Thursday, January 28, 2010

Auburn Basketball Mad Libs

Hey Kids! Did you ever want to be a sportswriter? Do you like low pay, long hours, and little appreciation? Do you love Auburn basketball? Well here’s your chance to shine with Auburn Basketball Mad Libs. Write your own column about the game. Just fill in the information below:

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Disarming the F-Baum

On a personal note, I could care less about Alabama fans. It’s not really the hatred that most Auburn fans feel, but more of a general apathy. They do their thing, I do mine. Simple as that. I’m probably in the minority in that regard.

That being said, when idiocy rears its head it does get me riled up. Tremendous blood boiling rage type riled up. Idiocy like this:

One observer close to the scene said the coach’s wife accused Finebaum of being friends with Nick and Terry Saban. (Several people saw Terry hug Paul Finebaum on the field after the Alabama victory while Nick Saban was doing television.) Jonna [Chizik] accused Finebaum of bias, and told the radio host that he didn’t know he possessed “all this power” over the lives of coaches, players and recruits. Malzahn’s harpy concurred, and participated in the verbal attack.

That’s from a “blog” called The Capstone Report. An Alabama “blog”. (Seriously, if you want a well written bama Blog then at least head over to DBH Dance Party or Roll Bama Roll)Hiding behind the general anonymity by saying the blog was authored by “capstonereport”, meaning there is no author is lay blame to. It also enables them to make accusations about Auburn paying recruits and other stories of that ilk, without a real threat of recourse. It’s relating a story of some Auburn coaches wives expressing their displeasure. It continues:

What does this say about Chizik & company?

They aren’t ready for primetime. When you are so insecure you send your wife out to fight your battles, then you aren’t a man. You are pathetic. Perhaps he is as pathetic as a basketball coach who allowed his wife to yell at a reporter—Mark Gottfried.

I’ll Let Gary Coleman convey my reaction:

Say-a-wha now? Two coach’s wives, acting on their own, reflects the Auburn coaching staff and their “(in)ability” to stand up to the media. I don’t buy it. However, we’ll stick with the conspiracy theories that the wives were sent as “hitwomen” on Paul Finebaum. Continuing:

Ever wondered why the Birmingham media is so servile to the Auburn Tigers? Now you know. When a media personality dares to challenge the Auburn family, the attack dogs, err bitches, err dogs, err wives, err harpies bare their claws and scratch out the eyes of dissenters.

We’ll move (lightly) lightly past the fact that the poster is calling women “bitches” and thinking its cute. Instead, and the real focus of the article, is that apparently, to the author of the article, Auburn is so averse and irate at State Media, that they continually berate them whenever an unflattering story is published. That leads them to do things like this:

At the 2009 Iron Bowl, Paul Finebaum was spat on, yelled at and at one point private security was forced to separate a deranged Auburn fan from the radio host. And this was during the walk to the stadium. A walk that had several observers shocked at the behavior of SEC football fans. It was a rude welcome to SEC football 2009-2010.

I call B.S. Namely because I was there. Working. I worked on a show with Mr. Finebaum throughout the college football season last year. He was on Auburn’s campus numerous times for those shows. Each time he was given safe distance, and outside of a normal jeer from a fan(which he eats up by the way) it was relatively tame. Iron Bowl weekend, yes it is possible that the above event could have happened. However, I’m sure I would have heard about it. During the broadcast he spent most of the time surrounded by the “Sons of Saban” and not Auburn fans. Here’s what I can tell you first hand about Paul Finebaum and his treatment of Auburn fans (and Alabama fans):



He doesn’t care either way. As much as Auburn fans want to believe it, Finebaum has no loyalties to either school. He cares about one thing: Putting on a show. He’s actually quite genuine and easy to work with (not a diva like you would expect). He’s also very smart. Extremely smart media-wise. You know all of those rumors, “lies”, and halftruths that get Auburn fans riled up. Attributing those to Finebaum? 9 out of 10 times those come from callers. Paul never actually says them.



But the problem is that we, as Auburn fans, get so worked up about it. We honestly shouldn’t. People have a huge misinterpretation of the media and that sports guys throughout the state spend their days finding ways to get at and bury Auburn. They don’t. Not at least the ones I’ve worked with. They think the Sports Media is out to get Auburn. It’s not. I can only speak to the ones I’ve worked with first hand, but for the most part, the media in this state is just committed to providing information that will get the viewers to watch.



But just a suggestion Auburn fans. Quit listening. Seriously. Just don’t listen to him. Your day will not be any worse or any better because of it. I even made a flowchart if you are still confused:

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Protecting the AU

This is kinda sorta baseball and Auburn related. South Carolina recently lost a legal battle with USC (University of Southern California) over the use the “SC” logo:

Would a reasonable person confuse a USC logo on a garnet-and-black ball cap in Columbia, S.C., with the same letters on cardinal-and-gold sportswear worn by a Trojans fan at the Coliseum?

