Image Credit: Tulane Athletics
“America’s Pastime,” some call it. It’s the ping of a ball hitting a bat, small children fighting over a souvenir in the third-base bleachers, the scent of beer and nachos wafting through the stadium.
Soon it will be time once again for baseball.
For Tulane, a new year means new beginnings on the diamond. The Green Wave will seek to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2016 season. Fourth-year manager Travis Jewett (84-90) led the Wave to a 32-26 (12-11 AAC) record in 2019 after two straight losing campaigns to begin his head coaching career.
Coach Jewett will be without the services of hitting coach Eddie Smith, who joined LSU’s coaching staff last summer. Smith was largely responsible for developing Tulane into one of the top hitting teams in the country. The dynamic Wave offense ranked fourth in slugging (.518), sixth in homers (89), 15th in average (.303), and 20th in runs (446). Replacing Smith will be Jay Uhlman, who boasts more than 20 years of coaching experience and helped lead Oregon to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. Former Tulane right-handed pitcher and second-year pitching coach Daniel Latham is tasked with helping the Green Wave rebuild its struggling pitching staff. Tulane ranked 230th in the nation in team ERA (5.74), 224th in walks per nine innings (4.88), and 177th in walk and hits per inning pitched (1.55).
The 2020 schedule will be challenging for the Green Wave. Per Tulane’s official website, the schedule features 17 games against top 75 RPI teams, including 14 games against 2019 NCAA Tournament participants. The non-conference schedule is highlighted by series against Cal State Fullerton, Middle Tennessee State, and Long Beach State. The Green Wave will also face the usual slate of in-state competition (Southeastern, Louisiana-Lafayette, Nicholls, New Orleans, Southern). Tulane will also play a midweek game at rival LSU on March 24 after a one-year hiatus. In American Athletic Conference play, Tulane will take the diamond against 2019 NCAA Regional participants Cincinnati, Connecticut, and East Carolina. The Greenies will open the 2020 season on Feb. 14 with a 3-game home series against Florida Gulf Coast University.
Despite losing top hitters Kody Hoese and Trevor Jensen to the MLB Draft, Tulane will retain the bulk of its offense from last season. The departure of Hoese means the Wave will lose 26% of their home run production, but the Wave should continue to hammer opposing pitching. Tulane returns six players who had at least 30 RBI and four players who had a batting average over .300. Led by 2019 Freshman All-American Hudson Haskin, the Greenies have power throughout their lineup. Jonathan Artigues, Grant Matthews, Luke Glancy, David Bedgood, and Frankie Niemann are all part of a dangerous group of hitters that will deposit any pitch left in their wheelhouse onto South Claiborne Avenue.
Tulane’s hitters are aggressive, but also have a patient approach at the plate. Wave hitters drew 283 walks last season as well as 77 hit-by-pitches. Tulane consistently got on base (.403 OBP) to set the table for its power hitters to drive in runs. Look for Tulane’s offense to pick up right where it left off in 2019.
On the Bump
Green Wave batters put on a clinic in 2019. The bad news? So did their opponents. Plagued by control issues and a shaky bullpen, Tulane struggled to protect leads all season. Travis Jewett addressed these pitching woes by signing a lot of talented arms in the 2019 cycle. The additions of righties Donovan Benoit, Braden Olthoff, Bryce Mackey, and Clifton Slagel add valuable college experience to the staff. Jewett also signed a pair of tall lefties from the college ranks, Chris Holcomb and Jack Aldrich. This, combined with the five freshmen signees, will bolster a staff led by 2020 All-Buffet Team watch list pitchers Keagan Gillies and Trent Johnson.
Returning left-hander Justin Campbell (not the Justin Campbell who was sacrificed by Tulane’s beloved admissions department) was the most consistent arm in the bullpen (4.56 ERA). The Wave will need a closer to emerge for a club that only had 10 saves in 2019. No returning Tulane pitcher had more than two. The Green Wave will also need to replace Friday night starter Kaleb Roper, who was drafted by the Chicago White Sox.
Takeaway and Prediction
For Tulane to return to college baseball prominence, it will need to get more help from its staff this season. Tulane pitching in the Travis Jewett era has been disappointing thus far. Following a sparkling team ERA of 3.25 in 2016, the staff ERA has risen to 5.65, 5.42, and 5.74 over the last three seasons. With Tulane’s lineup, hurlers don’t necessarily have to throw gems week in and week out. If the Green Wave want to contend for the AAC and a regional berth, they’ll need to be better. If Tulane could get average-to-slightly-below-average production from its pitching staff, one could easily see this team in the NCAA postseason.
Record: 36-24 (14-10)
Postseason: No. 3 seed – Starkville Regional