2018 AUPPL Auburn Baseball Preview
A BIT OF A RAMBLING PREAMBLE
Well last season was fun, wasn’t it? I can honestly say that the 2017 Auburn baseball season was one of the best I’ve ever had. It’s hard to top the excitement of 2010 and the just absolute blast that team was to watch. Yet, 2017 came really close. A team of unknowns and really unprovens that came together and made it to not only a Regional but came an out away from a Super Regional.
A quick thought on that, you’ll hear that a lot in 2018. That Auburn was “one out away”. While technically that was true, Auburn was probably a bit farther away from a Super Regional than just one out. The Tigers had punched above their weight for so long and so often in 2017 that there just wasn’t anything left. I mean, we kind of saw that with the Auburn football team this year. However, you can legitimately say that Auburn left absolutely everything on the field in Tallahassee. That’s all I will ever ask.
Now, the difference is what they do in 2018.
The Golloway saga is finally over (Thank God). The majority of the 2017 roster returns. The Tigers did take a big loss with the departure of Brad Bohannon but honestly? Auburn upgraded across the board with the additions of Gabe Gross, Steve Smith, and Karl Nonemaker. The offseason is over. The first official practices are in the books and it’s time to get ready for February 16th and another chance to experience the greatest game in the greatest city at the greatest University.
WAIT. THIS ISN’T COLLEGE AND MAG.
Oh, right. You may have noticed that this isn’t College and Magnolia. I’m back to the old stomping grounds of AUPPL. I’m sure I’ll contribute to C&M every now and then, but for now, I wanted to refocus my attention on where I started. Having a small blog and a goofy twitter and being an enjoyable way to follow Auburn baseball. A sport and a team that I’m a bit obsessed with to be fair.
So, I’m back here at auppl.com (after years, which is evident from the gap inbetween posts on this site) and plan on using it as a better repository for previews, ramblings, musings, scorecards, etc. Also, a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not an insider. I have no extra baseball knowledge than you probably do. I’m just a fan who tries to be observant and wanted an outlet for his fandom. I’m not a representative of Auburn baseball. I’m just a fan. A big fan (both physically and emotionally) but still a fan at the end of the day. I’m really just that goofy guy who gives play by play and stream-of-consciousness thoughts and gifs during the game.
I know I’ve waxed poetic about what Auburn baseball means to me and why I follow it the way I do. Still, like any good salesman, I can boil down the elevator pitch to this: For 2 to 3 hours, nothing else matters. I can get lost at the top of the Parking Deck and watch 9 guys give their all for the school and community that I hold dear. I don’t worry about bills. I don’t worry about work. I don’t worry about all the mundane minutia that can bring one down during the week. All that’s left is me and the outdoors and the game I love. It’s kind of simple in that regard.
I’ve met so many friends and made so many memories watching Auburn baseball that I don’t think I’ll ever truly be able to repay it. I’ve laughed. Cried. Cheered. Became whole.
I’d be remiss to say that this season won’t be one without a heavy heart. One consistent at the deck for the past few years, was my favorite Security Guard: Warren. Even in the worst weather, he would be up there with us. Keeping us in line. Keeping us safe. Being a friendly ear and a kind heart. I don’t know who will take his place, but I know they have huge shoes to fill. I also know that we’ll continue to keep the rules of the deck the same: No Glass. Don’t Back In. Put it in a Cup. Be Respectful. This 2018 season will be dedicated to him and all he did to make the Deck great.
BIGGEST QUESTIONS FOR 2018
So enough of my initial rambling. Let’s take a look at some of my gut feelings about the positions and the season for 2018.
5 Biggest Question Marks:
· Can Auburn develop power that it’s honestly lacked since 2010 (Hell, even half of that power would be a success)?
· Can Auburn keep Mize healthy?
· Can Auburn develop Burns and Daniel to their next level as starters?
· Is Auburn ready to surprise a team on the road?
· Can the Tigers avoid the Post-Success Curse and actually build on a fantastic previous season?
