Feb. 10, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, La. - They say in life, there are only two certainties - death and taxes. In baseball, however, there is only one constant - change.
Change will be the buzzword for the 2006 Tulane baseball team. With the graduation of six seniors and the drafting of two juniors from last year's College World Series team, the Green Wave will field a very different team this season. In addition, the newly-realigned Conference USA will feature newcomers Marshall, Rice and UCF in addition to holdovers East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, Southern Miss and UAB.
The biggest change of the year, however, occurred on Aug. 29, when Tulane and the New Orleans area were ravaged in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As a result, the team had to relocate to Lubbock, Texas, and the campus of Texas Tech University for the fall semester. Upon the team's return to campus for the start of the spring semester n Jan. 17, the team learned that flood damages rendered its on-campus home, Turchin Stadium, unplayable. Instead, the Green Wave will call Zephyr Field - home of the Washington Nationals' Triple-A affiliate New Orleans Zephyrs - home for the 2006 season.
Despite all that happened and the changes to the Tulane team, its campus and its home city of New Orleans, one thing remains the same - the Green Wave will once again contend for the C-USA crown and have their sights firmly set on making a return trip to Omaha for the 2006 College World Series.
"From day one following Hurricane Katrina, we've been of the attitude that this is a great opportunity for us to do something historical," said Rick Jones, who enters his 13th year as Tulane's head coach. "This displacement is not an excuse for not playing well. We've tried to turn it into a positive."
Some of the positives for Tulane are the return of five starters - including preseason All-Americans Brad Emaus, Mark Hamilton and Nathan Southard - and 10 other letterwinners. While the Green Wave will have to replace the majority of its position players, the pitching staff appears to be one of the strengths of the 2006 team as the club returns a pair of arms with starting experience in senior Billy Mohl and junior Brandon Gomes, as well as 2005 bullpen stalwarts Daniel Latham and Sean Morgan.
Joining the foray this season are five transfers - Trey Martin (Georgetown), John Michael Vidic (Georgia Tech), Blake Walker (Duke), Ty Wallace (Navarro JC) and Jonny Weiss (Boston College) - and a seven-member freshman class that helped the Green Wave's incoming class rank 13th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.
"If you have the kind of program we've had, you're going to have key losses every year. But when the year is over, you can't have a séance and bring everyone back.
"You've got to have new guys take over. You're going to have to have the veterans lead the way and some young guys step up in key positions, and we've had a good balance of that for a while here. Southard and Hamilton have been around for a while and we've got a good group of young players like Brad Emaus, Cat Everett and Warren McFadden.
"We have a lot of guys who played key roles for us last year back - even though some of them weren't everyday starters - so we're going to be relatively young position wise, and that bodes well for the future."
The Green Wave will have to replace all three weekend starters from a year ago as Brian Bogusevic and Micah Owings were taken in the first and third round of the Major League Draft, respectively, and J.R. Crowel will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in January.
The cupboard is far from bare, however, as Mohl and Gomes are expected to pick up where they left off over the past few seasons and Morgan will make the move from past-time closer to weekend starter.
Morgan, meanwhile, went 6-1 as a rookie, posting five saves and 42 strikeouts in 28 games and 36.1 innings out of the bullpen. Latham is expected to be the full-time closer in 2006 and enters the year just nine saves away from the Tulane career record. Last season, Latham posted 13 saves, two wins and 36 strikeouts in 31 relief appearances.
"If you have a pitching staff that runs out Gomes, Morgan and Mohl, and brings in a closer like Latham, that really sets the tone," Jones said. "They will anchor things for us."
Martin appeared in 10 games as a true freshman at Georgetown in 2004, and Walker posted a 4-3 record, 4.57 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 48 games and 82.2 innings of work from 2002-04 at Duke. Vidic, meanwhile, is the second transfer from Georgia Tech in as many years, where he pitched in five games as a freshman after posting a stellar prep career at Lassiter High School in Marietta, Ga.
Porlier, who had Tommy John surgery as a prep senior, pitched in just one game last season. With a full year of recovery, the coaching staff expects him to return to the form that saw him earn a Top 50 ranking by Collegiate Baseball prior to his injury. Connick figures to see situational time in key lefty-lefty matchups, and Newman has turned heads in the fall with his velocity and control. Greif is expected to provide depth afte going 5-2 with a 1.09 ERA as a senior at McCallum High in Austin, Texas.
"This is the deepest and most talented staff we've had since I've been at Tulane," Jones said. "We were been able to add some talent in transfers Martin, Walker and Vidic, and in the fall, Worster has looked like the guy we recruited two years ago."
While Tulane returns a glut of talent and experience on the hill, the players receiving the pitches are relatively new as sophomore Grayden Griener is the lone player on the 2006 roster to previously see action as a catcher at Tulane.
Griener played in six games as a defensive substitution behind the plate, and Marc Robért - a standout prepster at nearby Jesuit High - also returns after redshirting last season. Junior College All-Star Ty Wallace and prep standout Max Kwan join the team after spending the 2005 season at Navarro Junior College and Seattle Prep, respectively.
The two newcomers were both drafted out of high school as Wallace was picked by the Texas Rangers in 2002 and Kwan went in the 36th round to the Seattle Mariners last season. Wallace suffered a pair of season-ending injuries while at Navarro, but in a healthy 2004 season, he earned All-Region XIV honors after hitting .388 with nine doubles and nine home runs while driving in 42. Kwan, meanwhile, is a two-time all-state and All-Seattle selection, and earned team MVP honors after hitting .500 with seven homers and 28 RBI as a senior.
