2013 Preview – The SEC

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 1st, 2013 in 2013 National Preview, SEC
 


2012 CONFERENCE ISR: 2

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HOW THEY’LL FINISH IN 2013:

EAST DIVISION.

1- Vanderbilt

2- Kentucky

3- South Carolina

4- Florida

5- Georgia

6- Missouri

7- Tennessee

WEST DIVISION.

1- Arkansas

2- LSU

3- Mississippi

4- Mississippi State

5- Texas A&M

6- Auburn

7- Alabama

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THE LOWDOWN.

Winds of change are hitting the big money conference too. The Show Me State and the Lone Star State are now part of the Southeastern Conference footprint. Am I the only one that finds this wildly awkward? Probably so. Then again, who am I to complain? Not in this day and age of West Virginia in the Big 12, Notre Dame going to the ACC… or hell, we nearly had San Diego State and Boise State in the Big East. But I digress. The SEC tournament goes from 10 teams to 12 teams, which means that games that really shouldn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things will continue to rake in more cash. The other big change is in the South Carolina program where two-time national champion head coach Ray Tanner matriculates to the athletic directors’ chair and assistant Chad Holbrook takes the reigns. Elsewhere, there’s not much else that will change, the biggies in the conference will fight their way to Omaha and play for a national title and some of the middle of the pack will still be better than most conferences champions. (Okay, maybe there’s the occasional Stony Brook to throw a monkey wrench in the works, but you get my drift). I’ve personally got five SEC teams in my top 12, but that number could easily increase. Plus, the thing you have to love about the SEC is that preseason predictions really don’t mean jack-squat. Last year, Kentucky was coming off an 8-22 conference season and had very little returning for 2012. Then, they go and spend a large part of the season in the top 10 and nearly win the SEC East. So you see those predicted rankings above? Take them with a sizable grain of salt. I’m not saying you should disregard them, but the truth is if anyone puts their nose to the grindstone here and gets the right bounces, they can win the SEC… and the national title.

Some outlets have Arkansas pegged to win the national title. And with good reason.

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BREAKTHROUGH TEAM:

- Alabama.

Sure, I put these dudes to finish at 7th in the West up above, but with all their pitching returning, a banner recruiting class and an emerging stars in C/OF Ben Moore and RHP Jake Hubbard, “breaking through” from a 21-win season overall doesn’t seem so far fetched for the Tide. It looks like Mitch Gaspard finally has things ready to blossom on the Capstone.

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TRENDING DOWN:

- Florida.

Ask just about any college baseball pundit out there and they’ll tell you that it was shocking that the Gators didn’t win a national title in the last few years with all that talent on hand. But those things happen. Ask teams like Stanford, Rice, Arizona State and Texas in recent years. But these teams also all have proven that it is merely a matter of reloading. So don’t sell the Gators down the river just ‘coz they didn’t win the brass ring last season. National titles come out of nowhere sometimes.

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BIGGEST CLEATS TO FILL:

- Mike Zunino, C, Florida.

No player was more vital to the success of their team like MZ was the last few years, which all ended in trips to Omaha. Soph Taylor Gushue, who made 39 starts last season with five of those being behind the dish, could be the one who will take over the backstop position. Gushue hit just .206, but coach Kevin O’Sullivan is quick to point out that most players make that big jump from year one to year two, so we’ll see what his sophomore season holds for us.

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BEST PLAYER:

- Raph Rhymes, OF, LSU

The Tigers swinging’ machine posted .431-4-53 numbers last season. Oddly, he’s probably the only player in the country who is NOT expected to better his numbers, mainly because his stats were so ridiculously good that no logical-thinking American expects it to get any better. Yet, don’t be surprised if he does.

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BEST PITCHER:

- Bobby Wahl, RHP, Ole Miss

With 104Ks to his credit, Wahl is the leading returning strikeout artist in the SEC and also pitched for Team USA last summer. Wahl is one of those potential dominators who will give the Rebs a near instant W and a first round nightmare for anyone in the post-season.

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IMPACT NEWCOMER:

- Alex Rash, RHP, Missouri.

At 6’6″, the big righty is intimidating enough. But toss in his 93mph heat and you get a guy who coach Tim Jamieson is banking on for a stellar Tiger career. Oh, Rash was also drafted in the 2nd round last June by the Phillies but chose to come to Columbia instead, much to our delight. With a lot of holes to fill, Rash will figure prominently into the pitching plans for the Old Gold & Black.

