Minor league players report to spring training the first week of March. With that deadline approaching I am going to run down the former Alabama players working their ways through the various clubs farm systems.
There are five players on the rise that could soon see Major League action, plus one more that has been back and forth to the big club. Paul Phillips, cousin of former Alabama great and current batting coach Andy Phillips, has spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues and currently is with the AAA Buffalo Bison's. The Bison's are affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays. Phillips played for ‘Bama in 1998.Right handed pitcher Austin Hyatt played for Alabama from 2005-2009, and earned all-SEC honors in 2009. Hyatt was known for his pin point control and command of his pitches. The Marietta Georgia product was selected in the 15th round of the 2009 draft. Hyatt has spent the last two years bouncing between AA and AAA. Last year he was a combined 10-12 with a 5.27 ERA. The control artist best year was 2010 when he had a won lost record of 12-5 with a 3.32 ERA in 146 innings of work with 181 strikeouts and only 44 walks.
Kent Matthes, Alabama outfielder from 2006-2009, was All American and NCAA player of the year in 2009 when he tied for the national lead in homeruns with 28. That season he also batted .358 and drove home 81 runs. Matthes was drafted in the fourth round of the 2009 draft by the Colorado Rockies. In 2009 Matthes struggled with various injuries, but still hit 17 homeruns and drove in 40 in limited action. The 2011 season was his best when he hit .334 with 23 homeruns and 95 RBI and was MVP of the CAL league, despite suffering a broken wrist and missing the last month of the season. If Matthes rebounds and stays healthy and has a big season he could possibly be in the mix for a September call up by the Rockies.
Cale Iorg only played one season at Alabama (2005) before leaving for a two year Mormon mission in Portugal. After his return, he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 6th round of the 2007 draft. Iorg has spent the last several years bouncing between AA and AAA. The son of former major leaguer Garth Iorg and nephew of another former major leaguer, Dane Iorg, his best season to date was 2008 when he hit .251 with 10 homeruns. A slick fielder Iorg will have to pick it up with the bat to continue to progress.
Jimmy Nelson, right handed pitcher, played for Alabama in 2008, 2009 and 2010, earning all-SEC Tournament Team honors in 2010. Nelson was selected in the 2nd round of the 2010 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. The big (6'6") hurler seems to be on the fast track to the big league team. In 2012 he split time between A and AA and a combined record of 6-8 with an excellent 2.83 ERA, throwing 127 innings with 119 strikeouts. Nelson's most likely to start the season with The Huntsville Stars, the AA affiliate of the Brewers.
Left hander pitcher Adam Morgan's time in Tuscaloosa was 2009-2011. Morgan was a second generation Tider, following his dad Wiley who pitched for ‘Bama in the early 1980's. After his junior season the Philadelphia Phillies used their 3rd round pick to take Morgan. The product of Marietta Georgia turned heads in the Phillie organization in 2012 when he split time in A and AA and sported a record of 8-11 with a 3.35 ERA, pitching 158 innings with 169 strikeouts and only 39 walks. Morgan was recently named the third rated prospect in the Philadelphia farm system. Given his sharp rise and his catching the front offices eye it is conceivable that by the end of the summer Morgan could be donning a major league uniform.
The last list is of players that are in the lower rungs of the minor leagues or that are just getting started in their journey. Greg Paiml, Alabama shortstop from 2004 to 2007 was a 15th round pick of the Chicago White Sox after his senior season. Paiml has bounced around between the White Sox and the Braves and A and AA the past few seasons. The Hoover High product had his best season in 2007 when he hit .310 in Rookie Ball. Paiml ended last season with his hometown Birmingham Barons, where he once served as team bat boy.
Catcher Vinnie DiFazio played at Alabama in 2007-2009, after transferring from U Conn. The Hampton NJ native battled through a major arm injury just to be able to take the field for ‘Bama. DiFazio was chosen by the Texas Rangers in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. The strong armed backstop had his best season in 2010 when he hit .275 with 12 homeruns and 37 RBI. Teams seem to have more patience with catchers that are good defensively, which DiFazio is.
Right handed pitcher Jason Townsend spent only the 2010 season in Tuscaloosa, and was taken by the Pittsburg Pirates in the 31st round that year. Townsend ended last season with the AA Altoona Curve of the Eastern League. The Albany Georgia native had an outstanding 2012 season, posting an 8-2 record with a strong 1.94 ERA, relying on a fastball that now is being clocked in the mid 90's. Another strong season could propel Townsend up the ladder.
Ross Wilson, Alabama second basemen from 2008-2010, started his Tide career strongly by hitting a record tying 15 homeruns as a freshmen. Jeremy Brown now shares the record with Wilson. The former Hoover High quarterback and star of MTV's Two A Days was a 10th round choice of the Chicago White Sox in 2010. Wilson's best season to date was in 2010 when he hit .289 in rookie ball. In 2013 Wilson signed as a free agent with the Miami Marlins.
