Alabama A&M baseball blends youth, veterans

Senior lefthander Brandon Marsonek is a first-team preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference selection.Sidney Jackson 

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama - To rebuild a baseball team, you need a blend of veterans and youth at key positions.

A solid nucleus of pitching, fielding and hitting are also essential.

For Alabama A&M University Head Coach Mitch Hill, the Bulldogs have the elements to help make the upcoming season a successful one.

For his third season as head coach, Hill has 11 players back from last year to join 23 new players on The Hill.

Anchoring the team is a trio of players with nationally recognized credentials.

Senior Brandon Marsonek is a preseason All-Southwestern Athletic Conference first-team pitcher after being named second team All-SWAC last year.

The lefty was tied with former Bulldog Caleb Roberts for most appearances in the league last season with 27 (19th-most nationally).

He was second in the league and 25th in the nation in 2016 with 88 strikeouts - 33 of which were looking which was second in the SWAC. His three saves were fourth in the league and he was second in games finished with 14.

Shortstop JT O'Reel brings a solid bat and an excellent glove back for the Bulldogs. He is also among Black College Nines' "Ten HBCU Players to Look Out for in 2017."

O'Reel, a senior, struck out just six times in 205 at-bats - once in every 34.2 at-bats - last season and received the NCAA's "Toughest to Strike Out Award." He didn't strike out until the 29th game of the season and ended the season with a 10-game streak of not striking out. O'Reel did not strike out more than once in any game and was called out on strikes just once. O'Reel had a solid impact in the field, as well. He led the SWAC in assists with 133 and was ranked first in fielding double plays with 37 - helping the Bulldogs finish ninth in the nation in turning double plays with 54.  

Among the nearly two dozen new players is freshman pitcher Caleb Gay. He was named by Black College Nines as a "HBCU Top Impact Freshman."

A 6-3, 200-pound righthander, Gay throws about 88-89 mph. He was named Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 5 Player of the Year for class 2A schools last year.

Another newcomer is junior first baseman Carson McGregory from Marion Military Institute.

McGregory played high school baseball at Deshler and, at MMI, was named to the 2016 Alabama Community College Conference Gold Glove Team. The Tuscumbia native had 352 total chances with 334 putouts, 17 assists and only one error.

At the plate, McGregory hit .399 with a .494 on-base percentage and .517 slugging percentage. He had 57 hits in 47 games, including 12 doubles, one triple and one home run. He also drove in 27 runs.

Among the returning starters, Carlton Peppers is back to anchor the Bulldogs' outfield. In 35 games last season, the redshirt junior had 68 putouts and five assists. He batted .265 and drove in 18 runs and had seven doubles.

The Bulldogs open their season Feb. 17 with a four-game series against Indiana-Purdue-Fort Wayne at Bulldog Field.

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