Apparently so, a federal appeals court has decided in rejecting a petition from the Palmetto State to use the letters on baseball team clothing for the University of South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Tuesday upheld a decision last year by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office review board to recognize the University of Southern California's century-old claim to the logo letters.

Southern Cal’s assertion is that they have rights to the interlocking SC logo. Not just theirs (SoCal) but ANY logo where the letters “S” and “C” interlock. A side hobby is mine is sports logos and uniforms, so I like to know my stuff. (I’d recommend the Chris Creamer Sports Logo Board if you think likewise) the ONLY logos that Carolina and California have in common are their baseball cap logos. I did find another “SC” mark that looks similar but it’s one hat (and I don’t know if it’s official). You can take a peek on the left (the bottom are the baseball caps).

It got me to thinking, if Southern Cal can lay claim to the letters “S” and “C” in that order, then could Auburn do the same thing? Better yet, has a school ever used Auburn’s “AU” for their own team? Short answer to the latter is a resounding “Yes”.

Poking around The Helmet Project, I ran across two teams that have used the AU.


The Arkansas Pine Bluff Lions (below left) and the Albany Great Danes (below right):

UAPB Used it in the mid-90s and Albany Used it from 1988-1992. Of course, these are just renderings. It would be better if there was actual photographic proof. Internet to the rescue:

A photo from Albany vs Union College from the Schenectady Gazette on October 2, 1989.

Looks almost identical to good old Auburn (Albany’s colors are purple and gold however). Sadly it’s not a color photo. The pants striping brings up my one gripe with Auburn’s Unis; I wish the striping on the helmets matched the pants. Still, it’s not an exact uniform copycat like UT-Martin:

Which led to the Bizarro Auburn game in 2007 when the teams met up:

Odd. But it’s good for a midweek post in the dead season.

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The SEC Race is a jumble

 

Want to know just how confusing and unpredictable the SEC Race will be this season? Take a look at Kendall Rogers’s predictions for the League:

Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi – Yes, that is right, the SEC will have 10 teams with regional aspirations at the end of the season. Auburn fell just short of reaching an NCAA regional last season, but hopes to take a step forward this season by returning to the postseason.

Honestly, you could throw a dart and pick a team to be the SEC favorite. Personally, I don’t put much stock in Rogers’s predictions. All of the SEC teams have question marks, and picking a winner or a favorite is far from clear cut.

Above all, Auburn WILL be better than 2009. We were almost there last year and I’m hard pressed to see a reason we can’t get to Hoover this year. Again, it will be pretty much do-or-die in 2010, but everyone knows that.

Last year, we were hit by the injury bug and lost two of 2008’s breakout contributors (Ryan Jenkins and Corey Luckie) and spent most of 2009 filling those voids (Caldwell stepped up for Jenkins, but no one could fully replace Luckie). However, looking at Rogers’s assessments, there is concern for almost every SEC team except Auburn. Yes, the Tigers have question marks, but they are just that, questions and not concerns.

Arkansas and South Carolina are my personal favorites for the league. South Carolina could be missing a stud at 1B, but they have guys in place that could easily slot in. Arkansas is just stacked, top to bottom.

LSU Has the best pitcher (Anthony Ranaudo) and hitter in the league, but the weekend rotation is suspect right now. Outside of Ranaudo, there is a huge drop-off on Saturday and Sunday. That favors Auburn. The LSU series will be at home and Friday night games at Plainsman Park are something special. If we can beat Ranaudo, I have to like our chances on Saturday and Sunday.

Kentucky’s season depends on James Paxton. If he’s ineligible then UK will be playing catch-up all year.

All Auburn has to do is be better than 5 teams in the league. On paper, we are better than Tennessee and Mississippi State, who are still rebuilding. We have to be favored against Vanderbilt (a team with depth questions, injury questions, and coaching questions). That leaves Kentucky and Alabama. Both those series will be crucial for Auburn to establish distance later in the season.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Recruiting Break Down Part 2 (Position Players)

Continuing the recruiting breakdown, here’s a closer look at the position players Auburn signed for the Fall period:

Zach Alvord, 6-0, 180, IF, R/R, South Forsyth HS/Alpharetta, GA

Probably Auburn’s biggest name in the class. Alvord is the highest rank from PGcrosschecker and could generate the most MLB Buzz. He projects as a middle infielder first and pitcher second (Auburn is keeping him at MI). First began to turn heads at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Minnesota:

Alvord turned in impressive showings on both sides of the plate during that expo, hitting a home run during the showcase game (with a wooden bat, it should be noted), finishing in the top three of the event’s home run derby and clocking a 94 mile-per-hour throw across the infield at shortstop during a workout — a mark that easily puts him in the company of major league infielders. Following the event, Alvord was ranked among the top 10 players in attendance.



