Monday, February 28, 2011

Radford Wrap-Up: The World Didn’t End on Friday

Let’s get that out of the way, first. The world didn’t end on Friday. Even though Auburn lost in extras for Radford and presented one of the most frustrating games of the young season, the season will still go on and, in hindsight, it’s not as big a deal. Sure, a sweep would have been nice but, upsets were all over the place in College Baseball on Friday. Including Kentucky, UGA, Mississippi State, Alabama, and a host of Top 25 teams. I would say that going forward sweeps versus series wins are what will separate Auburn from the bottom/middle of the pack in the SEC, but at this point it will be those midweek wins that will provide distance.

So how do we judge this series? Let’s look at the homework assignment:

PITCHING

  • 12 or more shut out innings. Pretty simple. that breaks down to about 4 innings per game.
  • 6 or more innings by a starting pitcher
  • No Blown Saves
  • 8 or fewer runs allowed with 2 outs. Last weekend Auburn allowed 19 RBIs. 8 of those came with 2 outs. It absolutely killed AU against UVA. So let’s limit that.
  • An Andrew Morris/Dillon Ortman sighting.
HITTING
  • 3 or more Stolen Bases
  • 2 or more Home Runs
  • 3 players with multi-hit games
  • 3 or fewer Strikeouts for Kevin Patterson
  • 4 or more multi-run innings
FIELDING
  • 3 or fewer errors
  • 1 error free game

So all in all it wasn’t too bad. Auburn only allowed 5 runs with 2 outs (but most of those came in the deadly 1st game). There was a blown save (a big one on Friday); only 1 HR (from Tony Caldwell), and only 3 multi-run innings. Although Auburn played an error free game on Sunday, they had 3 costly Es on Friday. So final tally from the homework assignment? 8/12 but that’s only about 66% and won’t be good enough when Auburn hits SEC play.

Stray Observations

  • The pitching (despite) the blown save, looked very solid this weekend. Luckie and Smith got deep in counts early and that, coupled with an anemic offense meant short afternoons for both of them. Varnadore has cemented the Sunday slot.
  • Speaking of Varnadore. 9 ip. 13 Ks, 2 bb, 2 h, and 0 er. DV hasn’t allowed a run in his first two starts. Super Pleasant surprise.
  • Ortman and Morris both made their debuts. Both had mixed results. Good in relief, but they both are/and should slot as starters.
  • Justin Bryant was having some arm difficulty according to Coach Pawlowski in the Friday post game and was out this weekend. No word on his return. His loss was felt pretty well. Brooks Beisner held his own in LF (despite a big error) but his bat was a big positive.
  • Speaking of bats. They were absolutely dead this weekend. I know the new bats are having an impact and even the Auburn players know it:
    • “I think part of it is the bats,” Auburn senior Kevin Patterson said. “We’re squaring a lot of balls up. We really hit some balls hard this weekend that got caught. We’ve just to got stay with our approach. To get one out you’re really going to have to square it up. Casey (McElroy) and Creede (Simpson) have been squaring the ball up. I think we’re going to hit some home runs they’re just not falling right now.”
    • That would be an understatement when you look at Auburn’s season through seven games. Hitting just two home runs, the Tigers on a pace for around 25 home runs in 2011 after hitting 130 last season to lead the country.

  • I think this weekend was more about the underrated defense of Radford than anything. The games I saw, Auburn looked absolutely snakebit. Every hit has right to a Radford defender. I hope, over time, that those hits will find gaps and translate to more runs.
  • One negative was the lack of sac hitting. Auburn could get guys to 3rd or 2nd but couldn’t get a timely hit to score them. Again, something that needs to be improved.

Bottom Line:

Sweep would have been nice. A series win was what was needed. 5 big games coming up against a historically surprising Bethune-Cookman team, and a momentum builder this weekend at the Charleston Tournament. The Sun came up Saturday and the Radford loss was just a blip. Still credit Auburn for bouncing back and taking the series. A loss there would have been truly demoralizing. Ask Alabama went O for 3 against Southeastern Louisiana, Central Florida, and South Alabama.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Weekend Homework

 

 

Every weekend Auburn should be working on something. Baseball is about more than wins and losses and especially in the early preseason. At this point, Auburn is trying to find their identity. So how can judge (or Jobu) a team when the main focus (making the SEC tournament) isn’t on the forefront. So, after the opening weekend, what should Auburn work on. Basically, here’s what I’m looking for and hoping Auburn can accomplish for this weekend against Radford. We’ve got 3 (for now) categories and bullet points for each:

PITCHING

  • 12 or more shut out innings. Pretty simple. that breaks down to about 4 innings per game.
  • 6 or more innings by a starting pitcher
  • No Blown Saves
  • 8 or fewer runs allowed with 2 outs. Last weekend Auburn allowed 19 RBIs. 8 of those came with 2 outs. It absolutely killed AU against UVA. So let’s limit that.
  • An Andew Morris/Dillon Ortman sighting.

 

HITTING

  • 3 or more Stolen Bases
  • 2 or more Home Runs
  • 3 players with multi-hit games
  • 3 or fewer Strikeouts for Kevin Patterson
  • 4 or more multi-run innings

 

FIELDING

  • 3 or fewer errors
  • 1 error free game

 

Pretty simple stuff. I don’t think it’s asking too much for Auburn As the season progresses, the homework will become more and more focused/specialized.

Oh, and if you don’t get the reference and the Crime Dog. Here’s a refresher:

 

Sadly, I couldn’t find the Tom Emmanski commercial with Fred McGriff.

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Help an Auburn Grad. Enjoy America’s Past Time, Too.

 

I’ve mentioned Bethany Heck before on AUPPL. Here’s a chance to help her out and revive a dying art at the same time.

 

Now you can help her get her Eephus League Baseball Scorebook Revival Project off the ground and get a pretty nice Scorebook (or T-Shirt, or Poster) to boot. I keep score are games and It’s a pretty fun thing to do. So, Instead of having piles and piles of loose paper and $1 scorecards around your house, why don’t you pick up one from the Eephus league. They are gorgeously designed and if you don’t keep score, they’d still make a pretty sweet gift for any die hard stitch head.

