With the World Series wrapping up this evening with Game 7, and the last of the former 'Bama baseball players teams eliminated, it is time to see how the Tider's preformed in 2014. Tommy Hunter's Baltimore Orioles team was the last hope for 'Bama to have a representative in the World Series, but were beaten by the Cinderella Kansas City Royals team, that has become the darlings of baseball this fall.
The Orioles defeated Alex Aliva's Detroit Tigers team in the League Division Series, and the Royals defeated Wade LeBlanc's Los Angeles Angels. The San Francisco Giants beat the St Louis Cardinals to become the National Leagues representative.
Back in the spring we looked at the various Tide players, where they were, and what to expect from them in 2014. Over the course of the long season there were many ups and downs for the six 'Bama boys that played in the Major Leagues this season.
David Robertson had the daunting task of replacing the greatest closer in the history of Major League Baseball, Mariano Rivera, with the New York Yankees. Robertson had been a valuable eighth inning arm for the Yankees for a number of years, and proved to be up to the task of taking over the ninth inning. Robertson converted 39 of 44 save chances, and posted an ERA or 3.06 in 63 appearances. The Tuscaloosa native had a 4-5 Won-Loss record and struck out 92 batters in 64.2 innings. Robertson was pitching on a one year 5.2 million dollar contract, and is a free agent for the 2015 season. The Yankees can either give him a qualifying offer, which is $15.5 million for one year, sign him to a longer term deal (2-3 years, $22-30 million most likely) or choose to let him test the market. There seems to be sentiment among the Yankees brass to try to secure the soon to be 30 year old for 2-3 years. Who ever D Rob ends up with, the contract he signs will likely secure he and his family for life, so this is an important negotiation for the pitcher.
Tommy Hunter entered the 2014 season as the closer for the Baltimore Orioles, after the team traded Jim Johnson to the Oakland A's. Hunter's grasp on the job was somewhat tentative, as the team never fully embraced the move, but more named him because of a lack of other candidates, and when he struggles early, was quickly replaced by Zach Britton. Hunter then settled back into the 6th, 7th, 8th inning roll that he shined in during the 2013 season. The big (6 foot 3, 260 pound) righty tallied 11 saves before being replaced, and recorded 15 holds, with a 3-2 won-loss record. The Indianapolis native appeared in 60 games, throwing 60.2 innings with a very good 2.97 ERA. Hunter turned his season around when he ditched his cutter and leaned more on his 96-100 mile per hour fastball , and a wicked "12-6" curve ball. The hard thrower's biggest improvement was in his lack of home runs allowed. Big,hard throwers tend to give up a lot of long balls, and Hunter had given up a lot of home runs, even in college. This season, better location and better pitch selection allowed him to only allow four home runs on the season, two to left-handers and two to right-handers. Hunter's career average had been one home run allowed per 6.2 innings pitched, and this year he dropper that to one per 15 innings pitched, a dramatic drop.
Hunter is arbitration eligible this year, and after working with a one year, 3 million dollar deal, he should look to get a modest raise. The most likely result would be another one year deal in the neighborhood of 4 million dollars. Ideally a two to three year deal would be preferable, but middle relief pitchers don't typically receive more than one year contracts. The bullpen was a big reason the Oriole's were able to win the American League Eastern Division, and it would bode well for them to try to replicate the chemistry the team enjoyed in that area.
Alex Avila, catcher for the Detroit Tigers, had yet another, frustrating, injury plagued year. Avila has suffered several concussions over the past two seasons. The 27-year old has become somewhat of a magnet for foul balls, taking balls to the face mask at an alarming rate. Avila has also been hit in the back of the head with a bat, and was slapped in the side of the head on an attempted pick off while on base. The last image of this season was of Avila being lead off the field during the Tigers final game of the playoffs after been knocked out by a foul ball. In talking to him, Alex says, " I'll be fine, just once you have had one concussion, they (medical staff) have to be much more cautious when you get hit again. I am a baseball player, that is what I do, and this is one of the risks. I don't foresee any long-term issues, and neither does the medical team."
Avila was able to play in 124 games for the Tigers and hit .218 with 11 home runs, 22 doubles and 47 RBIs. Avila stood out as a defensive player, throwing out 34% of runners attempting to steal. The Hialeah, Florida native was only charged with three passed balls and had an outstanding fielding percentage of .995, while handling a pitching staff full of Cy Young winners, in Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price. The stocky back stop should be a leading contender for a Gold Glove Award for this seasons work.