TAKING IT BY POSITION:
Steven Williams is the future at Catcher. The pedigree says so (Under-Armour All American, Rawlings and Perfect Game First Teamer, #3 Catcher in the Country). The physical tools say so (6’3/216 with a left-handed bat that shows pop). The confidence the coaching staff has instilled in him says so. Still, he’s a freshman. A super talented freshman, but a freshman nonetheless.
Butch Thompson instills a lot of faith in his Catchers and lets them call the game. That’s kind of unique in College Baseball and also a reason that his pitchers excel. They develop a maturity and a trust early on with their teammates. They are allowed to fail and to learn and aren’t programmed to tune out and do what’s called at the time. They can actually think through at-bats. Their study partner in that thinking is their catcher. That’s a big burden to bear as a true freshman.
Gut Prediction: Williams ends up getting the bulk of starts as the season progresses, but Brett Wright will split a good deal of reps in the preseason. Williams will serve as a reserve bat as well and eventually one of the starting pitchers will get paired with either Wright or Mike Rojas and develop into a consistent battery.
Here’s where Auburn has things a bit more figured out. I think that the 2B/SS/3B are all pretty set with Luke Jarvis, Will Holland, and Josh Anthony holding on to their roles from last season. That would probably put Jay Estes into the outfield and will allow a pretty talented freshman in Edouard Julien to be the “first of the bench” guy. Julien has the ability to be a pretty nice breakout talent for Auburn. He’s already gotten an invite to the Cape Cod League and he is Auburn’s only switch hitter. Julien will find a spot in the roster. It’s just a question of if it’s as a reliable bench bat, midweek starter, or a consistent OF or IF.
The story to really watch here is going to be the progression of Josh Anthony and Will Holland at the plate. Yes, it’s fair to say that his bat didn’t live up to the hype but his defense more than exceeded it. It’s also unfair to judge his lack of power numbers at Auburn to playing against lower competition in hitter friendly parks in JUCO. Anthony is quite simply one of Auburn’s most exciting players to watch when he’s in the field. His range and arm and leadership are something that Auburn hasn’t had in a Third Baseman in a while. He plugged in the old “black hole” problem that Tigers would normally have there. So, for Anthony, the defense is there and the next step is to see if his bat has progressed to give Auburn a solid 7 hitter and improve his power. Holland really surprised me last year with his power potential. You saw it come up in clutch situations and you saw how he was able to learn as the season progressed. However, there’s a possibility of a sophomore slump. If Holland can develop the plate discipline and patience and utilize some that aggressiveness, then he would easily transition into a fantastic #2 hitter.
The biggest question on the infield is at First Base. Conor Davis and Dylan Ingram return, and Brendan Venter enters as one of the biggest and highly touted recruits on campus. Venter has the ability to deliver consistent power. If he can keep that pop throughout the year, then it’s going to be hard to keep him out of the lineup. However, if that happens then where does that put Davis and Ingram? On paper, that’s Auburn’s 3 biggest power threats vying for one (maybe 2) positions.
Gut Prediction: Holland, Jarvis, and Anthony stay put and Venter gets the majority of starts at 1B with Dylan Ingram serving as primary DH and Conor Davis moving to RF.
It’s a crapshoot. Plain and simple. I honestly have no clue what’s going to happen in the Outfield. It really depends on the situation and the game. There are lot of talented bats that will need places and the only place to put them would be in the outfield. Especially with a solid and competitive infield pushing guys like Jay Estes and Conor Davis into other roles. For now, and just because they are familiar and known commodities, I have them in LF and RF respectively. That could easily change.
I realistically feel that Estes will have a breakout year at the plate and his consistency will force Auburn to find a spot for him. If he cuts down on his strikeouts and keeps his same two-bagger pace, then he’s Auburn’s leadoff guy. Easily.
Still, that leaves two other positions pretty much wide open. You have the possibility that Julien’s bat keeps him in the lineup. But you have to counter that with Davis’s power potential. Same situation with Steven Williams. Yes, he’s probably going to consistently be a catcher but if his offense dictates he play the field then he’ll play the field. There’s even darkhorse potential for a guy like Tanner Burns to get a few starts in the OF.
