Crimson Tide on the Diamond: Alabama Baseball in the Pros

Will Miller, Contributing Writer

There is no shortage of roads one can take to get to the highest levels of baseball. Like in other sports, some players’ roads come through The Capstone. Names familiar to Crimson Tide faithful dot rosters all over the country, from the minor leagues all the way up to the Majors. 

Spencer Turnbull (Pitcher, Detroit Tigers) 

Spencer Turnbull is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, but before that unfortunate development stopped his 2021 season abruptly, he threw a no-hitter against the Seattle Mariners. He’s been in the bigs since 2018 and is seen as a big part of a rebuilding Tigers unit. Despite only having nine 2021 games, he showed his team something with a 4-2 record and a 2.88 earned-run average as well as the aforementioned ‘no-no.’ If he plays this season, which isn’t highly likely, he will not reemerge until late in the campaign. He was at Alabama from 2012-14 and nearly tossed a no-hitter as a freshman before the game was called due to weather. He was drafted by the Tigers in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft. 

David Robertson (Pitcher, Chicago Cubs) 

David Robertson is the longest-tenured Crimson Tide alum on a big-league club, edging Tommy Hunter by just over a month. In his 14 years at the MLB level, he’s appeared in the neighborhood of 700 games but just took his first at-bat last week. Though he struck out, it made for a fun moment in an otherwise dismal season for his team. He boasts an ERA of 2.89 to go with 935 strikeouts. He pitched for Alabama from 2005-06 and was drafted out of college by the New York Yankees, with whom he spent seven and a half seasons across two stints. 

Tommy Hunter (Pitcher, New York Mets) 

Most of Tommy Hunter’s past year has consisted of on-and-off forays onto the Mets’ MLB roster, where he’s currently appearing out of the bullpen. He was signed by the club to a minor-league deal in May before being called up this month. He was, in fact, late to the meeting where he was informed of this. Unlike Robertson, he has a base hit on his ledger, which he obtained last season. He has 601 strikeouts to accompany a 56-45 record. The Texas Rangers drafted him in 2007 after he spent two years pitching with the Tide. 

Jimmy Nelson (Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers) 

Florida native Jimmy Nelson shunned the MLB Draft in 2007 in favor of Alabama. That decision wound up working out because the second time his name was called, it was in the second round. From there, he played his Double-A ball in Huntsville and spent almost five seasons with the Brewers. Injury woes have plagued him since the end of his tenure in Milwaukee. He missed all of the 2018 and 2020 seasons before undergoing Tommy John surgery just as he’d found his stride in Los Angeles. He remains a member of the Dodgers and has a 4.12 ERA with 622 strikeouts. He pitched in Tuscaloosa from 2008-10, after which the Brewers drafted him. 

Matt Foster (Pitcher, Chicago White Sox) 

Matt Foster made his Major League debut in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season for the White Sox and has since amassed a 9-4 record with 102 strikeouts. He hasn’t even been at the big-league level for two calendar years. During his debut season, the team made it to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Like Nelson, he didn’t sign when the draft first called his name and played one season for the Crimson Tide in 2016. During that lone stretch, he was 5-3 in 25 games with a 2.93 ERA. He was drafted by the organization for which he now plays. 

Chase Lee (Pitcher, Texas Rangers organization) 

It won’t be agonizingly long until former Alabama bullpen centerpiece Chase Lee takes a Major League mound. After posting a 1.87 ERA with Alabama, he was drafted in 2021 by the Rangers. He’s now playing for the Triple-A Round Rock Express, one level down from the promised land. In 38 pro appearances, he’s tossed 44.1 innings and has a 3.65 ERA. This season, he has 34 strikeouts in 24 games. He was 7-0 at Alabama in 2021 with a sparkling 1.33 ERA. His Crimson Tide career spanned three seasons, from 2019-21. 

Dylan Smith (Pitcher, Detroit Tigers organization) 

Dylan Smith’s 2021 win-loss numbers plainly lie about how good he actually was during his junior season with the Crimson Tide. The Tigers concurred and brought Smith on in the third round of the 2021 draft. This season, he is a member of the club’s High-A affiliate, the West Michigan Whitecaps. In 14 games, he’s 6-4 with 54 strikeouts and a 4.19 ERA. From 2019-21 at Alabama, he had 131 strikeouts and a 4.30 ERA. 

Peyton Wilson (Second baseman, Kansas City Royals organization) 

Hoover, Ala. native Peyton Wilson went eight picks before Smith to the Kansas City Royals. Also, at the High-A level, he has five homers and an OPS of .670 for the Quad Cities River Bandits. He spent only one full-length season with the Crimson Tide and was at The Capstone from 2020-21. Despite this, he had a .295 batting average with 82 hits and 39 runs batted in during college. 

Sam Praytor (Catcher, Miami Marlins organization) 

Hard-hitting catcher Sam Praytor spent four seasons with the Crimson Tide and finally helped see the team through to the NCAA Tournament in 2021 as one of its most experienced members. He had 14 homers during that season. For his efforts, he was selected in the sixth round of the Crimson Tide-filled 2021 draft by the Miami Marlins. He has only played in 22 games during this season for the Single-A Jupiter Hammerheads but has a .318 average and a .762 OPS. From 2018-21, he posted a .285 average and a .893 OPS to go with 85 runs batted in.