It's like Deja vu. Solid outing by our starter. Bullpen trouble. Tigers drop a close one.
This time the same song had a bit of a different verse. Still the same tune though.
-Bullpen woes. The game was close for a little bit at the beginning. AU was holding tight, 3-3 in the bottom of the third. Ty Kelley gets an out, let's a man on, then had to be pulled with his pitch going heading a little over the century mark. Taylor Thompson comes in and looks solid for the first man, and then implodes, walking a man and giving up a 2 out double to put the 'Noles ahead 5-3. Same story in the 6th. First batter, Thompson Ks, then a walk, then the trouble begins. End of the night for TT after giving up 4 runs (3 earned) and FSU was sitting comfortably with a 7-3 lead.
-Errors. Fielding errors were ultimately Auburn's undoing. Not the bullpen. Fielding errors that kept innings alive and let FSU get a nice little pad. On the night Auburn committed 3 errors. Each one costly.
-Lineup holes. 5 Tigers were hitless on the night. Guys 3-9 in the order combined for a total of 2 hits all night. That's not good.
-O-fers. Those 5 Tigers who went hitless? Hunter Morris, Fletcher, Patterson, McElroy, and Hargett. Two other players (Ben Jones, Tony Caldwell) only had 1 hit all night.
-Golden Sombrero. Kevin Patterson went 0-5 with 4 strikeouts. Ouch.
-Quick innings. 4th, 6th, and 9th were all 3 up 3 down. Not good.
-Stranding ducks. Auburn had two innings with the bases loaded, but couldn't do any big damage. Once hitting into a DP, the second time KP K's to end the inning.
-The lead off guys. Namely Joseph Sanders. Sanders was 3-3, 2 HRs, 4 RBIs.
-The fact that Auburn was tied heading into the ninth, despite all the Fielding woes, Bullpen blowouts, and two guys shouldering most of the load.
-Ty Kelley. In his Auburn debut, the Redshirt Sophomore went 4.1 innings, 3 ER, 7 Ks. Impressive to say the least. With Jon Luke Jacobs, Dayton, Burnside, and Dexter Price, Auburn has a solid core group of starters to work with. Hopefully, the bullpen situation gets sorted out soon and roles are assigned (like mid-relief, short relief, closer, etc) and guys can settle in.
-Along with Kelley, another Auburn pitcher made his season debut for the Tigers: Sean Ray. Ray was solid in relief (2 innings, 1 hit, 2 K, 1 BB). That leaves 3 pitchers (Adam Purdy, Kris West, and Miles Morton) who have yet to see action.
-FSU now pushes their streak to six over the Tigers.
-The only reason this loss stings is because Auburn managed to battle back. That shouldn't be overlooked. The Tigers were essentially treading water. Down 7-3. Probably the reason why FSU kept Brian Busch in the game. (side note, that kid is a hoss, he's 6-2 and listed at 254, he must have just told the staff his weight instead of actually being measured, because the only place he weighs 254 is on the moon) Busch was cruising, AU looked listless, and he was allowed to push his pitch count.
Both teams are back in action Friday.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
It's like Deja vu. Solid outing by our starter. Bullpen trouble. Tigers drop a close one.
Time to debut a new feature: The AU Threat Level. Which comes your way each week on either Wednesday or Thursday (depending on the schedule). Pretty simple. the higher the threat level. The higher Auburn's chances of making serious headway this year. Personally, I don't see Auburn getting high than "Threat Level Hurt". Here's a quick breakdown.
Threat Level Huddy Named for Tim Hudson. Current Major Leaguer and the driving force behind Auburn's best baseball season (1997). Team has all the elements and tools needed to make it to the College World Series. Majority of Players are playing at an All-SEC and All American level.
Threat Level Hurt Named for Frank Thomas, aka "The Big Hurt". Team has power and decent pitching. Super Regional bound. A few players playing a All American level. Most playing at All-SEC level.
Threat Level Gabe Named for Gabe Gross. At least two players playing at All-American level. A few at All-SEC level. Regional bound. Decent Major league talent.
Threat Level Bo. Some players are destined to be Auburn legends. No All Americans. A few All-SEC. Power heavy. SEC bound. Before you argue over why Bo Jackson is so low; remember this. Bo Jackson was never an All-American in baseball. Gabe Gross was. Weird I know.
Threat Level Bean. Named for Colter Bean. Team has to scratch and claw to make headway. A few guys handling the majority of the load. Some guys could rewrite a few AU records and be remembered a few years later. SEC bound at best.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
It doesn't get any easier for the Tigers this weekend.