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STEAL A LEAR JET FOR…

- LSU at Arkansas, April 12-14.

Sadly, due to the fact that this conference has too many damn teams, Vanderbilt and Arkansas won’t face each other during the regular season. So this West Division showdown will probably be the marquee weekend… although, if you think about it, aren’t they ALL marquee weekends in the SEC? Oh hell yeah, that’s why we love it.

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CAPSULES…

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Eastern Division:

- FLORIDA (47-20, 18-12)

2012 ISR: 6

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Jonathan Crawford (6-2, 3.13)

2B Casey Turgeon (.281-4-30, 10SBs)

RHP Karsten Whitson (4-0, 3.51)

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NOTES:

- Okay, okay, a lot of people are saying that if the Gators were ever going to win the big brass ring, last year was THE year. Now time has past and all hope of reaching a national title is futile… right? Pfft! Get over yourselves people. Kevin O’Sullivan is still the maestro leading the orchestra and the Gators are still chock-full o’ talent. So don’t expect the UofF to go off into the sunset, they’ll be playing for Omaha again this year. I ain’t joshin’ ya’ people.

- Alright, I will admit that losing names like Mike Zunino, Nolan Fontana, Preston Tucker, Brian Johnson, Hudson Randall, Greg Larson, Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez will certainly leave a large dent in the concrete foundation. Granted. But one thing you have to love is how Sully and his staff go into instant replenishing mode. The Gators reeled in the 7th-ranked recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball, led by SS Richie Martin, a 38th round draft pick of the Mariners, who is a Fontana-clone and dual-threat RHP/OF Eric Hanhold, a 40th round pick of the Phillies.

- Coach O’Sullivan knows that with all the attrition off last year’s team due to the draft and graduation, there will be a lot of newbies taking over key roles in the field and in the arms corps. But he’s also not afraid of throwing new talent into key spots right from the get-go. That goes with our sport, newbies come in and are thrown to the fire right away. But that also means don’t be shocked if the Boys from Gainesville experience a good bit of ups and downs in the 2013 season.

- The loss of big sticks like Zunino, Tucker, Pigott and Johnson were the identity of this offense the last few years, while also being the only full-time .300+ hitters on the squad last season. Part-timers like Vickash Ramjit (.273-5-20 in 33starts) and Taylor Gushue (.206 in 37starts) will have to make serious strides.

- Four key pitchers to keep an eye on in their draft-eligible years will be starters Jonathon Crawford and Karsten Whitson, who held their opposing batters to averages of .250 and .198 respectively, plus relievers Daniel Gibson (1-1, 2.96, 23apps) and Keenan Kish (0-0, 1.98, 13apps). If each of them step up in their respective roles, this could be a special season after all.

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- GEORGIA (31-26, 14-15)

2012 iSR: 63

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 7

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Kyle Farmer (.302-4-41)

3B Curt Powell (.355-2-20, 12SBs)

OF Hunter Cole (.275-7-23, Freshman All American)

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NOTES:

- The Bulldogs had just about everyone returning from their 2011 NCAA at-large squad, but even though the 2012 unit increased the win column, they still fell short of the Big Dance last year. So you have to figure Dave Perno’s charges are chomping at the bit to get out there and turn the direction of the program around… which is always a dicey proposition in a conference as brutal as the SEC.

- Losing mound studs like Alex Wood (a 2nd round draftee) and Michael Pallazone means the Dogs will lose out on 29 starts, 187 innings and 170 strikeouts from last season. But when it comes to the bullpen and mid-week starts, UGa used a lot – a LOT – of pitchers last season. And the good thing is most of them were freshman, so expect a lot of improvement in year two for this staff. Keep an eye on the performance of soph righties Pete Nagel (1-1, 3.78, 7starts, 3svs), David Sosebee (2-1, 5.78, 8starts) and Luke Crumley (3-2, 2.86, 21apps), who all got extensive use as freshmen.

- SS Kyle Farmer is one of the most inspiring players in the country. Not only did he reach hero status by turning down the Yankees after getting drafted in the 35th round of last June’s draft. But he also played for the USA Collegiate National team last summer, helping them win the bronze medal. He’ll team with 3B Curt Powell and catcher Brett DeLoach (.303) to form the nucleus of the Junkyard Dog defense, which fielded at a stellar .978 pace last season.