To Auburn’s credit we did offer him first, before he started turning heads at the showcase. Hopefully, that will affect his decision come draft time and he will stay loyal to the Tigers. A proven winner with 7 National Titles already, Alvord has always been partial to the Orange and Blue hue:

Alvord’s parents, John and Jan, both went to Auburn, and Zach has been a big fan of the Tigers for as long as he can remember. He’s attended Auburn football and baseball games, and describes the Auburn baseball field as one of the best in the nation.
“I just thought to myself, what if I could be out there some day?” he remarked. “Auburn has always been my No.1 college choice.” He also talked to Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami (Fla.) and Florida before making it official.

He’s already got the tools and the skills to compete on day one. Solid Hitter with an open stance, minimal movement. Will probably be best suited to SS and is noted for his Double Play ability. He has an athletic build and eats fastballs for breakfast, which will is key in the SEC. Draws comparisons to MLB White Sox (and former UGA Bulldog) Gordon Beckham, based on frame, bat speed, and mental makeup. Baseball Beginnings says he would work best as a 3B and would need a stopover in College.



Blake Austin, 6-1, 205, C, R/R, Landmark Christian/Douglasville, GA

Big, stocky Catcher with a tremendous arm. Clocked at 1.78 seconds for pop-time (catch-to glove-to 2B) and at 85mph (Both records at Perfect Game). Played football for the War Eagles (seriously, that’s the Landmark Christian Mascot). CJP notes his leadership ability behind the plate.




Brooks Beisner, 6-2, 215, OF, R/R, St. Pete Junior College/Port Charlotte, FL

Coverted outfield after playing Catcher in High school. Noted for his contact ability and experience. Will hopefully be able to serve as a stop-gap after the 2010 exodus.




Stafford Booth, 6-2, 190, IF/OF, L/R, Madison Academy/Madison, AL

Projects at 3B. Solid career at Madison Academy and is beginning to turn heads nationally. Played SS in High School, but with his defensive ability and speed, would be better suited at 3B. Noted for his soft hands and quick release, as well as a smooth swing and effortless power. High potential and possible diamond in the rough out of Huntsville.




Tyler Dial, 5-10, 195, IF, L/R, Russell County HS/Phenix City, AL

CJP Notes: "Tyler is a physical middle infielder with a powerful left-handed swing. Defensively, he has shown the ability to play all the infield positions very well. Tyler is a throw-back type player who practices and plays to win every day. We love his competitiveness and we believe that he will be an impact player early in his career." Comes from the Baseball hotbed of Russell County. Not on a ton of radars right now, but that could change when he starts attending showcases and camps.




Jay Gonzalez, 5-11, 170, OF, L/L, Freedom HS/Orlando, FL

An absolute steal for Auburn. Gonzalez brings an added dimension to the Tigers with his speed and quickness. Perfect fit for a lead off hitter role with his ability to bunt and steal. Not a huge power threat, but makes up for it in speed. With the design of Plainsman Park and his tendency to pull balls, could easily be a double or triple machine. Great gap to gap hitter with smooth running motion. Clocked at a 6.55 60 speed (yes, that’s fast). The best thing about Gonzalez seems to be the chip on his shoulder and attitude. He’s not the biggest guy, but plays with tremendous heart. Here’s a great article talking about Gonzalez’s decision to sign with Auburn:

I chose to play for Auburn because it’s a great SEC Baseball Program. I was nervous though when I signed because it was a dream come true, a breakthrough moment for me, and on top of that I became the first one in my family to go to college.

I am excited, just anxious to be out on my own. I’ve visited Auburn a couple of times and I fell in love with the stadium because it had a great baseball atmosphere and I have this great urge to play on that field

He’s already got one big fan already. I’m looking forward to seeing him at Plainsman Park.




Mike Reed, 5-10, 190, IF, R/R, Middleburg HS/Middleburg, FL

Middleburg, Florida is tiny. So when one of their own signs with a major school? It’s a big deal. Just check out the video above (don’t worry about the sound it comes in during the interview). Auburn coach Link Garrett spotted him at a showcase, invited him up to AU and offered him on the spot. Reed accepted right away. Sounds like a solid guy and if he pans out, then commend Garret for spotting him early:

Reed, who has been a four-year starter, will suit up for his last year with the Broncos. He said this might be Middleburg's best team in many years. Last season, Reed batted .432 with 10 doubles, eight home runs, 22 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Presently, Reed (5-9, 185) is weightlifting with the rest of the baseball team three days a week.

He is interested in majoring in business finance at Auburn, and he hopes to be drafted one day and play minor league baseball.

Bronco baseball coach Alan Burnsed said Reed has gotten better every year.

