Monday, January 31, 2011

Diamond Clicks (1/31)

 

You might have stumbled upon these, but if not, here’s some Auburn baseball related news and notes from across the interwebs:

Auburn has had a nice history in the Japan League and it’s not just relegated to Baseball. Auburn softball coach Mark Ryal’s son Rusty is taking his talents to the Yomiuri Giants and his Dad couldn’t be happier:

"I'm tickled Rusty is going to Japan and hope he has as good an experience as I had. They were two of the best years of my life playing baseball, and I would not trade them for anything," Mark Ryal said, despite the fact his second season with the Dragons was cut short due to injury. "If I had been healthy, I would have stayed as long as I could."

Colby “Could have been a Tiger” Rasmus is using the offseason and Auburn’s BCS Title to recharge has he prepares for another year with the Cardinals:

He was happy to talk about shooting his first buck, an 8-pointer, while home in south Alabama over the winter.

"I've also got some wild hog in my freezer ... want some?" he asked, grinning.

Throw in Auburn's bagging the BCS national title and the 24-year-old said, "I don't think I've had a better offseason since I started playing pro ball."

The Braves fan in me hopes that one day I’ll be able to see Rasmus in the Red and Blue of Atlanta, but for now I’ll wish him luck in StL. Oh, and it gives me an opportunity to post this:

 

Dothan is hosting a 17th Annual Home Run Derby on February 5th. It will feature some Auburn football players signing autographs as well as former Tiger Gabe Gross participating in the event. It will be held at Rehobeth High School.

 

The Boston Red Sox have a penchant for drafting talented football players and that includes a former Auburn signee in Brandon Jacobs.

Auburn picked up a huge commitment out of Pensacola when Addison Russell announced he’s signing with the Tigers. However, he’ll have to fend off some nice MLB offers:

Russell, of course, is a rare player. One scouting service, prospectwire.com, declared Russell "the most talented 2012 position player in the country."

"Ever since I started playing baseball, it's been a dream of mine to play Division I college baseball," said Russell, who helped the Patriots win the 2010 Class 5A state championship. "My first priority is with school. I want to go to college. We'll see what happens after that."

Pace coach Charlie Warner said Russell was the first player he's coached who made a verbal commitment to a college before starting a junior season in high school.

Here’s a quick and dirty comparison of the Auburn and Oregon Baseball Programs and the one thing the Ducks have that the Tigers don’t (but hope to have soon):

Oregon’s list of alumni who played in MLB isn’t long, but until the Big Hurt gets the call, it does feature the only Hall of Famer that played at either school. Joe Gordon played two years of baseball (plus one year of football) in Eugene during the mid-1930s before heading east to star with the New York Yankees. Other Ducks who reached the show include Earl Averill Jr. (son of Hall of Famer Earl Sr.), Dave Roberts (who played for a few teams, including the Padres and Rangers, in the ’70s) and some guy named Dick Whitman (Mad Men, anyone?)

Oregon is a program that was just recently rebooted baseball-wise, but is already in the Top 25 of some polls.

An Auburn grad, logo nerd, and baseball fan? Be still my heart. AUPPL salutes you, Bethany Heck:

UW: Tell me some of your favorite baseball details — things that you’re particularly happy to write about and celebrate in the Eephus League.

BH: I really love scorekeeping. I love the layout of the scorecard, the graphic nature of the shape of the diamond and how it combines with numbers that you write onto it, and how certain gestures mean certain things. It’s really intricate, but it’s easy to understand. That was definitely a pleasure to dive into.

Kendall Rogers (who recently left Rivals) gives his SEC Preview. Where he picks AU to win the SEC West:

SEC Western Division – This division usually is the crown jewel of the SEC, but that won’t be the case this season barring a surprise. Auburn and LSU are the headliners, but both have major question marks on the mound. The same goes for Mississippi, Alabama and Mississippi State, too. The eastern division, meanwhile, features three very good teams in Florida, Vanderbilt and South Carolina. Will it be a temporary power shift?