 

So watch the video then go here and make sure you check out Bethany’s complete Eephus league project. Oh and if you’re new to Scorekeeping then let Bethany walk you through it here.

 

War Eagle and congrats to Bethany on the project.

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5p Primer: Radford

 

 

An old coach used to always hammer the 5 "Ps": Prior planning prevents poor performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a High School football coach/Driver's Ed instructor through the day; it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here's your 5 "Ps" for Auburn's next opponent: Radford University

 

PRESENTING

Not much can be said about Radford. The Highlanders were picked to finish 5th in the Big South, a conference which has quickly become Coastal Carolina’s to dominate. Last year they finished just above .500 with an 29-26 record. No way to sugar coat this, Radford is a decent team but that’s just putting it nicely. Best analogy? Radford is like playing Utah State in football. You should win, you should win convincingly, and a loss is a huge setback. Still, they’re on the schedule and Auburn will need the game and hopefully use the game as a tune up before the Charleston Tournament. Best thing I can say about Radford? Their mascot is the Highlander, which gives me an excuse to post this:

 

Hell yeah. Queen. Princes of the Universe. PA Announcer at Plainsman Park, if you are reading this. PLAY THIS SONG when Radford takes the field. You won’t have another chance for a long, long time.

 

PREVIOUSLY

 

 

Radford got off to a good start last weekend, taking 2 games from Army and dropping their Sunday finale against Davidson. The Army game was the first season opening win since 2000 and only the 7th time in School History that the team has opened up the season with a win. Auburn and RU have met before. The last time was in 1999 when Auburn swept the weekend series. The Highlanders' head coach is Alabama assistant Joe Racuuia who actually played against Auburn in 1994 when Radford lost a double header to Auburn. So there’s history, but a bit of dominance on Auburn’s part.

PLAYMAKERS

Every team should have a player that shines. For Radford, that player is Jeff Kemp. A 2009 Big South Freshman of the Year. He’s hitting .308 on the year right now and is a bit strikeout prone, but Kemp is hands down Radford’s best player and biggest power threat. Last year was a wash for Kemp thanks to injuries but his 2009 campaign was something any player would be pleased with:

2009 Big South Freshman of the Year; became the first frosh in Radford program history to earn the honor ... Added to the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year award watch list in April; only Big South shortstop named to the initial award list ... Started his collegiate career with safeties in 18 of his first 19 games, including a 10-game hitting streak (16-of-19, .390) to begin the 2009 season

 

PREVIEW

This weekend should be all about Auburn. No offense to Radford, but the Highlanders aren’t in the same league as Auburn. The biggest is decent and they did hold Army a little silent. Still, Auburn should focus on improving themselves and finding a bit of a rhythm on offense. One thing I’m personally hoping for is an Andrew Morris sighting. Rumor is that he’s back in the dugout and some relief work could help him sharpen.

 

PREDICTION

Auburn should sweep. If they don’t then I’ll have some serious worries about the team. I know we are facing the Highlanders, and of course, there can be only one. But in this case, Auburn is Conner MacLeod and Radford is the Kurgan. Yes. That’s a Highlander reference. It’s kind of the only thing that helped me power through this preview.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wrapping Up Opening Weekend

 

 

 

Okay, so this is a little delayed. Apologies. However, I kept flip flopping back and forth Sunday Night/Monday morning whether to post my initial thoughts on the weekend. In my opinion, the Jacksonville State game today (at 3:00pm) should be lumped in with the four games this weekend. 4 Teams, 4 games, and a good barometer to set the levels for the next couple of weeks. Sure, Arkansas State and UAB are fine competition, but Jacksonville State and especially UVA are a tremendous step up. Still, with the 3 games this weekend I saw a good bit of good, a solid bit of bad, and some room for improvement. So here are some stray observations from the opening weekend of the Auburn Tournament, in which Auburn held off Arkansas State, get routed by Virginia, and dominated UAB.

Stray Thoughts

  • So those new bats? DEFINITELY will have an impact on the game. Auburn went without a Home Run this weekend and if memory serves only 3 HRs were hit all weekend by the four teams involved. Of course, the new bats can still rock terrible pitching, as evidenced by the James Madison University Dukes, who hit 23 homeruns in their 4 game opening weekend against Bucknell.
  • The lineup still needs a bit of shuffling. Auburn got a bit of spark on Sunday when Justin Hargett batted lead-off (swapping with and moving Justin Fradejas to the 9 hole). Still, there isn't a lot a ton of protection for Kevin Patterson in the linup up. KP batted Cleanup on Friday and Saturday and moved down to the 6th spot on Sunday. He had a better game Sunday, going 1-2 with a double, an rbi, and a walk. Hargett probably had the best weekend offensively. That's a big relief for Auburn and will be much needed in the coming weeks.
  • Still a bit of kinks to iron out when it comes to the short game. Auburn laid down some terrible bunts and really didn't push/pull them as well as they did last year. Hopefully with a bit of real world experience, that can change. When they work it's a key part of the offense. Justin Bryant for example, laid down a great bunt and it caused Arkansas State to completely implode.
  • The infield is in flux and I wish it wasn't that way. Alvord has a cannon and can easily make plays in the field. However, he took a couple of bad jumps on Saturday and it leads to Virginia runs. Repetition and Communication. That's going to be key to get Alvord accustomed to the field. I still think the IF will be McElroy at 3B, Alvord at SS, and Hargett at 2B. It's just going to have to take a bit of work.
  • Two things stood out that were HUGE positives for Auburn over the weekend:
    • The pitching. Well, the pitching outside of Saturday. Slade Smith had his sinker working on Friday and Ethan Wallen cleaned up a bit of Zach Blatt mess to preserve the bullpen. Derek Varnadore pitched beautifully on Sunday. Rather surprisingly. 7 innings strong and 0 er. That's fantastic for a Sunday. Justin Bryant was equally surprising in a save opportunity on Sunday. The only worrisome part was that Brad Hendricks and Zach Blatt, two guys who Auburn needs to step up, were virtually ineffective. Still, once the settle in, get some confidence then our pitching staff will be the strength I had hoped it would be going in to the season.
    • The bench play. Such a good sight. During the Virginia game, Pawlowski was just subbing guys and giving them experience and they made the most of their chances. Mike Reed (who didn't have a graphic ready for the video board, that should show you who much Auburn expected him to play this weekend. Oh and a guy I incorrectly labeled in my scorebook as Mike Lee) came through in the 8th with Auburn's 3rd hit and first run of the day. Brooks Beisner looked pretty good and so did Tyler Dial (who got the first RBI of Saturday). That's healthy competition for Auburn and will just increase the competitiveness of the club.

