Alabama Baseball In The Pro's, Part 1

Former Alabama pitcher Tommy Hunter, now with the Baltimore Orioles - Abelimages

62 former 'Bama baseball players are have played in t

As Major League Baseball Spring Training opens this week, I am going to take a look at former Alabama players in the big leagues. In a two part series I will look at the former ‘Bama players in the minor leagues.

David Robertson, who pitched for Alabama in 2005 and 2006, was taken as a draft eligible sophomore by the New York Yankees in the 17th round in 2006, and made his MLB debut in 2008. The main set up man for the past 3 seasons, his best season to date was 2011, when he was moved to the AL all-star team, finishing with 64 appearances, a 4-0 win-loss record, a 1.08 ERA, pitching 66 innings and striking out 100 batters. For his career, he has pitched 262 innings, struck out 351, resulting in a recently signed 1 year, $3.5 million contract for 2013.

Tommy Hunter, Alabama fire baller in 2006-2007, was taken by the Texas Rangers in the first round of the 2007 MLB draft. Hunter was Freshman All American in 2006, posting 10 wins for ‘Bama. Hunter made his Major League debut in 2008, and his best season to date was 2010 when he recorded a 13-4 record with a 3.73 ERA for a Texas team that reached the World Series. Hunter became the first (and thus far only) former Alabama pitcher to start a Series game. Traded to the Baltimore Orioles during the 2011 season he transitioned to the bullpen late in 2012. From the pen he was able to raise his velocity to the high 90's, even reaching triple digits on occasion. The Indianapolis, Indiana native who has a career record of 33-24 with a 4.74 ERA, recently inked a 1 year deal worth $1.82 million for 2013.

Lake Charles, Louisiana native Wade LeBlanc exploded on the scene as a Freshmen for The Tide in 2004, being named national freshmen of the year, and first team All American in 2006 when he posted an 11-1 record with a 2.92 ERA. LeBlanc's career mark at Alabama was 24-10 with a 2.95 ERA, and still holds the school strike out record with 334 in 330 innings. The crafty lefty was picked in the second round by the San Diego Padres in the 2006 draft, and made his big league debut in 2008. Subsequently traded to the Miami Marlins he posted a 2-5 record with a 3.67 ERA in 2012 for one of the worst teams in MLB. With a career mark of 19-27 with a 4.38 ERA LeBlanc looks to be in the mix to be a starting pitcher for the rebuilding Marlins in 2013.

Matt Downs, pitcher and infielder for ‘Bama in 2004 thru 2006 was a 36th round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants following his senior campaign. The Centreville Alabama native made the most of his only significant playing time for the Tide leading a very good 2006 team in RBI and being named team captain. As a utility player he systematically worked his way thru the minors, hitting over .300 at every stop until reaching San Francisco in 2009. After playing parts of two seasons with the Giants, Downs was picked up by the Houston Astros where he played for three seasons. This off-season, he signed with the Miami Marlins. Downs best season was 2011 with Houston when he hit .276 with 10 homeruns and 41 RBI, leading MLB pinch hitters in RBI while only having 199 at bats. The versatile player can play all four infield positions and also the corner outfield spots and looks to use those abilities to contribute to the Marlins in 2013.

Alex Avila played all over the place while at Alabama from 2006 to 2008, including third base, first base, DH and catcher. The left handed slugger was named all SEC following the 2008 season, and was picked by the Detroit Tigers in the fifth round of that summers draft. Avila's dad is assistant General Manager of the Tigers, but it was quickly noted that nepotism has nothing to do with the pick. A permanent move to catcher lead to a call up to the majors in 2009, where he became the fifth member from the 2006 team to make the show, joining Robertson, Hunter, LeBlanc, and Downs. The Pembroke Pines, Florida native was the starting catcher for the 2011 American League all star team, where he caught former teammate Robertson in the game, another first for former Tide players. In 2011 Avila hit .295 with 19 homeruns 33 doubles and 82 RBI and won the Silver Slugger award for the American League. This past season Avila battled a knee injury that limited his playing time and ability to drive the ball off his back leg while batting. Despite the injury he became the third Tide player to reach the World Series in recent years, joining Robertson and his former college roommate Hunter in reaching the pinnacle of Major League baseball. The main number that didn't go down was his salary as he signed a one year $3.95 million deal for 2013. Healthy going into this year Avila looks to regain his place as one of MLB's top young catchers.

Josh Rutledge was an All SEC caliber shortstop for Bama from 2008-2010, leading the team in hits (99) and average (.360) as a freshman. Following his junior season in 2010 he was selected in the third round of the MLB draft by the Colorado Rockies, and quickly rose all the way to Denver and made his debut on July 13 2012. Rutledge was the toast of MLB for the first four to five weeks of his call up. The rookie filling in for all-star Troy Tulowitzki slapped a double off of lefty Cliff Lee in his first at bat, and was 2 for 2 with a sac fly, stolen base, RBI and a run in his first game. After hitting well over .300 for three months he tailed off in September, but still posted a .274 batting average with 8 homeruns, 20 doubles, 5 triples, 7 stolen bases and 37 RBI in 277 at bats. Rutledge played 87 games in AA before his call up and appeared in 73 more for Colorado. The Cullman High graduate projects as the Rockies second baseman in 2013 after playing shortstop last year. The 6 foot 1, 190 pound athlete possess all the tools to be a long term big leaguer and should put all-star quality numbers.

The current Tide team opens its season Friday February 15th at 6:05 pm, the first of a 3 game series with VMI. Game two will be Saturday at 2pm with Sundays game at 1pm. The 4 game home stand will conclude Tuesday the 19th at 6 pm vs Southern Miss.

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