2005 Season Preview



2005 Alabama Baseball Scouting Report

Crimson Tide Looks for Better Hitting; Better Results

2005 Team Picture

As soon as the 2004 season concluded, University of Alabama head coach Jim Wells began thinking about the 2005 season.   Wells wrapped up his 10th season with a 29-26 overall record and a last-place finish in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, missing post-season play for the second time in four years.

Alabama boasted the best pitching staff in the SEC and on defense turned in the third-best fielding percentage in school history.  The problem came on offense, as the Crimson Tide finished the year as the second-worst hitting team in the league.

Speaking of hitting, Wells hopes that experience and hard work will pay off and the problems of last year’s club are a part of the past.

“In years past, we would work an even amount (on hitting and defense),” Wells said.  “ When the fall was over, we would have one day of offense and one day of defense, or two days of offense and then defense.  

“This year, we pretty much hit everyday from October 24th until Christmas break.  We hit everyday and the pitchers did their work.  We pretty much laid the gloves down and did not concentrate much on defense.  We did enough to keep them sharp, but obviously coming off the preceding year, we worked on that this fall.  

“We have good enough defensive players that they did not need the work that they needed offensively.  When you have a glaring weakness, whether its pitching, defense or hitting, you can not overcome it.  The guys have worked hard hitting the ball and I think we will be much improved.”

Alabama returns 11 players that started at some point during the 2004 season.  The coaching staff worked hard on the recruiting trail and will add a Top 10 recruiting class to a group of starters that has tons of experience.

Bama’s current recruiting class was rated 10th according to Baseball America, one of three SEC teams lauded by the the long-time baseball publication in its 2004-05 Dandy Dozen.

“I think we brought in some very talented players,” Alabama head coach Jim Wells said.  “There are several guys that will make immediate impact this season.  Cale Iorg (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Josh Copeland (Palmetto, Ga.) are very good players.  Kody Valverde (Baton Rouge, La.), who came to us from the University of New Orleans, has won the job as the starting catcher.  We have several freshman and junior college arms that can help us on the mound.”

The Crimson Tide signed 10 high school players, five junior college players and one four-year transfer to complete its 2004-05 baseball roster.

Baseball America highlighted the play of incoming freshmen Copeland (RHP, 1B), Austin Hyatt (RHP, Marietta, Ga.), Iorg, Chris Kirkland (C, Knoxville, Tenn.) and junior college transfer Trey Shields (RHP, Panama City, Fla.)

Four of those players were drafted in the 2004 MLB First-Year Player Draft this past June.  Shields was taken in the 15th round by the Minnesota Twins, despite missing the season with Tommy John surgery.  Iorg was taken in the 16th round by the Minnesota Twins, Hyatt was taken in the 23rd round by the Atlanta Braves and Kirkland was taken in the 49th round by the Toronto Blue Jays.

“Copeland could factor in as a legit closer and designated hitter (for the Crimson Tide this year),” Baseball America wrote.  “The speedy, sure-handed Iorg could be the opening day shortstop and has baseball in his bloodlines.  Father Garth and uncle Dane played in the majors and brother Eli plays for Tennessee.  Trey Shields will fight for a rotation spot, where he could be throwing to Kirkland, a solid catch-and-throw guy with two juniors ahead of him.”
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2005 Alabama Crimson Tide baseball team.

Circle A Logo tiny icon PITCHERS


No Name B-T HT WT CL EXP Hometown


Brandon Belcher (OF) L-L 6-0 176 So. 1VL Ruston, La.


Kenneth Brown L-L 6-2 195 Jr. TR Lafayette, La.


Brent Carter L-L 6-3 195 Sr. 3VL Americus, Ga.


Josh Copeland (1B) R-R 6-3 200 Fr. HS Palmetto, Ga.


Jordan Davis R-R 6-0 190 Jr. TR Frisco City, Tex.


Doug Denson R-R 6-1 182 Fr. RS Vestavia Hills, Ala.


Matt Downs R-R 6-3 190 Jr. 1VL Centreville, Ala.