 

All in all I was actually happy with the weekend. Sure, the UVA loss stung but I think UVA and their pitching are on a crash course to Omaha. The guys are good. Here's how I see this "preseason". March 11th is D-Day for Auburn. That's when Arizona State comes in to town. Until then, Auburn has 11 games to adjust, tweak, and fiddle with the lineup/order/fielding/rotation, everything. Auburn will be favored in each of those 11 games, but Bethune Cookman, Jax State, and College of Charleston will still provide quality competition and keep Auburn honest.

So we head into Arizona State. The tilt with the Sun Devils should be Auburn's last dress rehearsal before SEC play. Let's see how the Tigers progress until then.

Today at 3:00pm, Auburn will take on Jacksonville State and we'll see another new face on the mound for Auburn. It's probably going to be an Octopus Day and Auburn will throw out a number of arms to get reps and prepare for the weekend against Radford. War Eagle.

 

JOBUs

 

Let's not forget our friend Jobu. I'm feeling a little generous and so we've got 4 (out of 5) Jobus for the opening weekend. Based on the positives in the pitching and the bench.

 

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Friday, February 18, 2011

5P Primer: Virginia

An old coach used to always hammer the 5 "Ps": Prior planning prevents poor performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a High School football coach/Driver's Ed instructor through the day; it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here's your 5 "Ps" for Auburn's next opponent: The University of Virginia



PRESENTING

The University of Virginia. Call them the Hoos. You might know them as the Cavaliers or "Cavs" but the go-to nickname and one that gets bandied about the Baseball team is the Hoos. Short for Wahoos. The origin is actually steeped in the baseball history:

What Is A Wahoo?

The most prominent and widely accepted nicknames of Virginia athletic teams are "Cavaliers", "Wahoos", and "Hoos".

Legend has it that Washington and Lee baseball fans dubbed the Virginia players "Wahoos" during the fiercely contested rivalry that existed between the two in-state schools in the 1890's. No doubt this was a reference to the carp of the same name found in the waters of Virginia which is capable of retaining a prodigious amount of liquid to increase its size and fend off enemies. By 1940 "Wahoos" was in general use around the grounds (campus).

Today the University faithful or "Hoos" for short, embrace and celebrate the "Wahoos" spirited capacity to prevail as their athletic teams continue the proud tradition of success and achievement at UVA.

Basically it's a frat-boy fish. One that drinks twice it's body weight and uses the "added" liquid to fend off enemies. Still, it's a nice tie from UVA to Auburn. Today, think of "Hoos as their version of Auburn's Plainsman.

The Hoos have a bit of nice MLB 3B talent, too. Mark Reynolds and Ryan Zimmerman.

UVA comes into this weekend ranked pretty his in all polls. 15 in Baseball America, 17 in Collegiate Baseball, 13 in the NCBWA, and 14 in USA Today/ESPN. They are also a pretty good lock to host a Regional.





PREVIOUSLY

Last year was a banner year for UVA. The Hoos went 51-14 and set a school record for wins. They won the ACC Coastal, won their Regional, and advanced to Super Regional. All that success was thanks to a school record 9 players that were selected in the 2010 MLB Draft. RHP Tyler Wilson and C Kenny Swab decided to return. So yeah, these guys are good.



Overall, Auburn holds a 9-3 Edge in the Series and has won the last four meetings. The last time the two met was in 1988 when Auburn won 13-8.



PLAYMAKERS

There's one name you need to know when it comes to Virginia. Danny Hultzen. The guy is a complete stud. 1st Team All-American from each of the major polls. The Junior LHP is the ACC Pitcher of the Year and posted an 11-1 Record with a 2.78 ERA in 2010. He led the ACC with 11 wins and 123 Strikeouts. Thankfully though, Auburn will miss him this weekend. He's pitching today (Friday) in his normal spot. The only space we may see him is if he grabs a bat, where Superman becomes a bit more human ).281 ave, 0 HR, 10 RBI).


Instead, Auburn will focus on Tyler Wilson. A RHP who is moving into the rotation after 51 consecutive relief appearances. He's made 3 career starts but his last one came in 2009. Wilson was a Reds draft pick and has a bit of overpowering stuff. He has an 8-4 Record with a 3.41 ERA last year.



PREVIEW

Fans expecting fireworks might want to stay at home. This is going to be a low scoring game on Saturday. UVA has one of the best pitching staffs in the nation and led the NCAA in ERA the past six years. UVA returns 5 position starters and 10 pitchers who saw action last year. The bullpen is solid and their only question is at closer. The Offense isn't a powerful attack but the get on base and they are peppered with experience. They only bit of breaking in they will have to do is in the middle infield. Stephen Bruno (SS), Chris Taylor (DH/SS)and Reed Gragnani (IF/OF) were groomed last year to take over their respective roles in 2011. The strategy is simple. Be patient and let Wilson work his pitch count up. Manufacture runs in the early innings and hope for an explosion later. Defensively, this will be a huge test for Auburn. UVA puts a lot of pressure on pitchers with motion and steals. Any error on Saturday will be costly.





PREDICTION

The Hoos are going to be the toughest team Auburn faces for a couple weeks. A win and it's time to rev up the prediction train with the hope caboose early. A loss? It's not the end of the world. I'm going to say UVA will take this game but Auburn will make it close.