For now, in the OF, what you have are known commodities (Bowen McGuffin, Jeremy Johnson, Jay Estes, Conor Davis) and potential breakouts (Julien, Burns, Cade Evans, Judd Ward). It’s going to be a battle and Auburn could easily have a different starting OF each and every pre-SEC game.
If you want an area to track and follow throughout the year? It’s going to be the OF.
Gut Prediction: Estes in LF, Davis in RF, and Judd Ward in CF. It may be a bold prediction to put in Ward in CF and it’s impossible to replace Jonah Todd, but Davis and his consistent LH bat may dictate his playing time. Still, of all the positions, these are the ones I’m most unsure of and that are in the biggest flux.
If there’s at least some certainty for the season, it’s that Casey Mize will be Auburn’s #1 guy with Davis Daniel being groomed for #2. That’s your Friday and Saturday guys locked in. That Sunday guy may be in flux, but house money should be on Tanner Burns taking that role. It seems to be a good gameplan for Auburn to get a talented freshman pitcher and slowly progress them from Sunday to Saturday to Friday. It worked with Mize. It should work with Daniel. It will work with Burns.
With the weekend starters pretty much locked up. That turns the focus to that midweek where you can rely on Andrew Mitchell and also help progress Ryan Watson. That’s 5 solid to great starting arms to pick from. Watson is probably the bigger work in progress but there are definite games on the schedule that can be used to prepare him. Looking at the schedule, Auburn has a lot of big midweek games. Games they really need to win to help balance out a strong SEC slate. Having the leadership and experience of “Midweek Mitch” in that role could go a long way in determining if Auburn is safely in or on the bubble during the selection process.
So, what’s left? Well for starters, Auburn needs to find a closer (pardon the joke). Someone who is reliable. Someone who is consistent. Cole Lipscomb was that guy for Auburn, but the Tigers need someone who they won’t have to spot-start from time to time. They need a guy who can give you two innings and you know that’s all you need. That’s a heavy burden for any pitcher. Even more so if you put a freshman in that role. However, if that freshman is Cody Greenhill. A guy known for his bulldog mentality and who posted a 0.74 ERA and 133 Strikeouts? That’s a different type of freshman.
Still, Auburn may rely on a known arm like Calvin Coker or Andrew Mitchell. Yet, I think Coker’s delivery and ability to eat innings makes him more valuable as a middle reliever and Mitchell’s consistency and the fact that he’s a LHP make him better suited as a reliever or spot starter.
The biggest thing to watch for Auburn on the mound is if the Tigers can develop more consistent arms. Especially with the LHPs Elliot Anderson, Welby Malczewski, and Blake Schilleci. If there’s one troubling aspect about Auburn’s pitching over the years, it’s that the Tigers tend to rely on the same arms all the time and at the end of the season it ends up being a double-edged sword. You have only a handful of guys who you rely on and have data on and trust. However, those same guys are at that point probably overworked and more susceptible to injury. If there’s one this Auburn must do this year? Develop honest to God bullpen depth.
SP1: Casey Mize
SP2: Davis Daniel
SP3: Tanner Burns
SU: Calvin Coker
CP: Cody Greenhill
Midweek SP1: Andrew Mitchell
Midweek SP2: Ryan Watson
LRP: Elliot Anderson
MRP: Ryan Hoerter
For the first time in a while, Auburn didn’t suffer a ton of non-senior/draft attrition. Some popular faces are gone but here’s where they landed:
Christian Camacho – NW Florida State (Niceville)
Kevin Davis – UAB (Grad Transfer)
Daniel Sprinkle – Henderson (AR) State
Joe Gahm – Chattahoochee Valley (Phenix City)
Trevor Hillhouse – Wallace Community College (Dothan)
I’m not going to lie. The SEC slate is quite brutal. The league is very top heavy this season and almost have of the league has been put into one top 10 list or another. Sure, the nonconference slate is lacking on paper (but that’s by design) and won’t do much favors for early RPI but the Tigers have a luxury of having a better-than-normal South Alabama team on the schedule twice and should hold out some hope that Georgia Tech has rebounded a bit. Here are 3 thoughts, a player to watch, and a prediction for each game:
1. The Lancers weren’t exactly world beaters last season. Limping out to a 19-34 overall record and a 259 RPI. They got no-hit last season. 2/17 vs Elon.