An interesting NPR article on the correlation between Alabama’s Politics and Auburn’s football success:

At the risk of being redundant, here's another way to understand the phenomenon: The values and practices that produce extraordinary college football teams are similar to those that have transformed the South from the backwater it was a few decades ago into a region bristling today with prosperity, growth, and Republican ascendancy.

One player to keep an eye out for in the Future is Locke St. John (already an A in the awesome baseball name category) who’s going to Southern Union but hopes to be in Auburn soon:

St. John went 7-2 in his junior season at Pell City. He believes going to Southern Union will help achieve his goal of pitching for a Division I baseball program.
“It is a big opportunity for me to go to junior college and get out of there in one or two years to transfer to a school like Auburn or Troy,” St. John said.
Southern Union head coach Joe Jordan is elated about what both players bring to the program.
“Locke is a left-handed pitcher,” Jordan said. “We feel like he can be one of our conference pitchers. He has a good arm and I think for sure he will have a chance at our program. We are looking forward to having him. Left-handed pitchers are hard to come by and we are fortunate to have him not only the type of player he is but the kind of person he is.”

Read more: The Daily Home - Friends St John Fuller sign with Southern Union

Tim Hudson got a couple more awards this offseason and is thankful the Gridiron Tigers success:

Hudson was in Seattle Wednesday to accept the 46th Hutch Award, which goes annually to a Major League Baseball player who best exemplifies the honor, courage and dedication of former pitcher and manager Fred Hutchinson, a Seattle native who died of cancer at 45 in 1964.
It's the second major award for Hudson, who was awarded the National League's Comeback of the Year award in November.
In between, the Auburn University product moved his family into the Auburn-area home he and his wife, Kim, have built. And they watched their beloved Auburn Tigers football team go through an undefeated season en route to claiming the BCS title and the No. 1 ranking.
"It's been pretty amazing,'' Hudson said. "We were able to go to the (BCS championship) game. It doesn't get better than that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing with Auburn.''
The same could be said for Hudson, who had reconstructive elbow surgery in 2009, but came back to go 17-9 for the Braves in pitching Atlanta into the playoffs.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2011/01/26/fanhousebravestimhudsonaddst.DTL#ixzz1CdXz1LGW

Coach John Palowski weighs in on the new bat restrictions and why he has a personal stake in the changes:

“I do think the safety issue is a real one — some times the ball comes off the bat so hard it’s self defense,” said Auburn coach John Pawlowski, who had his arm broken by a line drive during his pitching career at Clemson. “This will give you a chance to make more plays, your corner guys especially.”

Auburn comes in at #23 in the USA Today/ESPN Baseball Poll:

23. Auburn (43-21)

Points: 128. PR: 19. Outlook: No team will be affected more by the new restricted bats. Tigers led Division I with 131 homers last year. Lost four players who combined for 69 HR and 213 RBI, but back are OF-1B Kevin Patterson (.315 BA, 16 HR, 33 RBI), C-OF Tony Caldwell (.349, 10, 41) and IF Dan Gamache (.365, 8, 37). Two-thirds of weekend rotation and closer Austin Hubbard are gone, leaving LH Cory Luckie (6-4, 5.91 ERA) as ace. Freshman Zach Alford will start somewhere in infield while junior college transfer RH Andrew Morris should crack rotation. Opens: Feb. 18 vs. Arkansas State.

More from Kendall Rogers and how the SEC Could be a Tale of Two Divisions:

Reasons for optimism: The Tigers took a huge step forward last season with an NCAA Regional appearance, so it’s natural more is expected this season. The Tigers lost several big-time hitters to the MLB draft last summer. However, they still return enough solid bats to have one of the SEC’s better lineups with Dan Gamache, Justin Fradejas, Tony Caldwell and Casey McElroy leading the way. The Tigers also have a talented group of newcomers that should tie up some loose ends.
Reasons to worry: The Tigers’ season will hinge on their pitching staff. They finished last season with just a 5.00 ERA and must replace a pair of weekend starters in Cole Nelson and Grant Dayton, and top reliever Austin Hubbard. AU will be a favorite to compete for the SEC West title even without proven pitching. What could this team accomplish if the pitching staff comes through?