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Preseason Regional Radar

 

 

There hasn't been a first pitch but there is already talk about Omaha. Think of this as your overview of the Regional Radar for the season. I'll be using 4 different sources this season: Baseball America, College Baseball Daily, Perfect Game, and ESPN. As the season progresses, we'll start to get the RPIs in and I'll be using Boyd's World's and Warren Nolan's RPIs just like last year. As well as Auburn's tournament resume at this point. Unfortnately, at this point, all we have are 3 projections. No RPIs and No Resumes at this point.

 

SITE HOST SEED 2 SEED 3 SEED 4
PerfectGame Florida St (6) AUBURN FL Atlantic FL Gulf Coast
CB Daily Clemson AUBURN Citadel Charlotte
ESPN UConn Wash. St AUBURN Stoney Brook
Baseball America Florida St FL Int'l AUBURN Jax State

 

 

There you have it. Best projection comes from ESPN. Even though Auburn would get shipped off to Norwhich, it's a winnable region and UConn still hasn't found a way to battle out of a regional, no matter how many times the NCAA puts it there for "the betterment of the game".

The worst? Well, this is just nitpicky, but Perfect Game putting AU in Tallahassee and having the 'Noles be a National Seed. Plus, two VERY solid clubs in FAU and FGCSU could mean an early exit from the postseason.

Looking over all of these, one thing becomes clear. If Auburn wants to host a regional it has to be in the Top 4 in the SEC just to have an outside shot. Florida, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt all seem like host locks in the preseason. With a solid resume, Auburn could make a case that the #4 team deserves a host bid as well.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Take a Minute



I swear baseball content is coming. In fact, I would expect a pretty slammed Friday morning on AUPPL. However, before I shift focus completely to baseball, I just want to get something off my chest. You haven't been under a rock. You know what's happened in Auburn over the past two days. You know who did it. You know why he did it. You know more than you ever thought you would know about a 62 year old man in East Alabama.

That is where it needs to stop. I'm not going to preach and carry on and say people have overstepped boundaries but at this moment, it is venturing dangerously close. Especially now that people have discovered the identities of his children.

Poisoning the trees was a horrible thing to do. I agree. Not just for Auburn fans, but for fans around the nation:

You don't have to be an Auburn grad to have a Toomer's story. I have one.

Read more: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/writers/andy_staples/02/17/toomers-corner/index.html#ixzz1EEc92tGT

I would recommend reading Andy Staples's personal account of Toomer's Corner at the link above. He's not alone. There are millions of people who have "Toomer's Stories".

So where do we go from here. Well, I can't tell you what you can and can not do. That's not my place. I can only give a level headed recommendation.

Don't Go After Harvey Updyke

That's not your place. I can say that. I can also say this: his life is over. Leave it to the Legal system. Don't be a vigilante. Don't have your own personal Falling Down moment. His story should end here.

Don't Roll the Trees

Rolling Toomer's at this point would be even more detrimental. Removing the Toilet Paper with water hoses (which is normally done) is out of the question now. The oaks are in a state where they are not actively drawing water from the soil. Blasting the tress with water will allow the herbicide to spread in the soil and whatever slim chance of survival the Oaks had...will slowly diminish.

Plant a tree

It's pretty simple. I have one in my backyard at home, actually. Plant a tree. It doesn't have to be a Toomer's Seedling either. Just plant a tree and make it your own personal Toomer's tree.

Don't Equate This Action with All Alabama Fans

Here's where we are getting into murky waters. Yes, an Alabama fan did this. Yes, he did this because he hated Auburn. Still, and this might be asking much, but in the words of the Osmonds, "One Bad Apple Don't Spoil the Whole Bunch". Chief Tommy Dawson of the Auburn Police Department mentioned it. Jimmy Rane's comments at the Mountain Brook Chamber of Commerce this afternoon will back up the same sentiment. Even my buddy Will Health, who paraphrased a quote from Se7en mentioned something to the same affect. Here is that quote:

I've been trying to figure something in my head, and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are, do you know that you're insane?

This guy was insane. Sane people don't use herbicide to destroy the monuments of Rivals. Unfortunately, he was an Alabama fan and that's the buzz of the story. In any situation, the good might outnumber the bad, but damn if that bad doesn't become the most vocal and poisonous minority.

Instead, let's use this as a lesson for both sides. We passed Hatfields/McCoy territory a long time ago. Living in this state, seeing the success of both programs, watching as facebook/twitter/blogs become a monster of (mis)information and accusations. It's becoming a recipe for disaster.

The majority of Alabama fans are sane, rational, and don't condone the actions of one of their own. Yet, the vocal, adamant, and poisonous minority in their fan base (and in Auburn's too) is growing and it's scary. It truly is.

Hug Toomer's One Last Time

An impromptu display/rally will take place on Saturday:

Join us in hugging the tree. It needs our love. Invite your friends!
Our tree needs us. The city and university have spent so much time and effort preserving this great landmark and tradition for us, and for other generations to enjoy. I personally grew up loving the atmosphere and beauty of Toomer's Corner after a game and even when it wasn't being rolled. Someone has attacked the place we gather in victory and celebration.
I know that the university said the fate of the beloved tree is grim, but maybe we can show it and the rest of the nation how much we love not only the tree but what it stands for, which was so cruelly attacked.

The even starts at Noon. Auburn baseball starts at 1pm. Auburn basketball starts at 3pm. There, I've planned your Saturday for you. You're welcome.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

5 P Primer: Arkansas State

An old coach used to always hammer the 5 "Ps": Prior planning prevents poor performance. Not just a fancy slogan that gets a High School football coach/Driver's Ed instructor through the day; it's also a good way to know what to expect from upcoming Auburn opponents. Here's your 5 "Ps" for Auburn's next opponent:





PRESENTING: The Arkansas State University Red Wolves (formerly Indians) a Sun Belt team hoping for a bounce back from a simply-par 2010 campaign. A pretty nice school with an average baseball history. Well, average is putting it mildly. The Red Wolves have posted just winning record since 2005 and that was last year. There are still good things on the horizon for ASU and Head Coach Tommy Raffo has a reputation as being a solid recruiter and given a few years he could have the Red and Black making waves in a pretty competitive Sun Belt.