2. Longwood is in Virginia and both Pat McGee and Jason Mraz went there (but didn’t graduate).
3. This opening weekend should serve as a good tune-up and table setter for the season and I’d expect a lot of weird things lineup-wise from Auburn.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ANTWAUN TUCKER. Pretty talented shortstop who had a nice .298 freshman season with 7 triples.
Prediction: Sweep (3-0)
Georgia State (2/20)
1. A steadily improving Sun Belt Club. The Panthers actually play in the parking lot of the old Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta. Sadly, this is a home series.
2. Don’t sleep in GSU. They did pull out a nice little upset of Ole Miss last year.
3. We probably won’t see him in this game, but sophomore RHP Hunter Gaddis is a pretty underrated arm who was the first Panther to get a Team USA invite
PLAYER TO WATCH: JUSTIN “JUICE” JONES. The senior shortstop is the sparkplug for their offense and the catalyst on defense.
Prediction: Win (1-0)
Troy (Home 2/21. Away 5/15)
1. NEVER take the Trojans lightly. Especially when playing in the oddly laid out Riddle-Pace Field down in the Wiregrass. Troy upset Auburn last season in the only meeting for the teams.
2. This will be the 5th game in 6 Days for Auburn and may be ripe for a stumble.
3. Seeing who is named the Auburn starter for this game should give you a good idea as to who Auburn’s go-to long reliever will be
PLAYER TO WATCH: ANDREW CRANE. The talented RHP set a school record with 40 consecutive scoreless innings last year and was fourth nationally with a 1.47 ERA.
Bryant University (2/23-2/25)
1. Don’t let the name fool you. Bryant can be a handful. The Bulldogs are a perennial NCAA Tournament team. Their strength is pitching, and they won’t be intimidated.
2. The Bulldogs are really trying to bolster the NCAA resume this season with trip to Auburn, Arizona, and Maryland early on.
3. Last year was definitely an atypical year for Bryant. A year after winning 47 games, they stumbled to a 29-26 record and didn’t make a Regional. This year’s squad includes their conference Pitcher of the Year (Steve Theetge) and Rookie of the Year (Jimmy Titus).
PLAYER TO WATCH: STEVE THEETGE. The super talented LHP is a diamond in the rough. He uses a nice combination of power and wit to get wins. 17-5 and 3.32 ERA in two years including a perfect 9-0 record as a freshman.
South Alabama (Away: 2/27. Home 5/08)
1. The Jags are getting a ton of preseason hype and rightfully so. They return a bulk of players from back to back regional teams and are in many Top 25 Preseason Polls. They are absolutely loaded.
2. If the Jags do have a weakness, it’s on the mound. The lose their 2017 Ace (Randy Bell) and closer (Matt Peacock)
3. The biggest test for this game is that it will be Auburn’s first road game of the year and you’ll be dealing with a loaded offensive-minded club and some pretty raw midweek Auburn arms. Still, Auburn needs to steal at least one of these games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Yeah, it’s the TRAVIS SWAGGERTY (JR/OF) show down in the Mobile. A 5-tool player and a breakout for Team USA. He’s raised his draft stock and the National profile of USA.
BYU (3/2-3/3 DH)
1. The Cougars are a 2017 Regional Team that was pretty solid offensively. Hitting at a .319 clip.
2. BYU doesn’t compete on Sundays. Hence the DH on Saturday February 3rd.
3. The Cougs have a bit of MLB pedigree and history with alums like Jeremy Guthrie and Hall of Famer Jack Morris and two College World Series Trips (1968 and 1971)
PLAYER TO WATCH: You probably won’t see a purer hitter this season than BROCK HALE. The Junior OF from Mesa, Arizona put up some gaudy numbers in 2017. Including 12 HRs and a .395 average with only 27 strikeouts.
