Shoop hopes young starters make big impact
On a cold, windy-afternoon in Birmingham, the UAB Baseball team stretched on J.D. Young Memorial Field in preparation for the upcoming baseball season.
UAB opens their season against Big East powerhouse Creighton University on Feb. 17 at Regions Field, home of the Birmingham Barons. During the first half of the season, UAB will play home games at Regions before the Double-A baseball season starts in April.
“We front-load our home games now because we get Regions when the Barons aren’t there,” said UAB Men’s Baseball Head Coach Brian Shoop. “We are going to play three of our first four weekends at home so that we get to take advantage of that incredible facility. Who would not be thrilled to play in the No. 1 ranked Double-A facility in America. Our crowds are better over there. More teams want to come play.”
UAB debuts a young infield and a young lineup in general. Seventeen of the 21 hitters for UAB are sophomores or freshmen. Sophomore Carter Pharis leads the infield as the only returning member to start all 55 games last season for the Blazers. Last year, he batted for a .297 average and had a perfect 7-7 stealing bases according to UABSports.com.
“Carter played at four different positions,” Shoop said. “We are young positionally. That’s not necessarily a bad thing because they are very athletic and talented group that’s going to be together for a while. We are only going to start one or two seniors, so I think it is a group that will continue to get better. I don’t see young as bad. Our shortstop’s an absolute professional prospect. Our second baseman was the 7A Player of the Year in Alabama at Hewitt-Trussville High School. It’s a good group.”
In the outfield, UAB returns two starters: red-shirt sophomore Brewer Hicklen and senior Riley McCown. Hicklen led the team in runs scored with 37, and batted for a .286 average. McCown added 23 runs scored and batted .214. The two players combined to help UAB have one of the best outfields in Conference USA. The pair committed just two errors on 233 attempts, according to UABSports.com.
Pitching was down from the previous season. Last year, UAB posted a 4.12 earned run average, good for No. 6 in the conference. They also allowed the most walks in the league at 138 according to C-USA statistics.
“We lost 334 innings off the team the year before either through graduation or the draft,” Shoop said. “We started a true freshman on opening day last year. The good thing is those innings are back and more experienced. You’ll see a better pitching staff than what you saw last year although it’s the same guys.”
Jack Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @Kscope_sports