The latest edition of the MLB Draft has come and gone, and Auburn actually came out OK. Besides some obvious losses like outfielder David Dahl and middle infielder Addison Russell, who were taken with the 10th and 11th picks, the Tigers managed to retain the bulk of their impressive 2012 signing class. This year's draft was unique because it was the first under the new MLB Collective Bargaining Agreement. The new draft rules were designed to keep MLB clubs from overspending and set cap limits on the players they drafted. In theory, they were also designed to bring more high school kids to college instead of having them linger in low A and rookie ball for a few years and ultimately washing out of the sport altogether.
There were some obvious differences to be noticed immediately. Teams were no longer "wasting" late-round picks on high school guys; they wanted college guys that they could have a better chance of signing. There were fewer risks in this draft. Thankfully for Auburn, that meant that some signees didn't hear their names called and are now locked up to come to the Plains in the fall. At the end of the day, Auburn will only lose three of its 16 signees - Dahl, Russell and left-handed pitcher Colin Rodgers, who was drafted in the third round. There's the slight -- but unlikely -- possibility that a fourth could end up going pro if infielder and 19th-round pick Damek Tomshca, decides to jump. From the returning player perspective, Auburn is losing right-handed pitcher Slade Smith, who was drafted in the 17th round by Detroit. The Tigers are still waiting on the final word from center fielder Ryan Tella, an 11th-round pick by the San Francisco Giants.
With the MLB Draft complete, we can better analyze the Tigers' 2012 signing class and adequately pick out its steals, studs, surprises and sleepers.
1. Matt Schultz (RHP, Oswego East HS, Plainfield, Ill.)
Our nominee for biggest steal in this class was a guy who didn't even hear his name called during the draft. Matt Schultz had scouts buzzing early and often, which is pretty rare for a right-handed pitcher. Coming off of Tommy John surgery his sophomore year, Schultz was limited in 2011. This year was a different story. Auburn jumped on him early and saw a guy hitting 96 miles per hour with his fastball. Schultz effectively mixes off-speed pitches, is aggressive on the mound and has already developed a solid slider as a complimentary pitch. With a fastball averaging around 92, a changeup at 81, and a slider in the high 70s, the only thing left for him to fully develop is a solid curve. Links of note: Super 60 Report Beacon-News Profile Video
2. Sam Gillikin (OF, Hoover HS)
All you really need to know about Gillikin and his commitment to Auburn you can glean from this Rivals.com piece. Hitting .453 as a senior, his speed - a 6.6 60-yard dash -- and contact make him ideal for a lead-off or two-hole role in any lineup. Ranked 169th overall by Baseball America, Gillikin has the potential to develop into a remarkable five-tool talent, but some scouts had some issues with his hitting. We don't see that, but it really won't matter because he'll have three years to develop his bat and leave as a potential first-round guy. Links of Note: Rivals.com Profile Scout Q&A Video 1 Video 2
3. Rock Rucker (OF/LHP, Russell County HS, Seale)
Once you get past the incredible name -- and our secretly wishing his real first name is Darius -- you see a player who is a physical, two-way guy and a rarity among scouting circles: a left-handed power pitcher. Rucker is a guy with a 6-5 frame who plays loose and almost effortlessly. He gives Auburn a power left-handed arm out of the bullpen and can develop into a starter during the midweek. The biggest choice for the Tigers is whether or not to utilize him in the already crowded outfield or immediately install him into the bullpen. His numbers at Russell County are almost unbelievable: almost a two strikeouts per inning and a 0.76 ERA. Links of Note:TFF Baseball Profile MAX Preps Profile Baseball Prospect Report Video 1 Video 2 Video 3 Video 4
1. Damek Tomscha (RHP/IF, Iowa Western CC, Sioux City)
Give Auburn's coaching staff credit; it can find players in the unlikeliest of places. That's the case with Tomscha, a 6-3 power infielder from Iowa. Selected in the MLB Draft three times already, Tomscha is steadily improving his draft stock and turning heads in the process. Some scouts probably still see him as raw, but Tomscha is an immediate designated hitter candidate at Auburn with his smooth swing, balanced stance and power potential. Last year, Tomscha hit .438 with 15 home runs. He was the No. 18 JUCO prospect, according to Perfect Game and already has a roommate for next year in fellow 2012 signee Terrance Dedrick. Links of Note: KTIV story (with video blooper) Video 1 Video 2
2. Trey Wingenter (RHP, Bob Jones HS, Madison)
Another guy called late in the MLB Draft that is opting to come to Auburn, saying Wingenter is tall is an understatement. At 6-7 with a low 90s fastball and one of the Top 500 Draft Prospects, Wingenter threw a nine-strikeout no-hitter earlier this season. Wingenter has a nice frame, solid downward angle to the plate, and an already established pedigree. Remarkably, he has has only been pitching for a year after making the move from catcher -- yes, a 6-7 catcher -- and proved to be nearly unhittable with an ERA of 0.17. Wingenter should develop into a Saturday starter before too long. Links of Note: Scout Profile WHNT Story BJHS Feature Video 1
