Outfield should be a strength

The loss of top power source Scott McClanahan, a fixture in centerfield for the past several seasons, will definitely hurt the outfield, but Tide coach Jim Wells has believes that the outfield will be the deepest of any fielding position this year.

"We have more outfielders than anything right now," Wells said.

The New York Yankees drafted McClanahan, coming off a year where he hit .297 with 14 home runs and 62 runs batted in, in the 11th round. Not only will his offensive production be missed, but also his range in center field and his arm. Wells will use a returning starter to take over for McClanahan.

Though at this point a redshirt year is a strong possibility for Brandon Avalos (left), both he and fellow football player Shaud Williams (right) are candidates for playing time in the outfield.

"In center we've got (Travis) Garner, in right we've got (Beau) Hearod, as he's really improved," Wells said. "In left, we're trying to make Al Hecklinski a left fielder, he swings the bat well."

Garner, a senior who played right field last year, will move over to center. He will most likely lead off and utilize his speed when he gets on base, as he led the team in stolen bases last season.

Hearod, another senior, was a designated hitter last season, as a partially torn labrum sidelined him from throwing the ball. In his sophomore season, Hearod played third base and outfield, so he does have experience there. Last season, Hearod hit 12 home runs and drove in 54 runs. This season he will be counted on as a third or fourth hitter in the lineup.

"Beau's done a good job," Wells said. "He's improved offensively, defensively, and in his base running. He rarely got off the bag last year, and he steals on the first pitch in the scrimmages. The key word there is confidence, and he's more confident than he ever was. We're expecting good things from him."

Hecklinski, a senior transfer from UAB, is a converted catcher. Wells wanted his bat in the lineup, so he moved him to left field. In 10-6 win by the Blazers over the Tide on April 10, 2001, Hecklinski drove in a career-high six runs, including a three-run home run, so Wells has seen his offense first-hand.

The depth in the outfield is what will carry this unit over the top. If any of these three are in a slump, Wells has experienced outfielders in senior Grant Redding and sophomore Gabe Scott, plus talented newcomers in juniors Shaud Williams and Brad Van Winkle and freshman Brandon Avalos. Williams and Avalos join infielder Spencer Pennington as football players trying to play two sports at the University.

Bama's most reliable power source among the returning players, Beau Hearod is starting in right field.

Williams played baseball at Texas Tech, and was drafted out of high school by the Atlanta Braves in the 11th round.

"Avalos is going to be really good, and I think Shaud Williams is going to be really good," Wells said. "Shaud, for being out of baseball as long as he has, has done amazingly well. He picks things up very quickly."

Wells said that he likes Van Winkle's power from the left side of the plate, and that he is the leading candidate to be the designated hitter.

This unit should provide production no matter who is in the lineup. Most of the players may be unproven now, but come the end of the season, many SEC schools will be wishing they had the talent and depth that Alabama has in the outfield.

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