The NCAA Postseason format could be changing in the future:

The first proposal calls for 32 NCAA Regional sites that include a three-game series between two teams to begin the postseason. The winners of the best-of-three series would move on to play in eight four-team NCAA Super Regionals, with the winner advancing to the College World Series.

The committee believes this format would give teams from less-fortunate regions more opportunities to host a round of the postseason. However, the NCAA also acknowledges this format also would require more school, umpiring and ticket staffing, which could be costly.

 

Cole Nelson seems to be catching on well in the Tigers organization:
Debuting in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Nelson was nearly unhittable as an experienced college product against much rawer and less-refined competition. In seven games, including one start, Cole posted a minute 0.57 ERA with only 11 hits allowed in 15 1/3 innings. He topped off his dominating performance in the GCL by fanning 27 hitters, giving almost two whiffs every inning he took the mound.

Read more...

Nine Questions: #6 Releasing the Kraken

He’s a team captain for 2011. He’s come back for his senior year despite a nice draft status and an offer from the Rays. He’s basically be the keystone to anything Auburn wants to do in the field and on the plate. Quite a load to burden for 1B/DH Kevin Patterson.



Why is KP so important to this year? Starting in the field, where Patterson’s position could shuffle the infield tremendously. I’ll go into the year slotting KP at 1B. It’s not that' there’s any writing on the wall, it’s just seems like that’s a primary reason Patterson returned. KP has a future in the MLB. However, in order to increase his draft stock, he’ll have to improve his defense in the field. During the Spring, Patterson did look a bit comfortable in the field. I’m sure with more reps and some improved players around him that he’ll do just fine at 1B. Even without KP in the field, he can still revert back to DH. However, I think one of the main reasons KP returned was a boom in playing time (and finishing his degree):

"I am coming back because Auburn is a great place to play. Even though I did get drafted, after looking at all my options I felt that coming back to Auburn and playing every day and being in a fulltime role would help me from a baseball standpoint," Patterson said. "More importantly I am two semesters away from finishing my degree. I just had to take a step back and look at the whole big picture. One more year of school in the long run will probably be more beneficial for me."



Still, Patterson’s main role will be as the last holdout from the bomb sqAUd in 2010 and will be desperately needed to (hopefully) fill in any power deficiencies in the Tiger’s lineup.



Above everything else, Patterson will serve as a tremendous litmus test for the 2011 Season.

  • How will KP be affected by the New Bat Restrictions?
    • Hopefully not by much. KP’s power comes from his size (and his incredible bat speed) and neither one of those should be lost in translation. Still, if KP is struggling and more of his HRs are turning into long flyballs or Texas League doubles then the rest of the lineup should do the same.
  • Can KP handle the field?
    • Simply? Yes. You’d think with a player of KP’s frame he wouldn’t be limber. However, he’s surprising agile and seems to have taken well to the role in the Spring. However, if KP struggles then that sets up a domino effect. Brooks Beisner / Pat Savage would then move into the 1B role. KP would be relegated to DH and it could (possibly) squeeze Dan Gamache out of the lineup.
  • How much will the team need KP?
    • Tremendously. He’s a Senior with 4 yrs in the field. He’s the old man in the infield. Patterson will be the team leader and Auburn will need him as a guide and example throughout the year.



On a final side note. I’m hoping KP’s “Kraken” nickname sticks. I’m sure Ole Miss won’t forget when the Kraken was unleashed in Oxford:

Kraken. Released.

Read more...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

9 Questions: #5 The Role of Gamache

Let's get this out of the way first: I love Dan Gamache. How can you not? How can you not love a guy who came to Auburn from Rhode Island to Auburn to play baseball. Not as a scholarship player, but as a walk on. 2,000 Miles from home just to play baseball at a school we all know and love. Gamache got a bad rap last year for his defensive flaws. However, baseball is a team game. Gamache can be blamed for losses as much as Brooks Conrad can be blamed for Braves losses (baseball realist definition: not much). Dan Gamache has a role on the 2011 Auburn team and finding the role will be one of the keys for the Tigers.