There was a lot of head scratching from Auburn's back to back losses to Elon. A lot of head scratching that was just undeserved. As I said before, just because you've never heard of Elon, doesn't mean they are a nobody. Look at this way. Imagine if this was Auburn Basketball and we were playing Butler. You just look at the teams on name alone and you'll think Auburn will win hands down. Then you look at where the two programs are currently and have been recently. Suddenly it's not so black and white.
That little sidebar behind us, let's move on to the preview.
FSU comes in ranked #5. Currently sitting at 4-0 after taking care of the Hofta Flying Dutchmen/Pride/Fighting Chrebets; Yes, that's the same Hofstra that Auburn go so accustomed to playing early in past seasons. FSU won 9-3, 21-7, 3-2, and 10-4.
The stud star of FSU is 3B Stuart Tapley. Currently ranked #6 in Rivals Power Rankings, he's a 5-10, 204 Sophmore from Orlando and had a phenomenal freshman season; including having a 34 game errorless streak to close out the season, batting .383, oh and he did all this with less than 200 At Bats. Putting him in an elite class at FSU. All that Freshman success tranlated in PreSeason All American Honors and being named to the Brooks Wallace Award Watch list (with fellow teammates SS Jason Stidham and OF Tyler Holt. Currently he's hitting .385.
Speaking of hitting FSU has two everyday player hitting over .500. Tyler Holt (.571) and Mike McGee (.545). Not bad at all. They aren't a huge power threat (only 4 team HRs), but when they do get hits they make them count. Definitely the signs of a good team.
Oh and they return 18 letter winners from a team that went to the College World Series last year.
Historically the Tigers have struggled against the Seminoles. Auburn's in the middle of a 5 game losing streak to the 'noles. They've faced each other on 113 separate occasions with the Seminoles maintaining a 73-40-0 all-time advantage. Oh and current FSU coach Mike Martin, well he's only lost to Auburn six times as FSU head coach.
It will certainly be a challenge to win one game against FSU. Much less try to split a series. (If we somehow manage to win the series, then CJP should get an extension on the spot).
Redshirt Freshman Ty Kelley will start for the Tigers on Thursday. Making his Auburn debut. That means that the only Auburn pitchers we haven't seen yet will be Adam Purdy, Sean Ray, Miles Morton, and Kris West. Ray and West will probably used at somepoint, and Purdy is too good to keep stocked up on the bench (34th-round pick of the Minnesota Twins). So CJP policy of just throwing anything at them until something sticks looks like its going to hold true.
Your starters for the 4 game series (all times CST) look like this:
Thursday, February 26 - 5:00 p.m.
Florida State - RHP, Geoff Parker (1-0, 5.40 ERA) vs. Auburn - RHP, Ty Kelley (0-0)
Friday, February 27 - 3:00 p.m.
Florida State - LHP, Sean Gilmartin (1-0, 1.50) vs. Auburn - LHP, Grant Dayton (0-0, 1.29)
Saturday, February 28 - 3:00 p.m.
Florida State - LHP, John Gast (1-0,10.38) vs. Auburn - RHP, Jon Luke Jacobs (0-0, 2.70)
Sunday, March 1 - 1:00 p.m.
Florida State - RHP, Mike McGee (1-0, 0.0 ERA) vs. Auburn - RHP, Paul Burnside (0-0, 6.23)
Here are the official previews from FSU and from Auburn. It'd recommend the FSU preview as it has a short video of the players and coaching staff for FSU discussing the upcoming series.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Still learning a bit about the 09 Diamond Tigers. Here are a couple of quick hitters about what we learned after Tuesday's tilt.
-Dexter Price could be the real deal. Solid Debut. Solid Stuff. Solid attitude:
"Overall for a first time, I was pretty happy," Price said. "I thought this was a chance to step in and prove myself to hopefully get a chance next weekend."
I might be reading too much into it, but I think Price isn't going to be content just being a mid-week starter. He wants a rotation slot.
-Don't judge Zach Blatt yet. Especially after just one inning of work, in a game that was already in the books. Yes, he got tagged a bit. However, of the 28 pitches he threw on Tuesday, 17 of them were strikes. I don't know what CJP has in store for him, but if he keeps pounding the strike zone, he could be a good set up guy down the line.
-The game ball goes to Rus Harper. Yes, Price had the impressive debut. Overlooked will be Harper, who bounced back from a rough Saturday where he only faced 4 batters, yet gave up 2 hits and 2 ER, in .1 innings of work. Tuesday he was a different pitcher. 2 solid innings. 1 hit. 1 walk. 2 Ks.
