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SEC Baseball Preview

As the season inches closer and closer, let’s take a look at how the conference shakes up with some power rankings. We will update them as we go through the season, but just because a team was ranked in one particular spot one week and wins doesn’t mean they will go up or stay where they are. These are power rankings and if someone looks more dominate one weekend and another eeks it out, I reserve the right to do what I feel is just in these very important, nationally significant rankings. So, let’s get to it!

14) Tennessee

Garrett Stallings
  • Auburn plays Tennessee – March 15th – 17th (Auburn)
  • Last played – Auburn took 2 of 3 from the Vols in Knoxville back in 2017

I will start Tennessee off in the, don’t expect much spot, but I have a feeling that will be adjusted as we go along. Tennessee will be very competitive on the mound Friday nights with Garrett Stallings probably getting the nod. Stallings had a solid summer in the Cape and has bumped his fastball up to around 93 (up from the high 80s last season). Another young gun to watch is Garrett Crochet. He can also go low 90s on his fast ball and has a devastating 77 mph curve to buckle the knees. The big question here will be can he locate it consistently early in conference play. In the lineup, SS Andre Lipcius and 2nd baseman Jay Charleston will return to anchor the field. Other names to watch will be Justin Ammons in the outfield along with Alerick Soularie. Catcher is the position to watch as there wasn’t a break away winner in the fall in a 3 man race. Tony Vitello still has a ways to go to getting Tennessee back to the Delmonico days of Omaha but he is starting to get the pieces in place to return the Vols there. The question is, will it start to come together this year, or will it take another year of lumps before the Vols ready for a break out.

13) Missouri

  • Auburn does not play Missouri this year

The Tigers return both their best hitter and best ERA pitcher off of a team that went 34-22 on the year but only turned in a 12-18 conference record. Kameron Misner returns with his .360 batting average and will be counted on to lead the offense along with Chad McDaniel behind the plate. On the hill for Missouri, look for Tyler LaPlante and TJ Sikkema to hold things down on the weekends, but the Tigers must have some newcomers step up to fill in spots both on the hill and in the field to play the role of spoiler in the East. The Tigers were dealt a huge blow last week when the NCAA banned them from postseason play this season due to tutoring and academic infractions. This means there will be no trip to Hoover or to the Big Tournament for the Tigers this year.

12) Alabama

Joe Breaux
  • Auburn plays Alabama – March 26th (Cap City Classic, Mont.), May 3rd-5th (Auburn)
  • Last played – Auburn swept all 4 games vs the Tide, scoring 49 runs to Alabama’s 12

This is why I like power rankings. Alabama will be vastly improved from last year’s team; however, I am not sure if they surpass, or even match, their 8 conference wins from last season. Let’s put it this way, there were 10 teams that made the NCAA tournament from the SEC last season. Alabama drew all 10. The Tide welcomes in 17 newcomers on the positive side for the program, but again, they are untested. In the Friday night position though, Alabama will trot out Sam Finnerty who has more that 150 career innings to his name and will play the role of anchor on the staff left open by Jake Walters. Other names to watch on the weekend would be Brock Love and junior college transfer Will Freeman. At the plate is where the talent will have to show up for the Tide. Alabama returns only 3 starters from last year’s squad in catcher Sam Praytor, CF Joe Breaux and DH Gene Wood. Everything else is up for grabs but there is plenty of talent to fill the spots. Can they do it and will it result in wins? That’s the question Bohannon and his team will have to answer.

11) Kentucky

  • Auburn does not play Kentucky this year

The Wildcats will debut a shiny new park and some of the best facilities in the country as they try and wash out the bad taste in their mouth that was left there by Auburn ending their season in Hoover. This season, the BatCats have to replace 13 MLB Draft picks, including seven of their top hitters and two weekend starters from last season among others. On the bump, the Cats will hang their hopes and prayers on Zack Thompson on Friday nights. Another weekend name to watch is Dillon Marsh. The freshman arrives to Lexington with 4 pitches that he can place all over the zone. Word is, Marsh may be the Sunday starter to try and take series in the conference for Kentucky. Look for Mason Hazelwood, Carson Coleman or Jimmy Ramsey to fill that last weekend spot for the Cats. At the dish, the Cats will circle around TJ Collett who is returning for injury. Kentucky needs heroes to step up for them if they hope to return to the Tournament and break through to Omaha, but I think that is a year away or so.

