TROY — Troy opens baseball practice Friday with four Wiregrass players hoping to have an impact on a roster with an interesting mix of returning starters and talented newcomers.
Tanner Jackson, who played at Houston Academy, may have multiple backup roles for the Trojans. He’s listed as an infielder/outfielder, but has even put on the catching gear when Troy had a couple catchers dinged up.
“I’ve been catching pens (bullpens),” Jackson said after Thursday’s final individual workout. “Briley (Reeves), one of our catchers, has a thumb injury.”
Troy head coach Mark Smartt said Jackson hasn’t played catcher since high school, but Jackson said it’s been even longer than that.
“I actually didn’t catch at HA. I had hip surgery at HA,” the sophomore said. “Brady Johnson played there.”
But he has done it in the past. His versatility impresses Smartt, but that pales next to his work ethic.
“One of the best kids in our program — hardest worker, best student, does everything the right way,” Smartt said. “He’s going to be a backup outfielder because we’ve got all that experience. We are experimenting with him behind the plate.
“That may be a value he brings to our team that we didn’t know about. It’s preseason, we don’t know enough, but it’s a good time to look at it. He’s got a good bat, very, very physical. He’s a strong kid. He can hit. He’s going to be an impact player before he leaves here.”
Zack Moore is a senior left-hander from Ashford High and LBW. Moore said he feels as good as he felt since arm surgery three years ago.
“It’s really good to finally be back 100 percent,” Moore said. “Coach Hancock (first-year pitching coach Matt Hancock) has helped me with that. It’s something I really focused on, my mechanics, to straighten them up.
“Last year we dropped my arm slot down a lot, just to make things a lot simpler. Then we worked back over the top and I’m back over the top since my mechanics are a lot simpler. It feels good. I feel comfortable again.”
He also took out the slider and goes with just a fastball and changeup.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Moore said. “We’ve got a bunch of new guys that have come in and helped us out and a lot of returners that have been here for a while. It’s like my first team here, the regional team. I think we have that caliber of team again this year, so it’s going to be exciting to see.”
Smartt said he has been encouraged with Moore’s work in the offseason.
“Consistency’s been a problem, but up to this point from all the guys coming from the fall into the spring he’s been one I’m more excited about,” the coach said. “He’s thrown strikes — and if he throws strikes he’s got a chance to help us.
“He’s a left that we need. I’m hopeful that his role up to now can expand. Up to this point, he would profile that way. If he continues the next three weeks he will.”
Smartt called Cory Gill of Cottonwood a “wild card” for the Trojans.
A competitor who has played a ton of roles for Troy — from closer to Friday night starter — Gill is coming off arm surgery. He will not be ready to start the season, but the coach is hoping for a return by the start of Sun Belt play in March. Gill would prefer to get back sooner.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” the fifth-year senior said. “Just going through all the workouts, getting it all done. Preseason work’s always fun, seeing where everybody stands. It should be a fun season.”
One of the newcomers turning heads in the offseason was freshman Matt Snell of G.W. Long.
“I love it here, love all the teammates, the coaches,” Snell said Thursday. “I like knowing I get to come to practice every day. I’m just ready for the season.”
He was a dominant pitcher and outstanding hitter for the Rebels.
“I’m still hitting and pitching, but I think my main role is going to be pitching this year,” Snell said. “We do have a lot of depth on the mound, so I don’t know how many innings I’ll get.”
Gill talked about his new teammate.
“He’s one of the guys who sends them out of the ballpark pretty easily. He impressed us,” the senior said. “We had a little home run derby over here, a competition. He was everybody’s No. 1 pick.
“On the mound he’s been filling it up. He’s tough on the hitters. He’s their best friend when he’s hitting and one of their biggest enemies when he’s on the mound. He’s doing pretty good.”
Smartt said Snell has been doing that since he arrived.
“All the names we talk about, his name keeps coming up,” the coach said. “He’s very intriguing. He’s got real ability. He comes from a program that expects to win. That’s carried over here. When you watch him compete, he competes to win.
“I think he may be somebody that people know more of as the season goes along. I don’t want to predict things. I’ve been at it long enough not to predict things. But Matt’s got a really bright future and it wouldn’t shock me for him to make a big impact Year 1.”