-Auburn has some pop. The Tigers already have 10 Team HRs on the season, and needs to keep the momentum going heading into this weekend.
-We've also got a bit of speed. Stealing 3 bases.
-Finally, Auburn wore throwbacks again. At least now we have some better pictures.
Good Guys 17. Other Guys 4.
Hard to dissect a game like this. You won't know if Auburn was this good, or if Lipscomb was just that bad. I think it's about 60/40 either way. However, seeing how Lipscomb hit at least 8 Auburn batters, it might be more heavily leaning on the ineptitude of the Bisons.
Dexter Price had an impressive debut for the Tigers. Going 6 strong innings and 90 pitches deep. Final line: 6ip/5h/2er/4k/1bb.
Having such a strong debut allowed Auburn to rest its bullpen heading into this weekend's matchup against FSU. Auburn only used 3 pitchers then entire day. Price, Rus Harper, and Zach Blatt (also making his Auburn debut).
Blatt's debut wasn't as strong. Coming in the top of 9th, he got tagged a bit. Giving up 3 hits and 2 ERs.
Offensively the Tiger's bats came alive (probably letting out a bit of frustration). Ben Jones was 4-4 with a HR and 5 RBIs. Oh, and Tony Caldwell hit two HRs.
Also of note, Hunter Morris missed today's game. He was resting a sore back. Here are the AuburnTigers.com; AuburnSports.com; recaps.
There will be a fresh face taking the mound for Auburn this afternoon as the Tigers try to bounce back against Lipscomb.
Freshman RHP Dexter Price will be making his Auburn debut. The 6'6 RHP is tied (with Michael Hurst) for tallest on the team, was already drafted (Brewers/43rd). Here's a quick rundown from this Auburn bio:
Played at Air Academy, ... 43rd-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in the 2008 MLB Draft ... 2008 First Team All-State ... 2008 First Team All-Colorado ... Went 10-0, throwing six complete games in 2008 ... Also had a save ... Had a 2.90 ERA in 60.1 innings, striking out 76 ... Also hit .375 with 42 RBI and 10 home runs ... 2008 Air Academy MVP ... Went 6-1 with a 3.50 ERA as a junior, striking out 67 while walking just 12 in 52.1 innings ... 2007 Denver Post All-State First Team (5A) ... 2007 Air Academy Offensive Player of the Year ... Threw a perfect game on March 20, 2007, striking out 11 ... Also hit .517 with four home runs and 42 RBI ... 2007 First Team All-State ... 2007 First Team All -Conference.
What it doesn't tell you is that he made the All-Colorado team as a 1B and not a pitcher. As a 1B he batted .407 with 43 RBIs his senior year.
Their isn't much in the way of scouting on Price. Brewer's messageboards had him listed as:
Tall and angular athlete that was thought to be a better hitting prospect entering the spring as a powerful first baseman, but started to draw more and more attention for his ability on the mound. He has improving stuff, going from the mid-80s a year ago to the upper 80s this spring. He might be tough to pry away from his Auburn commitment.
Well he was tough to pry away. It might be his Birmingham roots, or the fact that he's a Braves fan, or just that he needed a year or two to develop and improve his draft status. The Denver Post had a pretty good profile of Price. (Although they list him at 6-7).
There's also his Scout profile...a quick blurb about his best game as a pitcher.
We'll find out what he's got today at 3pm.
The Tiger's get a mid-week speed bump against defending A-Sun Champ Lipscomb.
Lipscomb this year was picked to finish either second or third in the Atlantic Sun. It's a little hard to gauge just how good the A-Sun is this year because it's best teams can't compete in the post-season. Yes, you read that right. The A-Sun has four teams that have been classified by the NCAA as "transitional" schools: North Florida, Kennesaw State, Florida Gulf Coast State, and USC-Upstate.
Each of these schools is ineligible to conference tournament play. So last year, even though FGC had the best overall record (25-8) they were sitting at home while Lipscomb topped Gardner-Webb (now in the Big South conference) 10-9 to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The same thing could happen this year as Kennesaw State is picked as conference favorite, but won't be able to do anything about it in the post season.
The Bisons (yes, I know, the plural of Bison should be Bison; it's like saying the "mices" or the "mooses") are led by Coach Jeff Forehand, in his third season. He is pretty active in the community and at the school. Hosting "Forehand and Friends" lunches and activities. Including inviting the "Jelly-Roll" to come speak after his history making appearance in the World Series. He's had moderate success at the small Church of Christ school in Nashville, with 2008 arguably being the school's best go-round.
