Texas A&M Baseball 2017 Season Preview
By: Tyler Tumbleson and Jason Anderson
After consecutive successful seasons and back to back trips to the Super Regionals, Texas A&M could be in for a possible rebuilding season under manager Rob Childress. The Aggies lost 2016 SEC Player of the Year Boomer White, as well as Michael Barash, Hunter Melton, Ryne Birk, J.B. Moss, and Nick Banks to the MLB Draft. Despite an influx of talent from the high school ranks, there is a lack of experience that could be problematic as a difficult season in the SEC goes on. However, the talent this squad gives them the look of a NCAA tournament team from day one, with the overall pitching to enable them to make a run if the lineup is able to perform consistently.
Offense: The question mark coming into the season is whether the starting nine in the lineup will be able to adjust quickly to SEC life. It will be much different from last year’s team, which was quite possibly the most well rounded lineup one through nine in the entire league, with power and consistent average. The power from last year will not be replicated, but if all things go correctly, there could be some productive pieces that will be able to get hits consistently. This could start and end with shortstop Austin Homan, who stepped in during the middle of SEC play last season and hit over .350 the rest of the way. Another good source of hits could be center fielder Nick Choruby. The speedy left-handed hitter has shown flashes of being an excellent table setter throughout his career, despite fading towards the end of last season. Walker Pennington is an intriguing power option in the outfield and will be the starting left fielder come Opening Day. Joel Davis and George Janca will man the corner spots, with Davis playing first base and Janca at the hot corner. They each played at points last season and displayed ability, and a full offseason should help them become more consistent. Freshmen 2B Braden Shewmake and C Hunter Coleman should be implemented from Opening Day, but it is unclear to this point who won the starting catcher role between Coleman, whose best tool is his bat, and sophomore Cole Bedford, who is solid behind the plate but has questions in the batter’s box. Shewmake reportedly had an amazing fall camp and there is a lot of excitement about his potential in all facets of the game. Freshman Logan Foster could also see some playing time at designated hitter. His bat speed has been noted as perhaps the best on the team. Overall, there is a lot of talent at every position and with maturity and time this could improve to be a very formidable lineup, similar to last season’s LSU lineup that had the same experience questions to open the year. However, how quickly the squad picks up high-caliber SEC pitching will be the difference.
Defense: Similar to the offensive aspect of this Texas A&M team, defense will truly be unanswered until games begin. Choruby is elite in center field and in the outfield is where a lot of his value will be provided. Janca and Homan, who will man the left side of the infield, both had their issues at shortstop last year. While both have the ability and made their fair share of flashy plays, they also made their fair share of errors on routine plays. Janca, whose arm is quite strong, could become a surprise should his glove improve from last season. If the defensive issues continue in 2017, it looks like Shewmake, who should start at second base but has the frame to slide over to that side of the infield easily, could switch positions with either of them. In the outfield, Pennington and Blake Kopetsky, who did not play in 2016 due to injury, both have looked solid in their limited time in the outfield, and with Choruby should round out a good defensive outfield. Behind the plate, if Coleman starts, it remains to be seen if he will be ready to receive a pitching staff as a true freshman effectively. While defense tends to be overlooked by many, it could certainly impact how the season goes for this unproven bunch.
Pitching: This is undoubtedly the strength of Texas A&M this season. Despite losing Kyle Simonds from the rotation and Jace Vines, Ryan Hendrix, Andrew Vinson, and Mark Ecker from the bullpen, the team still returns many contributors from a staff that was quite effective last season. The weekend rotation should be headlined by Friday night starter Brigham Hill, who despite being drafted opted to return to College Station for this season. He consistently throws in the 92-94 mph range, with excellent tail and depth to his fastball, a sharp slider, and his best pitch, a plus changeup that has incredible sink and is effective against both right handed and left handed hitters. He also has the ability to control each of these pitches very well. However, he may not even be the highest drafted pitcher for the Aggies come next June. Corbin Martin begun last season in the rotation, but control issues forced him to the bullpen, where he struggled to find a niche due to his control. However, after an extremely impressive summer in the Cape Cod League, he has been dubbed a preseason All-American, and it doesn’t take much to see why. His best pitch is his fastball, which comes effortlessly in the upper 90s and has touched triple digits on occasion. He also possesses a good curveball and an improving changeup, but his ability to control these will ultimately define if he lives up to his high potential. In somewhat of a surprise, it looks like he will be the closer this season instead of the Saturday starter. However, this could be a beneficial move, as he definitely has the stuff to lock down games in later innings. The Saturday starter spot should belong to junior Turner Larkins, who was quite effective in long stretches coming out of the bullpen last year, and Mitchell Kilkenny, who in limited action impressed out of the bullpen but has dealt with injuries during the fall, should start on Sunday if he is able to stay healthy. The bullpen contains Stephen Kolek, Cason Sherrod, John Doxakis, Kyle Richardson, and Kaylor Chafin. Kolek, Sherrod, and Chafin all pitched last season, and each of them have the electric stuff to create a formidable staff. Whichever rotation and bullpen arrangement Coach Childress uses has the talent and experience to keep Texas A&M in games and competitive with anyone.
Friday—RHP Brigham Hill
Saturday—RHP Turner Larkins
Sunday—RHP Mitchell Kilkenny
Closer: RHP Corbin Martin