2013 held some surprises for many former 'Bama players in MLB baseball. After having three players involved in MLB playoffs last year, Tommy Hunter and the Orioles, David Robertson and the Yankees, and Alex Avila and the Tigers, this year Avila is the only one on a team that reached the post season.
Hunter had an outstanding season for the Orioles. Hunter was moved to the bull pen late in the 2012 season and spent the entire 2013 season there, and thrived in the role. Pitching mostly in the 7th or 8th innings of games, Hunter compiled a 6-5 record with a 2.81 ERA in 68 appearances, compiling 24 holds and four saves. In 86 innings Hunter struck out 68 batters and allowed a batting average against of .222. The Orioles love Hunter in his new role, and he should continue to shine. Hunter out of the bull pen consistently hit 96-98 MPH on the radar gun, and on occasion reached triple digits.
Robertson has shined in the glare of the bright lights of New York City for five seasons now, and is in line to replace the greatest closer of all time, Mariano Rivera, in 2014. Robertson posted a 5-1 record with a 2.01 ERA, striking out 77 batters in 66 innings. Robertson, who through his High Socks for Hope foundation, has raised 100s of thousands of dollars for charity, including a big chunk of that for his home town Tuscaloosa's tornado relief. For all his great work, Robertson is a finalist for the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award, which Major League Baseball dispatches each year.
Avila is trying to help lead the Tigers to back-to-back World Series appearances. Alex struggled with injuries and a long slump the first half of the season, but recovered in the second half once he became healthy. With a strong finish he had a .227 batting average with 11 home runs and 47 RBI's. Avila remained one of MLBs best defensive catchers and still sports a strong throwing arm.
Josh Rutledge of the Colorado Rockies was expected to be the teams answer at second base in the long term. Rutledge was called up in July of 2012 and set Major League Baseball on its ear for the first month of his call up. He cooled off in September, but still hit .274 and was touted as a player of the future for Colorado. Rutledge began the season as the starter, but was demoted to AAA in May when he was hitting .240. Much of MLB was surprised by the demotion. While in AAA Rutledge hit .371 with a .571 slugging percentage. A September call-up, Rutledge finished the year with a .235 average, seven home runs and 12 stolen bases. In parts of two seasons, Rutledge is 19-19 in stolen base attempts. Hopefully 2014 will lead to a starting role for Josh.
Wade LeBlanc has been an off and on Major Leaguer for the past five seasons. LeBlanc began the season in the Miami Marlins starting rotation, but did not last long, and posted a 1-5 record with a 5.40 ERA. The Marlins eventually released him and he was picked up by the Houston Astros, where he finished the year in AAA. LeBlanc has free agency status now and it remains to be seen if he will receive another chance. Being a lefty that can start or pitch out of the pen should help his cause. His lack of velocity and command may hurt his cause.
Matt Downs played parts of five seasons in the Majors for the Giants and the Astros. As a free agent Downs signed with the Marlins and was placed in AAA, New Orleans. After playing 82 games with a .215 batting average and eight home runs, Downs was released. Despite having numerous teams showing interest in signing him, Downs chose to retire and move back to Bibb County, where he and his wife await the birth of their second son.
Jimmy Nelson became the 64th former Tide player to make his Major League debut, after being called up in September by the Milwaukee Brewers. Nelson pitched in four games, including one start, and pitched 10 innings with a 0.90 ERA. Nelson earned his call up after pitching well in AA and AAA, as well as in the futures games sponsored by MLB, prior to their All Star Game. In the minors Nelson complied a 10-10 record with a 3.25 ERA and 163 strikeouts i 152 innings. Nelson is considered the Brewers number on prospect, and although he most likely will being 2014 in AAA, look for him to be in the teams rotation by mid-season.