The Bisons (ugh, again) come in to Auburn limping. Dropping three of three to #12 Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Things haven't looked good early, as the team's best player, P Bradon McClurg, had a rough Saturday and GT won the whole series in walk-off style Sunday.
McClurg is the only real player of note for the Bisons. Picked as the A-Sun's best pitcher, the 5-9 Sr. RHP from Hendersonville, TN, had an impressive 2008:
... McClurg is seasoned and ready for a strong senior campaign for the Bisons. The veteran made 11 starts last season and tossed a pair of complete games. He also had a 3.34 ERA in 91 2/3 innings, while striking out 77 and walking 39. Opponents hit McClurg at a .237 clip last season. With Lipscomb hoping to once again earn the A-Sun's automatic berth to an NCAA regional this season, McClurg will be a key cog.
He shouldn't be seeing any action against Auburn tonight. Especially after his Saturday performance (3.0 IP/ 4 H/ 7 Runs/ 2 ER/ 5 Walks/ 1 K). Granted, his team's error filled third sent him to the showers early, but still. 5 walks? Not good.
The Tigers and Bisons square off today at 3pm. Freshman Dexter Price will pitch and make his debut for Auburn.
Monday, February 23, 2009
We learned a lot about Auburn's pitching staff this past weekend. However, pitching is just one of the five tools. Now, let's look at the others. Oh, and for a refresher of just what the Five Tools are:
A 5 tool player is one that has great speed, can hit for average, hit for power, a great throwing arm and is excellent defensively. Let's take a look at each of these separately.
Breaking this down and tweaking it a bit blog-wise, Our 5 Tools for Auburn Baseball are Pitching, Hitting, Defense, Base Running, and Coaching. Most of these tools overlap each other. Pitching, being Auburn's biggest weakness, needed it's own entry. Now on to the other tools:
Hitting wise, we didn't learn a lot. However, what we did learn was promising.
We knew Auburn had power. I'm still not ready to say we are playing gorilla-ball yet.
6 team home runs (2 more than Elon), and 2 players with a multihomer game (Hunter Morris on Sunday and Trent Mummey on Saturday) is a good start though.
Average-wise, Auburn still has a few gaps. Mainly in the way of consistency, or finding a solid everyday replacement at C, instead of platooning. Auburn had 7 players who started all three games. Of those all but Kevin Patterson (.200) and Justin Hargett (.154) had AVGs above .300. Again, another good start.
Not much in the way of stolen bases. Auburn only tried to steal twice; only succeeded once.
Also, no triples, and only 5 doubles, doesn't bode well in the future for the Tigers. I know, this is technically"hitting" but without the speed to stretch those singles into doubles, and doubles into triples, Auburn will have to rely on it's power. Which, as we saw this weekend, can dry up quickly.
While not as big a weakness as pitching, Defense is still giving Auburn fits. No "costly errors" to report from this past weekend; However, the one aspect that definitely needs work is Joseph Sanders at 3B and his 5-3 throws to 1B Hunter Morris. Sanders currently has the worst (.755) fielding % on the team and leads the team in errors (2).
The bright side is that this is an easily fixable problem. Both Sanders and Morris are everyday players (Sanders currently has the best AVG, .455, on the team) and with more Playing Time, eventually the errors will come down as both players settle in.
This, to me, is the biggest difference from last year. Just from three games, I can tell that the difference between Slater and CJB is night and day.
Fundamentally, we are better. We actually had successful bunts and *gasp* pulled off a hit and run.
But there are so many little, unrecognizable things, that are different from last year's staff.
The first is communication. If you have a chance to go to a game, especially late in the game, pay attention to the 1B coach. Late in the game Sunday, Auburn was trying to keep a close eye on the Elon bullpen. Every now and then you would catch the first base coach (I forget his name at the moment) keeping a close eye on the pen and signaling whether there was a RH, LH, or even a seperate signal for a Submarineer.
So even before the pitcher was called in for Elon, Auburn knew what to expect and could adjust accordingly.
The second is attitude. Slater would rarely come out of the dugout to argue a call. CJP was out even during the first inning. Arguing a close play on a steal to second. That attitude trickles down to the players. I don't know how you would measure this, but even on Sunday, the team seemed, I don't know, happier. They were having fun. Better than that they were vocal, loud, and cheering their teammates on late in ninth when Auburn was trying to rally (even putting on rally caps). Something has changed in Auburn. Something has changed for the better.
