#25 Auburn Baseball 2016 Preview

Auburn Tigers
Overall Rank: #25
Conference Rank: #7 SEC
 Auburn Logo
Auburn reached back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2003. And they will hope to extend that streak in 2016. But last season the Tigers were a bit up and down. They went just 13-17 in SEC action and series wins are always tough to come by in the SEC. But the Tigers managed to take two out of three at Mississippi State and South Carolina. In the second half of April, Auburn looked great at home, winning nine of ten, including a series win over Ole Miss and a sweep of Georgia. Unfortunately, the Tigers had to go on the road for the NCAA Tournament and they were placed in the very tough Tallahassee Regional. They managed to beat Mercer, but Auburn fell to Charleston twice.
2015: 36-26, 13-17
2015 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Butch Thompson
Field Players:
Auburn is absolutely loaded on offense and this could develop into one of the more potent groups in the SEC. There is not a lot of power in the lineup, but Coach Butch Thompson will manufacture runs effectively and now he has an experienced group to help him do that. Outfielder Anfernee Grier is coming off of a superb sophomore season in which he batted .323 and led the team with 22 steals. He is pretty quick on the base paths too. But the real threat when it comes to stealing bases is Melvin Gray. Gray swiped 18 bases in 21 attempts in 2015 and batted .304. Those two will set the table and it is up to the rest of the returning players to drive them in. Daniel Robert and Cody Nulph boast the most power of the group, but Kyler Deese and Jordan Ebert can be dangerous too.
Losing Rocky McCord, who started a team high 17 games, is a big deal, but Auburn returns plenty of experience. Cole Lipscomb and Keegan Thompson will anchor the weekend rotation. Lipscomb went 8-2 last season and struck out 91 batters in 92.2 innings of work. Thompson was 7-3 and pitched two complete games in his 11 starts. Look for senior Dalton Rentz to pick up more starts in 2016. He was just 3-4 in 24 appearances last season, but Rentz was effective. He can have some control issues and the opposition hit a healthy .258 against him, but Rentz finished the year with a solid 2.60 ERA. Justin Camp made a team high 28 appearances and emerged as a great closer. He has starting experience and could help in that regard, but he really had a great year in the closer role. Camp sported a 2.33 ERA and struck out 48 batters in 46.1 innings of work.
Who to Watch:
The offense can come from a lot of different places with this team and a couple guys who could really step up this year are Damon Haecker and Blake Logan. Haecker has done a great job of getting on base. He lacks the speed of Grier or Gray and may not bat .300, but he is a very, very patient hitter and easily led the team with 40 walks in 2015. Logan hit one homerun two years ago as a freshman, but the catcher totaled 17 doubles and 28 RBIs last season and is one of the candidates to drive in more runs this season.
Final Projection:
As always, the SEC is going to be extremely tough, but Auburn has the talent and experience to seriously compete for an SEC title. This team will manufacture plenty of runs and should be able to hang around with any team in the SEC. The key will be getting those clutch hits at the right time to turn a 3-2 loss into a 3-2 win. Of course, the pitching needs to get the job done for that to happen too and replacing McCord’s 89.2 innings will not be easy. McCord was never the flashiest or most dominating pitcher on Auburn’s staff, but he was effective.
Projected Postseason: NCAA Baseball Tournament
Returning Leaders:
At Bats: Anfernee Grier, OF, 254
Hits: Anfernee Grier, OF, 82
Home Runs: Cody Nulph, IF, 3; Jordan Ebert, IF/OF, 3
RBIs: Cody Nulph, IF, 33
Runs: Anfernee Grier, OF, 41
Stolen Bases: Anfernee Grier, OF, 9
Wins: Cole Lipscomb, P, 8
Innings Pitched: Cole Lipscomb, P, 92.2
Strikeouts: Cole Lipscomb, P, 91
Saves: Justin Camp, P, 8
Madness 2016 Draft Rankings:
#69 Anfernee Grier