- The incoming class was ranked as the 3rd-best group in the country by Baseball America and features infielder J.T. Phillips, a highly respected infielder who could get a look at a starting position right away, and two MLB draftees in RHP David Gonzales, a 40th round pick of the Mets, and RHP/OF Sean McLaughlin, who was a 36th round draftee of the Braves and got the biggest raves from fall camp.

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- KENTUCKY (45-18, 18-12)

2012 ISR: 17

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Corey Littrell (8-2, 2.66, 2nd team All-SEC)

LHP Jerad Grundy (5-3, 3.95)

RHP Trevor Gott (3-0, 2.16, 17svs)

LHP/1B A.J. Reed (5-3, 2.52/.304-4-43)

CF Austin Cousino (.316-9-38, 13SBs, Freshman All American)

2B J.T. Riddle (.273-5-37)

SS Matt Reida (.235-2-19)

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NOTES:

- The Big Blue came out of nowhere and administered a big blue bruise on anyone they faced. They went from a languid 25-30/8-22 season in 2011 to a 45-win season and near SEC East crown, falling a half-game short of South Carolina. Once again, we saw the Wildcats race out to another great start, going 18-0 in pre-SEC play. But this time, they didn’t stop there, sweeping South Carolina to open conference play, putting themselves on the map the rest of the season. Not hard to see why Gary Henderson received so much National Coach of the Year consideration.

- The best news is that the Cats are star-stocked for 2013 too. There are 15 drafted players on the UK squad this year, which is second only to Vandy’s 18 in the SEC rounds. The biggest benefactor of the talent gush is in the pitching staff. The Wildcats will certainly be pitching heavy in 2013 as weekend starters Corey Littrell, who pitched a team-high 91 innings last season, and Jerad Grundy, who held opposing batters to a .246 average, both come back to the rotation. Fireballer A.J. Reed is back to intimidate the crap out of batters and should take on an even bigger role on the mound after making16 appearances in 2012. Also, Trevor Gott is back to add to his school record 17 saves from last season.

- The Bat Cats lost a few key contributors, especially at the top of the hit charts in team leader Luke Maile, who supplied the power with 12 home runs and 51 RBI and played a stout backstop. They’ll also have to make due without the steady play of graduated guys like Thomas McCarty and Michael Williams. But getting back frosh All American Austin Cousino is huge as he quickly became a ringleader for the offense and adapted to the college game seamlessly. And of course, A.J. Reed will be a force in the middle of the order as well and the double-play combo of J.T. Riddle and Matt Reida could be the best in the SEC.

- UK’s recruiting class was ranked at No. 11 in the country by Collegiate Baseball and will be spearheaded by Blue Grass State Player of the Year LHP Ryne Combs, who was projected to be a Top 10 round draftee but was committed to the Cats so he didn’t get picked. Also watch for fellow flingers LHP Chase Mullins (24th round pick of the Red Sox), RHP Kyle Cody (33rd round, Phillies) and RHP Matt Pope (38th round, Pirates). They’ll throw to a pair of strong battery mates in Casey Schroeder (19th round, Rangers) and Zach Arnold (27th round, Mets).

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- MISSOURI (33-28, 10-14 in the Big 12)

2012 ISR: 77

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

LHP Rob Zastryzny (5-5, 3.80)

OF Dane Opel (.283-11-46)

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NOTES:

- The Tigers will jump into the SEC fray with a lot of questions in the 2013 season – not always the best predicament to be in when going into a monster conference like the SEC. But they’ll lose two starting pitchers from the weekend rotation and their strength up the middle in catcher Ben Turner, SS Eric Garcia and CF Blake Brown. Only 2B Dillon Everett (just .215 at the dish) returns to his post in the middle defense.

- The remainder of the infield will need replacing as well since 3B Connor Mach, a longtime team leader, and 1B Andreas Piackis, who was a huge bat in the second half of the season, both have moved on.

- There will be a vast amount of new faces all over the diamond as 19 newcomers have been added to the roster for 2013. The biggest stud of all was the surprise of getting 2nd round draftee Alex Rash, the kind of mid-90s hurler the Tigers have needed the last few years, to come to campus. Also watch for JC transfer Keeton Steele, a pitcher-1st baseman who was also drafted by the bigs last June (the Rays picked him in the 29th round) and should figure prominently in coach Jamieson’s plans this year.

- The outfield should be the strength of the squad as Dane Opel will be joined by Brannon Champagne (.270, 12SBs), who also was leadoff hitter most of the season, and Scott Sommerfeld (the top returning hitter at .312-2-29) both return to give Mizzou lots of speed and experience in the meadow.

