Alabama Baseball Faces Quandary Heading into 2021
With only three players having announced their departure from Alabama baseball this season, the team is presented with quite a quandary.
It is now common knowledge that the NCAA has granted spring student-athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the shortened season due to COVID-19. While this is beneficial for the athletes, the difficulties surrounding the scholarship situation in college baseball remains ever-present.
When it comes to the Crimson Tide, only three players as of June 17 have announced their departures from the school. The first came back on April 30, when senior shortstop Kolby Robinson declared that he would not be returning for his second senior season.
The decision for Robinson was not due to falling out of love with baseball, but due to financial concerns. While he had been granted an extra year of eligibility, scholarship concerns combined with him having already earned his degree ultimately led to his decision to leave the team and move on with his career.
In an interview with BamaCentral back in May, Alabama head coach Brad Bohannon extended his thanks to Robinson for his contributions to the team.
“I just can’t say enough about Kolby as a young man and as a ballplayer,” Bohannon said. “He was a huge part in getting Alabama back in the direction that we should be and he’s everything that I want our program to be about going forward. I was really open-ended with all of the seniors and everybody is at a different place in life and with their career and I get it. You go to college to get an education and you know baseball is just a piece of the whole college experience.
“Kolby was a guy who was a great player for us and probably not a Major League Baseball player and that question of ‘does it make sense to finance more education when I have my degree just to have the baseball experience,’ the answer to that is different for every young man. Really really appreciate Kolby and love him to death and will always do anything I can for him and I definitely understand his decision and everybody’s situation is different.”
Senior outfielder Walker McCleney also announced that he would not be returning to Alabama due to similar reasons.
The third player leaving the Crimson Tide is junior outfielder Tyler Gentry, who was drafted 76th overall by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of the MLB draft back on June 11. While as of the writing of this story he has not signed on with the Royals yet, his social media seems to indicate that he plans on leaving the Crimson Tide to pursue his career in the pros.
Gentry leaves the team having led Alabama in batting average for two-consecutive seasons. As a sophomore, Gentry also led the team in hit (65), home runs (13), RBIs (42), slugging percentage (.552) and total bases (116). Baseball America ranked him at the 177th-best prospect in the draft, while MLB.com had him ranked all the way up at 81st.
Along with Gentry, senior utility Brett Auerbach was also available in this year’s draft, but after five rounds left the experience undrafted by an MLB team.
That brings us back to the quandary facing Alabama baseball. Back in November, Alabama signed on 10 additional players in its 2020-2021 signing class. The signing class consists of six pitchers, three infielders and a catcher.
With 10 players joining the team and only three departing, the additional year of eligibility for the eight remaining seniors and only 11.7 scholarships to split between the entire lot, some difficult decisions might be up ahead for the Crimson Tide’s management.
Back in May, Bohannon had a lot to say about the current situation surrounding college baseball and its scholarship situation, calling it a ‘juggling act’. Despite Gentry and Robinson being the only players with intentions of departing, Bohannon remains confident that Alabama won’t be having roster difficulties come 2021.
“We had a really young team this past year,” Bohannon said. “We had a lot of freshmen and sophomores in really key roles so I don’t think — not all of our seniors are coming back so between not all of the seniors coming back and having a young team I don’t think we’re going to be in as nasty of a position as some of my colleagues around the league.
“I think we’re going to be just fine from a roster standpoint in the fall and a scholarship standpoint.”
Bohannon’s positive sentiments regarding his team from a roster standpoint are well-founded. Alabama will have a fully decked-out roster that already found success in 2020, and with the roster sizes being temporarily increased to accommodate returning seniors this year, it makes sense to be pleased with the 2021 roster.
However, the scholarships are the key point of concern. 11.7 scholarships were already not enough to go around prior to the increased roster size and now becomes even more thinly-spread thanks to the NCAA’s new rules.
After putting it into perspective, it’s no wonder that Robinson and McCleney left the team. Not because of the team itself or their love of the game, but because of the inadequacies and lack of foresight by the NCAA.
All of this being said, Bohannon is hopeful that his remaining seniors like Auerbach will return to the team and as a unit will help propel the team forward in 2021.
“I am really proud of the environment of our program,” Bohannon said. “I’m really proud of the progress that we’ve made to this point and I couldn’t be more bullish on our future. I think this next year or two we potentially have a chance to accomplish some things that are truly priceless. I say that not wanting to spend anybody’s money but I think college in general is just the best time of your life and I think the opportunity to be a part of our program and to play in this conference and to represent the University of Alabama is just — I don’t think you can put a price tag on it.
“We’re hopeful that Brett and some of the other guys will be back with us but I’m certainly not going to put any pressure on them. Those kids all know what this place is and they’ll all make good decisions for themselves.”
Only time will tell how Alabama and the other teams of the NCAA will address this difficult quandary.