3. Jordan Ebert (IF/OF, Baldwin County HS, Foley)
Ebert was one of our biggest surprises of the MLB Draft. We thought for certain that Ebert would have heard his name called early in the second round. Some had him as high as the No. 8 high school middle infielder and the No. 3 second baseman. As it turns out, the Chicago Cubs were ready to take him with an early second-round pick, but he informed the team that he plans to enroll at Auburn. Ebert's bat is awfully impressive. He has a solid, consistent swing and constant contact. Depending on where Ebert is placed in the lineup, he could bring incredible production, especially if he gets pitches to hit. Links of Note: MLB Draft Guide AL.com Feature Video 1 Video 2 Video 3
1. Michael O'Neal (LHP, Chattahoochee Valley CC, Columbus, Ga.)
A left-handed Juco pitcher who doesn't get drafted is always a surprised. However, the MLB's loss will be Auburn's gain come the fall. O'Neal is a big kid who has slimmed down and had a minor set-back, statistically, last season at Chattahoochee Valley. Compare 2011 -- 11-2, 2.60 ERA, 110Ks/11BB -- with 2012 -- 4-7, 3.65 ERA, 79Ks/29BB -- and you can see why some scouts may have hesitated. Still, he'll give Auburn a much needed lefty with solid experience out of the bullpen and the potential to spot start if need be. Links of Note: JUCO Stats
2. Conner Kendrick (LHP, NW Florida State College, Sharpsburg, Ga.)
Kendrick is another Juco left-handed pitcher, and he made an initial stop at Georgia Tech. Kendrick should fill the same role as O'Neal as a go-to lefty out of the bullpen with the ability to produce strikeouts. His fastball, which hits in the high 80s will need slight improvement. Last year, he was one of the top prospects of the Alaskan Summer League, where he went 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA. Kendrick has MLB potential and Auburn - to us, at least -- is pretty lucky that he ended up on the Plains. In his freshman season at Tech, Kendrick posted a 2.57 ERA in 12 appearances of limited action. He has been clocked at 91 and apparently has a solid hard curveball for an out pitch. Links of Note: NWF Story JUCO Stats Awkward Georgia Tech Homework Assignment Video 1
3. Hunter Kelley (OF, Calhoun CC, Alexandria)
Kelley is another guy coming to Auburn via the Juco route, but he isn't a pitcher. Kelley is an outfielder who was previously drafted the the 34th round by the Chicago Cubs in 2011. He brings a solid bat -- a .400 batting average -- and is mainly a singles and doubles guy. Kelley will be good to add as another bat to the lineup that will increase Auburn's depth in case of injury. Links of Note: WJXS Story (with Video) JUCO Stats
1. Terrance Dedrick (RHP/OF, Shelton State CC, Tuscaloosa)
It's not often that guys from Tuscaloosa end up on Auburn's campus. It's even more rare when that guy brings a powerful arm and closer's mentality. Dedrick is a two-way player for the Shelton State Buccaneers that has been thrust into their closer's role, notching eight saves, 82 strikeouts, and a 2.14 ERA. What's the most impressive stat for Dedrick? According to his stat page, he had an impressive 4:1 strikeout to walk ratio and didn't allow an extra base hit in two years of work. He also posted an impressive 11-0 record. Links of Note: JUCO Stats Video 1 Video 2
2. Cole Lipscomb (RHP, Edgewood Academy, Prattville)
He probably won't make an immediate impact ,but Lipscomb could easily develop into a weekend mainstay by his junior season. With a low 90s fastball and multiple All-State selections, Lipscomb has posted video game numbers at the AISA level, including a 13-0 record his junior season and a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio for his career. Links of Note: Wetumpka Herald Story 1 Wetumpka Herald Story 2
3. Dylan Smith (IF, Clay-Chalkville HS, Pinson)
Another sleeper who may have to wait a bit until cracking the Auburn lineup, Smith could make an immediate impact whenever he does see the field. He crushed more than 40 home runs during his career at Clay-Chalkville, and the change to the BBCOR bats didn't affect any of Smith's power. Physically imposing at 6-3 207 pounds, Smith had an incredible .657 batting average his senior season. He's the future for Auburn at 3B and comes from a strong orange and blue background -- his grandfather is Zeke Smith. Links of Note: Perfect Game Profile Senior Stats AL.Com Feature
Auburn's class is still probably not complete. With the loss of Dahl, Russell, Rodgers, and Smith -- and the potential loss of Tella -- the Tigers may take a few late flyers on some guys and add a few players late like Justin Fradejas or Kent Rollins in years past. Either way, the draft did not hurt Auburn nearly as badly as it could have. With a pretty good idea of what the Opening Day roster will look like next season, we can try to determine which players Tiger fans will see taking the field game in and game out.
