One of the most important will be the face of junior shortstop Matt Hall.
Looking for a fresh start on his career following two seasons at Arizona State, Hall sought out a place of comfort and also one where he's had success in the past. In the end that made the decision easy for the baseball player as he chose to continue his playing career at Auburn.
The third baseman for the Sun Devils last season when they came to Plainsman Park for a three-game series, Hall went 8-11 in a series Auburn won despite getting pounded 8-2 in the Friday night contest. Hall says the way the Tigers played that weekend and the conversations he had with Auburn Coach Tom Slater had him looking strongly at the Tigers when it was obvious he was going to be moving on from the Valley of the Sun.
"It basically started last year when we came and played Auburn in a three-game series," Hall says. "We beat Auburn that Friday night and Saturday and Sunday we had a lead of about six or seven runs in both games. They came back and beat us both times. I was just really impressed by the way they battled. It just impressed me how they played. I also had a great series. Slater was coaching third base and we had some conversations between innings and I really liked him.
"When I realized I wanted to transfer it just stuck in my head how Auburn played," the junior adds. "That was something I wanted to pursue right away was call them. I got in touch with them and he wanted to make sure everything was clear with my release. As soon as it was we just got right on it. Of all the places I was looking Auburn was the best opportunity for me."
Not only was the opportunity present at Auburn, the Tigers also play in one of the country's top ballparks in the best conference in the land. Hall says after getting a chance to witness Auburn's atmosphere in person last season he knew it was a place he would love to play if given the chance.
"Coming out Friday night I looked up and the whole entire stands were completely filled," Hall says. "I looked up and that huge parking deck was completely filled. They had a fishing pole with a license plate on top of the parking deck and were reeling it down below to where people were cooking. They were putting hot dogs on the plate and reeling it back up top and eating them up there. It was a pretty cool experience just seeing that fan support. It made a great impression.
"I've heard nothing but good things about the competition in the SEC," Hall adds. "Every night is just a dogfight. I'm excited about that. I'm excited about being out there and able to help. I hope we do something great this year. It's going to be an exciting season."
A role player as a freshman for ASU, Hall hit .278 with one home run and seven RBI in just 54 plate appearances that season. In 2007 Hall got his chance to shine because of injuries and started 45 games at third base. Still managing just 112 at-bats for the season, Hall hit .313 with four home runs, 10 doubles, and 24 runs batted in. Wanting the best opportunity for increased playing time, Hall says he decided on Auburn despite interest from some of the top programs in the country.
"I was looking at the University of Florida, Clemson, and Texas. That was about it. They are all good schools. I wanted to go by opportunity, but also what I was hearing from the coaches. It seemed to me that Slater was the most straight up and honest. He wasn't telling me what I wanted to hear, he was just telling me the way it was going to be. So far it has been completely true what he said."
Looking to solidify the shortstop position, Hall came in last fall and did exactly what the coaches hoped he would by winning the job with a solid bat and good glove in the field. Hall says while he was sure of his ability, he didn't know what to expect from the rest of the team. Now having gone through a rigorous fall practice session he says he feels like this year's Auburn team has a chance to make some noise.
"Right away when I got here the team just welcomed me right away," Hall says. "It wasn't awkward at all. They accepted me and nobody was rude or anything. They just brought me in. It has been great ever since. Our team chemistry right now is unbelievable. In the fall we worked our butts off. I think we're ready to go. We're well prepared.
"I think we've got a great chance to put it all together," he adds. "This fall was amazing. Our pitching staff was real impressive. Every guy we've got has a great opportunity to help our team in some way. Our defense is awesome. We've got a lot of good speed in the outfield and a lot of good arms out there. We've got a solid infield and catching. We've got a ton of freshmen that can absolutely crush the ball. As soon as we come together we're going to be a pretty solid force."
Hall and the Tigers open the season Feb. 22 with a home game against East Tennessee State at Plainsman Park. The team begins practicing for the season on Friday as juniors Mike Bianucci and Luke Greinke head up an experienced group of Tigers looking to continue the progression of Auburn baseball to its rightful place back among the elite in the Southeastern Conference once again.