In the next few weeks, college baseball previews will begin rolling out. To stay ahead of the game, here's a very early look at the 2012 Auburn Tigers with five very early predictions:
PREDICTION: Auburn will be picked to finish either ninth or 10th in the league
In fairness, here are my preseason SEC picks:
7. Ole Miss
9. Mississippi State
I'm probably being too generous slotting AU eighth, and it wouldn't surprise me if they are picked as low as 10th in the league. The only thing I can say for certainty is that Auburn is better (on paper) than Kentucky and Tennessee.
Now, Tennessee could get some preseason love for hiring Dave Serrano. However, Serrano has yet to take the field in that ugly creamsicle and the East is still a monster.
Personally, I think Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama and Auburn are all battling for those 7-10 slots. However, it seems that many writers are getting on the Oxford Express. Baseball America ranked the Rebels 22nd.
PREDICTION: Auburn will deploy more starters than last season
Last year, 24 different players started a game for Auburn (including starting pitching). This year? I can only realistically count 20 guys who I can see starting. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. However, there's bound to be more and in my opinion, that's a great thing. Guys can be fresh, they can ride hot streaks, and they can focus more. The window for Auburn to pick and choose and test lineups is very small this year. Yes, Auburn will have to narrow down the list of starters early. Sure, the first few weekends will be trial and error, but that should mainly be in the field and even then, Auburn should have enough depth to give guys a day or two off.
Pitching wise, Auburn threw out eight different starting pitchers last year. That's a ridiculously high number and showed just how much the Tigers struggled to find an identity on the mound. To me, in pitching, fewer starters mean more consistency. Last year, Auburn struggled to settle on a rotation. This year? You can pretty much pencil in Slade Smith, Derek Varnadore and Jon Luke Jacobs. That's a big key for Auburn and a big reason I'm higher on the Tigers than most. We already have our big three for the weekend. Even if one fails or struggles, we already have back-up plans in place, something we haven't been able to do in the past. After the initial three you still have Corey Luckie, Ethan Wallen and one of the incoming freshman (Rocky McCord, Justin Camp, Chase Williamson, or Trey Cochran-Gill). That's a two deep weekend rotation already, a VERY good thing.
PREDICTION: No Auburn pitcher will have more than six saves
This is one place I hope I'm wrong. Last year, Ethan Wallen led the team with five saves. This year, hopefully, we can develop a closer early and keep him as our secret weapon throughout the year. Now, whether that's Wallen, Dillon Ortman, Zach Blatt or maybe another as yet unknown commodity (Daniel Koger is a real possibility), we'll have to see. Wallen has to be the early favorite but I'm hoping Ortman finds a groove, and it would free up Wallen for a spot start or two.
PREDICTION: You will need to buy a program. You're going to see a lot of new faces
Whether they start or just come in off the bench, Auburn is going to need to use a lot of guys this year. With seemingly every infield position up for grabs and many guys having good springs and falls, the competition is going to be fierce. Keep an eye on the new pitching as well. If guys like Rocky McCord, Trey Cochran-Gill, Daniel Koger, Chase Williamson and Chase Williamson can have an immediate impact, then Auburn could turn this into a magical season.
That's just on the mound. Position wise, nearly everyone on the roster has the potential to start. Whether they are freshman newcomers like Kent Rollins or Craig Shirley, or (hopefully) immediate impact transfers like Garret Cooper or Dan Glevenyak.
PREDICTION: A way too early guess at the Opening Day lineup
This really is a shot in the dark, but based on a combination of hunches, gut, message board postings, etc. This is my best guess for Opening Day. Admittedly, I have no clue where these guys would slot in the batting order, but this my hunch for the field:
C: Blake Austin
1B: Garret Cooper
2B: Zach Alvord
SS: Dan Glevenyak
3B: Justin Bryant
DH: Cullen Wacker
LF: Ryan Tella
CF: Creede Simpson
RF: Jay Gonzalez