UAB (3/16 at Regions Park, HOME: 4/17)
1. Brian Shoop continues his steady rebuild in the Magic City. It’s probably taking longer than expected but I don’t think the Blazers are too far from making consistent noise in the American Conference.
2. Former Auburn pitcher Kevin Davis is a Blazer now as a graduate transfer.
3. UAB took advantage of a late season Tiger swoon last season and split the 2017 series.
PLAYER TO WATCH: CARTER PHARIS. The sophomore from Trussville is the Ironhorse for the Blazers who started all but on game in 2017 and hit a ridiculous .585 in leadoff situations.
1. The Huskies have a pretty neat community service program called 19 Ways which challenges varsity teams to make an impact on their local communities in 19 different ways.
2. This will be Auburn’s final non-conference tune-up before SEC play so expect the rotation and lineup to be what the Tigers are ready to roll with in the league.
3. NU isn’t very deep on the mound and have fallen victim to the “Northern Curse” in recent years where cold-weather college teams tend to have inflated ERAs from playing on the road for so long.
PLAYER TO WATCH: IF/OF CHARLIE MCCONNELL got a Cape Cod invite for 2018 and last year was a consistent offensive threat for the Huskies going .273 and scoring 41 runs
Georgia Tech (HOME: 3/13, AWAY: 3/20)
1. The Jackets have turned into a pretty solid midweek rival for Auburn and could end up being a solid RPI boost if their season goes as hoped.
2. This is the last year of GT as a Russell Athletic school (they are moving towards Adidas)
3. The Jackets seem to have a nice balance of veteran arms and a solid returning core and are hoping to return to their 2016 level of success where they made the final of the Gainesville Regional.
PLAYER TO WATCH: CATCHER JOEY BART has emerged as a preseason All-American and “the Best Defensive Catcher” according to Baseball America. He missed a bit of 2017 with a hand injury but remains one of the team leaders for the Ramblin’ Wreck.
1. Auburn may look back on this as an RPI Treasure Chest if the Memphis pitching staff can live up their preseason hype and the Tigers make some noise in the American (even though they are picked to finish 7th)
2. Auburn probably won’t see him, but Memphis did get a surprise addition in Riley Cabarl who passed up the MLB to transfer to the Bluff City after leading Chipola to the College World Series title and posting an 11-1 record.
3. This is the final nonconference game before SEC play starts so it may be a time to get one final test for some Auburn players.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TYLER WEBB. A preseason All-American, Webb collected a .305 average in 2017 and turned into a solid leadoff hitter for Memphis.
Texas A&M (3/16-3/18)
1. Coming off a nice 2017 campaign culminating in a College World Series appearance, the Aggies are still somewhat underrated in the SEC West.
2. Last year, the Florida series was the catalyst for the year. Auburn is hoping the A&M series is the answer in 2018. Considering their early schedule, A&M could easily roll into the Plains with only 2 losses and be a Top 5 club.
3. The Aggies got an early present when pitchers Cason Sherrod and Kaylor Chafin decided to return to College Station instead of leaving for the MLB. It’s led A&M to focus on an “unfinished business” mindset for 2018
PLAYER TO WATCH: It’s still BRADEN SHEWMAKE continuing to rake. Preseason All-American. Best hitter. SEC Freshman of the year. Ridiculous numbers in 2017: .328, 11 HRs, 11 steals, and a .529 slugging percentage.
Kentucky (AWAY: 3/23-3/25)
1. There’s a ton of Big Blue Buzz at Kentucky. The Wildcats have so-far checked in at #8 in every preseason poll.
2. That ranking is well earned since UK had probably their best season ever in 2017 and returns a ton of talent that has only been bolstered by on the nation’s top JUCO Classes.
3. UK will have one of the best and deepest pitching staffs in the league with a rotation that includes 5 MLB Draft prospects.
PLAYER TO WATCH: SEAN HJELLE. The “Hjelle-Bean” was the 2017 SEC Pitcher of the Year and just unique to watch with his wiry frame and unique delivery. Probably one of the best curveballs in the league.