The third is knowledge. Knowledge of the game, and knowledge of a specific strategy. Knowledge might not be the best word. Maybe, observation. Sunday's game had one of the most bizarre plays I've ever seen at an Auburn game. Here's how AuburnTigers.com described it:
It originally looked like it was going to be a tie game as Elon's Harrilchak hit a two-run homer and then Davis hit a ball over the wall in center with one on, but with Mummey crashing into the wall trying to make a play, Davis passed Pat Irvine rounding the bases, making it a long single that resulted in an RBI and an out instead of a two-run home run.
You can credit CJP for that. As soon as the play developed CJP was in the Ump's ear, explaining his case. I'm not sure of the specific rule but I think that Rule 7.08(h) of the MLB Rulebook could apply here:
Simply put a runner is out if:
(h) He passes a preceding runner before such runner is out;
There's a good article here about a similar situation that occured in an MLB game:
With the score tied 3-3, Joe Randa led off the top of the tenth with a single. An out later, Michael Tucker hit a shot that sailed over the fence in dead center, but he passed pinch-runner Mike Caruso between first and second. Caruso thought the ball had been caught by A's center fielder Terrance Long, who made a leaping stab at the hit, and turned back toward first. Tucker was called out on the way to second as he and Caruso passed each other like two trains in the night going in opposite directions.
Rule 7.08(h) declares a runner (Tucker) out for "passing a preceding runner (Caruso) before such runner is out." In such plays, the back runner is always out. This holds true even when a preceding runner runs by a back runner while retreating for some reason which was the case with Caruso and Tucker.
That's almost deja-vu of what happened Sunday.
To wrap up. We learned alot of about the attitude of this team. Time will tell what else we learn.
So let's get down to business. We learned a good bit about Auburn baseball this weekend and will continue to learn more and more before our March Mid-Term.
We kind of knew this would be a weakness didn't we? Also, I have to give a bit of mea culpa before we begin. I completely forgot about Corey Luckie's surgery and the fact that he'd be missing this year. I got to give a baseball "my bad" on that one.
So what did we learn after this weekend? We learned the problem is with the bullpen, and probably not with the starting rotation. The starting line for AU's initial weekend rotation:
Line: IP H R ER BB SO
Grant Dayton 7.0 5 1 1 0 7
Jon Luke Jacobs 3.1 6 1 1 2 6
Paul Burnside 4.1 6 3 3 4 5
Outside of Burnside's 3 ER (really 4, but more on that later). The Starter's were solid. The Tigers just have to make them last longer. Jacobs and Burnside were used up early. Resulting in early trips to the pen. It's fairly simple. You want Quality Starts out of your pitchers. I'm not sure if the MLB Standard of a QS applies here. But you definately want at least 5 innings out of your starter.
An interesting quote from CJP about his bullpen:
"We gave a bunch of guys opportunities this weekend and we'll keep running them out there until somebody really steps up and takes hold of that bullpen."
We definitely saw that. We saw 10 different pitchers this weekend for Auburn. Minus the three starters, that's 7 different guys who saw action. We have 18 guys on the roster currently listed as a pitcher. Excluding Dexter Price (Tuesday's scheduled starter), the three starters, and Corey Luckie (see above); that leaves us with 13 guys who could have possibly seen action this past weekend. We saw 7. The six we didn't see? Adam Purdy, Sean Ray, Miles Morton, Ty Kelley, Kris West, Zach Blatt. Of those, only Sean Ray (3 ap/5.1 innings in 2008) has ever seen any action as a Tiger.
Of a final note, we've still yet to see Hunter Morris's Franken-Closer debut. Although, if John Pawlowski's early season press clippings are any indication, we will:
"Hunter throws from a low three-quarters. His fastball sinks, and he's got a pretty good feel of the breaking ball, and his changeup. He throws three pitches, all of which have the ability to induce ground balls."
While he's no Cory Harilchek, Morris might have the stuff to come in later in the season and see some significant action.
The first weekend is in the book for Auburn baseball, and we can already tell alot about the team, and what we can expect in the future. However, I still stick by my Mid-March cutoff date to make a final judgment on the team.
I'm actually going to do two seperate WWL's for this first weekend. One for the gameday experience and one for the game itself.
Before we begin, it's worth mentioning that Plainsman Park underwent a little bit of a face lift in the off-season. Gone is the old dot-matrix style scoreboard. Replaced with a new fancy trillion color Daktronics display. I must admit it's a bit impressive.
The plan, according to Auburn, is to incorporate the board with AUHD and be able to provide in game highlites and updated stats throughout the game.
