Depth expected to be a strength for Tulane baseball team _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Tulane head coach David Pierce takes the field against Lehigh during the NCAA Division I Baton Rouge Baseball Regional, Saturday, May 30, 2015, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.

Tulane baseball coach David Pierce will be an assistant for USA Baseball’s 2016 U.S. Collegiate National Team, the organization announced Thursday.

Pierce will join the staff of head coach George Horton (Oregon), with the team training in Fullerton, Calif., before playing teams from the California Collegiate League from June 28-July 2 and traveling to Taiwan, Japan and Cuba for series during the rest of July.

“Being selected to be a part of Team USA is definitely a privilege and an honor,” Pierce said. “This is something that has been on the bucket list of many coaches, including mine. This is going to be a thrilling summer, and it’s going to be exciting to be around so many great players and coaches while representing our country.”

Pierce’s predecessor at Tulane, Rick Jones, was the head coach for the 2009 U.S. Collegiate National Team.

Five Tulane players have been on the squad in the past — Ivan Zweig (1991), Jake Gautreau (2000), Michael Aubrey (2001-02), Tony Giarratano (2001) and Nick Pepitone (2009).

Closer concern

The only position on the roster where Tulane does not have a clear frontrunner or proven performer is at closer, with Ian Gibaut having left for professional baseball after making 22 career saves.

Pierce said the top candidates are senior Trevor Simms, a transfer who served as the kickoff specialist for the Tulane football team the past two years, and redshirt sophomore Chris Oakley, who was at North Carolina in 2014 before transferring to Florence-Darlington Tech, a junior college in South Carolina.

The well-traveled Simms allowed 45 runs in 53.2 innings during stops at Rice, Weatherford College and West Virginia.

Oakley, a 6-foot-6 power pitcher, had a 4.86 ERA as a starter for Florence-Darlington Tech. He did not play at North Carolina.

“They have stuff, but they are still mastering command,” Pierce said. “I just think the lack of experience is why it’s unclear.”

If Simms and Oakley struggle, Pierce mentioned J.P. France, who started the season opener in 2014 as a freshman before missing all of 2015 with an elbow injury, and 2015 midweek starter Patrick Duester as other possibilities.

Speed gains

Shortstop Stephen Alemais accounted for half of Tulane’s 54 stolen bases last year, with no one else reaching double digits.

Pierce anticipates a significant upgrade this season, and he singled out first baseman Hunter Williams. After attempting just one stolen base for Tulane in 2015 (and getting caught), he stole 16 for the Lima Locos of the Great Lakes Summer League.

“He told me that he is going to steal more bases than Stephen this year, so we will see about that,” Pierce said. “He’s got to get on base more than Stephen first, though.”

Williams was second on the team to Alemais in batting average, hitting .285 to Alemais’ .312, but his on base percentage (.391) was higher than Alemais’ (.361).

The return of center fielder Grant Brown should help, too. He exhibited terrific range through 11 games a year ago before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.

Comfort factor

Tulane improved from 23-29 in 2014 to 35-25 in Pierce’s first year, and the Wave expects another sizable jump just due to familiarity.

The adjustment period is over.

“We know their philosophies as coaches,” Alemais said. “We know how they run things. Last year, we didn’t know what to expect. Just having the second year makes it easier for us to pass it on to the younger guys. It’s like second nature to us now.”