(Photo credit to D1Baseball.com)
By seemingly every measure, Texas A&M overachieved in the 2017 season, making it all the way to the College World Series despite losing the majority of their roster from the loaded 2015 and 2016 teams. However, expectations are once again high for Rob Childress’ squad, as they will look to make it back to Omaha. Nearly all of the contributors from last year’s team are back, and the Aggies welcome another loaded freshmen class, so there are hardly any excuses for this Aggie team not to reach the promised land of college baseball.
Offensively, Texas A&M looked different than in years past. Previous lineups featured dangerous hitters one through nine, and any of them could leave the yard at any time. In 2017, the power numbers were reduced, but a lineup full of underclassmen greatly improved as the season went along and showed how dangerous they could become with that extra year of facing SEC pitching night in and night out.
The catalyst was second baseman Braden Shewmake, who, as a true freshman, was inserted into the three hole of the lineup from day one and never relinquished it. He hit .348 with 11 home runs and led the team in nearly every offensive category. The reigning SEC Freshman of the Year will once again anchor the Aggie lineup and build upon his wildly successful campaign while sliding over to his natural position of shortstop.
There are many other returning players that Aggie fans should be excited about as well. Both Cole Bedford and Hunter Coleman, the two starting catchers from a season ago, return and both should find their bats somewhere in the lineup regardless of position. Bedford, a junior this season, hit over .300 last season and showed a propensity to hit solid line drives, while Coleman also impressed in 2017 as a true freshman, hitting .283 with five home runs and an ability to truly drive the ball to all fields. Both should be near the top of the order in 2018. They are excellent defenders as well, and it is possible Coleman plays more first base this season after manning the position for most of the postseason after starter Joel Davis was sidelined with a foot injury.
Other infielders to keep an eye on as 2018 approaches are sophomore third baseman George Janca, junior transfer Michael Helman, do-it-all sophomore utility man Jorge Gutierrez, and redshirt sophomore first baseman Chris Andritsos. Janca started all but four games last season at third base and showed plus arm strength and a swing that could easily hit double digit home runs. He should return to start at third base once again in 2018. Helman is an exciting transfer addition from Hutchison Junior College in Nebraska, where he won the ABCA/Rawlings NJCAA Division-I Player of the Year after posting silly numbers, which included an average just below .500 and 17 home runs in just 60 games. He is certainly in the mix to start at second base along with sophomore Jorge Gutierrez.
Andritsos, a transfer from Oklahoma, is a first base candidate with plus raw power who could also make some appearances for the team out of the bullpen. He was Oklahoma’s Friday night starter as a freshman and could be the favorite to win the first base job. Gutierrez saw time at first, second, and third base in 2017, and can catch if needed too. He is also a switch hitter with power from both sides of the plate, as he displayed early in the season. If Gutierrez does not start, he will be a valuable piece off the bench due to his versatility. Senior third baseman/catcher Baine Schoenvogel should also get regular at bats this season, as he ended the season with the highest slugging percentage on the team.
Another true freshman who impressed and showed flashes of All-SEC potential last season was outfielder Logan Foster. He hit .280 with six home runs and, while there is no data to back this up, seemed to lead the team in exit velocity, as everything he hit was hard. He should be in the middle of the order come his sophomore season in 2018 and profiles as a right fielder due to his arm strength.
Outside of Foster, sophomore Cam Blake and true freshman Zach DeLoach should push for playing time in the outfield. There are spots to be had due to the loss of Nick Choruby (18th round pick of the Washington Nationals), Walker Pennington, and Blake Kopetsky (both graduated). Blake demonstrated the ability to hit hard line drives and get on base last season, and is definitely a candidate to lead off next season. Lichty did not get much playing time last season, but is known to have good power from the left side of the plate. However, he profiles more as a first baseman and/or designated hitter. An interesting candidate is the incoming freshman DeLoach, who is said to be incredibly well-rounded in all facets of the game. Clocked in the mid 90s on the mound and possessing a 60-yard-dash time in the 6.5 second range, he has an intriguing speed/arm strength combo that, if he is able to show promise in the fall, could boost him into the starting lineup early. It is possible that Gutierrez could see some time in the outfield as well, presumably in one of the corner spots. Transfer Allonte Wingate, a smooth defender who can play infield as well, and freshman Cole Taylor will also compete for action.
On the mound, despite losing Brigham Hill, Corbin Martin, and Turner Larkins to the draft, Rob Childress should have the talent to boast one of the deeper staffs in the country. Sophomore lefty John Doxakis showed flashes last season coming out of the pen, but really impressed in the Alaskan League this summer and is a candidate to not only join the rotation, but start on Fridays. Junior Stephen Kolek was second on the team in innings last season, and while he is not overpowering, he has the command, stuff, and presence to shore up the rotation. Junior Mitchell Kilkenny opened the year in the rotation, but was nails as a back end bullpen piece. Mixing four pitches effectively, he may be moved back to the rotation to start 2018. Perhaps the biggest name in the incoming class is right handed pitcher Jack Conlon. A fourth-round pick who was not signed due to injury concerns, Conlon passed up turning pro as a free agent and decided to come to school. Already possessing a fastball in the low to mid 90s and feel for a slider and changeup, he should see some innings this season if he is healthy enough to pitch.
In the bullpen, perhaps the two biggest additions were not from incoming freshmen, but from players returning to school rather than going pro. One could easily make the argument that Kaylor Chafin, a senior lefty, was the team’s best pitcher last season, posting a 2.33 ERA and a .204 BAA in 77 1/3 innings last season out of the pen. Senior righty and flamethrower Cason Sherrod was also dominant, having an 2.89 ERA and serving mainly as the team’s closer. While both were drafted (Chafin by the New York Mets and Sherrod by the Kansas City Royals), they decided to put on the maroon and white for one last season, and they are just the tip of the iceberg to what may be the deepest part of the roster.
Sophomores Landon Miner and Jason Ruffcorn return after impressive freshmen campaigns, and it is possible Ruffcorn could make a case to serve as the team’s closer since he can run his fastball up into the high 90s. The bullpen also welcomes back sophomore left-handed pitcher Kyle Richardson and Tristen Bayless, as well as right-handed pitcher Lee May Gonzales. Incoming freshmen and transfers include left-handed pitchers Dustin Saenz and Asa Lacy, Nolan Hoffman – a transfer from Hutchison Junior College, where he played with infielder Michael Helman – and another freshman, Christian Roa.
All in all, the team lost a few senior leaders from a season ago, but the main portion of the College World Series team from last year is back, along with reinforcements from the junior college and high school ranks. The team should be pretty well set under coach Rob Childress, and while expectations are always high for Aggie baseball in College Station, the 2018 season should offer Texas A&M fans a chance at something the baseball team has never accomplished: a national championship.