By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
The Cullman High baseball team is losing a whole lot of talent in Keegan Thompson, Jordan Guthrie, Kristian Robinson and Troy Forrest, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Bearcats will have to scrape players from the bottom of the barrel in order to contend come next spring.
In fact, just this past Saturday, three of the Black and Gold’s most valuable returners were selected to represent Team Alabama at an extremely exclusive three-state competition later in the week. Cole Collins, Sam Huser and Kolby Robinson all made the cut for the Alabama Baseball Coaches Association’s (AlaBCA’s) 20-man roster, which will take on Team Tennessee and Team Georgia on Thursday and Friday at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville, Ga.
Other than Class 6A Pelham, which matched Cullman with three invitees, no other school placed more than one player on the squad featuring some of the best sophomores and juniors the state has to offer.
“The bottom line is it’s good that out of the 20, three of them are from Cullman,” Bearcat coach Brent Patterson said. “They all play at a pretty high level, and they’re going to be at the center of what we do next year. We know they’re good players, but it’s always reinforcement when other people notice them, too. We’re proud.”
All Collins’ summer has consisted of is baseball — and the junior wouldn’t have it any other way. Along with Black and Gold teammate Lance Cleveland, as well as Hartselle slugger Brett Blackwood, Collins helped lead the Vipers’ competitive travel team to three tournament titles before doing enoughto advance past both stages of the AlaBCA’s tryout process.
The Cullman trio first had to survive a regional workout at Snead State, one of eight sites in Alabama. Then, after being placed on one of three north-based teams, the players strutted their stuff in three All-Star games versus the south’s three squads at Troy University.
College coaches watched each Bearcats’ every move like a hawk at both sessions. Collins, Huser and Robinson shouldn’t expect the scrutiny to temper, either, with nearly 90 professional scouts and college coaches expected to be on hand for Thursday’s and Friday’s games.
At 2012’s multi-state event, college representation included Wallace State, Snead State, the University of Alabama, UAB, Georgia, Mississippi State, Missouri, Samford, Troy and Vanderbilt, while professional representation included scouts from the Braves, Red Sox, Yankees and Major League Baseball’s scouting bureau.
“These guys are trained to do this. They know just by looking at your swing how good you are, so I’m not going to put too much pressure on getting hits,” Collins said. “I mean, I’m going to try my hardest, but I believe I’ve put in the work, so I’m going to let it take care of itself.”
Based on Collins’ 2013 postseason outburst — he was 13 for 24 with four doubles and eight runs in six games — Patterson has no doubt the All-State right fielder will be successful not just this week, but by the time next spring rolls around.
“When it started counting at the end of the season and in the playoffs, you started seeing who Cole Collins was,” the coach said. “You can’t outwork him. You build an offense around somebody like Cole. He’s our guy offensively we know we’re going to have.”
Huser is occupying a spot on Team Alabama for the second time in as many years. The junior’s first experience was somewhat bittersweet, however, as shoulder inflammation kept him from ever taking the mound.
According to Patterson, the nagging injury carried over into this past prep season, making it difficult for Huser to consistently flash his true potential. The coach still saw signs of greatness, though, which he hopes will continue coming at an increasingly steady rate in 2014.
“He had several good outings, but he was pitching with a lot of pain and never was 100 percent,” Patterson said of Huser, who is projected to be one of the Bearcats’ top-two pitchers next year. “I’m hoping he can go down there, be at 100 percent and show people what he can be. That’s what we’re looking forward to next year. We’re going to be counting on him from the word, ‘Go.’”
While Collins and Huser made the AlaBCA squad as juniors, Robinson managed to pull off the feat as a rising sophomore.
The rock-solid infielder wasn’t a varsity starter on Opening Day of his freshman campaign, but it didn’t take long for Patterson to realize Cullman was a better team with Robinson on the field and in the lineup.
“Size-wise, we would’ve loved for him to have one more year of JV at-bats, but he’s good enough to belong as a freshman,” the coach said. “Right off the bat, we had no doubts about him defensively. He’s really solid, very steady and has good instincts. As he gets stronger, he’s going to be a lot more of a threat offensively.”
Robinson is capable of playing any infield position outside of first base. However, if the season were to start today, Patterson said the sophomore would probably be the Bearcats’ starting shortstop.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at email@example.com.