Heralded shortstop Stephen Alemais had no idea he was signing up for a low batting average, a high error percentage and Tulane’s first losing season in 21 years when he arrived in New Orleans. Instead of bailing on a bad situation, though, he hit the reset button.
Alemais, a Bronx, New York, native and the crown jewel in a highly rated 2014 recruiting class, is back for his sophomore season with the intent of living up to his hype. The coaches who recruited him are gone, but he stuck around and will start when Tulane travels to Pepperdine for its season-opening series Friday through Sunday.
“I never thought about leaving Tulane,” Alemais said. “It never crossed my mind. I came here to play right away, and it’s a great school academically. I’m here to stay.”
While the Green Wave struggled team-wide in a 23-29 season that forced longtime coach Rick Jones to leave for health reasons, Alemais was the most visible embodiment of those problems. Named the preseason Conference USA Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game, he hit .241 and committed 16 errors, imperfect numbers that prompted interim coach Jake Gautreau to bench him briefly.
A cross-country visit from new Tulane coach David Pierce, who was hired in June, helped reassure him about his future when he was playing summer ball for the Bethesda Big Train in Maryland.
“Right away he built a relationship with me,” Alemais said. “He’s real approachable and real easy to talk to.”
That was not something teammates would have said about Alemais last season. He showed up as a fun-loving guy who did not quite appreciate the diligence necessary to succeed in college.
They have noticed a different person as a sophomore.
“In the last year, he’s matured a lot,” junior outfielder Richard Carthon said. “He’s finally starting to get how to be a teammate and how to be a leader in what you do. As a shortstop, it’s more how you conduct yourself on the field and how hard you work. He’s definitely working a lot harder, and he’s definitely being a lot more respectful and responsive to people.”
Alemais let his bat and feet do the talking in the summer. He finished seventh in the Cal Ripken College Baseball League with a regular-season batting average of .320, and he also stole a league-best 26 bases.
The turning point, he said, came in Tulane’s final weekend of the 2014 season. He had six hits in the first two games of an otherwise meaningless series against Florida International, raising his average by nearly 20 points.
“I got hot, and it carried over to the summer,” he said. “I realized it was all between the ears. It was confidence, and that confidence is going to carry over into this season. I’m a different hitter in my approach. I’m just more aggressive at the plate.”
They don’t hand out Sophomore of the Year awards, but the new Alemais is much better equipped to make a run at that mythical honor than he was as a freshman.
Pierce said he liked what he saw in Bethesda, and the impression remained strong through fall and preseason practice.
“He’s been outstanding,” Pierce said of Alemais. “He’s a great athlete. He’s got fast twitch, he runs really well and he’s got a great arm. He has fit right in, and he really wants to win. I look for great things to come from Stephen.”
Pierce revealed his starting pitchers for the weekend on Wednesday, saying sophomore Corey Merrill will get the nod Friday, junior Alex Massey will go Saturday and junior Tim Yandel probably will start Sunday.
Merrill was 0-5 with a 3.60 earned run average last season. Massey, a senior who was hampered by a right shoulder injury, went 3-4 with a 5.79 ERA. Yandel, who started 35 games as a hitter in 2013, pitched 18 innings in relief with an 0.50 ERA last season.
Pierce said former relief ace Ian Gibaut, a junior who is in running for a starting spot, would be used as a “stopper” rather than a closer.
“If the game is on the line in the seventh inning,” Pierce said, “he’ll be in there.”
Tulane on television
The Tulane-LSU game on March 24 in New Orleans and the Tulane-Southeastern Louisiana game on April 28 will be broadcast on CST. Both games start at 6:30 p.m.
Additionally, the Tulane-LSU game in Baton Rouge on April 21 will air on the SEC Network +.