PREVIOUSLY: Everything you need to know about ASU this year can be summed up here: Have Hope. Keep Howling. For most teams, a 30-28 record would be a disappointment. However, for Arkansas State, it’s a glimmer of hope. Especially when buried in the 30-28 record is a 16-14 conference record. Yeah, a barely above .500 record isn’t the best thing, but when you haven’t done it since 1998? It means the program is on the right track. So, for the Red Wolves all they need to do is just “Have Hope and Keep Howling”.






PLAYMAKERS: One name stands out for the Red Wolves: Jacob Lee, who was named Preseason Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year:

Lee is the top returning pitcher for the Red Wolves from last season whose pitching staff ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference. Lee had a team-best 3.80 ERA and worked to a 8-3 record including 92.1 innings pitched. Lee struck out a team-best 83 batters and held opponents to a .246 batting average. He owned a 6-2 record in league play and helped the Red Wolves to a 12-2 victory against Troy in the 2010 Sun Belt Conference tournament for which he earned all-tournament honors.

The 6'1 Hometown Righty is a strike throwing machine. I don't know if Auburn will see him on Friday or if ASU holds him for the other weekend games. The other All Conference Selection to watch is Senior OF Todd Baumgartner who turned into a pretty solid offensive threat last year; sporting a .336 avg but Baumgartner's main contribution is in the field with his defense.





The biggest offensive threat is Sophomore OF Michael Faulkner. The Germantown/Memphis Native (and 4th best prospect out of Tennessee coming out of High School) has a respectable 2010 offensively and was rewarded with a Cape Cod League Invite. He hit for a .336 AVG with 55 Runs Scored and 81 hits. Probably one of the better lead-off hitters in the Sun Belt. Faulkner's speed and the new bats should keep him poised for a solid breakout season in 2011.





PREVIEW: One thing that could hamper the Red Wolves rebuilding process is replacing their biggest offensive weapons in 1B Murray Watts who was their only legitimate power threat. So, ASU will have to rely on a group of solid .300 hitters and an improved pitching staff. Honestly though, this game is less about handling Arkansas State and more about Auburn trying to adjust to the new bats and a new offensive mind set. The Red Wolves have some pretty solid and consistent arms but outside of that, I'm not seeing a team that was picked to finish 6th in the Sun Belt is better than a team that is expected to compete for an SEC West Title.



PREDICTION: If Lee is on the Mound for ASU then it could end up being a touch match-up for Auburn. Other than that? The key is to limit the ASU lineup and adjust on the fly to the new bats in their first real world/ real game experience. Overall, this game should serve as a tune-up for the marquee Saturday matchup against Virginia.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Set Your DVRs. Auburn Baseball is on TV

We've gotten a couple of blips here and there, but here's the complete SEC Baseball TV Schedule and it's good news for Auburn. Nine total games are set to be televised on a variety of networks. Here are the dates set in stone:


  • 3/15 Alabama at Auburn (Max Capital City Classic) CSS (7 CT)
  • 4/02 Vanderbilt at Auburn CSS (7pm CT)
  • 4/10 Auburn at Kentucky CSS (Noon)
  • 4/21 Ole Miss at Auburn ESPNU (6:30 CT)
  • 4/23 Ole Miss at Auburn CSS (Noon)
  • 4/29 Auburn at South Carolina SportsSouth (6pm CT)
  • 4/30 Auburn at South Carolina SportsSouth (6pm CT)
  • 5/01 Auburn at South Carolina ESPN (2pm CT)
  • 5/14 Alabama at Auburn CSS (Noon CT)

In addition to those dates, Auburn could also turn up on May 13 (vs Alabama) or May 20/21 (at Tennessee) because CSS has designated those games as SEC Wildcard Games (similar to the NFL Flex Scheduling).



Plus, there is even an outside shot that Auburn could appear in even more televised games because:

SEC schools maintain the rights to air additional games not included in the official SEC package with various television outlets, including official SEC TV partners. More than 50 additional games are set to be broadcast by SEC partners via this means, bringing the total number of SEC baseball games broadcast in 2011 to over 120 games.


Now that doesn't affect Auburn right now because the school doesn't have a TV Network that normally shows games like LSU does with JumboTV or Kentucky does with the Big Blue Network. Still, if you live outside the area you've got a better chance than ever to catch the Tigers on TV. If you don't get the networks listed, you can still catch most of these games on ESPN3.com.



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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Crowdsourcing Expectations

You already know what my expectations are for Auburn Baseball this season. But what are other Auburn fans expecting this year from the 2011 Diamond Tigers? I turned to twitter to find out:

WarBlogle.com @WarBlogle :

Regular season SEC Championship, host and win regional and super regional. #auppl

Chris Fuhrmeister @cfuhrmeister :

SEC West title, host regional, win regional. #auppl

Keith Gallahair @gallajk :

my 2011 AU baseball expectations...make it to Hoover, compete for the West, make a Regional. #auppl #auburnbaseball

Matt McMullen @MattMcMullen2 :

Undefeated season #auppl

The Juice @thejuiceisgood :

my expectations are what you tell me they need to be. You are my beisbol czar & leader. I hope for good things. I do love Coach Pawl.

James Jones @jmjonesjr :

I'm thinking Hoover and a 2 seed. Not as good as last year, but a good step towards staying competitive

D. Miller @dmiller1856 :

Wishful thinking expectations... Trip to Omaha. // Realistically: Top 2 in SECW, Get past 1st rd in Hoover, & compete for SEC title w/improved pitching & fielding. & Host regional. // Basically, I want to see a competitive team on the field and show improvement in areas where they struggled last year.

John Clifton @jrclifton :

SEC West champs, 2nd overall. Hosting a regional but not a national seed.

Jerry Hinnen @WBE_Jerry :

Just for Auburn to prove 2010 wasn't a fluke. One good season is nice. Two good seasons mean you have a good program.

Andrew Seale @ajseale :

Go deep in SEC tournament, maybe win, host another regional, at least get to super regional.