- Apparently, valuable RHP Eric Anderson will sit the bench due to Tommy John surgery and may not be available for the entire 2013 season. Anderson went just 0-3, 4.44 in 2012, but pitched in the prestigious Cape Cod League in summer of 2011 and has great upside.

- When I talked with coach Jamieson at the beginning of the 2012 season he told me it was vital for their home Taylor Stadium get up to speed to keep up with the SEC facilities. Well, he is getting his wishes as the renovation project is underway, including an all-new playing surface which was put in during the fall. Also, during the off-season, coach Jamieson signed a contract extension, securing his services through the 2015 season.

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- SOUTH CAROLINA (49-20, 18-11)

2012 ISR: 8

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Tanner English (.298, 12SBs)

SS Joey Pankake (.264-2-27)

3B L.B. Dantzler (.262-20-48)

RHP Colby Holes (7-2, 3.05, .226OBA)

LHP Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 3.62, .248OBA)

LHP Tyler Webb (6-1, 1.56, 39apps, 3svs, .211OBA)

LHP Nolan Belcher (4-2, 2.12, 2svs, .210OBA)

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NOTES:

- For those of you thinking South Carolina will go the way of the buffalo because names like Roth, Price and Tanner are no longer in the program, well you’re dead drunk wrong. Sure, dynasties are built by difference-makers, guys who excel in the highest of pressure situations, but they’re also built on a very high talent level. And that’s one thing the Gamecocks still have mass amounts of, talent. Look at the recent recruiting classes. In fall of 2011, SoCar’s incoming haul was ranked at No. 1 in the country by Baseball America. Then last fall, they followed that up with a No. 6 national ranking. So don’t think you’ve got it easy there Mr. Naysayer. This program will still be around and still pile up Ws at significant times of the season.

- Chad Holbrook steps into the head honcho post to replace now-AD Ray Tanner. He’s a capable dude, knows his stuff and has the respect and attention of his players. As mentioned above, don’t expect a cliff-fall here. The ‘Cocks will survive. And yes, that means they’ll get over losing Michael Roth, Matt Price, Christian Walker, Evan Marzilli and Reptar the dead fish.

- There are a world of possibilities on the mound, just take a look at the opponents batting average on the four pitchers mentioned as All-SEC candidates above. Yep, losing Roth and Price won’t be as daunting as you think, there will still be plenty of arms to go around. Also, don’t forget that RHP Forrest Koumas (2-3, 4.82 and LHP Adam Westmoreland (2-1, 2.86) could also figure into the weekend rotation since they both made four starts each last season.

- SoCar pulled in the 10th-ranked recruiting class in the country, assuring their means to sustain for the immediate future. 1B Ryan Ripken is not only a great baseball name, but he’s got the goods to flash on the field too, having been drafted in the 20th round. SS Max Schrock, a 28th round draftee, will join alongside last year’s fab frosh like SS Joey Pankake, OF Tanner English and stellar backstop Grayson Greiner (.222-6-32) to continue their tradition of incredibly tough defenses.

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- TENNESSEE  (24-31, 8-22)

2012 RPI: 122

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 1

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All Conference Candidates:

3B Will Maddox (.297, 15SBs)

RHP Zach Godley (4-2, 3.50)

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NOTES:

- In the first season of Dave Serrano’s UT coaching stint, the Volunteers pretty much just treaded water in the 2012 season, going 8-22 in SEC play, compared to 7-23 in the finals season of Todd Raleigh’s tenure. But you can’t be too surprised since the Big Orange had a pretty bare cupboard going into last season. There were some positive points, especially in wins over Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Florida and Vanderbilt, the last of those three coming against their opponents’ aces on the mound.

- Similar to last season, there are still going to be a lot of new faces in the Vols gallery of stars. A full 23 newcomers are on the roster for this season. Despite this, coach Serrano claimed that this has been the most tightly-knit team he has ever had and that his new charges really bonded in the fall. We’ll see how that translates into the win column this spring.

- Of all the newcomers, look for 1st baseman Scott Price to make the biggest imprint. He’s a 6’3″, 215-pound strapper who is a transfer from USC-Sumter and should hit in the middle of the order as a power bat cleanup type.

- The straw that stirs the drink will be 2nd baseman-turned-3rd baseman Will Maddox, who led the team in hitting and has speed to burn. Despite being just a sophomore, Maddox will bat leadoff and could push for All-SEC and All-American honors.

