Fifteen former Alabama baseball players were in the Minor Leagues this past season. Let's take a look at how they did, and what their prospects are going forward as they try to join the six former Tiders in the Majors.
All-time Alabama hit leader Taylor Dugas, a NY Yankee prospect, had a big season and is poised to make it to the Bronx soon. When Dugas left Tuscaloosa in February he wasn't sure if he would be sent to AA Trenton or back to A league Tampa. Not only was the outfielder sent to Trenton but he performed so well there, hitting .294/.403/.394 with 10 doubles, five triples, one home run and 23 RBI, that he was promoted to AAA Scranton-Wilkes-Barre. After being promoted to Scranton the lefty held his own at .305/.394/.356. Overall, in 351 ABs, the 5'9", 180 pound spark plug hit .299 with 47 walks for an on base percentage of .399.
Dugas is a natural leadoff hitter, and on the few occasions when he did lead off his numbers were outstanding. The nature of the minor league game doesn't always lend itself to players being in the best spot for the team to win since player development is paramount, particularly for the guys with the big contracts. Being an eighth round pick four years removed from high school, Dugas was not a prime investment as several of his teammates were, pushing him to the bottom of the order.
Dugas turned a lot of heads in the Yankee organization this summer and should earn a trip to big league spring training this spring. That will be a big step toward his ultimate goal of becoming a major league player. Although it is doubtful he will make the big club coming out of spring training, it will be a valuable learning experience, and should set him up to be called up at some point during the 2015 season. Dugas will be 25 in December, so this will be a crucial season for him, and many around the Yankees think he is ready for the call, and could be a valuable fourth outfielder type player, that can play left, center and right fields.
Adam Morgan, left handed pitcher, missed the entire 2014 season after having shoulder surgery in the Philadelphia Phillies system. Morgan was poised to be called up in the 2013 season when he was injured. The team thought rehab would suffice for the injury, but after wasting several months he finally had surgery in January of 2014. The Georgia native went to the Arizona Fall League in September and pitched well, without any pain. The Phillies have to put the 24 year old on their 40 man roster this month or risk losing him to free agency. Morgan feels that coming off of the surgery that the Phillies will not protect him, nor does he think that anyone else would risk picking him up. Being healthy, and going to spring training and doing well, could very well land Morgan in the big leagues sooner rather than later. Morgan and Dugas were three year roommates at Alabama, and it would be a nice story for both of them to make the Show this year.
Kent Matthes started the year on the Colorado Rockies 40 man roster, but when they tried to slip him through waivers he was claimed by the Oakland A's. The big outfielder began the season in AAA but struggled early and was sent down to AA. In 390 at bats the power hitter hit .232/.291/.424 in 396 ABs with 16 home runs and 72 RBI. Matthes will turn 28 in January and his time to shine is growing short. Staying healthy has been his biggest issue, as he has missed significant time in each season since being drafted. The Orlando, Florida native has all the tools - speed, power, arm strength - that a big league outfielder requires, but needs to put together a big, healthy season to take the next step.
Jared Reaves, shortstop, is a Detroit Tiger farm hand. Reaves spent his second season in High A Lakeland, Florida. The Georgia product hit .236 in 335 at bats with 12 doubles, one triple and three home runs, while driving in 21 runs. Reaves played primarily shortstop, but also spent some time at second and third base. Reaves will not turn 25 until July, and looks to move up to AA as soon as possible.
Ian Gardeck, will turn 24 this month. The right handed fireballer, with the upper 90s fastball, dealt with injuries this past season. The San Francisco Giant product posted a 3-3 won-lost record with a 6.99 ERA, pitching 37 innings, striking out 43, but walking 39. Control has been an issue for the hard thrower, and if he can ever harness it, has a chance to move up. Gardeck was a catcher until he reached junior college, so he doesn't have a lot of innings on his arm.
Infielder Ross Wilson turned 26 this month and had an up and down year in 2014. Wilson began the year with the Florida Marlin organization but was released after 71 at bats at Class A Jupiter. After briefly retiring, the Hoover product was contacted by the Atlanta Braves and was signed and sent to Rome, Georgia, were he hit .244 in 275 at bats with 15 doubles, three triples and seven home runs, while driving in 40. Wilson is planning to play again this coming year and would have to make a dramatic rise soon. Wilson has reached AA on a couple of occasions in his career.