Jared Smith @JaredSmiths :

Expecting CJP's team to be even better prepared to win. More hits, less HRs. Auburn to contend in West. Advance in SEC tourney. // Also expecting the Saturday starting pitcher to be amazing! But then, I'm a little biased on that one. Ready for the season!

Thankfully, we've got a lot of level headed Auburn fans. The general consensus is a team that is both competitive and is showing progress. Good Feedback. I'll pose a new twitter question each Monday. So be sure to follow @AUPPL

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Breaking Down Auburn’s 2011 Baseball Class (Part 1)

 

I could sit here and say, “better late than never” when it comes to announcing this class, but I won’t. I’ve just slowly grabbed info and thoughts on these guys as it’s come available. I’ve waited on doing the breakdown until I got the official list from Auburn. Well, today, that list is here and it’s a solid class. One thing stands out and it’s a big sign for Pawlowski and the things he has planned for the future: this is a class loaded with Freshman. Simply put, Pawlowski is planning for the future and developing talent rather than just “renting” guys for one or two years. Of the 14 members of this class, only 2 are juniors. Meaning that, unless they get plucked by the draft, the remainder of these guys are here for the long haul. 3 Solid Years at the very least for Auburn. Let’s break them down.

 

Cameron Blinka (6’ 200/ RHP/ Alvin CC/ Rosenburg, TX)

An All Conference Selection at Alvin CC as a Freshman. Blinka looks like a middle reliever or setup guy who sported a 1.85 ERA with 22 ks in 24.1 IP. He served as a closer at Alvin and wants to fill that role for Auburn:

"They had a closer who was picked in the (MLB) draft, so they were looking for a closer," said Blinka. "The fact that they came to Texas to get me was exciting. My goal is to be their late-inning guy.

"It's a great opportunity and I'm excited. They're a good program."

Auburn spotted Blinka at an All-Star game and was impressed by his breaking stuff, including a solid curveball. He was invited to visit the Plains and immediately felt at home:

"The campus is very nice. It has an East Texas feel," said Blinka. "The campus had a great feel and the facilities were right in the middle of campus."

The best thing you can say about Blinka is that he’s a battler and doesn’t shy away from pressure. He relishes the closer role and feels most comfortable in the late innings.

 

 

Grant Bush (6-4/190/ LHP / Grissom HS/Huntsville, AL)

One of the names of MLB draft potential, Bush keeps a steady Huntsville pipeline open. He’ll either battle Blinka for the closer’s role immediately or settle into middle relief until his time comes. For any Huntsville area Auburn fans, I’d recommend checking Bush out. He plans on moving out of the pen and into the rotation for Grissom this season. If he flourishes in that role, and breaks out like he did his Junior year. Then Auburn may scrap plans for him as closer and work him into the midweek rotation. Last year for Grissom he provided a solid 1-2 punch for Grissom and current Auburn Tiger Dillon Ortman. He sported a 1.29 ERA with 9 saves. The killer stat line that probably has scouts drooling? 38 innings, 60 Ks and only 10 walks. Those are some ridiculous numbers. He also has some solid film from the Baseball Factory.

Here’s what Pawlowski had to say:

"Grant is a left-handed pitcher who has great arm strength and deception. He has pitched in pressure situations at the highest level of high school baseball in Alabama. Our staff believes that he will continue to develop and become a big contributor for us on the mound."

 

Justin Camp (6-2/220/ RHP / Austin HS/Decatur, AL)

Camp is a jewel in this class. He’s big, powerful, and already getting National Recognition. Baseball America had this scouting report on the Decatur native:

Camp has a thick, 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame. While his body is a little soft, he showed good body control and threw all his pitches for strikes. His fastball sat in the 90-92 mph range, touching 93 and he mixed in a sharp 79-81 mph curveball and an 81 mph changeup. He went right after hitters, mixed his pitches well and showed good poise on the mound. Camp is in the 2011 class and is verbally committed to Auburn.

Baseball Clearinghouse followed with this evaluation:

Justin is a thick bodied right hander out of Austin High School. He has a fast arm with a fastball that sits easy at 86-87 and will bump 90 occasionally. Arm strength and body are present, but he needs to learn to repeat his delivery and command his pitches better. His curve has a 11-5 tilt with nice action. With a little maturity, added mound presence and the right help polishing his mechanics he could become special.

Perfect Game USA ranks him as a Potential First Rounder. His competition at Team USA will make him a hotly recruited commodity.

Trey Cochran-Gill (5-10/175/ RHP/OF / Tallassee HS/Tallassee, AL)

TGC is already going to be one of my personal favorites. I can just feel it. A Stud HS QB, and a local legend. Trey has the work ethic and drive that any coach would love. He’s also super humble. The OA News has 2 Profiles on him and I recommend checking them out. Here’s a taste of one of them. After Tallassee set up this signing ceremony for their first player ever to sign D-1 Baseball out of High School, TGC’s reaction was mixed:

“He does not want the spotlight on him at all,” Gill said. “When we told him the school had gotten this ready, he did not want to do this. He said, ‘No Mama, I want to wait until the rest of my teammates sign at the end of the year.’

“He just does not want the attention on him at all.”

Cochran-Gill was first-team All-State last year for the Tigers, who got to the second round of the playoffs before being swept by Beauregard.

He hit .400 with seven home runs and 46 RBI as a junior last season, also going 6-2 on the mound with a 2.79 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 52 2/3 innings.

Cochran-Gill, who Auburn recruited as an outfielder and pitcher, has a fastball that tops out in the 92-93 miles per hour range.

“On the field, off the field, he’s a class act,” Tallassee baseball coach Adam Clayton said. “Academics are outstanding. Athletically, he’s been a huge part of the baseball and football programs. He’ll be remembered a long time.

“He’ll probably go down as one of the best athletes to ever play here.”

He’s one guy I’ll be following closely in the Spring:

Cochran-Gill hit .400 with seven home runs and 46 RBI, also going 6-2 with a 2.79 ERA on the mound, in his junior year for the purple-and-gold Tigers.