At this point, I'd just settle for in game stats, or at the very least, just a slate telling me what player for the opposition is up to bat.
Maybe first weekend they were getting the bugs out.
There is a sweet little video presentation which shows some Auburn highlites and a montage (a la the football team's pregame). My only negative would be the highlites that were shown was missing one key piece of Auburn baseball lore: Bo Jackson's HR off the Georgia light standard. I know that has to be living somewhere. Hell, just show Bo Jackson or Frank Thomas in some of the highlites.
Also, the protective netting now goes from foul-pole to foul-pole. Making the only unobstructed view of the field K-Corner. Personally, it doesn't bother me, but I heard one fan call it the "Head Ache Netting".
Yes, Section 111, is still present. Honestly, it's just 2 guys. The same two guys who have been there since Section 111 was started around 8 years ago. Everyone has a different opinion about them. Personally, and I have no qualms of stating it, I find them annoying. Not because of the heckling, but because they stink at it. They should take a page from the "Tech Hecklers" at Texas Tech and, at the very least, follow what the Bleacher Bible has to say about heckling.
But overall, Plainsman Park is still good ole Plainsman Park. Still has the echoes of Camden, Fenway, and Wrigley (minus the ivy). Still has K-Corner. Still has that hometown feel. Still feels like Auburn.
Also of note is the new uniforms. Three different Unis this past week. We had throwbacks on Friday (which I'm still efforting good pictures of), Blue tops on Saturday, and we had "Ice Cream Man" Sunday. Personally, I love the "ICM" look. I finally broke down and bought a new official Auburn baseball cap. The one is chose? The ICM cap. But Why's it called the "Ice Cream Man". I'll close out with a little backstory. White caps in college aren't new. In fact, some programs (Texas, UGA) are famous for their white lids. White caps in the pros are rare. So, in 1997, when the New York Mets debuted a new Sunday look, the also debuted a White Cap. They were mockingly called the "Ice Cream Men" and only lasted that 97 season.
Tough Pill to Swallow for the Tigers. Dropping the final games of the series and dropping to 1-2 overall. I'll go over the good and the bad a little later in another post.
For now, I'll leave you with links to the Auburn Tigers.com and Auburn Sports.com summaries of the game.
and couple of choice quotes from AU Coach John Palowski:
On the Saturday Loss:
"Elon outplayed us today. They got a lot of base runners and we made some mistakes. You can't do that against a good-hitting team and they took advantage," Auburn Head Coach John Pawlowski said. "On the other side of it, we couldn't get anything going offensively. With the bases loaded, we could only score two runs. We just couldn't come up with the big hit and that was the difference today."
and Sunday's Loss:
"We had the lead early and we let them back in the ballgame. We had the lead again and just had a hard time holding them down. They swung the bats and came right back at us,"
I'll have the first edition of "What We Learned"; a preview of Lipscomb, and a profile of Tuesday's starter, Dexter Price, all a little later when I have more time.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Recapping other college teams from around the state:
Jacksonville State 3
Appalachian State 4 (13)
Preseason All American Gamecock P Ben Tootle was used up quickly (81 pitches/ 16 batters/ 4 innings) and had some minor control problems (3 Walks/1 HBP) but allowed 0 hits and 1 run (unearned). The Moutaineers got three straight 2 out singles to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth before coming through in the bottom of the 13th.
(19) Kentucky 8
The new-look Trojans, playing in the Caravelle Resort Invitational, in Myrtle Beach, SC couldn't overcome some early inning mistakes, and fell to the nationally ranked Cats led by stud pitches LH James Patterson (6ip/6h/2r)
Early on, the biggest problem was that junior right-hander Jason Walls (0-1) had a hard time finding the strike zone on a consistent basis. The Valley, Ala., native walked five in three innings of work while also allowing five hits and striking out just two.
South Alabama 9
JuCo Transfer and former LSU Tiger Matt Jackson, , had an impressive debut (7.1 ip/10k/2h/0r) as the Jags overwhelmed the visiting Bears. Jackson is now 11-0 in his college career.
(16) Alabama 5
SE Missouri 1
Tide C Vin DiFazio, returning after 2 years battling injury, had a happy homecoming at Sewell-Thomas, with an RBI Triple, and 2 run HR.
Kennessaw St 5
The Bulldogs also used some walk-off heroics to win their season opener. SU 3B Marcus Rodriguez singled up the middle with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning to drive in Mason Meredeth to top the visiting Owls.
St. Francis (IN) 4
Alabama A&M 1
A&M dropped a tough one to start the season. Outhitting the visiting Bulldogs 8 to 6, but falling to the NAIA Cougars making the long trip from Ft. Wayne.