Brett Booth is a catcher in the Houston Astro organization. The 24 year old played for the Class A Quad City River Bandits this past season. In 56 games the Northport native hit .242 with 10 doubles, five home runs and 24 RBIs. Booth is known for his defense and strong arm and had a fine defensive season, and hopes to climb a little further up the chain this season. Catchers don't necessarily have to hit a ton to make a difference, and Booth can affect the game from behind the plate, and has potential at the bat as well. Look for him to be in High A this year, with a chance to move to AA with a good start.
Matt Taylor, 23 year old left handed pitcher is in the Baltimore Oriole organization. Taylor only played one season for 'Bama before transferring to junior college, where he was drafted in the fifth round in 2010. Taylor dealt with an arm injury but managed to pitch 70 innings and post a 7-3 record with a 3.95 ERA, pitching for the Fredrick Keys in High A. The Columbus GA product allowed 80 hits with 35 walks and 30 strikeouts. Hard throwing lefties are going to receive multiple chances, and Taylor should be around for a while longer, giving him a chance to progress.
Jason Townsend, right handed pitcher, was in the Pittsburgh Pirate organization, and suffered an injury in 2013 that he never could recover from. After pitching 9.2 innings he was released and retired.
Vinnie DiFazio was a catcher in the Texas Ranger organization and was released in 2014. The New Jersey native played independent ball this summer, and will turn 29 in May. Very few players ever make it from independent ball to the Majors, and at his advanced age, the end of his career his drawing near.
Five players from 'Bama's 2014 team started their journey this summer after the Tide's season: Spencer Turnbull, Ben Moore, Justin Kamplain and Austen Smith were all drafted, and Wade Wass signed as a free agent.
Turnbull was a 2nd round pick of the Detroit Tigers, and received a $906,000 dollar signing bonus. The 22 year old Madison, Mississippi native was eased into the professional ranks and pitched 31 innings in 12 appearances. The hard throwing righty allowed 33 hits, walked 15 and struck out 23 and only allowed one home run. Turnbull should make a fast rise through the system that thrives on hard throwers.
Moore, an outfielder for the Tide, was drafted in the 8th round by the Boston Red Sox as a catcher, a position he played in high school. Moore had a learning curve and was slowly worked into playing time. In 28 games, and 80 at bats he hit .288 with 16 RBIs, while posting a .408 on base percentage. Moore can hit, and has a good arm, if he can learn the nuances of catching he should be able to advance. Catcher is one of the fastest ways to make it to the big leagues.
Left handed pitcher Justin Kamplain was an 18th round pick by the New York Yankees. Many (this writer included) expected the Jasper, Alabama product to go much higher in the draft. His performance showed why. After pitching a full college season as a starter he was eased along, starting in Staten Island in the short season league. In eight games, with five starts, Kamplain was virtually un hittable, pitching 21 innings, allowing nine hits, walking two and striking out 25, posting a 1-0 record and one save with a sparkling .043 ERA. That stat line earned him a promotion to Charleston in the Class A Sally League. In six games, covering 22.2 innings the 21 year old allowed 17 hits with 11 walks and struck out 21. Overall his stat line was 43.2 innings, 26 hits allowed with 13 walks and 46 strikeouts. Kamplain will most likely start in Charleston this season, and will look to advance during the season.
Austen Smith, first baseman, was drafted in the 33rd round by the Florida Marlins. The big slugger had a fine season, hitting .288 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. He also posted a .406 on base percentage and a .471 slugging percentage, with an OPS of .877. Smith will be 23 in January and should receive a promotion to A ball this season. The product of Catholic High in Pensacola is a fine fielding first baseman with a powerful bat who has a chance to climb the ladder.
Wade Wass, a catcher, and a high school teammate of Smiths, somehow went un-drafted, despite a strong season for the Tide. After a stop in the Cape Code league, where Wass put up monster numbers, including a two grand slam game, the 23 year old signed with the Los Angels Angels as a free agent. Wass was assigned to the Orem Owls in the Pioneer League. In 39 games the slugger had 132 at bats and hit .341 with 14 doubles, seven home runs and 20 RBIs. Known for his strong arm and big bat Wass has a chance to move up quickly. He will most likely be in A ball this spring, and if he continues to hit as he did last year should move up.
As stated earlier, Dugas and Morgan should be the next Tide players to make it to the Major Leagues. The current Bama team should have several draftable candidates this season, none bigger than short stop Mikey White, who projects as a possible first round pick. Center fielder Georgie Salem, infielder-catcher Kyle Overstreet, outfielder Ryan Blanchard, outfielder Casey Hughston and pitchers Will Carter, Taylor Guilbeau, Jay Shaw and Ray Castillo all should get looks in the professional ranks.
Next I will have a overview of the fall practices and the team's potential for the coming season.
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