Alabama (Capital City Classic: 3/27, AWAY: 4/20-4/22)
1. Auburn may win the Capital City Classic, but the real test comes from getting revenge for one the most embarrassing series losses of 2017.
2. Yes. Alabama was bad last year. Yes, they still beat Auburn. Yes, Brad Bohannon is their coach. You’ll hear all about that during the game broadcast.
3. Even for obvious reasons, this will be one of the most important series for Auburn since the Tigers need to create separation between the bottom half of the league and this will go a long way to do that.
PLAYER TO WATCH: CHANDLER TAYLOR. Absolutely killed Auburn last year and returns to the Capstone after being drafted. He’s Alabama’s biggest power bat and the key for the 2018 series will be to neutralize him and Cobie Vance.
1. It’s slow and steady for Mizzou. There’s talent on the Roster but they really face one of the most uphill climbs in the SEC when it comes to weather, recruiting, and a tough schedule.
2. There is good news. Mizzou has three of the best seniors in the nation with Brett Bond, Bryce Montes De Oca, and Trey Harris. There’s experience in Columbia and they may could surprise people.
3. Last year, Mizzou rallied off a ridiculous winning streak and swept Alabama before eventually falling back down the earth. Just like the Alabama series, this one will be even more important for Auburn as they try to get some separation in the league.
PLAYER TO WATCH: BRYCE MONTES DE OCA. The RHP probably has one of the most powerful fastballs in the league. Couple that with his 6’7 and 261 frame and you have a guy whose beanballs will leave divots.
Alabama A&M (4/03)
3. These RPI Killers.
PLAYER TO WATCH: I have no clue because Alabama A&M doesn’t post a roster.
Samford (AWAY 4/10 & HOME 4/24)
1. The proverbial in-state thorn in Auburn’s side. If Auburn loses then every Birmingham based Auburn fan will have to deal with it. I’m sorry.
2. The Bulldogs has beefed up their schedule tremendously with a nice Tournament play in Orlando where they will face Rice, #15 UVA, and #22 UCF. It could set the tone for the year.
3. This is always a weird series and I’m not sure what to expect next.
PLAYER TO WATCH: TAYLOR GARRIS. The sophomore sparkplug leads the Bulldogs with a nice .333 average and some surprise pop in 2017.
Arkansas (AWAY 4/06-4/08)
1. A team getting a TON of preseason hype. The Hogs are looking for a huge breakout season in 2018.
2. The preseason hype includes on bold prediction by Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball: That Arkansas will win the 2018 National Title.
3. There’s reason to be excited. Arkansas added a Top 5 recruiting class to a Regional Host Team, has one the best rotations, and were one the of the best power clubs in the Nation.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DOMINIC FLETCHER. A consensus Freshman All-American, Fletcher is one of the best Center Fielders and more dynamic hitters in the NCAA.
Mississippi State (4/13-4/15)
1. The Bulldogs were ravaged by injuries last year but still managed to make it a Super Regional. That’s a huge testament to the job that Andy Cannizaro was able to do with that squad and especially the pitching staff.
2. This year, State has a rather unique schedule thanks to the construction of the the new Dudy-Noble Field. The Bulldogs will play at home until March 4th and have some very random road trips including one to UT-Rio Grande Valley.
3. Still it’s hard to get a good read on what to expect from State. They’ll have a ton of position battles heading into the season and you don’t really know what how the injured 2017 players will bounce back from injury. That’s why the Bulldogs are has high 12 in one poll but barely in the Top 25 in others.
PLAYER TO WATCH: KONNOR PILKINGTON continues to rack up All-American honors and rightfully so. He’s the Ace of the State staff and a guy who brings a ton of confidence, experience, and leadership to the role of a Friday Night Starter.
Florida (AWAY 4/26-4/28)
1. It finally came together for the Gators in 2017. Despite being swept by Auburn to open the season, Florida rallied and come into 2018 as the defending National Champs. A role they will now relish.
2. Florida didn’t even need to rebuild too much from 2017 as the Gators will have one of the best 1-2 Punches in the SEC with Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar.
