Dox and Lacy will be fun to watch. LHP Chandler Jozwiak is the only other returning arm that pitched more than 20 innings in 2018. He began the season as the Saturday starter, but inconsistency with his command led to some quick hooks in his first three starts. That pushed him out of the rotation and into the midweek starter role. In his second season, it would not be surprising to see Jozwiak shine with a whole season’s worth of experience under his belt.
Dates to Know
February 15-15: Opening Weekend vs. Fordham
March 1-3: The Shriners College Classic in Houston, Texas. Taking on Baylor (yuck), TCU (*shudders*) and Houston
March 8-10: The Aggies host Gonzaga, in which there will be no basketballs in sight
March 15-17: A&M opens SEC play, as they host preseason No. 1 Vanderbilt and probably that damn whistler
March 19: The Ags host Rice, where Wayne Graham will... not be there? Wow, that’s gonna be weird
March 22-24: Aggies are heading to Lexington to take on Kentucky, another series in which there will be no basketballs
April 2: Our best friends from Austin welcoming the Ags over to their house for a play date. Unfortunately, Kody Clemens won’t be there to stare into the dugout again :(
April 5-7: Callin’ Baton Rouge! (someone make sure to sneak Walker Pennington onto the team bus)
April 18-20: The Ags will make the trip to Columbia, SC
April 25-27: The Aggies head to Oxford in a showdown with preseason top 10 Ole Miss
May 2-4: The Ags host CLANGA, where they can’t hide in the friendly confines of the New Dude and its stupid, dumb, convex RF corner
May 16-18: The Hogs come to town to close out the regular season
May 21-26: SEC Tournament in Hoover, AL
The last two times A&M entered a season with low(er than usual) expectations, the team ended up enjoying some pretty prosperous campaigns. First in 2015, the Aggies were slated preseason No. 17 by D1Baseball, and that team surprised a lot of people by starting the season 24-0, spending a short amount of time (aka a week) at No. 1 in mid-April, and hosted (and won) a regional before getting bounced in the Fort Worth Super (*extreme sigh*). The second time was in 2017, when D1Baseball had the Ags at No. 20. Despite a pretty rough season, they still somehow ended up in Omaha. The nucleus is back once again for 2019, and should those guys play to their potential, the Ags have the chance to open some eyes around the country one more time.
As you can expect, the SEC will be a gauntlet. With eight teams in D1Baseball’s 2019 Preseason Top 25, including the top two teams in the country and five in the top 10, the firepower looks to be concentrated in the SEC. The Ags will face six of those eight and three of the top 10 in conference play, and they’ll take on two other ranked teams in the College Classic at the beginning of March. The level of competition this season will be as good as it’s ever been for A&M, so there is plenty of opportunity to prove themselves.
Now it’s time to break out the bubbles! First pitch is scheduled for 6:32 pm tonight, 2:02 pm on Saturday afternoon, and 12:02 pm on Sunday. You can catch the games on SEC Network+, where former SEC Player of the Year and Noted Good Ag Boomer(!) White(!) will join Will Johnson in the booth, and SportsRadio 1150 AM/The Zone 102.7 FM. You can also follow along with live stats at tamu.statbroadcast.com on desktop or tamustats.com on your mobile device. See y’all at Olsen, and BTHO Fordham!