Austin Hyatt R-R 6-3 190 Fr. HS Marietta, Ga.


Casey Kebodeaux R-R 6-2 200 Fr. HS

Mandeville, La.


Patrick Kelly R-R 6-4 195 Jr. TR

Dothan, Ala.


David Laminack R-R 5-10 195 So. TR

Gardendale, Ala.


T.J. Large R-R 6-3 203 Jr. RS Seminole, Fla.


Wade LeBlanc L-L 6-3 180 So. 1VL Lake Charles, La.


Ian Moore R-R 6-2 180 So. TR

Benton, Ky.


Allen Ponder R-R 6-4 230 So. 1VL Auburn, Ala.


David Robertson R-R 5-10 170 Fr. HS Tuscaloosa, Ala.


Trey Shields R-R 6-7 230 Jr. TR Panama City, Fla.


Morrow Thomley (OF) R-R 6-2 206 Sr. SQ Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Perhaps the strength of the Alabama baseball team for the second straight year, the Tide pitching staff should again, be outstanding.  And it is certainly no surprise that sophomore left-hander Wade LeBlanc is the ace of the staff for the second year in-a-row.

Wade LeBlanc
Wade LeBlanc

The 2004 National Freshman of the Year and 2005 preseason All-American will again be the No. 1 starter and the man around whom coach Jim Wells builds his staff.

“A year like that does not happen often,” Wells said of LeBlanc’s record-setting rookie season.  “We have certainly never had a freshman that did what he did to pitch on the weekends, much less, progress to where he pitched the Friday night game and pitched very well for the most part.  

“My feeling is, if you coach a team for 30 years like we have, then you get one guy like that.  LeBlanc is the guy.  We probably won’t ever see another guy like that because of the odds.  He is an exceptional guy, with good control, command of several pitches and a great competitor.  And, through the season he did not shy away from any situation.

“When we sit down and say what player is going to do what, isn’t it nice to say we have a Friday night starter.  It’s better to build your staff when you know who the No. 1 guy is than when you have eight No. 5 (starters) and you hope one of them steps up.”

Brandon Belcher
Brandon Belcher

Wells’ biggest concern will be to replace juniors Taylor Tankersley (LHP) and Andrew Walker (RHP) along with seniors Seth Johnson (RHP) and Jeffrey Norris (LHP).  Those four made 66 appearances last season and combined to throw more than 190 innings.

Tankersley, a first-round draft selection by the Florida Marlins, was the most versatile.  He appeared in 27 games as a starter and a reliever and compiled a 2-5 record and SEC-leading 2.00 ERA, with four saves.

Heading into the season, Wells has identified eight pitchers who will see significant time early in the year.  In addition to LeBlanc, Wells projects that sophomore Brandon Belcher is the leading candidate to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation.  Belcher missed the entire fall while recovering from off-season surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow.  He began throwing in live, game situations in mid January.

The No. 3 starter and midweek starter will come from the group of senior Brent Carter, junior T.J. Large and sophomore Trey Shields.  Carter has the most experience on the staff and has compiled 19 career wins at Bama.  After a sub-par 2004 season, Carter is looking to regain the form that earned him All-America honors as a sophomore in 2003.

Brent Carter
Brent Carter

Large pitched in three games last year before a season-ending injury on Feb. 29, while Shields missed the 2004 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Despite the surgery, Shields was drafted in the 15th round by the Minnesota Twins last season.

“We really need guys like Shields and Large to step up.  Those are two key guys for us.  We also need Carter to pitch more like his sophomore year.  If that happens then we have a chance to have a good staff.”

With Carter, LeBlanc and Belcher returning, Alabama has 30 career wins to build around this season.

Junior Matt Downs and a pair of freshmen Josh Copeland and David Robertson will open the season in the pen.  Downs showed improvement as the fall concluded and brings SEC experience to the staff.  Robertson was impressive this fall and threw strikes. Copeland is not your typical freshman.  The two-way star and former Coweta County Player of the Year is the projected closer this season.  He would be the first rookie to close for UA since Lance Cormier did it in 1999.

