It’s an exciting time to be an Auburn baseball fan. Looking back on last season (which was disappointing), one of the positives was just how much Auburn had to look forward to next season. You’d get a fresh recruiting class of players Coach John Palowski (CJP) would hand pick and a full year in his system. You wouldn’t get bit by the draft (thanks to rules about players eligibility) and you’d return a core from one of the best offenses (in both the SEC and the Country). The Tigers came so close last year in CJP’s first season, this year the sky is the limit.
The losses of Ben Jones and Joseph Sanders will hurt. Especially Sanders who led the Tigers in HRs, Doubles, RBIs, Slugging % and Batting Average last year. However, we return our biggest offensive weapons and keep the core of our infield together (1B,2B,SS) which should help limit errors as that group continues to gel together.
This is really all or nothing for the Tigers in 2010. Next year we will (more than likely) lose Kevin Patterson, Trent Mummey, & Hunter Morris to the MLB draft, and could also lose Brian Fletcher and Justin Hargett to the draft as well. Factor in Senior Catcher Ryan Jenkins, and that’s 2/3rds of our offense that is probably playing their final season as an Auburn Tiger. It’s a scary thought for 2011, but for now the maturity of having a stocked and experience lineup, a full season under CJP, has me thinking that this is the year that the curse is broken.
PROJECTED STARTING ROSTER:
- 1B- Hunter Morris
- 2B- Justin Hargett
- SS – Casey McElroy
- 3B – Wes Gilmer
- OF – Brian Fletcher
- OF- Trent Mummey
- OF – Justin Fradejas
- C – Ryan Jenkins
- DH-Kevin Patterson
3 Big Questions
1. AUBURN’S BASH BROTHERS
While most of Auburn’s 2009 team saw growths in leaps and bounds, Hunter Morris actually struggled. Multiple reasons really, including an impressive Freshman year debut that would be hard to replicate. Morris was also hampered by injuries for most of the 2009 campaign as well. Thankfully, unlike most other college sports, baseball players can use the Summer to actually improve AWAY from campus. Morris spent his summer wisely, playing in the Cape Cod league where he refined his game. Baseball Beginnings caught up with him this summer:
Baseball Beginnings: How did you feel about your 2009 college season?
Morris: I struggled with some injuries and it felt like one thing after another. I hurt my back, which bothered me for at least a month. I tried to play through it and missed some games here and there, but it really just came at a bad time. I hurt it like the second week of the season. I had torn some cartilage in my wrist during the fall and didn’t get any swings. Now I feel great. I feel like I’m at 100 percent. I feel like if some things go my way, that 2010 can be a very good year for me. As long as I can stay healthy, I can do some good things.
For now, Morris seems 100% healthy and ready to compete. His summer was nothing but productive, even participating in the Cape Cod Homerun Derby at Fenway Park (another video is here). He’ll go into the season with some early publicity, being named #37 in College Baseball Blog’s Top 100.
The only other Tiger to make the Top 100 was DH Kevin Patterson (#94). It’s somewhatfitting actually. Patterson (photo left via) and Morris are Auburn biggest MLB prospects and are almost identical in talent (KP has the advantage in power, HM the advantage in the field).
Auburn needs both of these guys to have breakout seasons. They’ll give the Tigers a huge power boost and being able to slide them up and down in the order will enable CJP to create matchups day in and day out.
More than that though, they both need each other. KP and HM aren’t everyday guys but are interchangeable. KP will spend the majority of time at DH, but when HM needs a break, KP can slide into the 1B role. Then, depending on his health, HM can play DH for a day.
The biggest thing is the leadership role for both HM and KP. Patterson is known as one of the most professional players in college baseball. Not necessarily professional in ability, but professional in attitude. Two years ago he received the Silva Sportsmanship Award from the Cap Cod League. A special honor given to the player who demonstrates the most sportsmanlike behavior throughout the season. Normally, it goes to a catcher, so for a Utility infielder to win it like KP did, is saying something. Morris is also a vocal leader on the field. On the flip side, Morris is the most decorated player on the roster, the guy with the biggest MLB future, and for now, is the face of Auburn baseball.
