We’re in February which means LSU baseball is officially back this month. Baseball hosted over 4,000 fans for Fan Fest over the weekend; the next time Alex Box opens its gates will be for the season opening series against the Indiana Hoosiers.
But until we get to next Friday, we still have some more preseason content to get to. Today, we’re checking in on our fellow SEC West member the Aggies of Texas A&M. Good Bull Hunting’s Matt Nesloney was kind enough to preview A&M for us. Matt is one of the sharpest minds in college baseball, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MattNesloney.
1. The SEC is once again loaded with Top-25 teams. Where does this A&M team rank against the SEC heavyweights?
I know it’s pretty much become a joke at this point, what with the SEC sending record numbers of teams to the regionals each year for what feels like an eternity, but it really is crazy just how good the conference is stacked up to be again this season. Where the Ags truly fit in among the big dogs is anyone’s guess. We know they’ll pitch well, barring any injuries, meltdowns, suspensions, or any other probably-bad-things-to-mention-aloud-because-way-to-go-you-definitely-just-jinxed-them-you-dummy. That said, A&M’s recent offense (or lack thereof) really clouds the situation. Because of this, I’d put the Aggies somewhere in the middle of the crowded SEC West, but not nearly on the same level as the Vandys and Floridas of the world.
2. A&M finished with a collective .251 batting average. They also infamously threw a pair of near-no hitters in the SEC tournament and lost both games. How does A&M fix the offense?
Just when I’d successfully compartmentalized the travesties that occurred in Hoover, you go and bring them up smh. In reality, it definitely seemed that things had gotten stale under Will Bolt, and after he bolted (lol) for the Nebraska head job, Childress brought in Chad Caillet from Southern Miss. Hopefully the fresh face and approach can kick things into gear. To truly fix the offense, though, I think he really needs to get production out of more than just one or two hitters. We saw last year that even someone as good as Braden Shewmake couldn’t be an entire offense on his own. A&M really needs Bryce Blaum and Mikey Hoehner to build off their solid 2019 campaigns, and for people like Zach DeLoach, Cam Blake and Hunter Coleman to finally put it all together.
3. Asa Lacy had a pretty good year last season. 8-4, 2.13 ERA, 130 Ks/43 BB in just under 90 innings. What can Lacy do for an encore?
Honestly, the only real area that could use some improvement would be his command at times. In three of his four losses, he issued at least three walks. Other than that, there weren’t many around the country that had a better season than Asa Lacy. I think it’s fair to say that the 1-2 punch of John Doxakis and Lacy last season was the best duo Childress had in his arsenal since the Ross Stripling/Michael Wacha days. We’ve been hoping for a while in Aggieland that someone would step up and turn into the dominant, Aaron Nola-type No. 1 starter. Doxakis was damn close to that last year, but I think Lacy has the potential to finally be that guy for A&M.
4. Defensively it looks like the Aggies are adding three transfers to critical places: Rody Barker and Ray Alejo look to man left and center field, while Logan Sartori appears to be the starting shortstop. Is A&M better or worse defensively this year?
It would be hard to be much worse defensively, given that they finished 13th in the SEC in fielding percentage (here I am, back on my bullshit again with the jinxes!). And historically, A&M hasn’t been a particularly good fielding team since joining the SEC. Their best finish came in 2016, when they finished third in conference and 23rd nationally. I guess my point here is that I’ve given up the dream of defensive improvement. That said, Alejo comes to A&M with a strong defensive reputation in the outfield, and Barker is a versatile, athletic defender. Those two plus DeLoach in the outfield should make a formidable unit. Also, Sartori has apparently been better than anticipated defensively. Alas, there may be hope yet.
5. Finally what’s the ceiling for Texas A&M? If everything breaks right, is this a Top-8 team?
Outside of A&M’s first two seasons in the SEC (2013 & 2014), Childress’ pitching staffs have consistently ranked at or near the top of their conference in run prevention, be it Big 12 or SEC, including each of the last two years. The offense, meanwhile, has been extremely hit and miss, and largely dependent on having a Tyler Naquin, a 2015 Nick Banks, a Boomer White, etc. leading a very deep lineup. If the Aggies can get their act together at the plate, I’d say a Top-8 seed is the best case scenario. I think a more likely finish would be the Ags grabbing the 14-16 seed, but I’m generally an overoptimistic person who refuses to learn from the pain and agony that is Aggie sports fandom.