“So when I circle the guys coming out of the fall, I see Carter, Copeland, Large, LeBlanc, Robertson -- I thought did well -- Shields and Matt Downs showed some signs of life,” Wells said.  “We used Robertson and Copeland in relief, so we have two freshmen in the pen right now.  There are still some question marks, but I feel like there are some good arms that make up our staff.  Certainly, LeBlanc is No. 1.  But we need to be able to feel good about a  No. 2 and No. 3 and a midweek starter and relievers.”

TJ Large
T.J. Large

Another freshman that could see early season action is Casey Kebodeaux because of his ability to throw strikes and his improvement and makeup this fall.

The other six pitchers on the staff will be looking for time in the bullpen. Those candidates include Kenneth Brown, Jordan Davis, Doug Denson, Austin Hyatt, David Laminack and Morrow Thomley.

Junior Patrick Kelly and sophomore Ian Moore enrolled at Alabama in January and will also compete for time on the mound this season.

Junior Allen Ponder will redshirt the 2005 season while he rehabs from off-season shoulder surgery.

Circle A Logo tiny icon CATCHERS


No Name B-T HT WT CL EXP Hometown


David Ferazza R-R 6-2 200 Jr. 1VL Redwood City, Ca.


Chris Kirkland R-R 6-3 190 Fr. HS Knoxville, Tenn.


Charlie Lyons R-R 6-3 220 Jr. 2VL Northport, Ala.


Kody Valverde R-R 6-0 201 Jr. TR Baton Rouge, La.

An Achilles heel in 2004, the catching position may be the most improved spot on the Alabama team this season.

David Ferazza
David Ferazza

Last year, Alabama played three different catchers and collectively the group hit just .222 (40-for-180) with four home runs and 39 RBI.  Bama catchers committed only three errors last year, but did allow a single-season record 27 passed balls, something that Wells has said will not happen again this year. 

“There are three areas that we have improved, but I would agree that the catcher position is the most improved,” Wells said.  “The addition of Valverde has made us better behind the plate and I also think we have some quality depth.    We have four catchers, but  Valverde would start if we played today.  The rest is up in the air.”

The Crimson Tide brought in junior Kody Valverde to shore up the backstop position. Valverde, a First-Team All Sun Belt Conference pick last year, was a two-year starter at the University of New Orleans.  He made an immediate impact with the Crimson Tide this fall and won the job as fall camp concluded.  

“But right now, Valverde is the guy.  He is a Dax Norris-type player.  I think he is the perfect college-type player.  Valverde has always come to our camps here at Alabama.  Last year, when we played UNO, I was very impressed.  I thought he did a great job.  He blocked everything and he was a very tough at-bat, like he is here.  He is one of our toughest outs.  He has the mentality and the skills to make our team better overnight.”

Charlie Lyons
Charlie Lyons

Alabama has three other catchers on its roster and all will compete for time this spring, including freshman Chris Kirkland and juniors Charlie Lyons and David Ferazza.

“Kirkland is an outstanding catch-and-throw guy,” Wells added.  “Charlie Lyons will help us offensively.  It’s like this, if someone like Lyons, or anybody for that matter, goes and does the job behind the plate and swings the bat well, they will get a chance to play.”

Kirkland was drafted in the 49th round of the 2004 MLB draft by the Florida Marlins.

Lyons returns for his third season and is healthy for the first time since his freshman year.  Lyons played in only 20 games last season while recovering from a broken hamate bone in his left hand.  The injury forced him to miss 35 games.  As a result, Lyons had only six hits in 55 at-bats last year, with two home runs and 15 RBI.

Ferazza played in 23 games as a sophomore and made eight starts behind plate.  He showed improved offensive skills late in the season and hit .333 (13-for-39) with one home run and nine RBI.

Circle A Logo tiny icon INFIELDERS


No Name B-T HT WT CL EXP Hometown


Matt Bentley L-L 6-2 216 Fr. RS Hazel Green, Ala.


Evan Bush R-R 6-1 207 Jr. 2VL Rainbow City, Ala.


