Auburn baseball preview: The position battles

Auburn enters 2013 with new faces and returning stars. Who are the front runners, the wildcards and the darkhorses to see the field as the Tigers work toward Omaha?

For Auburn baseball, one of the positives and encouraging signs this season will be the surprising amount of depth on the squad. With a front-loaded schedule and a lot of room for in-game testing, Auburn will need to use any opportunity it can to solidify it's starting lineup before SEC play. Here's a quick breakdown of the favorites, wildcards, and the darkhorses for the Tigers.

First Base: Garrett Cooper
Darkhorse: Pat Savage
Wildcard: Dylan Smith

First base will be a strength for Auburn in 2013. Garrett Cooper has shown, from his role in 2012, his consistency in his earlier days in JUCOs and his enthusiasm for the upcoming season, that he will be the leader of the 2013 Auburn Tigers. Cooper has shown to be durable, and his ability to consistently be in the lineup will be an asset to the Tigers. As a fill-in role, Pat Savage showed last year that he could be a nice stop-gap, and that should continue in 2013. The wildcard could be Dylan Smith, a true freshman, who has tremendous potential and should (hopefully) not be redshirted in 2013.

Second Base: Jordan Ebert
Darkhorse: Mitchell Self
Wildcard: Tanner Cimo

The most jumbled position in the infield will be second base. The competition for both middle infield spots looks like they are four-man races between Dan Glevenyak, Mitchell Self, Tanner Cimo and Jordan Ebert. Positioning Ebert as the favorite here is based purely on potential, but this race could easily be completely in flux during the season and multiple guys could see the field during the non-conference slate.

Shortstop: Dan Glevenyak
Darkhorse: Mitchell Self
Wildcard: Tanner Cimo

Shortstop is that same deal as second base. However, in this case, Glenvenyak is the incumbent and his consistency will keep him locked as the favorite. The only caveat here is Yak's defense. If his errors keep creeping up, then Pawlowski will have little choice but to give Self or Cimo a shot and hope that their bats can justify keeping them in the lineup.

Third Base: Damek Tomscha
Darkhorse: J.D. Crowe
WIldcard: Craig Shirley

Tomscha will debut as the favorite. He's got the talent, he's got the power and it seems like one of the reasons he was brought in was fill that third base position void that came up due the departure of Zach Alvord. Considering that Tomscha is at best a two-year player for Auburn -- more than likely he's one-and-done -- Auburn will need to aggressively groom a successor for 2014. Personally, I think J.D. Crowe should be that guy. Crowe needs to see the field at some point in 2013 and with Blake Austin holding strong at catcher, third base seems like an quick place to put him.

Catcher: Blake Austin
Darkhorse: J.D. Crowe
Wildcard: Kody Ortman

Catcher is one of the few positions where Auburn lacks depth, as the Tigers only have three listed catchers on the roster. Austin and Ortman are both upperclassman and if, God forbid, an injury happens, then Auburn will be with only two catchers on the roster. I think that Ortman should be listed as the darkhorse just based on his age and the potential power that he brings to the lineup.

Left Field: Cullen Wacker
Darkhorse: Pat Savage
Wildcard: Rock Rucker

Center Field: Ryan Tella
Darkhorse: Hunter Kelley
Wildcard: Sam Gillikin

Right Field: Sam Gillikin
Darkhorse: Bobby Andrews
Wildcard: Jackson Burgreen

The outfield for Auburn will be another strength. Tella is locked in at centerfield, and the corner positions will be the most apt for change. Left field, at this point, seems to be Wacker's to lose. His combination of power and experience make him ideal for that position. Right field will be the biggest position of flux. Bobby Andrews fits that mold of the speedy, top-of-the-order table-setter that helped out Auburn offensively last year. I think that Gillikin can fill that role better, but Andrews has both the experience and has filled that role before.

Designated Hitter: Rock Rucker
Darkhorse: Patrick Savage
Wildcard: Craig Shirley

Oh what to do with the DH? I'm penciling in Rucker into this position for the same reason I was slotting in Ebert and Gillikin: solely on potential. This is just personal preference on my part. I want to see Rucker on the field sooner rather than later. With a crowded outfield, Rucker's best shot seems like DH. It would also keep him available to pitch

With all of these predictions, keep in mind, they are just that -- predictions. Thankfully, Opening Day is Friday, so we'll have a better understanding (and four games under the Tigers' belts) to more accurately predict who will be the core contributors for SEC play.

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