Avila worked this season on a one year 5.1 million dollar deal, and the team has an option for 2015 at 5.2 million dollars. If the team decides his health precludes such a deal, they would owe him a 200,000 dollar buy out. Hopefully, all medical tests will be clear, and the bigger deal will kick in. Best case scenario would be for a 3-4 year deal at 6 to 7 million dollar range. The main thing right now is to assure that he will not have any lingering affects from the blows to the head.
Josh Rutledge has to feel like a yo-yo with the way he has been jerked around, and been moved up and down by the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies are by all accounts one of the most dysfunctional organizations in professional sports. Rutledge played very well in spring training, but was still sent to AAA to begin the season, as the Rockies kept six outfielders (unheard of) on the opening day roster. In 15 games at Colorado Springs, the Cullman native hit .333 and was called back up, only to be buried on the bench, getting an occasional start or pinch-hitting chance. When superstar shortstop Troy Tulowitzki suffered his annual season ending injury in July, Rutledge stepped in as the every day shortstop. In 309 at bats Rutledge hit .269 with 16 doubles, seven triples, four home runs and 33 RBIs. The seven triples was in the top 10 in all of Major League Baseball, and shows not only speed, but power as well.
Rutledge is not yet eligible for arbitration and played this season on a (just) above minimum salary of $501,000 dollars. The infielder (also can play second base and third base) will probably receive a modest raise on another one year deal. The best case for Rutledge would be for Tulowitzki (and his huge, long contract) to be traded. Tulo is still owed upwards of $200 million dollars over 10 years, and with his injury history, will be very difficult to unload. The other option would be for Rutledge himself to be traded to a team with the need for a young, speedy infielder with pop in his bat and big potential. One other possibility is to regulate second baseman D.J. Lemahieu to a utility role, and start Rutledge at second base. For some reason the Rockies are enamored with Lemahieu, who, to his credit, is an outstanding defensive infielder.
Veteran left handed pitcher Wade LeBlanc is a well traveled journey man pitcher that stared for the Tide from 2004-2006. Hopefully LeBlanc has a frequent flyer program, because he burned up the skies this summer. The Angels signed him, sent him to AAA, called him up, allowed him to pitch one game, and released him. The New York Yankees claimed him, brought him to NYC, allowed him to pitch one inning, and released him.The Angels reclaimed him and sent him back to AAA where he pitched well, and received another late season call up.
LeBlanc ended the season pitching 15 scoreless innings over three appearances, but was left off the Angels post season roster. For the season the Lake Charles, LA native posted a 1-1 record with a 3.47 ERA. The 30 year old could stay around for a while, as baseball loves left handed pitchers. Over his nine pro seasons LeBlanc has a 60-39 minor league record with a 4.10 ERA, but is 21-33 with a 4.47 ERA in the major leagues, in stints with San Diego, Houston, Miami, LA, and NY. LeBlanc was paid the MLB minimum of $500,000 and if he sticks next season it would be for the same type number.
Jimmy Nelson is the latest Alabama player to make it to the Major Leagues. Nelson got a "cup of coffee" in 2013 and did well in a very limited sample size, starting one game and relieving in three others. The Milwaukee Brewers property started the 2014 season in AAA with the Nashville Sounds, and dominated the league. The big ( 6 foot 6 inches) hard throwing righty started 17 games and posted a 10-2 record with a minuscule ERA of 1.46. In 111 innings Nelson only allowed 70 hits, walking 32 and striking out 114, an amazing 3-1 strike out to walk ratio. Despite being called up to the majors for good in July, Nelson was still named the Pacific Coast League pitcher of the year.
With Milwaukee, Nelson appeared in 14 games, starting 12 and struggled to some extent, finishing with a 2-9 won-loss record and a 4.93 ERA. Pitching 69 innings Nelson allowed 82 hits, walked 19 and struck out 57. Nelson will go to spring training looking to crack the Brewers five man starting rotation, or to find a spot in the bull pen. Many in baseball think Nelson needs to develop a third pitch to go with his fast ball and slider to be a successful starting pitcher in MLB. As a relief pitcher two pitches is usually plenty, so it remains to be seen what his best spot will be. As a rookie Nelson will be pitching on a minimum salary of $500,000 dollars.
My next look will be at our 'Bama boys in the minor leagues. The next ones to knock on the MLB door should be outfielder Taylor Dugas ( NY Yankees) and left handed pitcher Adam Morgan (Philadelphia Phillies). The Tide sent five players off of their 2014 team to professional ball this past summer.
Bama Baseball Fever, Catch It!
Roll Tide Y'all Roger