"He's one of the main reasons we have gone to the playoffs the last two years," Burnsed said. "He's a terrific young man and a good student with a 3.7 GPA."

Reed is the first baseball player from Middleburg to sign with a Division I school since Mike Bynum signed with North Carolina in 1996.

Hopefully Auburn will be able to keep all these guys. The season is just around the corner and AUPPL will try to keep up with these future Tigers during their senior seasons.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Breaking Down Auburn’s Fall Recruiting Class

Kind of slipping past everyone is the announcement of Auburn’s Fall Recruiting Class: The High School seniors and JUCOs who we’ll hope to see in Orange and Blue come next spring. As with any baseball recruiting class, Auburn is at the mercy of the MLB and any of these guys could be poached.

THE BASICS:

15 players. 10 Seniors and 5 JUCOs. Split about down the middle with 8 Pitchers and 7 Position players. 5 instate players and every guy is from the Southeast.

THE PITCHERS:



Brandon Allen, 6-6/190, RHP, R/R Milton HS/Milton, FL – Coach John Palowski must love him some tall lanky pitchers because Allen fits the mold of Stephen Kolscheeen and Cole Nelson, two brand new Tigers. In the Auburn write up, CJP praised Allen’s use of off-speed pitches, but his fastball isn’t too bad. Rumored to be in the low-90s already. One blog notes that his slider is his signature pitch (in the mid-80s) and that combined with his size, throwing style (downhill angle, think from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock on a watch face) could be a lethal pitch. He’s a two sport star for his high school, playing both Basketball and Baseball. Allen is a stellar student (32 ACT, near 4.0 GPA) who’s first college offer came from Troy. His main areas for improvement are his stamina (his fastball was shown to decrease in velocity as he labors) and his weight (he needs to bulk up and at least one writer thinks he can hold up to 30 or 40 lbs more).



Will Irvin, 6-1, 205, RHP, R/R, Itawamba CC/Bolivar, TN (right)

A two way player at Bolivar and in JUCO, Irvin started getting attention while Auburn coaches were looking at current Tiger Justin Bryant:

Irvin went 10-1 on the hill last spring including winning the state championship contest and throwing a complete game nine inning outing and gave up just one run and hit the game winning grand slam against Pearl River as the Indians won the third and deciding game of the first round state playoff series. He started 12 of his 14 appearances, completed four of those starts and was involved in a combined shutout. Opponents hit just. 251 against the former Bolivar Central H.S. standout in 271 official at-bats and he struck out 44, walked 21 in 68 1/3 innings pitched.

Itawamba is known for producing talent, and Irvin looks like he could bolster the bullpen or just serve as an all around utility guy.



Will Kendall, 6-3, 185, LHP, S/L, Pope HS/Marietta, GA (left)

Tall and lean, Kendall uses a variety of pitches for varying effect. Not much to his fastball (mid 80s), but has a sharp bite to his Curve and is confident in his off-speed stuff, especially his changeup. Has pitched in tons of high pressure situations with amazing results, including some crucial playoff matchups for the Pope Greyhounds. He will need to tighten up some of his mechanics (including his release point) and learn to control his fastball a little better. Scouts have said the fastball tends to hang and wallow in the heart of the plate. Hopefully, CJP and his staff can use that to build a great midweek starter out of him. He still projects as an elite talent and solid D1 pitcher.





Andrew Morris, 6-3, 180, RHP, R/R, Gulf Coast CC/Prattville, AL

A Prattville guy gets a chance to come home. Morris is an absolute workhorse of a pitcher, pitching 6 complete games, 1 shutout, and 94 total innings. Oh, and he’s effective too, 107 strikeouts to just 42 walks. There is a possibility that (with a solid sophomore season) could bolt for the pros:

Morris had a throng of professional scouts at most of his starts. His draft position isn't likely going to be high enough for him to jump to the pro ranks. Many scouts believe he will be in an even better position with another strong season, which is partly why Morris said he will be back for his sophomore year with the Commodores.

He has gotten nibbles before, in last years draft he was the picked by the Brewers in the 45th round (1336 overall). Auburn would really like to bring him in next year:

Morris, a right-hander, was one of Auburn’s top priorities to sign…“Auburn set their sights on him right away,” Gulf Coast baseball coach Mike Kandler said. “He was high on their radar and he’ll be an immediate impact guy.”



Dillon Ortman, 6-3, 180, RHP, R/R, Grissom HS/Huntsville, AL (left)

One of the state’s top pitchers, playing for a powerhouse program in Grissom, Ortman looks like guy who could use a couple seasons in the program and then breakout for this Junior and Senior years. Ortman was also named the Huntsville area’s best pitcher. From CJP: "Dillon emerged as one of the top pitchers in our state last spring. He pitches at the highest level of baseball in Alabama. He has great sink on his fastball and knows how to spin a quality breaking ball. His change-up is also effective and he throws a bunch of strikes. We feel very good about Dillon's future on the mound."