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- VANDERBILT (35-28, 16-14)

2012 ISR: 28

Starters Returning: 7

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 4

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All Conference Candidates:

1B Conrad Gregor (.328-3-35, 10SBs)

C Spencer Navin (.298-3-27, 10SBs)

2B Tony Kemp (.261, 21SBs)

OF Mike Yastrzemski (.286-6-41, 15SBs)

RHP Tyler Beede (1-5, 4.52)

LHP Kevin Ziomek (5-6, 5.22)

RHP T.J. Pecoraro (2-4, 3.40, 2CGs)

RHP Brian Miller (0-2, 3.26, 5svs)

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NOTES:

- After losing a lot of star power from the 2011 CWS team, you knew there would be some bumps in 2012. But after a 7-15 start, coach Tim Corbin’s troops started to figure things out. By the end of March, VU was one of the hottest teams in the country, even pulling well within at-large range of the NCAAs, then eventually playing their way to the SEC tournament title game. Bully!

- Lots of familiar names still around on the VU roster. Remember guys like Tony Kemp (then an outfielder), Mike Yastrzemski (yes I double-checked the spelling) and Conrad Gregor supply a lot of speed and energy to that 2011 CWS squad? Connor Harrell and Spencer Navin have the potential to be reliable, fence-busting bats. And pitchers like former MLB draftees Tyler Beede, Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro are all potential All Americans. Plenty of blue ribbon talent here folks.

- Speaking of blue ribbon talent, my God! The Dores coaching staff put together another unreal recruiting class. Collegiate Baseball rated their new haul as the tops in the country. Keep tabs on talents like RHP Walker Buehler (14th round pick of the Pirates), RHP Carson Fulmer (15th round, Red Sox), OF Rhett Wiseman (25th round, Cubs), OF Xavier Turner (34th round, Red Sox) and RHP Patrick Delano (35th round, Red Sox) form the base for that huge new infusion. (By the way, don’t you think his home town Red Sox have to hate Tim Corbin for stealing all this Sox draftees?)

- In addition to those fabo frosh, six Commodore players took part in the Cape Cod League last summer, including Conrad Gregor, who started the Cape All Star game and who coach Corbin calls a “machine” for his tireless work ethic and focus.

- The only real area of concern for the Commodores is keeping their focus the entire season, like Gregor does, and also developing a little more quality depth in the bullpen. Starters like Beede and Ziomek need to clamp down their ERAs a bit, but they are expected to be in more of a comfort zone this season so their talent should begin to take center stage… and if they do?… Look out.

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Western Division:

- ALABAMA (21-34, 9-21)

2012 ISR: 135

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 3

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 2

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All Conference Candidates:

C/OF Ben Moore (.342-2-31, Freshman All American)

LHP Jon Keller (2-5, 3.74, .250OBA)

RHP Jake Hubbard (3-2, 3.10, 3svs, .237OBA)

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NOTES:

- Man, if this was football, the program might be disbanded from the angry mob of Houndstooth fans. But this is baseball, where the sport is given a little rope from time to time. And yes, the 2012 Crimson Tide season sucked all the way around, from getting swept in the opening weekend vs. Florida Atlantic, to getting swept in the opening weekend of SEC play at Arkansas to the 4-9 finish to the season. Yuck!

- It will be odd not to see heart-and-soul Taylor Dugas missing at the top of the order and covering the meadow defensively. His leadership and all-around energy will be missed.

- The resurgence will have to start on the mound where the Tide will get nearly every arm of note coming back to the corps. Jon Keller, Justin Kamplain (1-4, 3.71), RHP Charley Sullivan (2-3, 5.09), LHP Taylor Guilbeau (4-2, 5.51) and RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-6, 5.60) were all young arms and combined for 47 starts last season. The most important arm coming back must be Jake Hubbard, who made 29 appearances out of the bullpen and was an All-SEC Freshman Team pick by my bud Mark Etheridge of SEBaseball.com.

- On top of all those mound riches, RHP Tucker Hawley (the 2011 Sunday starter) and LHP Taylor Wolfe (18apps, 8starts in 2011) are both coming back after having missed 2012 with Tommy John Surgery. So their effectiveness could go either way, but if they come close to their old ways it could make a huge difference in the depth of the staff.

