Tulane might never have entered a baseball season with more unknowns than it does this year.
The Green Wave, which stumbled to a 27-31 record with a senior-dominated team under new coach Travis Jewett in 2017, will sport an untested pitching rotation when it opens against Wright State this weekend at Turchin Stadium.
The Friday starter, former Rummel star Kaleb Roper, pitched at San Jacinto College last season after throwing one inning at Arizona in 2016.
The Saturday starter, graduate transfer Ben White from Holy Cross in the Patriot League, has not thrown many innings since undergoing Tommy John surgery two years ago.
The Sunday guy, former Brother Martin standout Keagan Gillies, did not record a decision in 23 appearances as a freshman, mostly in middle relief.
It is a similar story with the hitters.
Only two players who started the season-ending loss to Central Florida at the American Athletic Conference tournament will be in the lineup on Friday night — junior center fielder Grant Witherspoon and sophomore shortstop Sal Gozzo.
Third baseman Kody Hoese is the only other returning player who had 60 or more at-bats a year ago. Witherspoon is the lone returner who hit more than one home run (five), with the Wave losing players who accounted for 64 of its 70 long balls.
Given that turnover, the league's coaches picked Tulane eighth out of nine teams, possibly an all-time low.
Yet, no one in the dugout appears worried about a revamped roster that features just two players (Witherspoon and pitcher Ross Massey) who were major contributors on the Wave's 2016 AAC championship team. After a mostly joyless season of unfulfilled expectations, Witherspoon relishes the fresh approach.
"I was kind of wondering how it would be with lots of new guys, but every new guy I've met is here for the right reasons," he said. "I'm really confident in the lineup we're going to put together."
Last year, Tulane issued 318 walks, 79 more than anyone else in the AAC, and whiffed a school-record 528 times, 40 more than the next highest AAC team. It is hard to win that way, and the Wave didn't, losing 12 of its first 15 games and 12 of its last 19 in the transition from former coach David Pierce to Jewett.
The focus this season is simple: Get the ball over the plate at one end and make more contact at the other.
"These kids have invested hard, they've trained well, they like each other and they like the pieces they see," Jewett said. "They see the depth and the competition and the ability to have some moving parts."
One of those moving parts is leadoff hitter Ty Johnson, who lost a competition with fellow junior-college transfer Acy Owen at catcher but will start in left field. Going against all the catching stereotypes, Johnson will inject speed into a lineup that sorely lacked it in the past.
"Ty Johnson is a supreme athlete," Jewett said. "He can throw. He can run. He can hit. He wants to play fast and he wants to play hard."
Tulane will need that approach against a tough schedule featuring series against perennial NCAA regional participants Ole Miss, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State before conference play.
No one knows what will happen, but Jewett, an assistant coach from 1999 through 2016, expects the Wave to be better prepared for the competition. He counts himself in that number.
"Last year was my first real run at a head coaching position, and I feel much more versed," he said. "The kids, myself and the staff will all benefit from it going forward. I don't think you can put a price tag on experience."