Alabama State 5 – Morehouse 3
Morehouse 8 – Alabama State 0
Well that was something.
Justin Hargett busted out of a miserable day at the plate (previously being 0-3 with 2 Ks already) to blast a 2 run HR and lift Auburn to a 5-3 win in the series opener.
Grant Dayton was solid (7 innings , 1 ER, 5 H, 7 K) and the only blemish pitching-wise was Michael Hurst who came in to start the 8th. Hurst allowed back to back singles to open the door back up for Elon. To be fair, Hurst was the victim of a costly error at 3rd by Joseph Sanders (and a potential double-play), that allowed Elon to tie the game.
-Freshman Caleb Bowen, making his first career start a Catcher, was solid at the plate. Manufacturing clutch RBIs in the 2nd and 4th
-Freshman Casey McElroy, starting at SS, was 2 for 2 on the day, with a walk. Not a bad way to start a career.
-Grant Dayton solidifying himself as Staff Ace
-Brian Fletcher's 2 for 4 day, scoring 2 runs as well.
-Auburn's throwback uniforms (Dodger style script with Orange Numbers)
-Hunter Morris's day at the plate. 0-4; 1 K, and stranding 2
-No production from heart of the order. (Trent Mummey was also 0-fer)
-Being unable to contain Elon's All Everything tandem of Cory Harrilchak and Chase Austin. Both players were 2 for 4 with Harrilchak providing the 8th innning spark to get the Phoenix back in the game.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Both The Plainsman and AuburnSports.com released their first previews of the 2009 baseball team. PGCrossChecker also has a preview I recently stumbled across.
Of note from the Plainsman article is a note about Hunter Morris:
Morris will anchor the offense and defense from first base and will also give pitching a shot.
“I was recruited as a two-way player and I didn’t get a chance to do that last year,” Morris said. “When the staff came in, I told them ‘If you want to give me the opportunity to try it out on the mound, then let’s do it.’”
Well that's certainly interesting. Granted, in college baseball there are more and more players who were successful pitching and hitting. (Tim Hudson comes to mind for Auburn, as does Elon's do-everything Cory Harrilchak). Let's hope that if used, it's only during some mid-week series. Morris is a hitter first, pitcher second.
The Plainsman also touches upon one of the more interesting position battles; the starting pitcher:
Pawlowski, a pitching coach by nature, will use Morris, as well as senior Paul Burnside and sophomore Grant Dayton, to lead the Tigers from the mound.
Dayton, a left-handed pitcher, and Burnside, a right-handed pitcher, will battle it out early in the season for the starting position.
Burnside, who lost his junior season to injury, said he’s excited to get back to playing the game.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for a while just to be back at 100 percent and to be able to compete and help Auburn win again,” Burnside said.
It's true that Burnside has pretty much been an afterthought. Last year, he never looked comfortable and has essentially had a full year to rehab, recover, and redeem himself.
There shouldn't be much of a "battle"; in my opinion. Dayton is your Day 1 guy. Then, if healthy, Burnside should stay that second day starter. Especially if you have a disastrous Friday. You have a dependable arm to bail you out the next day and try to salvage the season.
I think a better battle will be for that third slot. PGCrossChecker seems to think that Taylor Thompson has it wrapped up in their projected lineup:
1/Starter: Grant Dayton , So. (*7-2, 3.89, *81 IP/*79 SO).
2/Starter: Paul Burnside, Jr. (0-0, 11.81, 5 IP/4 SO)).
3/Starter: Taylor Thompson, Jr. (3-6, 6.28, 62 IP/51 SO).
Closer: Scott Shuman, Jr. (2-2, 6.07, 0 SV, 30 IP/18 SO).
I disagree. Thompson was statistically our worst pitcher last year. After Corey Luckie's performance last year, he's pretty much earned that third slot until he can lose it. Luckie started 14 games (tied for 1st on the team); pitched the second most innings (63.2), and had the only complete game. If not for that season-ending injury against Alabama, he would have one of the best freshman pitching seasons of any Auburn pitcher.
The Rivals article focuses mainly on the hitting but it does end with a very promising quote from Coach John Palowski:
"I think we are going to have to be a team that will create and manufacture runs," he said. "We will not be able to just sit there and hit the ball out of the ballpark. As much as we would like that to be our style and our plan, this league is so tough and we are going to have to get guys on and move them over.