- Coach Mitch Gaspard was able to wrangle up the 16th-best recruiting class in the country according to Collegiate Baseball, led by INF Mikey White (a 34th round draft pick of the Mets last June) and JC All American catcher Wade Wass (a former 13th round draftee of the Orioles). Also watch for an immediate impact from incoming frosh SS/2B Daniel Cucjen, who earned raves in the fall, and RHP Ray Castillo (27th round pick of the Cubs).

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- ARKANSAS (46-22, 16-14)

2012 ISR: 13

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 7

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Barrett Astin (3-5, 1.99, 11svs)

SS Dominic Ficociello (.290-6-41)

RHP Brandon Moore (5-2, 2.43, 3svs)

RHP Ryne Stanek (8-4, 2.82, .229OBA)

RHP Colby Suggs (7-1, 1.38, .203OBA)

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NOTES:

- The Hogs looked a little listless going down the stretch last season, entering the NCAA tournament on an uninspiring 12-9 run. But like a typical Dave Van Horn-coached team, the Razorbacks caught fire at the right time, winning the Regional on Rice’s own Reckling Park, then pulling off a miracle resurrection in Waco to beat Baylor and then won the first two games in Omaha. Of course, the down side of things was the Pigs going south in two straight games to South Carolina on the Big Stage, both numbingly close shaves too. Aye.

- The good news is the Hogs are loaded for bear once again this year, particularly on the mound. Randall Fant (who returns after being picked in the 29th round of last June’s draft) and Ryne Stanek (a top-round draft pick for this June) both have the potential to pitch at the highest level at times and the staff is hoping this will be a dominant one-two punch on weekends this year. They’ll also have 6’7 lefty Cade Lynch (3-1, 2.11, 2svs), who’s upside is limitless and his heater is mid-90s. Barrett Astin saved 11 games last year and fellow stocky-built righty Colby Suggs both made over 30 appearances on the bump in 2012. Sweet Jesus, this team has a helluva arms brigade.

- The offense is another story. The Razorbacks hit just .271 as a team last season. Sure they won 46 games and made it to Omaha again, but you know that punchless run production was a big factor in losing 2-0 and 3-2 to Carolina in The Big Tiddy to end the season. On top of that, the uber-experienced trio of Matt Reynolds, Tim Carver and Bo Bigham have all hit the bricks. Dominic Ficcociello is the only consistent bat returning with some amount of pop.

- Two players who will be fun to watch this seasons will be Joe Serrano, who hit .333 in 17 starts as a freshman, and Catcher Jake Wise, who is an outstanding defensive backstop and should improve on his .244 average. If you remember, Wise was the one who had three RBI and just his second home run of the season in the CWS-opening win vs. Kent State.

- The incoming class was ranked No. 26 in the country by Collegiate Baseball and features 5th round draft pick RHP Colin Poche, who was the Pitcher of the Year in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex area.

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- AUBURN (31-28, 13-17)

2012 ISR: 58

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Ryan Tella (.360-5-34, 17SBs)

C Blake Austin (.296-3-21)

INF Garrett Cooper (.324-5-31)

INF Dan Glevenyak (.319, 13SBs)

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NOTES:

- The Tigers were the light from a dead star in 2012. What I mean by that is that they started out with weekend wins over Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State to begin SEC play. Then, they crashed to a 7-14 finish and went 3-and-out in the SEC tournament to end the season.

- The good news is that the best offense in the SEC will return the top four hitters on the stat sheet, led by Ryan Tella, the 4th-best hitter in the conference. They also led the SEC in stolen bases with 113 and will return Tella (17SBs), Dan Glevenyak (13SBs) and OF Bobby Andrews (.252, 13SBs) to get the running game going. Although they will lose 55 stolen bases in the departed duo of Creede Simpson and Jay Gonzalez, who both also hit .300+.

- Between Jon Luke Jacobs, Slade Smith and Derek Varnadore, the Plainsmen lose 220 innings of work, 25 starts and 60 appearances from last year’s squad. The saves leader Justin Bryant, who had 20 appearances and seven saves has also hit the bricks. So there will be LOTS of newbies on the bump. But lefties like Daniel Koger (4-5, 3.19_ and Will Kendall (4-0, 1.88) will be the leaning posts to rebuild the arms corps around.

- Auburn’s incoming class was ranked at No. 22 in the country by Collegiate Baseball and will feature JC All American and 19th round draft pick Damek Tomscha, a 6’2″, 225-pound specimen, and a pair of frosh in OF Sam Gillikin (a 33rd round draftee) and 6’7″ RHP Trey Wingenter (a 36th round pick).

