As we prepare for the start of college baseball season UAB Blazer Bloggin’ was able to catch up with UAB Baseball Head Coach Brian Shoop to ask him a few questions about the upcoming season.
Last year the Blazers won 30-plus games for the third time in the past four years, and they also made it to the CUSA Tournament Championship Game for the second time since 2012. This year’s Blazers’ team will be one of the youngest in recent memory as Coach Shoop lost six starters from his 2015 lineup and all three weekend starters.
Still, there is a talented group of players coming in that will help keep the success going for Coach Shoop and his staff.
What are your feelings on the team heading into the season?
Well, I really have no idea. We lost over 340 innings from a year ago and six of our nine starters. Half of our team is new, so three weeks from the start of the season there is still so much unknown. This will be a very young team, but it’s also a very talented team. It’s possibly the best incoming class that we’ve ever had, but it all depends on how quickly they develop.
What kind of impact has playing at Regions Field had on recruits and scheduling?
Everything about playing at Regions Field has been a positive for UAB baseball. A lot of opponents now want to come her to play. Last year we had Ohio State and Ole Miss come here to play, and in the upcoming years teams like Creighton and Notre Dame will be coming in to play, so it’s really helped draw in some quality opponents.
There is no doubt that playing at Regions Field has helped in recruiting. When recruits and their families come for a visit they light up when they see the field. We are very grateful for our home park in Young Memorial Field and are blessed to be able to use both facilities.
What will it be like to play Creighton at the site of the College World Series this year?
Scheduling takes a lot of time and everything has to work out perfectly to get a series like this together, but Creighton was willing to play a home-and-home with us. They’re a high RPI opponent who is picked to win the Big East so it’s a great chance for us to play a high RPI team. It will also be very neat for our players to play at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
We would love to play there in June in the future. I know not many mid-majors make it there, but we feel like over the past five years we’ve made a lot of progress and have a chance to play there in June one day.
Esteban Tresgallo and Thomas Lowery were recently named to the CUSA Preseason All-Conference Team. Can you explain the impact of having them back this year?
We are extremely happy for both of them to receive this honor. Both are great students as well as great players. Tresgallo will likely hit third for us this year and share catching duties with Mitch Williams. He’ll also probably get some playing time at third and/or first this year as well, but it’s important to have him in the lineup.
Thomas had a great year last year as well. His numbers, when you go back and look at them, were just amazing. We’re just not sure how to best utilize him yet, whether to make him a starter or continue to bring him out of the bullpen. But we’re very proud of both of them.
There were a lot veterans lost from last year’s team, who will you be looking to for leadership from this year’s team?
Well, basically our three returning starters. Griffin Gum is a three year starter who we will lean on a lot, and Adam Smith is a two year starter. Smith doesn’t receive all of the All-Conference honors, but he’s one in my books. They don’t keep up with runs saved in college baseball, but if they did he’d be an All-Conference player.
The reason we’ve been so successful the past five years is because we’re a groundball staff and we rely on our infield and players like Adam to make plays behind our pitching staff.
With only three starters returning from last year’s team, who will be filling some of those holes?
As I mentioned earlier, Tresgallo could receive some time at third base. Another senior, Evan Peterson, could also play some third as well as second. Freshman Carter Pharis could also get some playing time at third this year as well as at second base. Redshirt freshman Blake Johnson and freshman Jared Nixon could also get a shot at second. Pharis and Tresgallo will probably both get a look at first base as well. We were hoping Brett Blackwood would be our starting first baseman this year but he has a condition in his knee that might not allow him to play this year. If not we’ll have to medical redshirt him, but if he can come back and play he’ll be at first.
Gum is the one definite in the outfield. He’ll either be playing in right field or center. Nixon, redshirt freshman Brewer Hicklen and JUCO transfer Riley McCown could all play in the outfield. Nixon is somebody we’re really high on and believe he could play at the next level. Freshman Luke Eigsti from Scottsdale, Ariz. could also receive some playing time in the outfield as well. So basically we have five guys for three spots.
After losing all three weekend starters from a year ago, who are some of the guys competing for those spots this year?
We are basically starting this thing brand new. We have 18 practices before the season starts with three rounds of intersquad games to determine who will fill those spots.
There are two ways we can go about this. We can either go with the veterans out of the shoot with guys like Lowery, Ryan Ruggles and Dylan Munger, but if you do that you’re left with young guys at the backend of games in the most crucial situations. The other option is to start the talented group of new guys and use the veterans at the backend of the game. We just haven’t made that decision yet, and it’s possible that it becomes a fluid situation throughout the year where we go back-and-forth with how we do it.
Our young guys include freshman Tanner Graham who is a very talented young man. Garrett Whitlock out of Georgia is another talented right-handed pitcher that will be a freshman this year. Another freshman, Kyle Davis, is coming off Tommy John surgery but is a year removed from the surgery and we expect him to be a big time pitcher for us. Matthew Calvert is a left-handed pitcher from Clay-Chalkville High School that is another very talented arm. This might be the most talented pitching staff we’ve ever had coming in.
What’s it going to take to get back to the Conference USA Tournament this year and to the championship game again?
Believe it or not, we never talk about that. We talk about today’s process, how are we going to get better today. Our challenge as coaches is to help these players improve every day. There is no grind like a college baseball season where students are playing as many as five games a week, while also going to school. We try to help them stay focused on each day.
If you do all of those things well each day then you get a shot, you’re in the mix.