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No. 16 Alabama has all the tools

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Alabama and senior pitcher Miers Quigley have much at stake this season.

The Crimson Tide haven’t reached the super regional round since 2006, but has a great chance to accomplish that goal this season. Quigley, a freshman in ’06, was on the team that lost to North Carolina in the Tuscaloosa super regional.

Though Quigley’s first season as a college player ended with heartache at the hands of the Tar Heels, the veteran hopes to finish his career with a bang.

The Crimson Tide isn’t picked to win the SEC this season, but has the tools to reach the College World Series.

Alabama welcomes back five of its top six hitters, a pair of weekend starters and seasoned relievers Austin Graham, Del Howell and Jimmy Nelson.

Alabama’s coaching staff really can’t pinpoint a weakness, but listed their strengths as experience in the field and on the mound, good infield defense and impressive team speed.

While several players are expected to have productive campaigns this spring, the coaches were pleased this past fall with veteran catcher Vinny DiFazio, who finally is healthy for the first time in three years. The coaches also thought freshman pitcher Adam Morgan had a productive fall.

With a wealth of experience, talent and leadership, the Crimson Tide is primed to have a big-time campaign.


#16 ALABAMA AT-A-GLANCE

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Senior pitcher Miers Quigley hopes to end his Alabama career with a bang this season.
LAST SEASON
Record: 35-28, 16-14 in SEC
In a nutshell: Even with several young players at key positions last season, I’m not sure many observers expected Alabama to have a productive campaign and make an NCAA regional. The Crimson Tide, however, proved their doubters wrong. Alabama finished second in the SEC Western Division behind LSU with a conference record of 16-14. They also competed in the Conway, S.C., regional and played host Coastal Carolina in the regional title. The Tide took a step forward last season and should have another good campaign in ’09.
PROBABLE STARTERS

Wilson
C Vinny DiFazio (Sr.), Kyle Moore (Sr.), Cody Trotter (Jr. Transfer)
1B Brandon May (Jr.)
2B Ross Wilson (So.)
SS Josh Rutledge (So.)
3B Jake Smith (Jr.)
OF Kent Matthes (Sr.)
OF Taylor Dugas (Fr.)
OF Alex Kubal (Sr.)
DH Clay Jones (Jr.)
SP Austin Hyatt (Sr.)
SP Miers Quigley (Sr.)
SP Adam Morgan (Fr.)
CP Adam Scott (Jr. Transfer)
Head coach: Jim Wells
2009 OUTLOOK
Barring a major surprise, the Crimson Tide should have an impressive ’09 campaign. This team certainly isn’t flawless, but will have a potent offense and a good weekend rotation. Alabama welcomes back five of its top six hitters this season, while a pair of seniors, Austin Hyatt and Miers Quigley, spearhead the weekend rotation. The Crimson Tide also should have a solid bullpen with Del Howell, Jimmy Nelson and Austin Graham leading the charge. With a good offense, pitching staff and excellent leadership, there’s no reason why the Tide shouldn’t compete for the SEC title this season.
Offense

Alabama should have one of the nation’s better offenses this spring.

The Crimson Tide welcome back most of its key players from a team that finished last season with a solid batting average of .310.

Josh Rutledge and Brandon May lead the Tide at the plate.

Rutledge batted .369 with 31 RBIs, nine doubles, two triples and 112 total bases last season. He also slugged .418 and had a .429 on-base percentage, was 16-for-19 in stolen bases and led the team with 268 at bats.

May, meanwhile, finished last season hitting .365 with nine homers and 50 RBIs. He also recorded 18 doubles and 137 total bases. Additionally, he slugged .451 and had a .451 on-base percentage.

Other hitters to watch include Kent Matthes, Ross Wilson, Alex Kubal and Jake Smith.

Matthes batted .303 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs last season. He also recorded 11 doubles, one triple and 115 total bases. He slugged .504 and had a .361 OBP.

Wilson, a Freshman All-American last season, batted .295 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs. He also recorded 11 doubles, four triples and 140 total bases. He slugged .543 and had a .355 OBP.

