Since we have already reported on former 'Bama players that played in the Major Leagues last year, we will now check out the former players toiling in the Minor Leagues.
Several players that we reported on last year were either released or retired during this past season. Matt Downs signed with the Marlins and played in AAA before being released in September and decided to retire rather than sign with any of the several teams that contacted him. Cale Iorg was released by the Tigers, signed with the Orioles and was released in June. Tyler White was released by the Tigers, signed with Wichita in Independent ball, but was released from them as well. White is back in Tuscaloosa pursing his masters degree. Catcher Vin Difazzio was hurt, got well, and was let go by Texas. Austin Hyatt had been with the Phillies since being drafted in 2009, and made steady progress, making it to AAA for two seasons, but age caught up with him, and the Phillies set him free after spring training. Fan favorite Nathan "Peanut" Kilcrease was let go by the Pirates, despite setting the save record for their A league team in 2012, and pitching lights out in spring training. Kilcrease can, and does, throw four pitches for strikes, and has succeded at every level he has ever pitched in, but teams cannot/ will not get past his 5 foot 5 inch frame. After contemplating retirement, he signed with Fargo of the Independent League and lead his league in saves and ERA. He just needs the right team to pick him up and give him a legitimate chance.
The next Tide players that should make it to "the show" are left-hander pitcher Adam Morgan of the Phillies, and outfielder Kent Matthes of the Rockies. Morgan was poised to be called up in May, before suffering a shoulder injury that hijacked a big portion of his season. The 6 foot 1 inch lefty pitched in 16 games in AAA and had a 2-7 record with an ERA of 4.04 Morgan was limited to 78 innings, and struck out 57 batters, while walking only 26. He is fit and healthy (I spent some time with him this past weekend) and appears ready to go, and should be at worst a mid season call up. Matthes has also battled injuries through out his career, and this season was not an exception, spending time on the disabled list with an oblique injury. Matthes is known for his power, speed, and strong arm. Splitting time between AA and AAA, Matthes sported a .281 overall average with 20 home runs and 63 RBIs in 431 at bats. Between the two leagues the big right fielder stole 17 bases while being caught only four times. Colorado has several young, powerful outfielders in their system, but hopefully Kent can stay healthy and put up some numbers that cannot be ignored.
The next guys are in lower levels and have a longer road to travel. The best of the rest is Tide all-time great, outfielder Taylor Dugas. Dugas, who left the Capstone as Bama's all time leader in hits, singles, doubles and triples had a fine season as a Yankee farm hand, splitting the season between Low A Charleston and High A Tampa. The three time All American finished the season with an overall batting average of .285. After starting the season in Charleston the pesky lead-off man was promoted to the Tampa team, where he hit .321 at the higher level, and boosted an on base percentage of .426.(Which is outstanding, by the way) Dugas drew 64 walks and scored 66 runs in 113 games. When the team moved him into his natural leadoff spot, his numbers took off. Dugas is living in Tuscaloosa during the off season and is working out with new 'Bama baseball strength and conditioning coach Ben Ashford, and looks like an absolute specimen right now. The Yankee coaches through out the organization are excited about his play and what he can bring to the table.
Right handed pitcher Jason Townsend is in the Pirate organization and had an outstanding 2012 season, having a 8-2 record with a sparkling 1.94 ERA. However, for what ever reason, he struggled mightily this year, posting a 5-5 record with a 6.71 ERA. Townsend did rebound late in the season after getting absolutely blasted early in the year.
Ian Gardeck is a Giant farm hand and pitched for Augusta in the Sally League ( Low A. ) The hard throwing righty can hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but struggles with his control. He non the less had a solid season, posting a 5-4 won-loss record with a 3.21 ERA. In 56 innings Gardeck struck out 66 batters, but walked 40, hit several, and committed several wild pitches. If he can gain consistent control Gardeck can climb the ladder.
Shortstop Jared Reaves had a solid season for the Tigers class A West Michigan team. Reaves batted .272 with five home runs, while playing solid defense. Reaves told me half of his 16 errors were early in the year when this Eastman Georgia native had a hard time feeling the ball in his hands with the temperature hovering near the freezing mark.
Ross Wilson is now in the Marlins organization and played 97 games in High A. The second basemen also played some left field and some third base, and hit a hard .222. I say "hard" because he told me he hit the ball very well all season, with no breaks. Line drives right at fielders and being robbed by outstanding plays.
Left handed pitcher Matt Taylor is in the Baltimore farm system, and pitched with the Low A Delmarva Shorebirds in the Sally League. Although his won-loss record doesn't show it, Taylor had a solid season with a 4-13 record with a 3.77 ERA. The Midland Georgia native pitched 138 innings, allowing 134 hits and striking out 106. His biggest issue was 61 walks. Being left hander, and hard throwing, Taylor should stick around for several years, and hopefully progress.
Iron man catcher Brett Booth was the only member of the 2013 Tide squad to sign a professional contract. The stocky backstop was drafted by the Astros in the 38th round, and was first assigned to the Gulf Coast League. The former all state quarterback for Tuscaloosa County High School, hit .308 before being promoted to the New York- Penn League with the Tri-City ValleyCats. Booth played solid defense and hit .244 for the 'Cats. Overall he posted a .269 average. As an award for his season, Booth was sent to the Dominican Republic for three weeks this fall, just arriving back home last week. A good catcher with a strong arm and that can hit some are at a premium in professional baseball, and Booth is all those things. Booth is working out with Dugas and Ashford and looks to be in excellent shape to advance his career.
Of this group, as stated, Morgan and Matthes should make their big league teams at some point this season. Of the others, at this point Dugas as the best chance of making it all the way. Booth, being a catcher, and Taylor, being a left handed pitcher, may be years away, but they have the "easiest" path to the majors, as their positions are held at a premium. If Gardeck can consistently throw strikes, and continue to hit 100 mph, he could get a chance. As I stated this group of guys is a long way off, but a great 2014 could propel them toward their ultimate goal.
'Bama baseball fever, catch it!
Roll Tide Y'all Roger