Clayton said Auburn first started looking at Cochran-Gill as a pitcher -- he's been clocked at 92-93 miles per hour and is routinely in the 89-90 range -- but now the school is looking at him as a dual-role player.

A Stud in Auburn’s backyard. Lucky us.

 

Garrett Cooper (6-6/210/ 1B/RHP / El Camino CC/Manhattan Beach, CA)

It’s a long way from El Camino CC to Auburn, AL. Garrett Cooper is hoping that journey pays off.

I’m still doing some more research, but Cooper looks like a guy who can get on base and stay there. Thankfully for Auburn he’ll have a full season to get used the new bats while playing for the El Camino Waves. Due to the lack of info on him at this time, I’ll just let the official AU Release do the talking:

    · Plays for Nate Fernley at El Camino CC
    · Hit .378 with four home runs and 38 RBI in his first year at El Camino CC ... Also had a 1.000 fielding percentage at first base
    · All-SouthCoast Conference (1B)
    · 2010 SoCal All-Star Game
    · Played at Loyola HS where he hit .397 with four home runs and 25 RBI as a senior
    · Under Armour All-American
    · All-Mission League

Coach Pawlowski on Cooper...
"Garrett will come to Auburn as a very polished hitter after two years in California junior college. He hit for a very good average during his freshman year and we expect him to continue to develop his power. He is a great target at first base and has also had some success on the mound."

 

That’s just 5 guys. There’s still 11 more to go. I’ll put of the rest of the profiles later in the week.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

Nine Questions #9: What is success this season?

Such a hard question to really quantify or answer because success is truly relative in college baseball. For some people, success is not achieved unless championships are won. Personally, I think that’s unfair. Are Baylor football fans disappointed in their team this year? No. Why? They didn’t win a championship. So why are the happy? It’s because their team showed progress and made changes and just improved all around. Baylor made it to a bowl game. That’s something they needed to do and hadn’t done for a long time.



For Auburn baseball, a similar mindset needs to be in place. Auburn will face a ton of challenges in 2011. From a mixed up infield to a rotation that needs to find its place. Add in the adjustments to the new bats (which will impact the overall offensive numbers) and you have a recipe of tempered expectations.



If we were to look at this question logically, we’d have to first ask, “What is a failure?”. That’s easy to define. With a down SEC West and an SEC East that consists of 3 Great Teams, 1 good team, and 2 “meh” teams; and at least a solid core of returning talent to work with: Failure is not making the SEC Tournament. It’s as simple as that. Most prognosticators will say the SEC Tournament’s 8 Great will consist of Florida, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and 5 SEC West Teams (all except Mississippi State). Granted, that will make the SEC West more challenging, but it also means that the “bad” teams in the SEC East will make up for the SEC West beating itself up and into submission come late March.



So what is success for Auburn baseball in 2011? Just making the SEC Tournament. It might sound simple, but that’s where Auburn baseball is right now. Expectations need to be tempered. Just by making the SEC Tournament Auburn should book a spot in the postseason. Again, that’s another step up. Still, success has levels. If Auburn makes the NCAA but ends up traveling to a Regional then, to me, we’ve still made progress. We’re on the right track and we’re progressing instead of regressing. If Auburn HOSTS another Regional than I’m going to be ecstatic. That’s more than progression and a step forward. That’s two steps and a leap forward. If Auburn hosts and is a National Seed? I’m going to be through the roof.



For everyone success is going to be different. For me, and looking through it a bit objectively (or as objectively as I can). I have a five point report card that I’ll be judging the team on.

  1. POST SEASON
    • Super Regional (A)
    • Regional (B)
    • SEC Tournament (C)
    • Missing out on SEC by <2.5 Games (D)
    • Missing out on SEC by >2.5 Games (F)
  2. TEAM ERA – Last year the team sported a portly 5.00 ERA. In this new bat era that should (hopefully) decrease)
    • 3.50 ERA or Less (A)
    • 4.00 ERA (B)
    • 5.00 ERA (C)
    • 5.00 ERA or more (F)
  3. TEAM AVG- Last Year with the bAUMb Squad, Auburn had a solid .348 AVG
    • .348 or better (A)
    • .300 plus (B)
    • .300 (C)
    • .250 or less (F)
  4. TEAM FIELDING- The Bane of Auburn’s losses all year. 93 errors and a .962 Fielding %
    • 60 or fewer errors (A)
    • 61-70 Errors (B)
    • 71-80 Errors (C)
    • 81-93 Errors (D)
    • 93 or more errors (F)
  5. RECORD – Probably the simplest and shows just how much emphasis should be placed on wins and losses (and not hard stats). It almost double weights the postseason category. Last Year Auburn finished with 43 wins.
    • 43 or more wins (A)
    • 38-43 Wins (B)
    • 30-38 Wins (C)
    • Less than 30 Wins (F)



Pretty simple grading curve. I’ll keep up with this throughout the season and give an updated report card every two weeks.



With all this grading and understanding in place. It’s time to unveil the 2011 Threat Level. We’ll start with Threat Level Gabe. A Mid Range threat level and a tempered expectation at the start of the year.



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Friday, February 4, 2011

Nine Questions #8: Do We Have Answers?

Granted, there are going to be more than 9 questions that will determine the future of Auburn baseball in 2011 and making one of the questions essentially a call-back to questions 1-7 is a bit of cheating. Just Consider this more of a rambling, this-will-stay-up-for-the-weekend-while-I-watch-the-Super-Bowl, post.


What Questions Have Been Answered?


We started with the 7 previous questions (and the 1 remaining question that will come Monday) and after Coach John Pawlowski addressed the media last night (transcripts can be found here and a pretty nice breakdown here) and he gave insight into a few of these questions.


Question 1: How Good is Andrew Morris?


Answer: I guess we won't know until the season starts. The only definitives CJP gave is that he's confident in Slade Smith and Corey Luckie. Pawlowski only mentioned Morris when it he was discussing guys to fill that 3rd slot. Even then, Morris was lumped in with Bradley Hendrix, Will Irvin, and Dillon Ortman.