To me, that role isn't in the field. Sure, Gamache's defense could have improved in the offseason but Gamache's biggest contribution is with his stick. The Numbers don't lie:



AB 189
AVG .365
HR 8
H 69
BB:SO 24:33



College Splits actually adjusts Gamache's average to .381 when you factor in Park/Schedule. More than his raw numbers for Gamache there are his 20 Multi-hit games and 10 Multi-RBI games. That puts him in the top half of Auburn's 2010 totals.



I know Gamache's glove is where he gets most of his flack but in reality Casey McElroy had more errors than Gamache, yet CMac is in no position to lose his starting spot.



With the addition of Zach Alvord to the infield it allows Dan Gamache to move in a more comfortable role as a DH. A DH at the back end of the lineup (preferably in the 5 or 6 hole) because it all comes down to this: Dan Gamache gets on base. He's patient. He has an easy swing. He has surprising power and solid speed. He's what you want in a DH. A guy who is designated to hit.



I'm sure Gamache will get some turns at 3B, but with Alvord and with the IF being so congested, it lets Gamache breath a bit easier as an everyday player. He does have limited experience at 1B but if the KP Experiment fails, then he's a good fallback.

Read more...

Well that's one way to "Woo-Pig"

 

Ignore the cute little piglet at the top of this post. Well, don't completely ignore him, I'd refer back to him as a palette cleanser later. An odd story ran across my inbox this morning:

 

GREENWOOD - Authorities said a man who was caught having sex with show hogs will have his case presented to the Leflore County Grand Jury next month. Andrew Lee Nash, 52, was arrested on Dec. 3, 2010 after police set up surveillance cameras in the owner's stalls near U.S. Highway 82 and the Yazoo River.

Greenwood Police Chief Henry Purnell said the hogs were examined by a local veterinarian, during a routine examination, and the owner was told that four of the hogs had a vaginal infection.

"The owner of the animals knew someone was messing with his animals," said Chief Investigator Huntley Nevels. "And the veterinarian confirmed the sexual assault. So, the owner contacted police and the officers staked it out and caught him out there."

Quick. Back to the Tea Cup pig picture.

 

I'm not sure which is worse, the poor hogs or the cops who had to go on what amounts to the World's Worst Stakeout. Actually, I take that back. THIS is the world's worst stakeout:

 

Today, AUPPL salutes you, Mr. Biggest Hog Fan in Mississippi. Woo-Pig indeed.

Read more...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nine Questions: #4 The Infield Shuffle

 

 

 

I touched on it briefly last time but the Auburn infield faces an almost radical reloading for 2011. It's been a weekend, but I still think Scenario Orange is Auburn's best bet (Alvord at 3B, CMac at SS, Hargett at 2B). That leaves the infield like this:

  • Alvord 3B
  • McElroy SS
  • Hargett 2B
  • Patterson 1B
  • Gamache DH
  • Caldwell C

 

At least one national writer is already disagreeing (albeit slightly):

Projected starting lineup

C Tony Caldwell*
1B Kevin Patterson*
2B Justin Hargett*
SS Casey McElroy*
3B Dan Gamache*
DH Brooks Beisner

 

Maybe Kendall Rogers knows something I don't, but I just can't see a scenario where Zach Alvord is NOT in the starting lineup on opening day. Alvord fills a bit of the power void (most scouting reports praise his power, calling it almost unnatural due to his size) and Alvord is the future of the Auburn infield. Why not let him start day one.

The two wild cards in Rogers's lineup are Brooke Beisner and Dan Gamache. Look, I'm in the Gamache camp. However, I have huge doubts of him playing in the field on a full time basis. Gamache's errors were extremely detrimental at times to Auburn. This year he won't have an All-American at 1B to help correct some of those mistakes. I'll have more on Gamache later (and his role), but for now, the biggest question for Auburn's infield will be just how much it is shuffled throughout the season.

