Shortstop Stephen Alemais’ rough series at UAB last weekend was a microcosm of the Tulane baseball season.
Alemais, the top prospect in a highly rated recruited class, had more errors (four) than hits (zero), runs (zero) and RBIs (one) combined in a Blazers sweep that eliminated the Green Wave (21-28, 8-17 Conference USA) from league tournament contention and guaranteed the school’s first losing record since 1993.
Nothing about the year has gone as planned after Baseball America listed him as one of the top 50 freshmen in the country. He was part of a Tulane recruiting class that Perfect Game rated No. 23 nationally.
His batting average is .224, one percentage point below the Wave’s tepid team mark (.225) entering the season-ending series against Florida International (35-16, 15-12) at Turchin Stadium. He has committed 14 errors despite showing terrific range and fluidity in the field. And he has been powerless to stop a season-long slide, with Tulane (21-28, 8-17 C-USA) winning only a third of its games since starting 7-0.
The nadir came in Birmingham. Tulane scored two runs in three games, tying the school record for times shut out (seven) on Friday and breaking it on Sunday (eight).
“It was frustrating because I made three errors that cost us one game,” Alemais said. “What you take out of that is, you just have to stay positive and not take those (mistakes) into your at-bats. That’s about maturity and knowing this game is about failure and knowing how to deal with that adversity.”
If anything, Alemais, a native of the Bronx, N.Y., has been too hard on himself. He said he did not deserve any cake after making a costly error in a loss to Rice on his 19th birthday. His shoulders frequently drooped when he came up empty at the plate or failed to make a play in the field.
Interim coach Jake Gautreau finally benched him for three games in late April.
“He’s handled (the adversity) like a freshman,” Gautreau said. “Listen, we all know Stephen is a very good player and has a very bright future. There are things he can do on a baseball field that not many guys can do. But just like any freshman anywhere else, he needs to mature as a player and as a person. You’ll see sometimes when he makes a mistake, he may not have the best body language out there. My job is to make sure he keeps his head up and stays in the game.”
Alemais has given glimpses of his potential, factoring significantly in Tulane’s turning a Conference USA-high 57 double plays in 49 games, the Wave’s best ratio this century. He leads the team with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts. He had four RBIs and hit his first career home run against Nicholls State on April 29.
He just hasn’t strung those good moments together.
“A lot of the mistakes you’ve seen him make are more mental errors, either trying to force something or not locking in on a routine ground ball,” Gautreau said. “He’ll go out there and make the best play you’ve ever seen, and then he may go out there and kick a routine one.”
At the plate, Alemais changed his hitting stroke later in the season, lifting his foot before swinging as he did in high school before tearing the labrum in his left shoulder at the end of his junior year. He blamed that injury on an over-aggressive swing and arrived at Tulane with a toned-down version, keeping his foot on the ground.
Subpar results prompted him to revert to his old style with Gautreau’s blessing. He had nine hits in six games after regaining his starting spot before everyone went cold against UAB.
“I told ‘Gaut’ I was going to stay being aggressive,” Alemais said. “He liked it, and the results have been showing. The benching was a little motivation. At any moment anything can happen, and it just made me work harder. Gaut is a great coach, and he was trying to teach me a lesson. You can’t be complacent.”
One thing is clear. Alemais’ yearlong adversity has not taken away his zest for the game. After dealing with the adversity of coach Rick Jones sitting out the last 32 games of the season due to health issues, he believes Tulane’s kiddie corps lineup (six freshman starters) will be ready for anything that hits it in the future.
“You have a team like UL-L (46-7 and ranked third nationally in most polls), which is all juniors and seniors, and I see us becoming like them when we are juniors and seniors,” Alemais said. “Even maybe next year. It’s all about maturing as a team. We’re going to be a fun team to watch.”