Auburn is stacked at catcher. Two veterans (Caleb Bowen and Blake Austin), a stud freshman (J.D. Crowe) and a talented transfer (Kody Ortman). This year, Auburn's battery is a veritable swiss army knife with each player bringing a unique skill set to the team.
Auburn does bring some (if limited) experience to the catcher position. It's going to be hard to replace Tony Caldwell, who started and impressive 50 games behind the plate. However, Blake Austin (5) and Caleb Bowen (3) at least have some experience behind the plate in the Orange and Blue.
What Auburn Needs at Catcher:
Athleticism, Reaction, and a solid arm. With the push towards aggressiveness on the base paths in the college games, a solid college catcher will need to limit the damage and hold runners accountable. It's not an offensive priority, but a catcher will need to live and die by their defense. They are the field general and the leader every inning.
For now its Blake Austin and Austin will probably start the season as the favorite. In his limited duty he managed to hit for average (.300) and had a clean fielding percentage. Someone is seeing something in Austin and he's at least turning heads. His early Cape Cod league invite can attest to that. He had a decent summer for the Harrisonburg Turks (.263 avg in 38 games) but the best thing about Austin has to be his attitude and the learning he received under Tony Caldwell:
"You come in as a freshman and you expect a guy like that to teach you the ins and outs," Austin said. "You want them to teach you how to catch in the SEC and in some of the midweeks and how to get your body ready and to keep yourself healthy."
"You have a guy like Tony who was hitting as high as he was in the SEC and he's thrown out the most runners for a career in Auburn history," Austin said. "You can't complain about what you're doing sitting behind a guy like that watching him play. He taught me how to block, how to throw, how to be accurate when you throw. It was a great experience for me."
He'll hopefully bring that knowledge and an improved game to the position. Depending on how his fielding and bat hold up during the season, Austin might not let the position go.
The Dark Horse:
J.D. Crowe. Crowe, the Freshman from Oak Mountain, comes highly regarded out of High School. An Under Armour All-American, J.D. brings something few catchers have: solid speed. There are very few catchers who went 35 for 36 in stolen base attempts in High School. Crowe had an incredible Fall for Auburn. Coming a HR shy of the cycle in one game in the lead-off position. A Catcher. In Lead-Off. If there's an easy way for Crowe to come in and crack the lineup it's with his bat and speed.
The Wild Card:
Kody Ortman. The brother of Auburn RHP Dillon Ortman, Kody brings a bit of power to the position and was singled out by Link Jarrett in an Inside the Auburn Tigers profile:
"I think we're going to have some of the best catching in the country; they can all receive, they can all block, you know you've got a couple of them that have just got a phenomenal arm strength and quickness," Jarrett says.
"Kody is a little more of an offensive type catcher, receiving, blocking outstanding and he's coming along with his throwing. You know we've got some physical guys. They're all strong. Blake and Kody are big, big guys. Bo (Bowen) is a very athletic, flexible type catcher who can really just catch and throw so our catching position is just deep.
"With another freshman, J.D. Crowe, we've got four guys who can catch and I'll put that up against anybody we'll face in terms of that position as a whole," the coach adds.
Depth. Much needed depth. Catcher at Auburn looks like its shaping up to be an all-year battle. That's definitely a plus for Auburn.