Tulane baseball coach Travis Jewett admitted Friday to losing a few minutes of sleep each night wondering how his newcomer-laden roster would mesh once the season started.
Then again, when he thinks of his catching situation, he rests much more comfortably.
On a roster otherwise loaded with uncertainties, the Green Wave is much more stable behind the plate than it was 12 months ago, when it finished 27-31.
At this time last year, Jewett was not sure how senior catcher Jeremy Montalbano's arm would hold up as he came back from Tommy John surgery. It was a pressing concern because the Wave's only other catcher, freshman Paul Gozzo, was recovering from a torn labrum he suffered as a high school senior.
Two weeks before the start of his second season, Jewett is happy his two top catching candidates are healthy. Acy Owen has a slight end on fellow junior college transfer Ty Johnson, but both of them are ready to play.
"It's just night and day," Jewett said as he talked on media day, two weeks before Tulane's opener against Wright State at Turchin Stadium. "It's given us a chance to play some more real baseball. We've been able to compete and have game-like situations."
In the fall of 2016, Tulane's catchers had to lob the ball back to the mound during scrimmages because none of them had been cleared to throw. The concern lingered into the spring semester, creating stress even though Montalbano proved up to the task, throwing out three of five base-stealers during the first week of the season.
There are no such concerns with Owen and Johnson.
"They both will catch," Jewett said. "They both have some strengths. Acy's is a long-levered left-handed hitter (6-foot-3) and Ty's a long-levered right-handed hitter (also 6-foot-3), so we have a nice little two-headed monster there."
Owen played at Hinds Community College in Mississippi the past two years, hitting .337 in his sophomore year as Hinds advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. He prides himself on his defensive skills, though.
"I'm a good receiver and at throwing to second base," he said. "I can work a little bit more on my hitting. If I can hit, it will help the team a lot, but being a defensive catcher is what's most important. Being able to control the run game can save games and keep you in games."
Owen has been catching since he was 9. His dad was coaching his team and stuck him behind the plate because no one else wanted to do it, and he has stayed there ever since.
"Having Ty here really pushed me to become a better catcher," he said. "He's really good. Obviously, the competition helped me earn the spot."
Johnson is from Anacortes, Washington, about as far away from New Orleans as possible in the contiguous United States. But he has grandparents from Louisiana and also felt a connection to Jewett, a Washington native.
Johnson spent one season at Washington State, starting 23 games and hitting .349 before losing his scholarship under a coach who had not recruited him. He transferred to Central Arizona College last year, hitting .352 in 108 at-bats for a team that fell one step short of the NJCAA World Series.
"I've been catching since Little League," he said. "It's been the position I spent most of my time playing growing up. I've got a pretty good arm."
His unique quality is his athletic ability. He played football and basketball in high school and considered sticking with hoops in college because of his 3-point shooting and defense. Jewett is cross-training him in left field so he can help the lineup daily even if winds up being the backup catcher.
Tulane's season got sidetracked in game No. 11 a year ago when Montalbano fractured an ankle against West Virginia in a home-plate collision. Gozzo, who transferred to Connecticut after the season, threw out only 13 of 63 base-stealers with a shoulder that was less than 100-percent healthy.
"We (he and Owen) both understand it's a long season and a tough grind being a catcher," Johnson said. "My freshman year (at Washington State) I played with a torn knee all year, and it's tough when you have to go out there every single game and have no one else who can have your back. We both have each other's back."