SEC Baseball Preview: Alabama

The biggest factor in Alabama baseball going into 2008 is that Jim Wells is back for his 14th season as head coach. Last summer Wells announced his retirement, then abruptly changed his mind and returned to head the program where he has won 553 games, including winning six SEC Tournament championships and going to 10 NCAA Tournaments.

Talk of players has centered on one who has departed – two-time All-America centerfielder Emeel Salem – and one who has yet to play an inning – freshman infielder Ross Wilson, younger brother of Bama quarterback John Parker Wilson.

Alabama returns most position players from last year. Wilson and Josh Rutledge will battle for the shortstop position. Junior college transfer Alex Kubal was brought in to play center.

Matt Bently is back at first base, Jake Smith at third base, and Brandon May at second base.

Jeff Texada is an experienced middle infielder.

Alex Avila has made the transition from infielder to catcher, where he leads six candidates for that job. Avila is Bama's top returning hitter. Mike Sharp, a junior college transfer, and Vin DiFazio, who was out last season with a viral infection, are other top catching candidates.

The outfield includes a number of experienced players, including Kent Matthes, Tyler Odle, Ryan Rhoden, and Del Howell.

In baseball the name of the game is usually pitching. Bama has 17 pitchers on its roster, and Wells is pleased that they "throw strikes." But the Tide does not have a clear No. 1 pitcher. Will Stroup, Miers Quicley and Casey Kebodeaux have started SEC games and Josh Copeland, Austin Hyatt and Austin Graham also have starting experience. In fall work the outstanding pitchers were freshmen Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease and Del Howell, who is also an outfielder. Wells expects Howell to come out of the bullpen and for Nelson, Hyatt, Quigley, and Stroup to be starters, Copeland and Kilcrease will be closers.

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