3. One of the good things about having the talented depth that the Gators have? You have a guy who’s natural position as Catcher (J.J. Schawrz) only now moving into that full time role instead of First Base. It’s hard not to be envious about the talent on the UF roster.
PLAYER TO WATCH: BRADY SINGER. The Mize vs Singer Matchup on 4/26 should be one of the most highly touted in the SEC. One of only two consensus Preseason First Team All-American’s Singer and Mize will probably battle it out for SEC Pitcher of the Year or at the very least the coveted 1/1 slot in the 2018 MLB draft.
1. Even though they took some lumps during the 2017 Season, the Commodores still reeled off an impressive campaign by stealing the Clemson Regional and making it to the Corvallis Super.
2. No one really knows what to make of the ‘Dores heading in to 2018 and the polls seem to be split like they are with Mississippi State with some showing Top 10 love and others barely putting them in the Top 25.
3. If anything, this is another in what will be a typical Vandy Boy team: a good core of returning players (19 Lettermen and 5 position starters), consistent hitters, and some solid pitching (highlighted by RHP Patrick Raby).
PLAYER TO WATCH: JULIAN INFANTE. The 1B is a well-deserved preseason All-American after a stellar 2017 that included a .315 average and 66 RBIs.
Ole Miss (5/10-5/12)
1. Ole Miss had a very disappointing 2017 that saw them missing out on a Regional and dropping 3 of their last 4 to Auburn. Still, the hopes are high again in Oxford and the Rebels are getting good Top 10 buzz.
2. Ole Miss does have some big holes to fill offensively since they lost both Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman. There will be position battles aplenty in the infield but expect to hear Ryan Olenek’s name called on a lot because he’s probably the Rebs most valuable infielder.
3. I’m sure there will be revenge on the mind for Ole Miss. Especially after the way the two teams left in the SEC Tournament. This is going to be a key series for Auburn because a win here could be the difference in an 8 seed and playing in the opening round.
PLAYER TO WATCH: DALLAS WOOLFOLK. Ole Miss has a tendency to produce outstanding closers and Woolfolk is no exception. One of the few relievers to make Preseason All-American teams. Woolfolk set a school record for saves (12) and looks to build upon that in 2018.
1. The Tigers close out the 2018 regular season against the perennial power. LSU is the National-Runner Up and continues to the be “Gold Standard” of the SEC. From preseason coverage to fan support, LSU is what most college baseball fans/programs dream to be.
2. I really love LSU’s schedule just because I’m envious of it and hope Auburn eventually moves to something similar. It features 3 “name” schools (Notre Dame, Texas, Hawai’i) and a solid mini-tournament. Add in one of the best TV packages in the country and you’ve got a good deal of must-see TV.
3. The Tigers have a ton of talent (surprise) and can boast four Top 100 Players: OF Zach Watson, OF Antoine Duplantis, and pitchers Caleb Gilbert and Zack Hess.
PLAYER TO WATCH: ZACH WATSON earns a lot of the buzz he’s gotten in the offseason. Especially since he gave Brady Shewmake a run for his money when it came to Freshman All-American honors. He especially shown on the bigger stages and combines a nice mix of power and speed.
OVERALL PREDICTION: 39-17. I’ll finish by saying that if Auburn can get to 38-40 wins then they would probably be a lock to host a Regional. That’s just my gut feeling.
The roster is there. The schedule? Well the schedule is daunting. Still, Auburn showed such a huge step forward last year and the majority of those pieces are still intact. It’s something that Auburn is not accustomed to. Normally (or sadly) Auburn has had a tendency to have a nice one-year spike and then fall back down to Earth. Plummet may be more apropos. The Tigers won’t be highly favored but that’s really due to a stacked SEC and a lot of other teams taking the spotlight. That’s fine. Auburn works better that way.
What makes this season a success? It may sound simple and I’m sure the optimism will have many Auburn fans wanting to make reservations in Omaha, but seriously, I success for this season is simple: just make it back to a Regional. If you host a Regional then you are already 2-3 years ahead of schedule. Make a Super? More like 5 years ahead of pace.
Just make a Regional and this season is another in hopefully long series of successes.