| 2011 record: 35-28 overall, 14-16 SEC
Key returnees : OF Taylor Dugas (.349/8/33), SS Jared Reaves (.340/4/47), 1B Austen Smith (.297/5/44), RHP Charley Sullivan (2-2, 3.03), RHP Trey Pilkington (2-3, 4.57), RHP Nathan Kennedy (1-0, 3.94), LHP Taylor Wolfe (1-2, 4.15)
The skinny: The Crimson Tide certainly will miss Brock Bennett this spring, but look for the offense to be improved from last season’s .276 batting average. The Tide got an early Christmas present when outfielder Taylor Dugas decided to return for another campaign. They also welcome back Jared Reaves, Austen Smith, Brett Booth, Andrew Miller and Josh Rosecrans, all hitters with much potential. Alabama also has high hopes for newcomer Kenny Roberts, who’s an athletic, gritty second baseman with the ability to hit for a high average … Pitching-wise, the Crimson Tide has some serious work to do. They are without starting pitchers Jonathan Smart, Nathan Kilcrease and Adam Morgan, and on top of that, Tucker Hawley will miss the 2012 campaign with Tommy John surgery. Coincidentally, the Tide welcome back two-way player Case Nixon back from TJ surgery. Trey Pilkington and Charley Sullivan must set the tone in the weekend rotation, while freshman left-hander Taylor Guilbeau will round out the rotation after having an impressive fall. Spencer Turnbull, another freshman, topped out at 92 during the fall, while JUCO transfer Ian Gardeck is strong and topped out at 97 during fall workouts. Gardeck will close for the Crimson Tide.
Expectation level: Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard has done a nice job with the program the past couple of seasons, but this year’s campaign provides some stiff challenges. The Crimson Tide should be fine offensively, but in the SEC, having an unstable pitching staff can be a death wish for your postseason hopes. The Tide’s pitching staff must grow up and develop in a hurry.