10) Mississippi State

Jake Mangum
  • Auburn plays Mississippi State – March 22nd – 24th (Starkville)
  • Last time they met – Auburn took the regular season series (2-1)

While Mississippi State turned it on late last season and made it to the Semifinals of the College World Series, new Skipper Chris Lemonis (formerly of Indiana) will need to have some guys step up if they want a return trip to Eastern Nebraska this summer. The Bulldogs got a boost when Jake Mangum decided to return to Starkville and the heart and soul of last year’s team, Elijah MacNamee, has had an outstanding fall and looks for that to continue. The pitching staff, while plenty of potential, is what will make or break the Bulldogs this season. Most eyes will be on JT Ginn who was a first round pick of the Dodgers but Ginn wanted to go to college. Ginn has a mid 90s fastball with a nasty slider to finish off at bats. It will be interesting to see where he is in the State rotation. Ethan Small will more than likely get a weekend spot along with Keegan James. State will be a work in progress as Lemonis and his team learn each other in the New Dude. If Lemonis track record is any indication, he will get it done.

9) South Carolina

  • Auburn plays South Carolina – March 29th – 31st (Columbia)
  • Last time they met – Auburn took the series vs #6 South Carolina (2-1), Connor Davis with a walk off bomb

It could be argued that no team finished 2018 hotter than the Gamecocks. On April 17th, they stood 20-17 (6-9 in the SEC). Fast forward to June and they had made it to the Super Regionals before being put out. This year’s edition of the Gamecocks will be younger with a solid core group of senior leaders but talent everywhere on the field. TJ Hopkins, Jacob Olson, Sawyer Bridges and Noah Campbell will be the veteran leadership that will be mentoring the likes of Andrew Eyster and Brady Allen along we a host of other JC transfers and Freshman. On the mound for Carolina, there is only one sure fire starter in the person of Carmen Mlodzinski, who has gotten his fastball up to the mid 90s in the offseason. The bullpen will be the strength to this staff. If they can get a lead to the 5th or 6th, watch out.

8) Texas A&M

Braden Shewmake
  • Auburn plays Texas A&M – April 12th – 14th (College Station)
  • Last time they met – Auburn took the regular season series (2-1) while the Aggies gave Auburn their first loss in Hoover

This ranking for the Aggies is more of a “earn a better ranking” from me. This team has the pedigree. 2017 CWS appearance. 2018 then got to Saturday in Hoover to clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament. They return Braden Shewmake, who will be a first 5 round MLB draft pick unless something insane happens this season. They also bring back John Doxakis, who will be your Friday night guy followed by Asa Lacy on Saturday’s. The question mark will be Sundays for the Aggies. Rob Childress has an option of about 5 guys that could fill a spot that probably won’t be set till midway through the season, but don’t feel bad for A&M, all of those guys have the tools, but can they put it together. The main thing to watch is if the newcomers (both transfers and freshman) can gel with the leadership of Shewmake to have a consistent season to get that National Seed that will be hard to come by this year, especially in a loaded SEC, to break thought and do damage in Omaha, or is this a team that will need to battle through Hoover again to get a spot in the post season?

7) Georgia

  • Auburn plays Georgia – May 10th – 12th (Auburn)
  • Last time they met – Auburn took a road series from the Dawgs back in 2017 (2-1)

The Dawgs are going to be an interesting study. Most of their lineup returns, including SS Cam Shepherd, 3rd base Aaron Schunk along with Infielder LJ Talley, but the Bulldogs lost Michael Curry, Keegan McGovern (both to the draft) and Adam Sasser (dismissed in the offseason). Those three men accounted for 43 of Georgia’s 64 long balls last season. Power must be replaced, but there are plenty of veteran bats to make that happen. On the bump, this will be the deepest staff Scott Strickland has had in Athens. Look for Emerson Hancock to get the Friday night followed by a mix of Tony Locey and Ryan Webb, but hold on to the name of Cole Wilcox. The true freshman will pitch this year and by the time Georgia makes it over to Auburn in May, he may very well in the rotation. Georgia finished a strong showing last season on a disappointing note, dropping their home regional to Duke. They look to cement themselves as back with a strong showing this year.

6) Auburn

Click here for the in-depth preview of the Tigers.

5) Arkansas

Casey Martin
  • Auburn plays Arkansas – April 4th – 6th (Auburn)
  • Last time they met – the Hogs swept Auburn last season

Say hello to the scariest offense, if not nationally, definitely in the SEC. The Piggies will trot out Dominic Fletcher, Heston Kjerstad and National Freshman of the Year Casey Martin on a daily basis. That’s enough to strike fear in every pitching staff in the conference. The pitching staff is where the question marks will come for the Hogs though as Van Horn must replace Blaine Knight and Kacey Murphy in the weekend rotation. Arkansas caught a break thought when Isaiah Campbell didn’t like his draft spot and will return to the team. Also, look for Kole Ramage, who has experience on the weekends, to take up another spot in the rotation along with a returning from injury Kevin Kopps who was injured last season. Arkansas will be a tough team to handle as they look to bounce back from dropping the College World Series in the most dagger way possible.

