By Scott Kushner
IN THE FIELD
C – Jake Rogers
Former coach Rick Jones once described him as the best catch-and-release catcher in the program’s last 20 years, and set a school record as a freshman, nabbing 23-of-46 attempted stolen bases against him. However, his .202 batting average left much to improved upon at the plate.
1B – Garrett Deschamp
One of just two seniors, Deschamp was one of Tulane’s most reliable bats a year ago, compiling a .360 on-base percentage and 32 RBI. He’s also emerged as one of the Green Wave’s most vocal leaders. He’ll also play some at second base, moving Hunter Williams to first.
2B – Jake Willsey
Known more for his defense than his prowess at the plate, Willsey only contributed three extra base hits in 128 at bats last year, despite 33 total hits. He’ll be relied upon to reach base and help shore up a reliable middle infield.
SS – Stephen Alemais
After leading the Cal Ripken League in hits (48) and stolen bases (26) in 35 games this summer, Alemais appears poised for a breakout season following a disappointing freshman campaign when he batted just .241 and committed 16 errors in 47 starts.
3B – Hunter Hope
The Green Wave’s biggest power threat was the only Tulane player named to Conference USA’s All-Freshman team last year and should benefit greatly from the new hitter-friendly baseballs. However, striking out 62 times in 52 games (as he did last year) won’t be helped by the balls.
LF – Richard Carthon
Tulane’s most experienced player (101 career starts) is also one of its best weapons in Pierce’s aggressive gameplan. Expect Carthon to use drag bunts and infield hits to reach base and try to steal often once he’s there.
CF – Grant Brown
The sophomore is likely Tulane’s fastest runner and helps add a third stolen base threat when in the lineup with Alemais and Carthon. He played sparingly last season but has become more reliable in preseason practices, earning a chance to start.
RF – Lex Kaplan/John Gandolfo
The Green Wave will likely jockey personnel around in the outfield depending on the pitching matchup, but both Kaplan and Gandolfo will have an opportunity to redeem themselves following dreadful 2014 seasons when both failed to eclipse a .180 batting average.
1) Corey Merrill
Despite tallying an 0-5 record as a freshman, Merrill proved he’s capable of holding down the top of the rotation by pitching at least seven innings in four consecutive starts after moving into a weekend slot late last season.
2) Alex Massey
After struggling last season following a year-long recovery from elbow surgery, Massey appears to have regained his form this offseason and hopes to recapture the form that allowed him to toss a 3.86 ERA in 13 appearances as a freshman.
3) Tim Yandel
One of Tulane’s most versatile performers, Yandel could serve as infielder, designated hitter, weekend starter or reliever depending on the night. The junior surrendered just one earned run in 18 innings pitched last season out of the bullpen.
4) Patrick Deuster
He’s one of the only newcomers to get a crack at making the starting lineup in the Green Wave’s opening week of the season. However, it’s nothing new to Deuster who spent two years at St. John’s River State, which helped prepare him for the opportunity.
Bullpen: Daniel Rankin, Jordan Gross, Eric Steel, Jackson Johnson –
This isn’t a position of strength right now for the Green Wave, with few known commodities coming out of the bullpen. Early in the season, expect Pierce to turn to his closer as early as the seventh inning if a lead is tenuous.
Closer: Ian Gibaut
A former freshman All-American closer has proven he can be a stalwart at the back end of games, but don’t be surprised if David Pierce also tries to move him into the rotation. It’s a change Gibaut is eager to make, but needs to display better stamina in order to reach it.
1) Can new coach David Pierce make a difference in his first year?
Sometimes a new voice and new direction can provide the spark necessary for a turnaround. Although Rick Jones directed Tulane through the most successful era in school history, players have stated that having Pierce and his staff in place has revived the clubhouse after suffering through Tulane’s first losing season since 1993.
2) What kind of style does Pierce want to play?
The former Sam Houston State coach and Rice assistant under legendary Wayne Graham has firmly stated his disinterest in batting average. He places statistical priority on on-base percentage and RBIs, while insisting his team will be aggressive on the basepaths in an effort to put pressure on the defense.
3) Is this team capable of ending Tulane’s postseason drought?
The Green Wave hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 2008, and unless it gets turnaround years from several veterans, it’s unlikely to see that skid stop this year. However, a beefed-up schedule should boost Tulane’s RPI high enough to secure an at-large berth if it’s able to compile 38 wins out of its 54 game season.
4) What does the American Athletic Conference mean to this program?
While the change from Conference USA was primarily a boost to the football and basketball programs, it also allows Tulane’s baseball team to escape the shadow of Rice, who has won at least a share of the C-USA title for nine years. With the exception of No. 3 Houston, no other AAC team is ranked, leaving the door open for Tulane to make a run.
5) Will the new baseballs help the Wave?
The talk surrounding this college baseball season is the new hitter-friendly baseballs, which Pierce estimated can give fly balls an extra 20 feet of distance and has helped spur doubles and home runs in practices. The Green Wave aren’t a power-hitting team, but the gap power combined with top end speed should help boost the offense significantly.