Position battles will abound in 2011:

 

FIRST BASE/DH

  • Dan Gamache
  • Pat Savage
  • Kevin Patterson
  • Brooks Beisner

Honestly, these positions are interchangeable. Savage is probably the 1B on track for a 2012 staring job. KP will be playing the field (so get used to it). Beisner is probably the best off-the-bench power threat that Auburn has. Finally, Gamache is Gamache and we'll touch on him Wednesday.

INFIELD

  • Zach Alvord
  • Justin Hargett
  • Casey McElroy
  • Wes Gilmer
  • Mitchell Self
  • Tyler Dial

Here's where these midweek games will become key. Gilmer, Self, and Dial all need to be groomed as a fill-in roles. Gilmer and Self already filled that role a bit last year. Tyler Dial is the wildcard here. I'm interested to see him in action because I really think he was a steal this upcoming signing class. Dial could become the next SS or 2B (depending on what happens with Alvord).

CATCHER

  • Tony Caldwell
  • Caleb Bowen

It's really a two horse race. Caldwell (after his great Cape Cod experience) is the front runner, with Bowen (hopefully) getting more and more reps. It wouldn't surprise me if Caleb Bowen becomes the 9th inning catcher and starts a shuffle where Justin Bryant closes, Caldwell replaces Bryany in the OF, and Bowen replaces Caldwell behind the plate.

Read more...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nine Questions: #3 The Alvord Equation


Some problems are good ones to have. For Auburn, one problem is just where Zach Alvord is going to play his freshman year. First, let's clear one thing up. Alvord is playing. He has to play. Alvord has already made the Cape Cod League Rosters to 2011, and has yet to play an inning for Auburn. That's serious talent. You can't keep a guy on the bench and "develop" him when he turned down his hometown club and some nice MLB money to come to Auburn:

John Alvord said that due to Zach’s guaranteed opportunity to play at Auburn, he had requested an unspecified signing bonus which his father described as "high."

...


"He was in a position that teams are going to have to buy him out of that college offer. That was by design by us. If he’s going to miss college ... he’s going to have to be paid for it," John Alvord said.

It's not had to read between the lines there; Alvord was promised a starting role. The question is where. Alvord was a SS in High School but from most scouting services he's seen as a next level power 2B prospect:

Second base is where his skills and body type would give him the best chance to succeed over the longest period of time. I think he’d be athletic enough to cover that ground and make the throw across the body. Looking into the crystal ball, you could see this guy as an offensive-minded second baseman.

That's from Baseball Beginnings. The MLB Scouting service wasn't as high on Alvord:

Arm strength: He's got a pretty strong arm, enough for second base.

Fielding: He certainly won't play short at the next level. He might be OK as an offensive-minded second baseman. He could be an interesting option behind the plate, though he's never played there.

Range: He's got below-average range in the middle infield.

Physical Description: Alvord is strong and fairly athletic. Some have compared him to Gordon Beckham.

You'll hear that Gordon Beckham comparison thrown around a lot (even some random Dustin Pedroia comparisons). I'm still unsure. I haven't seen enough film of Alvord's fielding to make that call:

That's not a highlight reel. It's just Alvord goofing off.

So, we've got a couple of issues here. You have a kid who's raw talent, power, and natural ability will put him on the field and in the starting lineup. A shortstop in High School who some MLB scouts are saying projects better as a 2B. Fair Enough. The first big question is why are they projecting him at 2B (and some 3B)? It's mainly because of the limited fielding ability but a bat that should make him an asset.

There's one problem. Auburn already has a 2B. His name is Justin Hargett. He's a veteran and will be a much needed asset to the infield. Alvord can't play SS either. Casey McElroy has that position sewn up.

First let's look at the X Factors and some generalizations/ assumptions:

  • I don't think Dan Gamache will be Auburn's everyday 3B. Yes, he played 52 games at 3B, but unless his offense has improved tremendously over the offseason. The errors in the field absolutely killed Auburn at times last year. My hope is that Gamache becomes a DH and backup 1B.
  • I think Kevin Patterson will the everyday 1B (more on this Friday).
  • Regardless of the scenarios, Casey McElroy remains unchanged at SS.
  • Justin Bryant will play more OF and closer than IF.
  • Tyler Dial, while a future stud, won't make enough headway in the fall/spring to compete full for the IF positions.