In a perfect world you want 5 starting pitchers and 1 "safety" guy. 3 untouched weekend guys, 2 midweek monsters, and spot starter just in case. If I had to rank the guys that CJP mentioned it would still be Slade, Luckie, Morris as the weekend guys. Ortman and Irvin as the midweek men and Bradley Hendrix as the spot-starter.


Question 2: Who Shuts the Door?


Answer: No Clue. CJP didn't really address the bullpen at all. He mentioned Ethan Wallen as a guy who's done a solid job out of the bullpen and kind of left it there. I'm guessing we will have a closer by committee for the time being.


Question 3: The Alvord Equation / 4. The Infield Shuffle / 5. The Role of Gamache


Answer: Pawlowski summed didn't really answer but gave some key insight into all 3 of these questions with one response:




On possible starters in the infield and outfield...


"In the outfield we feel Creede Simpson has played some center field and right field. He'll probably be our guy in right field. Justin Fradejas is doing some really positive things out there, and will be in center field. Left field is still wide open. We have Justin Bryant who has played every position on the field. If we need him to pitch, he will go out and pitch. He is such a valuable player. Him and Brooks Beisner. Jay Gonzalez, another freshman, an outfielder who is a good runner, an exciting player. Third base can be Dan Gamache. You're looking at Casey McElroy at short stop, or freshman Zach Alvord. Justin Hargett over there at second base, Kevin Patterson at first base and also Patrick Savage working some in there, too, and Tony Caldwell behind the plate. I feel good about our position players. I think we have some experience and have some guys who have been through the league before."


On the designated hitter...


"That's going to be kind of a revolving door thing. I think we have enough depth where we can go left-handed or right-handed depending on who's on the mound. We'll see how that goes."




Now I've listened to this part multiple times. I've watch the videos from XOS and Scout and Rivals. (I don't know why I did, it was the same thing just from different angles, like my own personal Zapruder film). When you watched Pawloski give his answer he just seemed a bit unsure of the middle infield. Still, we have to go with what he said and right now the lineup is looking like this:



  • 1B: Kevin Patterson2B: Justin Hargett
  • 3B: Dan Gamache
  • SS: Casey McElroy
  • LF: ?
  • CF: Justin Fradejas
  • RF: Creede Simpson
  • C: Tony Caldwell
  • DH: ?

So there you have it. Left Field is wide open and DH is wide open. Sounds like SS is a battle between CMac and Alvord and Gamache is still at 3B. It does however give some room for wiggle room and that's probably good for Auburn. Of the first 14 games, I can only see 2 that are going to be extreme tests (Virginia and College of Charleston). That leaves 12 games to get the legs under the team before the Arizona State series. Hopefully by then Auburn will have developed a bit of rhythm.


Question 6: Releasing the Kraken


ANSWER: Oh, he'll be released all right. He answered the question himself, last night. KP's confidence seems high and he's ready for his revised role as a full time player:



On playing more of a full-time role now and working against left-handed pitchers...

"Last year, I think I really gained a lot of confidence in myself. The team was playing well and I started to really put things together. I'm just looking to continue to lead this team and to carry that forward this year. I've always felt comfortable against left-handed pitchers, and the more success you have kind of as last year went on, the more confidence you gain. It just kind of snowballs, and that's definitely a good thing. I'm looking to lead this team back to Hoover and continue doing what we're doing."



Question 7: The Wildcards


ANSWER: These guys are truly going to be wildcards. CJP didn't mention any of the 3 I picked out specifically, but did give some love to Dillon Ortman, Ethan Wallen, and Brooks Beisner.


There you have it. We've got a few answers but everything else is probably going to remain up in the air until opening day. Until then, take a peek at the new AU Baseball Poster:




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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Nine Questions: #7 The Wildcards

 

College baseball depends on transfers and newcomers to help pump new blood into the system. Not surprisingly, Auburn will have to rely on some new faces to fill some crucial roles on the side and here's your first chance to meet them.

Cullen Wacker

  • Role: The Clutch Hit Machine
    • Let this be your first introduction to Cullen Wacker, before his legend grows at Auburn. The Mobile by way of Texas JUCO transfer is already a local legend at McGill-Toolen (with an impressive facebook page as well). His all conference year at Northeast Texas included 58 rbis and 24 stolen bases. I'd check out some of the pretty solid Press-Register articles on him. Wacker could become a go-to guy off the bench with runners on and solid contact is needed. Hey, the last Auburn player to come to Auburn from a Texas JUCO worked out pretty well didn't he? Oh, and let's not forget that Wacker was a pretty solid 6A QB for McGill:

 


WKRG.com News

 

Max Williams

  • Role: The Speedster
    • Williams kind of slipped under the radar when he signed with Auburn. The true freshman from The Lovett School in Georgia turned down some football offers to join the Tigers baseball team. Williams averaged 22 stolen bases a year over his high school career and his 4.45 40 time is nothing to sneeze at. I'd expect Williams to fill in the Justin Fradejas role as a much needed pinch runner now that Freddie is taking over a full time role in the outfield.

 

 

 

 

 

Derek Varnadore:

  • Role: The Fireballer
    • Varnadore is a talented pitcher. That's something that can't be argued. What's still to be decided is just how good he is. The rotation is a bit crowded for Varnadore to crack immediately. However, with a mid-90s fastball and some solid backup pitches in the arsenal, Varnadore will be a tremendous asset out of the bullpen. How many teams can just throw out a JUCO ace right out of the 'pen and let opposing teams deal with it. He's got a physical 6'4 frame and his 94 Ks in 80 2/3 innings shows he has some solid material to work with. If the Justin Bryant experiment at closer falters then Varnadore could step right in.

 

 

 

 

Other Wildcards of note:

  • Tyler Dial- Should fill in a mid-week utility guy to get some needed experience and playing time for his future role as a starter. Like Varnadore, an already crowded situation would probably hinder an everyday role.
  • Brooks Beisner- Good enough that Kendall Rogers thought he could be the opening day DH. Beisner is the big stick off the bench and hopefully the new bats won't affect his power swing.
  • Ethan Wallen- Another darkhorse for the closer role.

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