Going in to the 2011 Campaign, there are Nine Questions Auburn Baseball has to answer. These burning questions will be the keys for success. Next up? Who replaces Austin Hubbard?
Honestly? This one is a crap shoot. Looking on paper and pouring over the roster, there doesn’t seem to be any guy who stands out as a guy who will become the go to closer for Auburn in 2011. Only two players on the roster have a 2010 Save under their belt (Brad Hendrix and Zach Blatt). You would think that Hendrix would be the front runner but I think Coach Pawlowski is more comfortable keeping him in his 2010 role as a middle reliever. Same thing goes for Sean Ray. You’d rather have one of your few Lefties for matchups in the middle innings instead of saving him for the end. The “Secret Weapon” role worked like a charm last year for Sean. Why mess with a good thing.
Zach Blatt is an interesting case. I think he has a closer’s mentality but would work better as a setup man. Almost in a mini-closer role. Have your starter go 6 or 7, then turn it over to Blatt for the 8th and the closer in the 9th.
But who is going to be that true closer? I don’t really know; but maybe CJP tipped his hand a bit during the Fall World Series. An Unlikely closer candidate emerged in Justin Bryant, making JB the ultimate super utility. In the 3 games in the FWS, JB picked up 2 Saves and looked pretty solid when I saw him on Sunday when he struck out 2 in just an inning’s work.
There could always be a dark horse. Call me crazy, but I’d like to see how Super Freshman Dillon Ortman fairs in a closer role. I’m sure CJP would rather let him stretch his legs in a midweek starter role, but if Ortman’s stuff is as good as advertised, then why not see how he does in a relief role? At least until 2012 when Ortman’s teammate Grant Bush joins the team and gets groomed for the closer’s mantle.
For now, I’d look for the Tigers to try Bryant out as the closer and if that doesn’t work then move to a closer by committee role. I’m never a fan of these situations, but if Auburn’s starting pitching can pick up the slack (and I think they will) then it won’t be too much of a strain on the bullpen.