2. THE RETURN OF RYAN JENKINS
Last year the Tigers took a major hit when C Ryan Jenkins was lost for the season. A 2 year starter, a solid overall hitter, and a leader in the field; Jenkins was sorely missed. Granted, Tony Caldwell stepped up tremendously, but there was no way to fully replace RJ. Going into the 2010 Season, the job is Jenkins’s to lose. He brings a much needed Right handed bat to the lineup, experience, and he’s a solid contact/situational hitter. Caldwell might have the better arm, but Jenkins is a better general in the field. Jenkins’s best attribute is his defense (in the 2007 season, that was his major role). He’ll probably be rusty to start off with, but with Caldwell as a backup, we are in solid shape at the C position. ‘
On a side note, it’s almost impossible to do a Google search for Ryan Jenkins. The majority of the results are for the former reality TV star who (allegedly) killed his Reality star GF.
3. FILLING THE HOLES
The Tigers only lost 2 players from the field last year, leaving 2 positions up for grabs (3B/RF). The 3B battle is between Wes Gilmer, Dan Gamache, and Crede Simpson.
Simpson looks to be Auburn’s biggest utility guy. CJP said as much before fall ball: “Crede is a local kid from Auburn and he’s done a good job,” Pawlowski said. “We’ve put him at third base and right field. Right field is a position that I think is wide open”
I don’t think the 3B battle is that wide open. It will probably go to Gilmer. Gilmer made more starts than Gamache at 3B last year, is a year older, and can bring a switch hit ability to the lineup. Plus, 3B isn’t Gamache’s natural position (it’s 2B/SS). Personally, I’d like to see Gamache in that role. Gamache is talented, super talented really. He had a solid summer with the Amsterdam Mohawks and just seems like a kid who is talented to keep off the field. He actually spent the summer with a guy who could be one of the surprise starts for Auburn this year, OF Justin Fradajas (Gamache is on the left).
Fradejas, honestly, is a steal. JUCO Recruit Drew Madrigal didn’t pan out, however, Fradejas snuck in with a late signing. He brings a MUCH needed Right Handed bat and JF is fast, dang fast:
Fradejas started 18 games in Amsterdam's crowded outfield but missed a few weeks with a badly sprained ankle. He was impressive when healthy, batting .313/.387/.388 with six stolen bases. The 6-foot, 190-pound Fradejas stands out most for his plus-plus speed; he has been clocked at 6.4 seconds in the 60-yard dash, and his legs allow him to cover plenty of ground in the outfield. He also hit with some authority this spring at Northwest Florida CC, swatting eight homers (via)
Fradejas is definitely looking forward to coming to Auburn:
"Auburn's in the SEC and they have a great program and they have a new coaching staff and have a history of winning," Fradejas said. "So who wouldn't want to play for that?"
If Fradejas turns out to live up to the hype, we can thank another JUCO guy, OF Creede Simpson. They both played at NW Florida Junior College. The coaches were already scouting Simpson and then found someone they liked immediately in Fradejas:
Fradejas hit .323 with 14 doubles, three triples eight home runs and 48 RBI as a sophomore at NWFSC, earning All-Panhandle Conference honors at the conclusion of the season. His freshman season he hit .348 with seven doubles, a triple and 16 RBI. During his two seasons combined, he stole 38 stolen bases for Doug Martin's club.
Auburn has the tools to win and win big in the field. However, the biggest thing last year was that we couldn’t just slug it every at bat. Thankfully, CJP knows that and knows we have to change and the leadership and experience will do it:
“I think that’s key,” Pawlowski said. “This league will bring you down pretty quickly. There are guys that have been through the battles. Those guys like Kevin Patterson, Ryan Jenkins, Trent Mummey, Brian Fletcher, Hunter Morris, the core of the team has done a really good job in leading some of the new guys. We just have to find more ways to score offensively. Last year we were a one-dimensional offensive club. We need to multi-faceted scoring runs. We have a few more options this year.”
The Tigers will open up the season on February 19th against SouthEast Missouri (SEMO) at 3:00pm. Coming up next, a look at the schedule and the pitching matchups going into the 2010 season.
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