We're left with 2 scenarios and they both involve 2 players: Zach Alvord and Justin Hargett.

SCENARIO ORANGE: Alvord at 3B. Hargett at 2B.

  • "Path of least resistance". Instead of half of Auburn's infield learning a new position. It's only Alvord that would change.
  • Keeps Alvord on the field and the move from SS to 3B could be a bit easier to get used to then the move from SS to 2B.
  • Less pressure on a Freshman

SCENARIO BLUE: Alvord at 2B. Hargett at 3B.

  • The "development" scenario. This would give Alvord better training for the pros and might be a more natural fit.
  • If Alvord does have true SS range, then it will help KP at 1B and take some pressure off of him.
  • Less strain on Hargett if any injury creeps up again.

Both Hargett and Alvord throw right-handed, so that point is moot. Right now, I'm in favor of Scenario Orange. I think it makes the most sense. I can't say that will stick, however, because just last week I was all for Scenario Blue.

What it will ultimately come down to:

  • Will Patterson need help with his range at 1B?
  • Does Alvord have the arm and range to go 3rd to 1st on a consistent basis?
  • Is Hargett fully healthy?

So where will Alvord end up playing? Wherever it ends up being, it's good for Auburn.

Read more...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Nine Questions: #2 Who Shuts the Door?

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.

Read more...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Nine Questions: #1 How Good is Andrew Morris?

Going in to the 2011 Campaign, there are Nine Questions Auburn Baseball has to answer. These burning questions will be the keys for success. Up first, Just how good is Andrew Morris.

With the loss of Cole Nelson, Auburn is left with a big keystone to fill. A front line, dominant, and above all else, consistent starting pitcher. I italicize consistent because that’s the biggest issue that plagued Nelson and prevented him from really filling that role last year. Not entirely Nelson’s fault, though. The health issues with his father, the way he was bounced around the rotation, and the times he was forced to carry the team, left him having some pretty uneven performances. Still, to be successful in the league, you need a guy that you can say, “Here’s our Friday Night Guy. Try to beat him.” With the weekend series, a solid pitching performance on day one can help roll momentum for the rest of the weekend.

The guy Auburn will likely turn to will be a newcomer, JUCO Pitcher Andrew Morris. Just how good is Morris?

What is so special about the 6’3, 190lbs right-handed pitching Sophomore out of Prattville, Alabama? In his Freshman year at Gulf Coast, he went 10-2 with a 2.77 ERA. He had more strikeouts than innings pitched, fanning 107 batters in 94 innings. His strikeout total was more than double his number of walks (42). And he only gave up 65 hits on the season. In 14 appearances as a Freshman, six were complete games and one was a shutout in 14 appearances. On April 21, 2009 Morris was named the FCCAA Pitcher of the Week after tossing a complete-game, 12 strikeout, two-hitter in a win over then-No. 9 Northwest Florida. Morris showed up to play whether he was facing a better or weaker team.

That was just his first year at Gulf Coast.The sophomore campaign was even better. He finished GCCC with 223 Ks to 89 Walks (almost a 3:1 ratio) in almost 187 Innings work (About a K an inning) and a 3.19 ERA. He improved his draft status from the 44th Round after his freshman year to the 16th round in 2010.

Morris is a special talent. There is no denying that. He is a strike throwing workhorse who tops about 92 with his fastball. He’s also got a nice deep curveball and a solid slider as an out pitch. He can eat up innings and save the bullpen for the rest of the weekend. Coach John Pawlowski was already singing his praises when he signed with the Tigers:

"Andrew is one of the premier junior college pitchers in the country. Anytime you can get a successful pitcher or player out of the Florida Panhandle Conference, you feel great about it. Andrew was the best in that league last year so we feel extremely fortunate to have him as a part of this signing class. He has an unmatched work ethic combined with exceptional talent and a high baseball IQ."