4) Vanderbilt

  • Auburn plays Vanderbilt – April 25th – 27th (Nashville)
  • Last time they met – Auburn dominated Vandy in a sweep last May

I mean really and truly, I don’t know if its possible to rank a Tim Corbin team lower than 4 in the conference. I feel bad having them at 4 but, when you see the teams above them, you just shrug and say, eh, you guys are fine. This preview will be quick, because you already know what its going to say. The Dores have fantastic senior leadership, including Julian Infante, off of a team that had the 2nd worst way to end the 2018 season (we know who was 1st), an extra innings home loss to Mississippi State. Those seniors have been through the wars and know how to help mold the newcomers, and it doesn’t hurt that Corbin is there to help guide as well. On the mound, Drake Fellows will be the Friday night guy and Mason Hickman should be up for a spot as well. The name to listen out for is Freshman Kumar Rocker, who is the highest rated prospect to come to a college campus from this recruiting cycle. If Vandy needs an out in a high-pressure situation, don’t be shocked to see this young man.

Ok, now we are in to the high cotton of the conference. Don’t misunderstand, from South Carolina all the way to 1 could end up in Omaha. However, these 3 are, at the very least, Super Regional picks if not midweek Omaha picks right now.

3) Ole Miss

Grea Kessinger
  • Auburn plays Ole Miss – April 18th – 20th (Auburn)
  • Last time they met – both teams split games in Hoover, while the Rebs took a decisive sweep of Auburn last May

The Rebels, who two years ago brought in the #1 recruiting class in the nation. Those recruits are now Juniors and for those that follow college baseball and the MLB draft, this is perhaps the last chance these Rebels have to get Mike Bianco through his personal glass ceiling to get to Omaha. That was the dream of Ole Miss last year, until Tennessee Tech burst that bubble in the Oxford Regional. Just because of what I mentioned above, Ole Miss returns some monster names, Grea Kessinger and Thomas Dillard in the field. However, the question mark is going to be the starting rotation. Don’t misunderstand, there is plenty of talent to fill that question, but it is the foggy part of things in Oxford. Look for Will Ethridge to grab the Friday Night spot, followed by either Houston Roth or Jordan Fowler who both have starting experience. Behind them is an embarrassment of riches headlined by Parker Caracci on the back end. Ole Miss has the pieces to the puzzle and has the ability to put them together to spell Omaha. The bad news is, it may be now or never in Oxford.

2) LSU

Zack Hess
  • Auburn plays LSU – May 16th – 18th (Baton Rouge)
  • Last time they met – Auburn took 2 of 3 from LSU to close out the regular season

LSU enters the season with their starting rotation already set. Zack Hess is the headliner after a solid summer in both the Cape Cod league and with USA Baseball. Eric Walker will take Saturday’s after returning from injury, while Sunday’s will be manned by Landon Marceaux, a true freshman who had a spectacular fall and wrestled a spot way from all other candidates. To close out game, Todd Peterson returns as the closer. The lineup is just as talented with Antoine Duplantis and Zack Watson returning in the outfield as well as having a healthy Daniel Cabrera and Josh Smith at the dish. Folks, this team is scary and if they can stay health…watch out.

1) Florida

Tommy Mace
  • Auburn does not play Florida this year

We will start off with the Gators in the One Slot and who could blame me. You’re talking about a team that returns Tommy Mace and Jack Leftwich and will sprinkle in 4 freshman arms in Nick Pogue, David Luethje, Christian Scott and Ben Specht who all can get up to 92 MPH or better. Florida also returns their entire outfield (Langworthy, Dalton and Maldonado) while they break in a brand new infield, with newcomers and seasoned players that are finally getting their shot at playing time. All in all, Florida has question marks but has so many puzzle pieces to fill it in that it will be interesting to see who steps up and try to take the torch left by Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar and Michael Byrne. Don’t worry, someone will.

Well that’s it for our look at the conference coming up. We will leave this here until the week before conference play and make our adjustments weekly from then on. This should be a fantastic season as it always is. Will we have a team from the bottom half step up like Georgia did last year? Who will be that 11th or 12th SEC team to make the Tournament field? Will someone get burnt again? The next upcoming 14 weekends will tell the tale.