Derek Varnadore, 6-4, 215, RHP, R/R, Chattahoochee Valley CC/Bishop, GA

The epitome of a bullpen fireman, Varnadore hails from tiny Bishop, GA (population 146) and caught some eyes at CVCC last spring. If you live in Montgomery or Columbus, it might be worth checking him out. DV should slot in at the Pirates 3rd Starter. At Auburn, he should be able to give another solid and reliable arm out of the bullpen.



Jay Wade, 6-0, 190, RHP, L/R, Bremen HS/Bremen, GA

Another pitcher, that Auburn may have gotten on early, and another that should pay off down the road. Wade’s fastball hits the low-90s already and transformed from a “thrower” to an actual “pitcher”. Hopefully he won’t be overworked his senior year (he will be the Ace for his school). He has a great mental makeup for a pitcher:

When Wade gets in those types of situations, he craves the ball.
“I’ve always been like that,” Wade said. “I trust my teammates. I just kind of have that mentality about myself, I guess. I want to be the one at the plate or the one on the mound or the one that makes the winning play. I’ve always been like that. Even in T-ball.”



Ethan Wallen, 6-1, 170, RHP, R/R, Northwest Shoals CC/Anderson, AL

Wallen is taking the long road to the Tigers. He’s been honing his game in Shoals and didn’t get a lot of looks out of Lauderdale County. He moved from the bullpen to a full time starter last year and it paid off:

"Being able to continue my career is a dream come true," said Wallen, who tops out at 90 mph. "The SEC is college baseball at it's highest level, so to be able to be a part of that is something very special. I am really looking forward to getting started."

Northwest-Shoals coach David Langston said Wallen possesses all of the tools it takes to become a successful player in such a demanding conference.

"Ethan is a very hard worker who loves the game," he said. "Right now he is a good pitcher with a good arm, but there is still room for him to grow. His ceiling is very high, and if he continues to work hard he will have the chance to be very successful."

With his signing behind him, Wallen is looking forward to beginning the next phase of his basbeall career.

"Auburn has been my dream school for as long as I can remember," he said. "I am so thankful for what coach Langston and the staff at Northwest-Shoals has done for me, and I am ready to see where it goes from here."

Coming Tuesday, we’ll have a closer look a the position players expected to make an impact with Auburn next year. As always you can follow AUPPL on Twitter, or email me.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Opening Threat Level



You’ve read the previews. Now it’s time for the Threat Level:



From the original threat 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.

Auburn doesn’t lose a ton from last year. A full year in the CJP system? Talented JUCO guys who can compete right away? A do-or-die attitude? All there. All ready.

Hopefully, we don’t slip past Threat Level Gabe. If we do? We are in trouble.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 Season Preview (Part 3)

If Auburn is going to make it to Hoover this season, it will face a tough task. The Tigers will face 7 teams (out of 24) who will start the season ranked in the NCBWA Fabulous 40:

  • LSU (2)
  • Arizona St (5)
  • Ole Miss (22)
  • Arkansas (23)
  • South Carolina (28)
  • Georgia (31)
  • Vanderbilt (32)

That doesn’t include teams like Boston College, Alabama, Missouri, Troy, Georgia State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi State

In other words 60% of Auburn’s schedule is getting some sort of National Consideration.

Most of these teams are battle tested too, and have NCAA Tourney Experience.

They’ll face the defending National Champs in LSU (and 2 other CWS teams in Arizona State and Arkansas)

10 Different Teams on Auburn’s schedule made it the big dance last year:

Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona State, Boston College, Georgia, Georgia State, LSU, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

To say it will be a tough schedule will be an understatement.

The good news? Just like last year when Auburn was able to avoid a series with one of the hottest teams in the country (Georgia), they’ll get to miss Florida this season. Great news for the Tigers actually. Florida will start the year ranked #9 and build off their Super Regional team. The only way Auburn will have to meet them is in Hoover.


THE THREE SEASON SCHEDULE:


The easiest way to look at the schedule is to look at it as 3 separate seasons: The Season opener against SEMO until Arizona State (The Tune UP); Alabama A&M until the LSU series (Murderer’s Row); and Vandy until the end of the season (The Home stretch)



THE TUNE UP:

Auburn really couldn’t have scheduled any better to start the season. SEMO and Miami (OH) are decent, but not great teams. A far cry from last year and scheduling a tough Elon team. That second weekend “series” will be great for Auburn. Mizzou, BC, and FAU will be like a mini NCAA regional for the Tigers. It will be like playoff baseball in February. We’ll get the midweek tune up games (Appy State and Davidson) the Cap City Classic (which I’d highly recommend going to) before a HUGE test for the Tigers, when they travel to Arizona State. If the Tigers can roll into Tempe with a 13-0 (or at worse 11-2) and can take at least a game from the SunDevils then I’d consider that a success.



