Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Late Preview of the 2009 Diamond Tigers

This has been a rough go for the Auburn Baseball team. The Tom Slater era is akin to Mike Shula as Alabama football coach. I won't go into the past but it's been 4 years since Auburn made the NCAA Tournament and even longer since they made they made the SEC tournament (6 years).

SCHEDULE

Gone are the days of a powder puff non-conference schedule. (No Hofsta? so sad) Thankfully, this year we'll know sooner rather than later if this year's Tigers can compete. (as opposed to 2006 where the Tigers came out hot and then collapsed)

The Tigers play 12 teams who went to the NCAA Tournament last year (Elon, Lipscomb, Florida State, Alabama, Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina, LSU, Ole Miss, and Kentucky) and 4 teams who are picked as conference favorites (Elon, FSU, WKU, and LSU).

The one bright spot? No Georgia. In one of the weirder scheduling quirks of SEC baseball, SEC teams play 10 out of a possible 11 SEC teams. Georgia rotates out this year. So even though I'm sad to see the Dogs go, I'm happy we at least get a little relief.

March 11th

Mark that date down. By March 11th, we'll know just how good or or how bad this year's squad is. Starting straight out the gate with 8 tough games (SoCon favorite Elon, defending A-Sun champ Lipscomb, and perennial power FSU), easing up a bit with Davidson and Brown, a early mid-week SEC game against Alabama, a mid-week trap game against Sun Belt favorite WKU, and then open SEC play in Knoxville against UT.

So that's 5 Tourney teams, 3 pre-season conference favorites, and an SEC rival; all before Spring Break.

Super Sophs

Give Tom Slater credit for one thing. He could recruit. The core of Auburn's 2009 team will be built around a talented group of Super Sophomores led by Hunter Morris (former SEC Freshman of the Year and current SEC 1st Teamer).

That 2007 class was highlited by PGCrossChecker.com

Auburn (IF Brian Fletcher, RHP-IF Wes Gilmer, OF D.J. Jones, 3B-OF Hunter Morris, 1B Kevin Patterson). If these five hitters all show up for class at Auburn , the Tigers might have the best offensive team in college baseball in a couple of years. They all hit and hit right now without needing much projection. Morris and Patterson are lefthanded hitters with middle-of-the-order potential; it’s a scary thought where they might be in three years with metal bats.


Well, we are in year two or PG's three year plan and only D.J. Jones is missing (he decided to sign with the Rays)

Add Justin Hargett and Trent Mummey; who both saw significant play time last year and you have a group of players who are both young and veteran at the same time.

Both Morris and Patterson are expected to be first round selections, so time might be running out for the Tigers to use these guys.

Super Soph's Part Deux

Not only does Auburn has youth in the field. It also has youth in the battery.

Sophmore Grant Dayton returns as Staff Ace. If you are unfamiliar with Dayton here's a quick rundown from his AU Bio:

Went 7-2 with a 3.89 ERA as the staff ace, making the series-opening start in all 10 SEC series ... 81.0 innings led the staff as did his 79 strikeouts, which were the most by an Auburn pitcher since Arnold Hughey had 80 in 2005 ... Issued just 13 walks on the season and only issued multiple walks in two appearances and had nine outings where he did not walk a batter ... Was 6-2 with a 4.86 ERA in 10 SEC starts ... His six SEC wins were the most since Hayden Gliemmo was 6-2 in 1998 ... Named a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball ... SEC All-Freshman Team selection


Impressive, no?

Then there is former Prattville Lion Cory Luckie, who is trying to regain his old high school form. Luckie has settled in nicely as a weekend starter before getting injured against Alabama last year. His stats weren't impressive but he still managed to hold his own.

Wrap-Up

So what can we expect from the Tigers in 2009? Who knows? The West is stacked (four teams ranked in the top 25) and Auburn will be facing an uphill climb all season. Should the Tigers hit that March 11th mark with a winning record then things will be looking pretty bright.

Sadly, with an influx of talent likely to bolt for the MLB draft next year, it might be now or never for the Tigers. I'll hold off until judgment until after this weekend, but for now I'd say just making the SEC tournament should be the goal. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just make it to Birmingham, then we can go from there.

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