Among the many unpredictable factors of a shortened 2020 Major League Baseball Draft was the impact on the undrafted free agent market. The signing bonuses were capped at $20,000 per player would likely make an impact, but it was impossible to predict which players would pass up on that signing bonus and how aggressive franchises would be, with no active minor league teams to immediately assign these signees to.
The early results have shown an active market, and one that has impacted Alabama’s 2021 roster.
UA utility player Brett Auerbach has signed an undrafted free agent deal with the San Francisco Giants, forgoing the 2021 season at UA. Auerbach’s departure is effectively losing three players in one body, as Auerbach was often UA’s best option at catcher, third base and center field in 2020.
Auerbach was second on the team with a .388 batting average when the season ended, adding eight doubles, three home runs and success on 12 of his 14 stolen base attempts. His bat was valuable, but his positional versatility allowed UA to play multiple freshmen carefully, only in situations that best fit them.
UA is lucky to have another utility player like Auerbach in freshman Peyton Wilson, who played both catcher and center field in his debut season. Wilson was becoming a more consistent fixture in the lineup as the season was nearing its premature end: all 10 of his hits came in the final two weeks of the season, a surge that earned him a SEC Freshman of the Week award.
Wilson may not be needed much at catcher if Sam Praytor is ready for bulk. Praytor’s time behind the plate was limited in 2020 as he was returning from an elbow injury that forced him to miss nearly all of the 2019 season. Assuming Praytor’s arm is able to handle a full catching workload in 2021, Wilson could focus mostly on center field with some backup catching duty — if that isn’t taken by Johnny Hawk, another catcher returning from an elbow injury, or incoming signee Grant Knipp.
In center field, UA also has Jackson Tate alongside Wilson with returning experience at the position. Tate hit .286 in 35 at-bats in 2020, his first season at UA in from Lawson State Community College.
At third base, freshman Zane Denton got limited action at the position with Tuscaloosa native William Hamiter as another option. UA has other infielders that could play there, such as freshman Myles Austin, but the departure of shortstop Kolby Robinson could make Austin more of a necessity at shortstop or second base more as opposed to third base.