One thing is clear, Morris can easily go the distance any time he takes the mound. If he’s just 70% of what he was in JUCO then Auburn has their man for Fridays. So how does the rest of the weekend rotation play out? My best guess (and my hope) is that we slot Slade Smith on Saturdays and Corey Luckie on Sundays, with John Luke Jacobs as a spot starter/midweek guy. Now, if Morris doesn’t pan out and Auburn is still searching for a solidified rotation by the midpoint of the season then the Tigers are in trouble.

Read more...

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Just One Month...

Personally? I can't wait. February 18th can't get here fast enough. That Friday, at 6pm, officially begins the 2011 Auburn baseball season. (Well, for me it starts at 2pm so I can watch UAB vs UVA). So what can you expect from this year's Tigers? I'll do a full preview later, but for now here are the salient bullet points:

  • The Schedule is equal parts nasty and equal parts winnable.

The SEC West from top to bottom is in a complete rebuilding mode (even Auburn) and the majority of the SEC's talent and top teams will come from the East. Florida, Carolina, and Vanderbilt are all going to be early favorites for Omaha. That's where Auburn gets some help in the scheduling department with Arkansas, Alabama, and Vanderbilt all coming to Plainsman Park. That leaves two tough series (at LSU and at South Carolina) as the biggest road tests. The biggest blessing? Auburn avoids Florida on the schedule for the second straight year.

  • Pitching will be the difference in the SEC West.

That's what its going to come down to. At the start of the season, the SEC West Favorites will be pretty evenly split between Auburn/LSU/and Arkansas. The truth is that every SEC West Team will be facing some growing pains. Arkansas and LSU will return enough offensive weapons to make them competitive, but lost a ton of talent on the mound. Alabama will have a power outage with the loss of their big bats but only has one proven pitcher coming back. Ole Miss will have to complete rebuild their weekend rotation and Mississippi State it still one or two recruiting classes away from returning to the top. With every SEC West Team coming into the year with weekend rotation question marks, the team that can solidify a staff will stand out.

  • The NonConference Schedule will allow some Resume Wriggle Room

Arizona State, Virginia, Troy, Bethune Cookman, College of Charleston, Jacksonville State. Auburn's nonconference schedule is filled with teams that are Tournament Ready. It's going to make some for some fun games at Plainsman Park. It's also going to help the Resume come NCAA Tournament Selection Time.

  • Most Season Previews are going to say the same things, repeatedly.

How will Auburn replace Hunter Morris, Brian Fletcher, and Trent Mummey? How will the pitching replace Cole Nelson and Grant Dayton, etc etc. Basically Kendall Rogers summed it up in his early SEC Preview:

The Tigers’ season will hinge on their pitching staff. They finished last season with just a 5.00 ERA and must replace a pair of weekend starters in Cole Nelson and Grant Dayton, and top reliever Austin Hubbard. AU will be a favorite to compete for the SEC West title even without proven pitching. What could this team accomplish if the pitching staff comes through?

I don't really have an issue with this, but just an observation: Cole Nelson wasn't as critical to the teams success as we thought he was. Cole was solid, no doubt, but he ended up being up and down and a bit of a Roller Coaster. I'd say the emergence of two guys later in the season (Corey Luckie and Slade Smith) show that Auburn is set even better for 2011 and doesn't have as many questions as people think.

As for the other point. How do you replace Morris, Fletcher, and Mummey? Short answer is, "You Don't". You really don't need too. You saw signs of it last year when Auburn started manufacturing runs to win games. I would expect to see more of that, as Auburn shifts from a Power Offense to a Speed Offense. Hopefully, It will be a more balanced attack and with the changes to the metal bats, it will benefit Auburn.

  • My Early Predictions (that will probably be wrong)
    • SEC Tournament Teams (8): Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Kentucky.
    • SEC Champs: Florida
    • Regional Hosts: Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt

The Kentucky pick is a toss up. That 9th team is going to be a darkhorse whoever it is. I picked UK because the Cats have been so close that they have to get over the hump sooner or later.

Seriously, February 18th can't get here soon enough.

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