Kubal finished last season with a .329 batting average, four homers and 23 RBIs, while Smith could be a player to watch this season. The veteran batted .240 with eight homers and 34 RBIs last season, but the coaching staff believes he’s ready to raise his batting average.


Starting pitching

The Crimson Tide certainly didn’t have a great weekend rotation last season, but another season of experience certainly will play to their favor this season.

Alabama welcomes back weekend starters Miers Quigley and Austin Hyatt. It also welcomes freshman left-hander Adam Morgan to the mix.

Quigley, a senior, made 12 starts and 16 appearances last season. He had a 5.58 ERA in 79 innings of work. He also struck out 62 and walked 36, while opponents hit him at a.289 clip.

Hyatt, also a senior, made 14 starts and 17 appearances last season. He had a 4.53 ERA in 93 1/3 innings of work, while striking out 80 and walking 32.

Keep an eye on Morgan, the young freshman.

Morgan certainly will have to earn his wings this spring, but the coaching staff loved him during fall workouts. Morgan is 88-90 mph on the bump and was the Tide’s biggest surprises this past fall.

If Quigley and Hyatt pitch like seniors and Morgan is as good as advertised, this could be a very good weekend rotation.


Bullpen

Alabama’s bullpen is littered with talented arms and has the potential to be one of the better units in the SEC this season.

Del Howell, Austin Graham and Jimmy Nelson lead the bullpen.

Howell made just seven appearances last season and had a 6.65 ERA in 23 innings of work.

Graham made 24 appearances last season and had a 5.25 ERA in 61 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 63 and walked 29, while opponents hit .254 off him.

Nelson had a less than stellar ’08 campaign, but impressed the coaches this past fall. Nelson made 18 appearances last season and had a 6.26 ERA in 41 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 37 and walked 29.

Also watch out for JUCO transfers Adam Scott, David Head and Scott Hays.

Scott likely will be Alabama’s closer this spring, while Head and Hays likely will log significant innings in various relief roles.

There is some uncertainty with this unit, but I think they’re in good shape.


Shoes to Fill

The Crimson Tide won’t miss too many players, but must replace Alex Avila, Matt Bentley and reliever Josh Copeland.

Avila was one of the nation’s best hitters last season. He batted .343 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs. He also recorded 12 doubles, one triple and 147 total bases. Additionally, he slugged .615 and had a .441 on-base percentage.

Bentley finished last season hitting .262 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs. He also recorded 15 doubles, one triple and 106 total bases. Additionally, he slugged .495 and had a .370 on-base percentage.

Copeland led Alabama’s pitching staff in appearances last season. He appeared in 28 games and had a 3.13 ERA in 37 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 35 and walked 18, while opponents hit him at a .306 clip.

Replacing Avila certainly will be tough, but the Tide should be able to get by without Bentley and Copeland.


Must Step Up

Weekend starters Austin Hyatt and Miers Quigley and third baseman Jake Smith must step up this season.

Hyatt is slated to be the Friday night starter and compiled some good numbers last season. However, the Tide would like to see Hyatt improve on last season’s less than stellar 4.53 ERA.

Quigley is in the same boat. The senior compiled some respectable numbers last season, but an opponent’s batting average of .289 and a 5.58 ERA wasn’t exactly impressive. Quigley had a strong fall, but must translate that into a successful ’09 campaign.

Offensively, Smith is the player to watch. The veteran infielder has impressive power but in past seasons hasn’t established the consistency coaches often demand. If Smith has a strong offensive campaign, the Tide is in tremendous shape.

I believe Hyatt and Quigley will have strong campaigns, while Smith has much to prove this season.


Impact Newcomer

The Crimson Tide has a few newcomers to watch this season.

Freshman outfielder Taylor Dugas has good speed and is expected to start on Opening Day, while freshman left-handed pitcher Adam Morgan had a strong fall and is expected to be a big-time arm in the weekend rotation.

Also keep an eye on JUCO transfer pitchers David Head, Adam Scott and Scott Hays.

Head and Hays are expected to log significant innings, while Scott is the leading candidate to assume the closer role.

Alabama’s newcomers will have important roles this spring.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com and Yahoo! Sports. Click here to send him a question or comment.