The Auburn baseball team is in the thick of fall practice, and new head coach Sunny Golloway is working with his veterans and fresh faces in an effort to build toward a successful 2014 season. Golloway spoke with Auburn Athletics' Philip Marshall and gave some updates on the Tigers' pitching, young players and position battles. A number of things stood out.
Before getting to the on-field news, it should be noted that Golloway has come up with a pretty fantastic hashtag/motto:
If the Tigers make the postseason, we're pumping the hell outta #Omahauburn. Alright, on to the real, newsy highlights.
-- True freshman Keegan Thompson was highly touted coming out of Cullman High School, and he appears to be living up to the hype. Thompson was rated as the best player from Alabama by ESPN and the 20th-best player overall. So far, the righty has already earned a spot in the Tigers' weekend rotation, and when he isn't pitching, Golloway will try to get his bat in the lineup.
"Keegan is going to have to swing it for us," Thompson said. "He's going to have to play first or DH. He's definitely going to be on the mound on the weekends. He's just too talented."
-- Joining Thompson in the rotation will be left-hander Michael O'Neal. That's not much of a surprise since O'Neal was the Tigers' most consistent starter in his Saturday spot last season. In 14 appearances -- all starts -- he compiled a 2.73 ERA, .223 batting average against, 36 strikeouts and 21 walks in a team-leading 89 innings.
-- The race for the final weekend spot appears to be a competition between righty Rocky McCord, righty Justin Camp and lefty Daniel Koger. Camp was mostly great in almost exclusive relief work, putting up a 2.44 ERA, and working as starters and relievers, McCord and Koger compiled ERAs of 3.96 and 5.01, respectively. If Koger can return to his freshman form, he may be the favorite. But, he really struggled last year, and Camp was tough to hit at times.
-- Freshman outfielders Anfernee Grier and Jeff Shaffer will make a run at playing time. With Ryan Tella, Jackson Burgreen and Hunter Kelley coming back, that group is going to be crowded. Freshmen Connor Short and Brett Binning are in the hunt for infield playing time.
-- The biggest surprise relates to sophomore Jordan Ebert, who could be moved to left field. Ebert was one of Auburn's best offensive player in 2012, hitting .303/.403/.359 with four homers, 22 RBI and 29 runs scored. The move would come if Short and/or Binning prove that they deserve playing time, and it would make the outfield even more crowded.
-- Golloway said shortstop Dan Glevenyak, who has been error-prone throughout his Auburn career, "has done a really good job of taking care of the baseball." If Yak can improve his defense -- really, if the Tigers as a team can improve in the field -- it should greatly benefit the overall results. Yak committed 17 errors last season, easily holding the team lead.
Considering the overreliance on JUCO transfers in recent years, it's encouraging to hear that so many young players will be in the mix during Golloway's first season. The campaign begins Feb. 14, 2014, at the Snowbird Classic, where Auburn will face Ohio State, UConn and Indiana State. The first opportunity to check out the new Tigers at Plainsmen Park will be Feb. 19, when Auburn hosts Alabama State.
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