Opening the season Feb. 15 against Maine at Plainsman Park, Coach John Pawlowski enters his fifth season with an overall record of 134-103 with the Tigers as he tries to get the program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Returning 18 lettermen and five starting position players, Auburn has a veteran offensive group that should help carry the load early while 17 newcomers get their feet wet playing SEC baseball. With so many new faces Pawlowski says he can sense the excitement surrounding the new year from his team and also his coaches.
"You put a lot of time and effort into the fall and these guys went home and worked really hard over the break and now it's right around the corner," Pawlowski says. "I know there is a little different beat to their steps. There is a lot of energy because Feb. 15th will be here before you know it."
With seniors Garrett Cooper and Cullen Wacker back this season along with juniors Blake Austin, Dan Glevenyak and Ryan Tella, Auburn's offense has plenty of firepower and experience returning. That is something that Pawlowski believes will be important to start the season as his team tries to find a rhythm early.
"I think that's going to be very important for a couple of reasons," Pawlowski says. "Obviously the league is very challenging and those guys have to lead. They've had a lot of at-bats and innings logged in the field, and that has to be important for us to lead some of the younger guys."
Ryan Tella is a proven performer for the Tigers. Despite being selected in last year's Major League Baseball Draft he decided to return to Auburn for his junior season.
Defensively, Pawlowski is hoping to have a stronger infield with junior college transfer Damek Tomscha taking over at third base and either sophomore Tanner Cimo or freshman Jordan Ebert at second base. With a year under his belt Dan Glevenyak should be a stronger option at shortstop and Pawlowski says he has seen improvement out of the junior.
In the outfield a battle is brewing in right field as freshmen Sam Gilliken and Rock Rucker along with junior college transfer Terrance Dedrick have all shown the ability to get the job done. With junior Ryan Tella in center field and senior Cullen Wacker in left field, Auburn has some experience returning in the outfield.
On the mound Auburn must replace veterans Derek Varnadore, Jon Luke Jacobs and Slade Smith as well as relievers Cory Luckie, Zach Blatt and Justin Bryant. The good news is that the Tigers have a talented group of sophomores returning led by Daniel Koger, Rocky McCord and Trey Cochran-Gill.
Throw in veteran reliever Dillon Ortman as well as several newcomers and Pawlowski says he believes the staff has a chance to be a team strength this season once it matures.
"When you look at our staff we feel like we've added some depth and some young talent on the mound," the coach says. "Trey is so valuable to us because he's got such a heavy sinker and can get the ground ball double-play. He has pitched in multiple roles for us. Rocky and Daniel Koger have both proven they can get the job done whether it was in the summer or last year. We're looking for big things from those guys.
Daniel Koger is shown in action as a freshman.
"As for the third and fourth starters, we'll see what happens. It's a great competition, but we love the fact that guys have to compete to get the job," he adds.
Auburn opens the season against Maine as the Tigers will play a four-game series against the Black Bears at Plainsman Park on Feb. 15-17 featuring a Saturday doubleheader.
Projected 2013 Depth Chart
*Catcher—Blake Austin, Kody Ortman, J.D. Crowe
*First Base—Garrett Cooper, Patrick Savage
*Second Base—Tanner Cimo, Jordan Ebert
*Third Base—Damek Tomscha, Dylan Smith
*Shortstop—Dan Glevenyak, Mitchell Self
*Left Field—Cullen Wacker, Bobby Andrews
*Center Field—Ryan Tella, Bobby Andrews
*Right Field—Sam Gilliken, Rock Rucker, Terrance Dedrick
*Designated Hitter—Patrick Savage, Rock Rucker, Dylan Smith
*Starting Rotation Possibilities—Rocky McCord, Daniel Koger, Trey Cochran-Gill, Michael O'Neal, Trey Wingenter, Dillon Ortman
*Closer—Terrance Dedrick, Conner Kendrick
By The Numbers
Auburn returns four regulars in the lineup who finished over .300 last season in batting average. Ryan Tella hit .360, Cullen Wacker .350, Garrett Cooper .324 and Dan Glevenyak .319. Those four combined to hit 12 home runs and drive in 120. Throw in junior catcher Blake Austin's .296 average, three home runs, and 21 RBI, and you have a potentially strong top of the order for the Tigers.
On the mound Auburn returns just 15 wins from last season with Trey Cochran-Gill leading the way at 5-2 with a 3.67 ERA. Starter Daniel Koger was 4-5 last season as a freshman and finished with a 3.19 ERA. Without a decision last season in 17 2/3 innings pitched, sophomore Rocky McCord was 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA with the Amsterdam Mohawks in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League and could be the surprise for the Tigers in 2013 on the mound.
Auburn plays 19 games against teams ranked in the Baseball America Preseason Top 25 with three-game series against Vanderbilt (March 15-17), at LSU (March 22-24), at Mississippi State (April 18-20), and against Arkansas (May 16-18), Auburn also plays Southern Miss in Mobile on March 20.