"There are four guys in the mix heading into the season," Jones said. "All of them have looked good, and I think it's good to have that kind of competition at all positions. It pushes you to play your best every day, and it's going to be a work in progress for us."
One of the most notable areas of change for Tulane in 2006 will be the infield. While Tulane returns two experienced players around the bases, all four positions will be filled by players who did not line up in the respective spots a year ago.
Despite missing time with a thumb injury last year, Hamilton still ranked fourth on the club in home runs (11) and tied for sixth in RBI (46). In the NCAA postseason, he hit .471 with three doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI, including an 8-for-12 showing in the NCAA New Orleans Regional where he was named Most Outstanding Player after belting three doubles, three bombs and 11 RBI.
Emaus, meanwhile, posted a stellar freshman campaign as he earned Freshman All-America, Conference USA Freshman of the Year and first-team All C-USA honors after ranking second on the club with 13 home runs and finishing fifth on the team with a .321 batting average.
Everett played in 42 games, including 14 starts, as a rookie. He hit .250 for the year, but came up big in game three of the NCAA New Orleans Super Regional when he scored the go-ahead run and recorded the final out in Tulane's 9-6 victory over Rice to clinch the Green Wave's berth to the College World Series.
Weiss, meanwhile, comes to Tulane after a year at Boston College where he hit .286 with two doubles, 10 RBI and three sacrifice bunts in 27 games.
Joining the team in 2006 are rookies Seth Henry and Nate Simon - both of whom may also see time in the outfield - and Anthony Scelfo. Henry and Simon were both all-state honorees last season at Berwick and Redmond Highs, respectively, and Henry was selected to play in the AFLAC All-American Baseball Showcase.
Also competing for playing time are junior Tim Guidry and sophomore Robbie Whitman. Guidry missed most of last season with a foot injury, but has proven to be a solid defender at second and third base. Whitman played in five games as a redshirt-freshman last season, going 1-for-2 with an RBI.
"Like any club, if you can pitch and you're strong up the middle, then you've got a change to be one of the better clubs in college baseball," Jones said. "Hamilton is one of the premier players in college baseball, Emaus had a big year for us last year as a true freshman, and Everett is a steady defender with an accurate and strong arm."
While Tulane's infield will have a new look, the outfield will feature a very familiar face in senior centerfielder and preseason All-American Nathan Southard. Expected to join him at the corner outfield positions are redshirt-freshman Warren McFadden and rookie Aja Barto.
Last season, Southard earned first-team All C-USA and All-Louisiana honors after hitting .341 with 24 doubles, 12 home runs and 53 RBI. He was named C-USA Tournament MVP after hitting .583 (7-for-13) with three home runs and six RBI, and was also named to the NCAA New Orleans Regional All-Tournament Team.
McFadden suffered a season-ending wrist injury early in the year, but after a very productive fall, is expected to return to the form that helped him earn first-team All-America honors from Baseball America as a senior and Louisville Slugger All-America recognition his final two prep seasons. Barto, meanwhile, comes to Tulane following a stellar prep career at Stratford High in Houston where he earned all-state honors his final two seasons and was drafted in the 14th round by the Philadelphia Phillies following his senior year.
Riser had just five at-bats as a junior, but made the most of his limited offensive opportunities with a double against Charlotte and a key RBI single in game two of the New Orleans Super Regional to blow open a 1-0 game against Rice as Tulane tied the series at one game each with a 7-0 victory. He made his mark defensively, though, coming off the bench to record 14 putouts.
Rebowe is a solid left-handed hitter with some power, and Powell provides the team with some speed on the basepaths as well as a solid bat.
"Nathan Southard is once again going to be our anchor in the outfield," Jones said. "McFadden and Barto improve our outfield defense dramatically, and we have some other guys who we will depend on out there at times. Last year, one of our unsung heroes was Matt Riser. We used him as a defensive substitution late in some games, and we will count on more from him as a senior. We will be very deep at the outfield position this year."
The Green Wave will play 38 of its 56 regular-season games at Zephyr Field, and Tulane will play 18 games against seven teams that advanced to the NCAA postseason in 2005.
The year begins at the prestigious Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park - home of Major League Baseball's Houston Astros - where the Green Wave will take on former C-USA rival TCU, Big XII squad and the team's fall host Texas Tech, and defending national champion Texas.
The new-look Conference USA will once again feature East Carolina, Houston, Memphis and UAB while welcoming Super Regional participant Rice, perennial Regional participant UCF, as well as former MAC squad Marshall.
In the non-conference portion of the schedule the Green Wave will host three-game series' against Penn State, Pepperdine, Manhattan, Oral Roberts and Stephen F. Austin while playing a two-home, one-away weekend series against Sun Belt power South Alabama.
The C-USA season opens on the road when Tulane travels to Tennessee to take on a much-improved Memphis club on March 24-26. The Green Wave also host Rice (March 31-April 2), UCF (April 14-16), Marshall (May 5-7) and Southern Miss (May 12-14) while playing road series at Houston (April 7-9), East Carolina (April 28-30) and UAB (May 18).
The C-USA Tournament is slated for May 23-28 at Rice's Reckling Park in Houston, and the road to the College World Series begins on June 2 with the NCAA Regionals.
"We've got a tough schedule early on, and the league is as tough as it has ever been," Jones said. "If we do a good job of getting the right guys in the right spots, and we have the kind of years our returners are capable of, it could be another special year."