What to expect next from Alabama baseball head coach Rob Vaughn
By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Sam Thornton
TUSCALOOSA-When Rob Vaughn was sworn in as the new Alabama head baseball coach two weeks ago, his goal was to usher in a new era of comradery that could lift the program into the pinnacle of college baseball.
When you promise high expectations, you need to deliver the talent to get there. This year’s Tide roster was filled with skillful athletes that promoted them to a finishing No. 10 national ranking according to D1 Baseball.
Vaughn was asked at his introductory press conference on how he would handle grasping those players along with swinging momentum in recruiting within the SEC compared to his previous tenure at Maryland.
“There’s no doubt that talent matters. We’re not going to sit here and say ‘Hey if it’s the right fit’, if you throw 79 (mph) and you’re the right fit it’s still not going to play,” Vaughn said.
It’s clear that Vaughn wants to win while maintaining a tight grip of culture and skill. In the SEC, it’s a must. His five year contract revealed yesterday matters too, where he’ll be making $900,000 throughout the window with the expectation to allot flair.
However, soon after his introductory message was delivered, two of Alabama’s best players announced they would be exiting the program. All-SEC Freshman Colby Shelton pledged his allegiance to the Florida Gators after leading the Tide in home runs in 2023. The following week, Friday night starting pitcher Luke Holman (7-4, 3.67 ERA) declared he would be entering the transfer portal after two seasons.
The two underclassman standouts Vaughn didn’t want to see walk away from the program did so, and the future of Alabama baseball now has significant holes to fill. The respective choices by Shelton and Holman don’t reflect Vaughn negatively by any means. Regardless of Vaughn’s similar character to associate head coach Jason Jackson, any shift in a program is significant.
That means Vaughn has a job on his hands. Alabama will return only two of its starters in 2024 including Mac Guscette and Caden Rose. Both players escort prime roles to the team, but Rose specifically was noticeable in the post season earning a spot on the Tuscaloosa Regional All-Tournament team. Junior infielder Bryce Eblin will also return for the Tide as an important piece after briefly entering his name in the transfer portal.
As players have shifted, each move has become more intriguing. As expected, former Maryland players have been mentioned to follow Vaughn to Tuscaloosa. Yesterday, Ian Petrutz became the first former Terrapin signed up to migrate south.
Petrutz will arrive as a designated hitter that can bring in runs when needed. In 2023, he hit .270 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI’s.
While these are encouraging developments for the program in terms of Vaughn’s significance as a leader, how does he shift attention to the holes still present on the roster? Have there been moves made outside of recruiting in College Park, MD?
Former Rutgers standout Evan Sleight committed to Alabama this week following his best collegiate season with the Scarlet Knights. A .315 batting average along with 12 home runs brings depth into the lineup. More importantly, a three year collegiate veteran will help with particular gaps in the Tide outfield.
Vaughn emphasized the importance of the transfer portal to bring in high character athletes like Sleight to aid the new generation of underclassman.
“I think that’s something we have to operate in,” Vaughn said. “If we’re going to establish a culture we want, we’re going to have to establish that with kids who grow up in the program, kids who better as Juniors compared to where they were as Freshman. We’ll use the transfer portal to supplement that, but it has to be the right kind of kids.”
Alabama has two highly touted incoming freshmen who will be influenced by that calling in Bryce Eldridge and Coleman Mizell. There’s much to be excited about for Eldridge, who is the the No. 21 ranked MLB prospect and 2023 Gatorade Virginia Player of the Year. Expected young talent creates excitement for the classes behind him.
Vaughn told Bama Central in a one-on-one interview that he’s been “chomping at the bit to get going” with recruiting, but overall he keeps a patient approach to the recruiting process for a reason.
“I want someone where the Alabama across their chest really matters to them. It’s something deeper than just ‘I want to play in the SEC’ – no, it’s ‘I want to play for Alabama.’ That’s what we want to see,” Vaughn said at the time.
There’s no timetable for the next significant recruiting leap, but there’s attributes of Vaughn that should present confidence for the future. He’s young and he’s a winner. That creates ambition, and ambitious coaches don’t wait around to add players they want. Complete that recipe with his born southern charm and knowledge of recruitment in the southern region.
Expect Vaughn’s focus to be on the young standouts coming in, but there could definitely be some added assertiveness for the 2024 season within the transfer portal to solidify gained expectations at The Joe.