Wes Henderson R-R 6-2 205 Fr. HS Oxford, Ala.


Cale Iorg R-R 6-2 175 Fr. HS Knoxville, Tenn.


Kyle Moore R-R 6-2 190 Fr. HS Montgomery, Ala.


Greg Paiml (RHP) R-R 6-0 185 So. 1VL Hoover, Ala.


Spencer Pennington L-R 6-4 225 Jr. 1VL

Fayette, Ala.


Allen Rice L-R 5-10 173 Sr. 3VL Pelham, Ala.


Rocky Scelfo R-R 6-1 181 Sr. 1VL Youngsville, La.


Ben Soignier R-R 6-0 185 Fr. HS West Monroe, La.


Zac Welch L-L 6-2 225 Sr. 3VL Wellington, Ala.


John Parker Wilson R-R 6-1 190 Fr. HS

Hoover, Ala.

One of the strengths of the Alabama team this season will be its up the middle defense, something Wells said they did not have last year.  The middle defense is not only experienced and talented, but also has the depth it did not have a year ago.  

Allen Rice
Allen Rice

While Alabama sported the third-best fielding percentage (.969) in school history last year, turning the double play was a problem at times.  In fact, Alabama turned only 43 double plays in 55 games last year.

“I really think we will be stronger up-the-middle defensively, with Valverde, Rice, Iorg and Salem,” Wells said.  “The guys that are battling for those positions could come in the game and we would not miss a beat.

“I know the last year (2002) that we had a fairly good team, we had a lot of young and inexperienced players everywhere else except up the middle and we had a pretty good squad.  We had a good pitching staff and a good strong up the middle defense.”

Senior second baseman Allen Rice and freshman shortstop Cale Iorg will open the season as Alabama’s middle infield and double-play combination.

Rocky Scelfo
Rocky Scelfo

Rice will be starting for the fourth consecutive year on the infield and has started 158 career games for the Crimson Tide.  He has 81 career starts at second base, a position he played exclusively as a sophomore (62 games) in 2003. Last year, Rice actually started more games at third base (24) than he did at second (18).  He played the entire season with a shoulder injury that did not allow him to play at 100 percent.  Rice is healthy now and is looking to post offensive numbers much like those he put up in 2003.  Despite his injury, Rice did lead Alabama in hitting last year.

Iorg may be the most talented freshman infielder to play for coach Wells.  The slick-fielding shortstop was a First-Team High School All-American by Baseball America and also participated in the AFLAC High School All-American game following his junior season at Karns High School.

In addition to his ability on the diamond, Iorg has strong baseball roots and Major League Baseball bloodlines.  His father, Garth, and uncle Dane, both played for former Alabama Director of Athletics Glen Tuckett at BYU and then enjoyed fine careers in the big leagues.  His two older brothers, Issac and Eli, are also standout players.  Issac is in the Atlanta Braves organization, while Eli is a junior at the University of Tennessee.

Zac Welch
Zac Welch

Senior Rocky Scelfo and sophomore Greg Paiml combined to start 71 games for Alabama last season.  Both bring experience and versatility to the lineup.

Scelfo started 40 games at second base (22) and shortstop (18) before a late-season knee injury forced him to miss the final 10 games.  He is also the most versatile player on the Tide roster as the senior can play all four infield positions, all three outfield positions and DH.

Paiml gained experience as a true freshman and started 31 games at shortstop.   He can also play second base, shortstop and third base for the Tide.

The corner infield spots will be manned by Alabama’s two leading power threats last season.  Senior Zac Welch will return for his fourth and final season at first base, while junior Evan Bush will start at third base for the second year in a row.

Welch started 51 games last year, all at first base.  In his career, he has logged 130 career starts at first base.  He was the Crimson Tide’s top run producer last year, with 46 RBI.

Evan Bush
Evan Bush

Bush had a breakout year as a sophomore and hopes to continue to improve this season.  After a freshman year that saw him bat only .152 in 44 games in 2003, he rebounded with a solid year in 2004.  As a sophomore, he batted .322 with a team-leading eight home runs and 48 RBI.