MURDERER’S ROW:

Here’s where it gets tough for the Tigers: UGA, Carolina, Alabama and LSU. The toughest stretch for the Tigers. All are tough tasks. If Auburn can just avoid getting swept in any of these series then they can limp into the homestretch to try to catch up ground.



THE HOME STRETCH:

This will be the most crucial stretch for Auburn. After LSU, the Orange and Blue will get a full week’s rest before facing Vanderbilt. UT, MSU, and Kentucky should all be winnable series. Arkansas and Ole Miss could shake out to be the series that will make or break the Tiger’s chances to get to Hoover.



THE BOTTOM LINE:

It boils down to this: Win Early, Don’t get Swept late. Last Year, Auburn could have snuck into the NCAA if we could have avoided getting swept by LSU and Ole Miss. The Tigers will need to pad their wins early and pick up games here or there down the stretch. Granted, the difference between Hoover and sitting at home again will be stealing some of these series (Against Carolina and Arkansas particularly).



KEY SERIES:

Arizona State – A huge road and national test for the Tigers

Alabama – A winnable series that could bolster Auburn’s confidence

LSU- A HUGE home series. If Auburn can take this, then we’ve truly arrived

Ole Miss – Depending on how the season shakes out, this will be the ultimate do-or-die series for Auburn.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

2010 Season Preview (Part 2)

Pitching, Pitching, Pitching. It will be what either keeps Auburn out of Hoover for another (dismal) season; or what propels the Tigers to the NCAAs. I honestly don’t know what to expect from the pitching staff. Last year, Auburn could show flashes of brilliance, then on other nights just completely implode. If I had to guess our weekend rotation would shake up with Jon Luke Jacobs, Grant Dayton, and Cory Luckie. However, pitching is definately one of our most fluid positions. It’s a position Coach John Palowski is known for refining and I know it was an emphasis this fall:

In this league you’ve got to have pitching. That’s one of the main things we’ve worked on this fall is putting a lot of emphasis on our pitching. I think we have more options this year.

Well, Auburn will have a ton of options. Auburn signed 2 JUCO guys who will compete right out of the gate in Cole Nelson and Stephen Kolscheen. Add to that returning starters in Grant Dayton, Jon Luke Jacobs, Dexter Price and spot starter Ty Kelley , sprinkle in Cory Luckie who is returning from injury, and then add Freshman Slade Smith from Fort Payne and you have 8 guys all battling for the 3 weekend spots. We might be able to eliminate Price and Kelley from that mix. Price was decent as a Freshman, but could probably use with a year in the bullpen and in a spot start here or there. In the recent Fall World Series, the matchups were: Jon Luke Jacobs vs. Cole Nelson Friday, Stephen Kohlscheen vs. Grant Dayton on Sunday and Cory Luckie vs. Slade Smith on Sunday. Those have to be front runners going in.



3 BIG QUESTIONS



1. WHO ARE THE NEW GUYS?

Kohlscheen, Smith, and Nelson are a bit of a mystery. You know they are good. SK and DN were highly regarded JUCO guys and Smith was one of the better pitchers in the state last year. How they factor into the rotation will be the biggest question mark for 2010.

Stephen Kolscheen: Both he and Nelson are towers of pitchers. Both stand 6’7 (The only difference: SK is an RHP, CN is a LHP)

Kohlscheen has spent the past two seasons at Cowley College, leading the team to the 2009 Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. In 72 1/3 innings this season spanning 16 appearances, he had a 3.86 ERA with 73 strikeouts against just 27 walks, going 9-2 along the way. That followed up a freshman season in which he was 4-4 with a 2.76 ERA with 42 Ks in 53 innings. While at Cowley, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, an academic honor society (via).

SK is also coveted by MLB scouts already being drafted by the Marlins out of High School and the Phillies just last year.

Cole Nelson (left): Another tall and talented pitcher. Nelson has a 4-2 Record last year and served mainly as a reliever for his JUCO team. The best part of his upside is that he keeps improving. Last year, he raised his fastball from 74 to 93 mph. A huge jump. With his size, that fastball, and a little bit of refinement, he could be a force. I don’t seem like I’m the only one who’s excited about Nelson:

“We are very excited that Cole chose Auburn. He has a chance to be a very good pitcher in the SEC, and there is no telling how good Cole will be before he gets on campus due to his tremendous work ethic and the job the staff does at DMACC. Cole’s upside is through the roof, and I think his best days are ahead of him.”(AU assistant Matt Heath via)

“When you’re looking at some of the new faces that you’ll see then Cole Nelson is one of the guys that comes to mind,” Pawlowski said. “He’s a big 6-8 left-handed pitcher who has done a good job for us. I think he’s really started to come into his own here in the fall (CJP via)

Slade Smith (right): A two sport star at Ft. Payne, Smith could have played football at a D2 or 1AA school, but instead chose baseball at Auburn. He already comes ready to play and can throw 3 pitches already. If he misses he seems to miss low. In his senior season he had an ERA of 1.53, 99k and threw 4 shutouts. If a guy who is a true freshman can come in and compete for a starting job then he must be doing something special.