This is one position where Auburn lost a number of key contributors. In addition to losing Smith, gone are seniors Derek Varnadore, Jon Luke Jacobs, Cory Luckie, Zach Blatt, Ethan Wallen, and Justin Bryant. That's a large chunk of innings from this past season that the Tigers will be missing. Auburn entered the 2012 season expecting the Varnasaur to anchor the weekend rotation as the staff ace. Instead, he found his niche as a reliever. Jacobs was arguably the team's best starter down the stretch, and Luckie pitched important innings during the midweek and as a reliever. In addition to his designated hitter role, Bryant was the de facto closer after injuries sidelined Blatt and Wallen, who shared late inning duties in 2011.
Auburn has several quality young arms that will need to develop during the offseason. Daniel Koger was inserted into the weekend rotation this year and fared pretty well for a true freshman. Will Kendall was having a superb start to the season before his right elbow injury. How quickly he recovers from Tommy John surgery will determine whether or not he is back in the rotation. Typical recovery time from surgery is 12-18 months before a pitcher returns to 100 percent arm strength and stamina, so there's a good chance Kendall won't be ready by the start of the season. Young hurlers Trey Cochran-Gill and Rocky McCord got valuable experience in midweek games and in relief. Dillon Ortman was a valuable reliever and could be a candidate to fill the closer role next year. One thing that is glaring is the lack of left-handed arms returning in the bullpen. Koger and Will Kendall are the only lefties returning, and they will likely be tabbed as starters.
Returning (Class is for upcoming 2013 season)
Sr - Cameron Blinka - RHP - Reliever
Jr - Dillon Ortman - RHP - Reliever
Jr - Will Kendall - LHP - Starter
Jr - Jay Wade - RHP - Reliever
So - Chase Williamson - RHP - Reliever
So - Rocky McCord - RHP - Starter
So - Caleb Smith - RHP - Reliever
So - Justin Camp - RHP - Starter
So - Daniel Koger - LHP - Starter
So - Trey Cochran-Gill - RHP - Starter
The good news is that Auburn is bringing in seven guys who can contribute on the mound in this signing class, three of which are lefties.
Jr - Terrance Dedrick - RHP - Reliever
Jr - Conner Kendrick - LHP - Reliever
Jr - Michael O'Neal - LHP - Reliever
Fr - Cole Lipscomb - RHP - Starter
Fr - Rock Rucker - LHP - Starter/Reliever
Fr - Matt Schultz - RHP - Starter/Reliever
Fr - Trey Wingenter - RHP - Starter
The pitching staff will be young, but there is plenty of talent. Head coach John Pawlowski's background in pitching will come in handy. Next year will be a good chance to for him to show how well he can develop young arms.
Possibly the most consistent position for Auburn, at least defensively, over the past few years just might be catcher. Caleb Bowen is gone, but Blake Austin will be back. Kody Ortman and J.D. Crowe also return. Ortman was used primarily as a pinch hitter, while Crowe redshirted his freshman season. Incoming freshman Kyler Deese will provide depth here. There will be a position battle here for the primary backup spot, as Austin should have the starting spot locked down.