“We have all of our infielders back when you look at the guys that played for us last year,” Wells added.  “We have the addition of Cale Iorg at shortstop, who certainly can play that position.  So we do have some guys back and I think they have all improved.  

“Bush is certainly better at third base.  Allen Rice is healthy now and has done very well at second base.  Zac Welch continues to improve at first base and I thought he did real well last year.  Paiml can play any of the infield positions, meaning second, short or third.  Rocky Scelfo can play all infield positions and can play outfield.”

Redshirt freshman Matt Bentley and true freshman John Parker Wilson are the backups at first and third base, respectively.  

Greg Paiml
Greg Paiml

Bentley has improved since his arrival at Alabama and Wilson joined the team in January and will split time this season between baseball and football.  He was a hot-shot prep quarterback at Hoover High School, where he helped the Bucs to back-to-back Class 6A state titles in 2002 and 2003.

“So we have some quality players and some quality depth.  John Parker Wilson is a guy that I think can help us. Matt Bentley has improved.  If a guy can swing the bat, then they are going to get a shot and for Wilson, like all of the rest, that will be the determining factor.  I think the infield is better, and it should be because every guy played last year and played a lot.”

Junior Spencer Pennington will also be in the mix at first base and DH.

True freshmen Wes Henderson, Kyle Moore and Ben Soignier are expected to redshirt this season.

Circle A Logo tiny icon OUTFIELDERS


No Name B-T HT WT CL EXP Hometown


Matt Grooms L-L 6-0 206 Sr. 1VL Montgomery, Ala.


Michael McCallister R-R 6-3 225 So. 1VL Green Cove Springs, Fla.


Emeel Salem L-L 6-0 180 So. 1VL Mountain Brook, Ala.


Gabe Scott R-R 6-2 210 Sr. 2VL Lake Charles, La.

On paper it does not appear that Alabama has the numbers in the outfield this season, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  While the UA roster only lists four outfielders, there are six players that can and will play in the outfield this season for coach Wells. 

Emeel Salem
Emeel Salem

The most improved player in the outfield, and the entire team for that matter, is sophomore Emeel Salem.  Salem showed a different side to his game this fall , showing he is now the complete player.  He will open the season as Alabama’s everyday centerfielder and he is compared to St. Louis Cardinals centerfielder Jim Edmonds by his coach.

“Salem is probably our most improved player after what he did in the fall,” Wells said.  “His ability to swing the bat, bunt, a terrific outfielder with arm strength and now a real threat on the bases rather than being a guy that was just really fast.  I really like him in centerfield.  He is a Jim Edmonds-type player for us.”

Sophomore Michael McCallister is back for his second season and will likely be the opening day right fielder.  McCallister has improved since his arrival on campus and the Tide coaches are looking for him to supply the power they did not have in the outfield last year.

Michael McCallister
Michael McCallister

The left field spot looks to be manned by seniors Gabe Scott and Matt Grooms, although Belcher will get his fair share of reps in left field when he is not on the mound.

Scott is a fifth-year player, who led the Crimson Tide with a .316 batting average in SEC play last year.  He has 43 career starts at Alabama, but 30 came last year as a junior.  Scott also had his best season last year, hitting .316 with eight home runs and 36 RBI.  

“Scott is a guy that two years ago was pretty much on his way out,” Wells said.  “He had been injured and never really had much success and we talked about possibly just finishing up his degree.  But he stuck with it and last year, he was our leading hitter in SEC play and a middle of the lineup hitter.  So, yes, Gabe improved from last year and he is a nice story after all he has been through.”

Gabe Scott
Gabe Scott

Grooms missed the fall while recovering from back surgery, but will battle Scott for time in left field, giving Alabama a “lefty-righty” combination.

In addition to playing all four infield positions, Scelfo can also play the outfield and don’t be surprised to see his name in the lineup there this season because of his experience, ability to hit and versatility.

“We want to win the games, so whoever is playing well at the time will be the ones who play,” Wells said.  “We have a lot of options.  There have been some years where we did not have options. It all comes down to who is playing better.”