- Doesn’t look like the Tigers gave a rat’s ass about the new RPI formula, which will reward road wins in non-conference play, as only three of their *road* games will actually be true road games. In fact, the Plainsmen will make their first weekend road trip of the season at Alex Box Stadium at LSU. Rough. Also, the Tigers will play just eight home games from Tax Day to the end of the season.

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- LOUISIANA STATE (47-18, 19-11)

2012 ISR: 10

Starters Returning: 5

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 2

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 5

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All Conference Candidates:

OF Raph Rhymes (.431-4-53)

1B Mason Katz (.320-13-52)

RHP Aaron Nola (7-4, 3.61, .251OBA)

RHP Ryan Eades (5-3, 3.83)

LHP Chris Cotton (7-0, 1.59)

2B JaCoby Jones (.253-4-29)

C Ty Ross (.292-3-41)

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NOTES:

- Oh come on… like you expected the Tigers to fall off the Earth after losing a Super Regional on their home field for the first time in over a hundred years… or whatever it’s been? Pshaw! The Stony Brooks of the world will come and go, but the Tigers will never be far off the grid. I mean, what’s a Top 25 without the LSU Tigers, right? It just won’t happen. Paul Mainieri and his crew have the Bayou Boys bristling with talent again, and all it takes is to get hot at the right time and a little Alex Box Magic to come out of hibernation. Don’t worry, it’ll happen again.

- The Tigers may have lost Kevin Gausman to the pros, but shed no tears, the arms corps is still going to be formidable with the return of Aaron Nola, a Louis Coleman clone who could push for All American honors if he doesn’t befall some voodoo hex or something, and Ryan Eades, who still hasn’t reached the high ceiling his talent level is capable of.

- The bullpen should be stout again as Chris Cotton, Joey Bourgeois (3-2, 2.38), Brent Bonvillain (4-0, 3.49) and Nick Rumbelow (0-0, 3.65) all had great ERAs and combined for 113 appearances out of the pen last season. So depth won’t be a problem. Consistency, however, will be the key.

- Although the defense will miss longtime mainstays like Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover, the incoming recruiting class will provide plenty of hot gloves to step in right away. In particular, keep an eye on New Mexico native Alex Bregman, a 29th round draft pick who looks to step into the shortstop position right away.

- This version of the Tigers won’t resemble the fencebusters of 1997-1998 or anything. But there will be a couple big boppers in fireplug-built Mason Katz, who finished second in the Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park last summer and JaCoby Jones won the Cape Cod League Home Run Derby. Also, one of the more remarkable stories from last June’s draft was the fact that Raph Rhymes didn’t get picked until the 30th round, then decided to return to campus for one more attempt at the .500 mark.

- Speaking of the Cape League, sorry to hear about RHP Joe Broussard (4-1, 3.73, 45Ks in 41inns) who won’t be pitching in 2013 after having elbow surgery in the fall. Broussard, who started six games and appeared in 19 total, suffered an ulnar collateral tear in his pitching arm over the summer in the Cape.

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- MISSISSIPPI (37-26, 14-16)

2012 ISR: 30

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 2

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 3

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Bobby Wahl (7-4, 2.55, 104Ks)

RHP Mike Mayers (6-3, 3.50)

RHP Brett Huber (2-2, 2.84, 10svs)

OF Tanner Mathis (.359)

C Will Allen (.302)

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NOTES:

- It says a good bit about where your program is when an “off-year” sees your team make it all the way to the title round of the Regionals and considers 37 wins not enough. Good show Mike Bianco.

- The arms corps should be particularly bad-ass this year, especially when it comes to the top of the staff. The team ace, Bobby Wahl, spent last summer on Team USA as one of the top-rated hurlers on the team. Not only that, but a pair of righties had bit-time summers in the prestigious Cape Cod League as Mike Mayers and Hawtin Buchanan were rated as the 17th and 28th pro prospects by Baseball America.

- The coaches like the experience coming back to the order and to the defense, particularly old warhorses like OF Tanner Mathis and UTL Preston Overbey (.255). Also watch out for football defensive back Senquez Golson, who only played in 25 games, making 15 starts, and hit just .204. HIs ceiling is unlimited and the more games he plays the better he’ll get.

- The incoming talent wasn’t as top-rated as recent years (No. 39 by Collegiate Baseball), but don’t tell that to strapping RHP Jacob Waguespack (who was a 37th round draft pick in last June’s MLB draft) and Brady Bramlett, also a righty, who also gets his fastball into the low-90s on the Juggs gun. They’ll throw to a high quality backstop in JC All American Stuart Turner, who will probably take over in the middle of the batting order right away.