2. WHAT DO WE HAVE?

The front end might be uncertain, but the back end is pretty shored up. Austin Hubbard is our closer. Having that stability is certain. Zach Blatt should serve as a competent set up man and may be groomed to close later in the season and possibly close later if Hubbard needs rest. Bradley Hendrix should remain our go to arm out of the pen for long relief (Last year, he was just one game behind closer Austin Hubbard in appearances). Price and Kelley should move to the pen full time to focus on their mechanics and compete their Senior seasons. Sprinkle in situational guys and our bullpen looks stocked depth wise.

That’s about it really. All of our starting pitchers have to be considered wild cards. Luckie hasn’t pitched in a year, Jacobs and Dayton were ineffective for most of last year (both started 13 games each, but could only muster 3 and 2 wins respectively).

Like I said before, this is the hardest position to nail down. We might have a better idea in February, but for now take everything with a grain of salt.



3. WHAT’S THE STRATEGY?

Basically the first two weeks of the season should serve as a good barometer of what to expect for the season. Thanks to the NCAA pushing for a universal start date, the season will start later and Auburn will lose 1 or 2 series that we’d normally have played in.

We’ll kick things off with SEMO on Feb 19. That first weekend should be our first look at the rotation, with the three guys who start that weekend having the inside track for SEC play.

The next weekend, in my opinion, should serve as an audition process for the three guys who didn’t start. Each team is pretty decent and would be a great early test.

Whittle it down with the midweek games vs Davidson, tweak it a bit with Miami (OH), and then go into the March series with Arizona State having your weekend rotation in place.

The X-Factor is Cory Luckie. He hasn’t pitched in a year, but looking at video and hearing him discuss his injuries it looks like he is back to 100%. However, I’d take a cautious approach to his return. I might hold off on him starting right away and instead let him get some relief work in during the SEMO series, start one of the Davidson games, the Capitol City Classic (vs Alabama) and then one of the midweek games against Alabama A&M. He’ll miss the opening series against UGA but after that he’ll be on a nice rest schedule and be completely acclimated to pitching again. Just a thought.

Bottom Line is this: The Pitching has to improve. I know, you know it, everyone knows it. Thankfully we’re at a point now where its become a priority. The biggest thing that killed the Auburn staff last year is that we were overtaxed. We have guys pitching on incredibly short rest, multiple days in a row, and being put into tough situations. We have the depth now where we can have 6 guys on the front end, and a bullpen with 3 spot starters. That’s a good thing to have. The main burden is on the starters though. They have to abandon this “5 and Fly” mentality. The best thing we can do is have our starters go into the 7th inning at the least. That will shorten the game and gives us the best chance to win. Last year we couldn’t do that. Our depth wouldn’t allow it.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Auburn Baseball 2010 Season Preview (The Field)

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 somewhat

fitting 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.

BOTTOM LINE:

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.

You can follow AUPPL on Twiiter. I’d recommend it.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Grim Reaper of College Offenses

 

The Settlers gave Indians small pox blankets. Native Americans gave early explorers Syphilis. Sometimes, people we think are friends or allies can actually be harboring things that will slowly kill us. Tommy Tuberville's old offenses at Auburn are like that. Sure, you might have gotten a nice track record. You think, hey I can trust this guy. Look what he did at Auburn. Maybe I can borrow one his assistants, learn some things, and we'll all be better. That's what he wants you to think.

News came down yesterday that another of Auburn's Former Offensive Coordinators has been hired to run a school slowly into a wall. Noel Mazzone a guy, it was a decisions as @firewillheath put it perfectly: "anytime you have a chance to lock up a guy who failed miserably at AU, NC State (w/Rivers!) & Ole Miss, you have to do it."

First for any Arizona State fans, I'm sorry. I hope it works out. However, here is your warning. You've hired a former Auburn Offensive Assistant, specifically one that . That's not going to end well. It rarely does. At least I thought it didn't.

When I started writing this post, I thought surely I was going to see a litany of former Auburn assistants just wallowing in new jobs. It's just not the case. In fact, its close to the opposite.  We'll look at the Offensive Coordinators first under Tuberville's tenure 1999-2008:

Noel Mazzone (1999-2001) - The jury's still out on Mazzone. Former track record aside, there has to be something other coaches see in him, otherwise he wouldn't keep getting job offers. However, something has to be said about the fact that the OC that was with Tuberville the longest (since 1995 when Tubs was at Ole Miss) is also the one that keeps struggling in new jobs. We'll see what he can do at Arizona State.