"The biggest thing offensively is we are going to have to understand what the role is. I tell guys all the time, our offense is based on leaving your ego at the bat rack, going to the plate and doing whatever you can to move guys up, move guys over and get guys in and we are going to have to be a very unselfish offensive club."
The Season starts tomorrow.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Zach Blatt is one of only 5 true freshman on Auburn's 2009 Roster. Listed as a RHP on the roster; I'm not sure if Blatt will redshirt of if he could see some action out of the bullpen.
From his Auburn bio:
2008 Alabama High School Class 6A Pitcher of the Year ... 2008 ASWA Super All-State ... 2008 Opelika-Auburn News Player of the Year ... Went 12-2 with a 1.56 ERA and 105 strikeouts as a senior ... Also hit .369 with 48 RBI ... Helped lead OHS to a runner-up finish in the 2008 state championships
Blatt had a stellar high school career helping the Opelika Bulldogs to their best season in school history. Blatt had argueably his best game in the first round of the 2008 6A Playoffs against Northview:
...owned Northview (Dothan) in the first round of the Class 6A playoffs as the Bulldogs swept the best-of-three series, 5-1 and 12-0. Blatt pitched a complete game four-hitter, striking out nine in Game 1 and ripped a two-run single.
Former Auburn coach Tom Slater also sang his praises:
"Zach is a local talent that is a very good athlete and a great competitor," Slater said. "He is a strike-thrower with a hard slider. He has a bulldog mentality and I just love his makeup. We are really excited about what he can do here next year. Once he is concentrating solely on baseball, he should really take off.
For all intents and purposes, he's just concentrating on baseball. The football team is pretty solid on punters and Blatt's first love is baseball.
One final note on Blatt. He was a member of Baseball America's "Baseball Factory", a scouting group that:
... is widely recognized as the leader in player development and college placement in the U.S. The unique combination of pro evaluations, fully edited player videos, professional instruction, tournaments, and ongoing guidance has created college placement success stories for thousands of players.
At an event in 2006, when Blatt was just a rising junior, he was nothing but impressive. Getting notices for Top Arm Strength and being listed with a 6.93 60 yard dash (coming in second). He didn't get any notices for velocity. That went to fellow Auburn signee Adam Purdy, with a 90 mph fastball.
As of this post no one really knows what Blatt's role will be. My guess would in a middle reliever/inning chewer position while he working on increasing either his velocity or his control.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Auburn opens the 2009 Season against the former "Fighting Christian" of Elon College. Wait. What?
Yes, before we continue with a preview we have to take a minute and remember the old nickname of Elon College: The Fightin' Christians. Don't believe me? Well they even had a stuffed mascot:
That's about all I know about Elon. Oh. Other than the fact that they play damn good baseball.
Elon is not going to be a push-over. They are defending SoCon champs and new Auburn Coach John Palowski should be very familiar with their star player: Cory Harrilchak. Harrilchak does it all for the Phoenix (oh yeah, that's their current nickname, by the way). Including pretty much single handedly beating Palowski's former team in the SoCon Championship game last year:
Went 5-for-5 with four runs scored and three RBI while also hurling 6.0 innings to earn the win in Elon’s 17-8 victory over College of Charleston in the SoCon title game ... The five-hit performance in the title game equaled the tournament record .
The former Community College transfer has become a bonafide star. Currently ranking #3 in Rivals OF position rankings and being a pre-season All-American selection. So, yeah, he's that good. Oh he's also the team's best returning pitcher. The lefty finished the season 7-3 with a 5.13 ERA, pitching the third most innings of any Elon pitcher (66.2) and striking out 46.
Harrichek isn't the only weapon either. 3B Bennett Davis is currently ranked #7 by Rivals.
So we have two guys who are considered some of the best in the nation, a squad coming off it's best year in school history, and a veteran staff (HC Mike Kennedy is in his 12 season as head coach). Doesn't sound like the early season push-over that Hofsta used to be.
The best news for the Tigers is that Elon lost it's best pitcher; Steven Hensley (10-2/3.59 ERA/92.2 IP/99 K) to the MLB Draft (Mariners/4th Rd).
So here begins the early test for the Tigers. First pitch is 3pm Friday (2/20); 3pm Saturday (2/21); and 1pm Sunday.
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
This will probably be the fifth or sixth blog I've started and failed. Why? well it probably boils down to one thing: I could never find anything I was passionate about. That is, until now. Auburn Baseball is that passion. So here at the Plainsman Parking Lot (or the PPL) you'll find your one stop shop for all things Auburn baseball. So, here does nothing. We'll start with a season preview (a little late in the game, I know) and move on from there.