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- MISSISSIPPI STATE (40-24, 16-14)

2012 ISR: 22

Starters Returning: 6

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 1

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 7

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All Conference Candidates:

SS Adam Frazier (.371, 10SBs)

3B Daryl Norris (.273)

RHP Jonathan Holder (2-1, 0.32, 9svs, .173OBA)

LHP Ross Mitchell (3-0, 1.18, .182OBA)

RHP Kendall Graveman (4-4, 2.81, .244OBA)

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NOTES:

- There weren’t many teams that had a hotter streak down the stretch in the 2012 season that the Bulldogs did, going 18-6 on their way to sweeping SEC East-leading Kentucky and then winning the SEC tournament title. Coach John Cohen always has a hardscrabble mentality to his teams to where they basically just grind and grind you into submission. Unfortunately, their Maroon Magic ran out in the NCAAs where they dropped a pair of games to Samford to end the season.

- The Bulldogs will be bulldog-tough on defense after turning a nation’s best 71 double plays last season. The entire infield returns, led by the double-play combo of SS Adam Frazier and 2B Sam Frost (.214). They’ll throw to Mt. Massive known as sophomore 1B Wes Rea, who only hit .244, but has huge power potential and should improve on his five home runs and 38RBI.

- Even though I’m writing this in mid-January, MSU still doesn’t have its 2013 roster posted, but it looks like there are a bevy of relievers back from last season’s squad. (Which begs the question: What’s a “bevy”?… Well, it means there’s a lot of pitching coming back.) The team ERA of 2.59 was second-best in the nation and should stay stout thanks to returnees like Jonathan Holder, Ross Mitchell and LHP Louis Pollorena (4-0, 1.85, .207OBA). But losing longtime mainstays like Nick Routt, Caleb Reed and 1st round draftee Chris Stratton, who were big leaning posts for the Dogs, will be big holes for sure.

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- TEXAS A&M (43-18, 16-8 in the Big 12)

2012 ISR: 18

Starters Returning: 4

Weekend Starters: 1

Mid-Week Starters: 0

Key Relievers (15+inns.): 6

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All Conference Candidates:

RHP Rafael Pineda (5-1, 2.71, .237OBA)

RHP Kyle Martin (6-5, 3.20, 7svs)

SS Mikey Reynolds (.306, 21SBs)

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NOTES:

- With the amount of diamond talent that is roaming the College Station campus, you shouldn’t see the Aggies get overwhelmed in their new SEC surroundings. No, not at all. There were a lot of great summers put in by Aggie players after last season which caught the attention of the scouting community. The pros will be keeping a keen eye on pitchers Jason Jesters (a JC transfer) and Kyle Martin, who were ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the Texas Collegiate League. Also in the top 10 were LHP Nathan Sorenson and Kray Bratsen and the California Collegiate League saw RHPs Daniel Mengden and Gandy Stubblefield have exemplary summers as well.

- The mound losses are significant, especially with All-World talents like Michael Wacha and Ross Stripling, two of the biggest reasons the Aggies made that run to the CWS in 2011. Also hitting the bricks are the top two hitters from last year in Tyler Naquin and Jacob House. Toss in a Matt Juengel and Scott Arthur also packing things in and you can see why this will be a big mountain to climb to fill some of those holes in the dike.

- There will be some strength up the middle on defense in catcher Troy Stein (.304-2-25), SS Mikey Reynolds and CF Krey Bratsen (.226, 21SBs). But coach Rob Childress and Co. are hoping the sophomore slump is behind Mr. Bratsen, who was a Freshman All American in 2011, hitting .332 and 31 stolen bases.

 

COMMENTS:

February 1, 2013 at 9:17 pm
Lori says:

Thanks, Eric!! Great reading–you never let us down!


February 3, 2013 at 7:02 pm
tim says:

Great writeups,Stitch. Gamecocks will be alot faster on the basepaths this season with English,Costen,Pankake, Schrock and a couple of football players that will be on the team(Christian and possibly Carson..both of whom were drafted out of high school) On a side Ripken may be a long shot to make the roster this season. Pitching will be stellar again with Holmes and Monty taking over the FRi/Sat spots and a host of others vying for the Sunday spot(Belcher,Beal,Koumas, Jack Wynkoop(freshman) and Seddon. Pitching will not be a concern this season.