Everyone, with the exception of Creede Simpson, is back. We realize that is a big exception. You might consider Simpson to have been the heart and soul of the team the past couple of years. He certainly will be remembered by the fans for a couple of huge plays: his ninth-inning home run in the 2010 regional against Clemson and the throw from right field this season to nail the Florida runner at the plate for the game's final out. Incoming guys like Jordan Ebert and Damek Tomscha could shake things up.
At first base, Garrett Cooper and Pat "Macho Man" Savage will battle it out for the starting spot. Both hit well and played solid defense. They'll both be counted on to be leaders as seniors next year. Cooper should have the upper hand, and Craig Shirley will provide some depth.
Second base is up for grabs, as Simpson leaves big shoes to fill. Tanner Cimo played some as a freshman and Mitchell Self played pretty well as a utility player when given the chance. It will be interesting to see if Kent Rollins makes a push with one of the middle infield spots, but it may not matter if Ebert comes in and does what he's expected to do.
Shortstop is Dan Glevenyak's to lose. While his bat is too good to keep out of the lineup, he will need to provide more consistent play in the field. Self or Cimo could fill the role if needed, and newcomer Damek Tomscha comes in as a shortstop, but his size may force a move to third.
Another position that has been inconsistent in recent years, since losing Dan Gamache, has been third base. Zach Alvord, Jarred Smith, and Self all split time there last year. Barring a change, it's likely to be Alvord's job again. Like Yak, he needs to become more consistent defensively. Incoming freshman Dylan Smith, a corner infielder with a power bat, warrants some consideration, but how quickly will his glove come along? Tomscha is also an intriguing candidate here.
There is one big question: Will Tella be back? It is our belief that he should come back for his senior season. If he can duplicate the season he had in 2012 and avoid the late-season slump, Tella stands to -- possibly significantly -- raise his draft stock and get a much bigger signing bonus. For now, we'll operate under the assumption that he will be back, and if that is the case, then the entire 2012 outfield, including left fielder Cullen Wacker and right fielder Jay Gonzalez, returns. Newcomers Gillikin, Rucker, and Kelly could all get some playing time, as well.
Now that we know who is returning and who are the new guys coming in, how does the depth chart look? Well, here are our early projections:
1B - Cooper - Savage - Shirley
2B - Ebert - Cimo/Self - Rollins
3B - Alvord - D. Smith - Tomscha
SS - Yak - Self/Cimo - Ebert
LF - Gillikin - Wacker - Kelley
CF - Tella - Gonzalez - Gillikin
RF - Gonzalez - Rucker - Andrews
DH - Wacker/Savage - Tomscha - D. Smith
As stated earlier, all this assumes that Tella is coming back back. If he's not, Gonzo could take over in center and Gillikin or Rucker would take over in right. Another question to consider is how soon will Gillikin force Coach P's hand to insert him into the lineup? If Tella is back, the outfield gets pretty crowded. Wacker could find himself relegated to DH.
How do we project the lineup to look? Largely, it should be similar to the 2012 version.
vs. RHP.............................vs. LHP
9 - Gonzalez......................9 - Gonzalez
7 - Gillikin..........................7 - Gillikin
8 - Tella.............................8 - Tella
DH - Wacker......................DH - Savage
3 - Cooper..........................3 - Cooper
5 - Alvord...........................5 - Alvord
4 - Ebert............................4 - Ebert
6 - Glevenyak....................6 - Glevenyak
2 - Austin..........................2 - Austin
As for the pitching rotation, you might need a Magic 8-ball or a lengthy call to Miss Cleo to figure out how it will shake out. Nevertheless, here's a stab in the dark.
SP1 - Daniel Koger
SP2 - Will Kendall
SP3 - Trey Cochrane-Gill
SP4 - Rocky McCord
SP5 - Matt Schultz
SP6 - Trey Wingenter/Justin Camp
Friday - Koger - LHP
Saturday - Cochrane-Gill - RHP
Sunday - Kendall - LHP
Mid-Week SP - McCord/Schultz/Wingenter/Camp/Rucker
Closer - Ortman/Dedrick/Schultz/Rucker
There's a long way to go before the start of the 2013 season, and this will most likely change between now and next spring. We'll keep an eye on fall ball, track these guys while they head to their summer assignments, and will follow this up before the season starts with a more in depth position-by-position breakdown.
This post was a collaborative effort by Dusty Miller and Kevin Ives (PlainsmanParkingLot/@AUPPL)