Bobby Petrino (2002) - The less said about this the better. We all know where Petrino is now, and how bad Auburn wanted to get him back. Well, maybe not Auburn, just a guy who signs a lot of checks to Auburn.

Nallsminger (2003) - Good grief what a dark time for Auburn football. Technically Hugh Nall was the Offensive Coordinator, but Steven Ensminger chimed in. Thus, we had the "Nallsminger" cerberus that failed to score a touchdown against USC and Georgia Tech, killed any momentum the Tigers had going into 2003, yet still managed to have a winning season and make it to a bowl game (Probably based on sheer Talent alone)

Al Borges (2004-2007) - Personally, I was fine with Borges. I've met the guy before at Auburn baseball games and can honestly say he loved Auburn. I still stand by the assertion that it was Auburn assistants and not Borges that led to the decline in Offense after 2004. However, Tuberville wanted Tony Franklin and his spread, rather than stick out another season with Borges.

Tony Franklin (2007-2008) - Again, we know how this story ends. No need to rehash it.

So how are these coaches doing now? Most are doing pretty good. Franklin settled in at Middle Tennessee and guided the Blue Raiders to a Bowl win and their best season in D-1A. Borges is at San Diego State now. Although the record doesn't really reflect it, the Aztecs improved in most statistical categories including QB Rating, Points, and Passing Yards. Bobby Petrino? We know.

Except for a scary turnover as the Offensive Coordinator Position during Tuberville's tenure, the core group of assistants stayed put ("The Barbeque Bunch").

They included Greg Knox (WRs/TE), Steven Ensminger (QBs), Hugh Nall (Offensive Line), and Eddie Gran (RBs). We'll exclude Ensminger (who is now coaching High School football) and Hugh Nall (who is building a trucking empire in Georgia).

Knox is Running Backs coach at Mississippi State. His work with Anthony Dixon should speak for itself. Gran was at Tennessee and is now at Florida State.

So what's the constant? What happened that caused all these coaches to end up struggling offensively? You can't blame Tony Franklin on everything. Something has to be a constant thread tying all these seasons together, when each season the offense would progressively struggle, maybe peak for a year (Petrino, Borges 2004) but then struggle to the point that new blood was needed. Oh yes, I know now:

The Grim Reaper of College Offenses. I don't think I've ever seen a coach so less involved with one side of coaching then Tommy Tuberville. It was like he could care less when the O was on the field.

That's what troubles me with the Tubs to Texas Tech rumors. Evan Woodberry wrote a column detailing what Tuberville would have to do to win over the Texas Tech faithful. While I agree in principle, a lot of what he's asking Tuberville to do is completely unlike the Tuberville we knew at Auburn. He might get a good group of assistants, but that group is going to exclude the best of the BBQ Bunch (Gran) and might include the worst (Ensminger). Also, who's to say he wouldn't completely overhaul the coaching staff and offensive identity. Tuberville spent one season with a spread offense and it ultimately cost him his job.

But the intangibles are what really confuses me about Tech wanting Tuberville.

-He hates cold weather. It snows in Lubbock. I've seen it. It also rains mud, but that's neither here nor there.

-Leach was fired for "insubordination" and constantly being at odds with the administration. Tuberville was never one to live and let live with the Auburn administration either. Granted the fault was on both parties in Auburn's case.

-The Texas Tech brass also nonplussed with Leach always trying to get a contract extension, raise, or flirting with other jobs. Again, that's something Tuberville does all too well. At the end of the day, he's still a Jimmy Sexton client. Sexton clients constantly use "other schools interest" as bargaining tricks to get raises. As for looking or being mentioned for other jobs. His exit from Ole Miss notwithstanding (and the infamous Pine Box comment) Auburn and Tuberville dealt with Tubs flirtations early on:

When Butch Davis left the University of Miami for the Cleveland Browns' head-coaching job, Tuberville's name popped up on the speculation list. He quickly said he wasn't interested. As he put it, "I've got the best job in the world right here."

Tuberville got the best job in the world by doing a heckuva job at Ole Miss, winning 30 games in five years, then breaking the Rebels' hearts by switching to the side of another SEC West rival. Ole Miss' loss was Auburn's gain. In Tuberville's second year, the Tigers-picked to finish in the second half of their division-won the West.

That's from a 2001 article. After just 2 years at the Auburn job.

Bottom Line, I have no dog in the Texas Tech fight. However, you have expect a bit of media scrutiny if you are Texas Tech if you DON'T hire Ruffin McNeil. Especially after his Alamo Bowl debut. If Tuberville goes to Tech, more power to him. I just hope Texas Tech knows what they are getting into.

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