Left handed pitcher Matt Taylor spent only the 2010 season with Alabama before transferring to Middle Georgia College. Taylor was used sparingly as a relief pitcher and outfielder in his short tenure at the Capstone. The product of Columbus Georgia was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 5th round in 2011. Last season at Class A Delmarva he posted a 5-7 record with a 4.33 ERA. Hard throwing left hand pitchers, which Taylor is always, have a chance to advance.
Tyler White, right handed pitcher, lettered at Alabama in 2009 and 2010. White was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the 20thround of the 2010 draft. White's best year has been 2011 when he posted a 1.17 ERA. The hard throwing relief pitcher played for the Lakeland Flyers in the Advanced Class A league in 2012. Blessed with good size (6'2") and a strong right arm White looks to work his way up the ladder.
Nathaniel (Peanut) Kilcrease is one of the most popular players in Crimson Tide history; he pitched for ‘Bama from 2008 to 2011. Kilcrease was popular not only for his tenacious, bulldog approach to pitching, but also for his diminutive (5'5") size. The Phoenix City native filled many roles for Alabama during his career and holds the record for appearances by a pitcher with 88. Kilcrease was named MVP of the NCAA Atlanta Regional in 2010. The Oakland A's picked the righty in the 30th round of the 2011 draft. Last season Kilcrease signed with the Pittsburg Pirates and had an outstanding season. In 37 appearances for the West Virginia Power of the class A Sally League Kilcrease set a team record with 15 saves while pitching 49 innings, striking out 47 and walking only 11 and having a miniscule 1.28 ERA. A pitcher that can pound the strike zone and throw 4 pitches for strikes should always be in demand, no matter how tall they are, or aren't.
Ian Gardeck may have struggled in his one season in Tuscaloosa (2012) but the 16th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants seems to made progress with his control problems. The Lake in the Hills, Illinois product has been known to hit over 100 mph on the radar gun at times. Gardeck has only pitched for a handful of years, having grown up as a catcher. This summer Gardeck pitched 30 innings and struck out 45 batters and had a 2-2 record with a 4.20 ERA in 19 games. The Giants love big power arms and Gardeck fits the bill. If the strong arm hurler can continue to throw strikes he has a chance to advance quickly.
Jared Reaves, Alabama shortstop in 2011 and 2012, had a successful career in Tuscaloosa, hitting .340 as a junior and .316 as a senior. The Eastman Georgia native was a 25th round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2012. Reaves hit .240 in 2012 for the Connecticut Tigers of the NY Penn league and was named to the all-star team. Reaves should start out at the A level this year.
Last but not least is outfielder Taylor Dugas, who rewrote the Alabama record book during his 4 year stay in Tuscaloosa. (2009-2012). The Tide record holder in hits, singles, doubles, and triples was a 3 time All American. Dugas is also 5th in career games, 2nd in games started, 6th in career batting average (.360) 2nd in at bats, third in runs,6th in total bases,2nd in walks,4th in intentional walks, 4th in HBP, 2nd in on base percentage, and 8th in sacrifice bunts in Crimson Tide history. The Lafayette Louisiana native was an 8th round pick by the New York Yankees in the 2012 draft. A consummate leadoff hitter Dugas hit .306 with a .465 on base percentage for the Staten Island Yankees in the NY Penn league last summer. Like Reaves he was selected to the league all-star team. Despite his 5'7" 175 pound frame Dugas has gap power that helps him rack up doubles and triples. Dugas knowledge of the strike zone and his great batters eye help him keep a very high on base percentage. Leadoff hitters with those qualities are few and far between which should bode well for Dugas ascension through the Yankee farm system. Dugas has hit everywhere he has been (and amazing .685 as a high school senior) and I wouldn't expect that to stop anytime soon.
Sixty Two (62) former Alabama players have played major league baseball and I don't see any reason some of these young men can't increase that number soon. My best bets of this group are Matthes, Morgan, Nelson, Gardeck and Dugas. With only 750 big league roster spots and over 6,000 minor league players the odds are stacked against everyone. However I feel these players have the ability and the work ethic to make it. A little lady luck wouldn't hurt either.
The current Alabama team open the season Friday February 15th hosting VMI for a 3 game series .Game times are Friday at 605 pm, Saturday at 2 pm and Sunday at 1pm. Tuesday February 19th the Tide hosts Southern Miss at 605 pm. The pitching rotation appears to be Spencer Turnbull on Friday, Justin Kamplain on Saturday, Charley Sullivan on Sunday and Taylor Guilbeau on Tuesday.
Roll Tide Y'all