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2011 CBD Season Preview: SEC Eastern Division

The SEC won another national championship this season with South Carolina grabbing the national title by sweeping the UCLA Bruins in the CWS Championship Series. It was the conference’s second straight national title (LSU 2009) and eighth since 1990.

The SEC Eastern Division was won by the Florida Gators with a 22-8 SEC record, while finishing the season with an overall record of 47-17. The Gamecocks finished one game behind the Gators in the division going 21-9 while having an overall record of 54-16. The Vanderbilt Commodores finished in third place with a conference mark of 16-12 and a 46-20 overall record as they advanced all the way to the Super Regionals, where they were defeated by the Florida State Seminoles in three games. Kentucky (31-25 overall, 13-17 SEC), Tennessee (30-26, 12-18 SEC), and Georgia (16-37 overall, 5-23 SEC) all did not qualify for the SEC or NCAA Tournaments.

Florida Gators (2010 Record: 47-17 Overall, 22-8)

Kevin O’Sullivan enters his fourth season in charge of the Florida program. He brought the team to the College World Series last season before bowing out with a record of 0-2 after losing to UCLA (11-3) and arch-rival Florida State (8-5). They did win the SEC Eastern Division by one game over eventual national champion South Carolina with a 22-8 record. They also went 2-2 in the SEC tourney, finishing in a tie for third place.

Preston Tucker (Gatorzone.com Photo)

The Gators had a team batting average of .297 in 2010 as they finished eighth best in hitting. They return five of their top six hitters from last season, including SEC Freshman of the Year Austin Maddox, as he hit .333 with a team high 17 homers and 72 RBI. He was part of a devastating duo in the middle of the order with 2009 SEC Co-Freshman and 2009 NCBWA Freshman Hitter of the Year Preston Tucker who hit .331 with 11 homers and 49 RBI in his sophomore season. The other returnees are Nolan Fontana (.287 BA, 3 HR, 23 RBI), Mike Zunino (.267 BA, 9 HR, 41 RBI), and Josh Adams (.224 BA, 9 HR, 42 RBI). Two way player Brian Johnson returns also after starting 27 games while hitting .405 with four homers and 21 RBI.

The Gators pitching staff returns the entire rotation from 2010, which finished fourth in the conference with a 4.13 ERA. Sophomore RHP Hudson Randall had the best season for the Gators as he went 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA in 20 appearances (17 starts). Junior LHP Alex Panteliodis served as the number 1 starter as he went 11-3 with a 3.51 ERA in 18 appearances (16 starts). Sophomore LHP Brian Johnson also returns after going 6-4 with a 4.03 ERA in 16 appearances (14 starts) for a total of 73.2 innings.

The biggest loss for the Gators pitching staff is the loss of closer Kevin Chapman to the 2010 MLB Draft. He had eleven out of the team’s 18 saves. Chapman finished the season with a 3-0 record including 11 saves and a 1.65 ERA. Junior Greg Larson is the returning saves leader with three saves as he went 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA.

The Florida Gators bring in the sixth ranked recruiting class for the 2011 season after having the top ranked class in 2010 by Baseball America. The star incomer is Karsten Whitson from Chipley High School in Chipley, Florida. He was selected ninth overall by the San Diego Padres in the 2010 MLB Draft but did not come to terms. This was a huge get as he will provide depth to an already deep starting rotation or could be used in the back end of the Gators bullpen.

Georgia (16-37 overall, 5-23 SEC)

The Georgia Bulldogs had one of the worst seasons in school history as they went 16-37 overall and 5-23 in SEC play. The 16 overall and five SEC wins was the lowest total since the 1974 season when the team went 10-18 overall and 3-13 in conference play. They finished 16 games behind Florida for the division crown and six games behind fifth place Tennessee. The Bulldogs won only one conference series all year when they defeated Kentucky two out of three games in the last series of the season.

Zach Cone (UGA Photo)

Georgia’s offense finished sixth in the conference with a .301 team batting average while they hit a conference low 45 homers while also being at the bottom of the conference in RBI with 299. The good news is they return their top eight hitters from last season. Junior outfielder Zach Cone led the offense last season with a .363 batting average with 10 homers and 53 RBI. He was also solid in SEC play as he hit .360 with six homers and 27 RBI. Cone is considered one of the top fielders in the SEC as he had a .991 fielding percentage while leading the SEC in assists with nine. Junior catcher Christian Gilsson comes back after starting 35 games and appearing in 43 games while hitting .342 with three homers and 17 RBI. Sophomore infielder Kyle Farmer had a good freshman season playing in 39 games (38 starts) with a .340 average, three homers and 25 RBI. Jonathan Taylor, a junior from North Cobb, GA, comes back for his junior season after hitting .335 with 29 RBI while stealing 12 bases with 20 stolen bases. The other players returning are junior infielder Levi Hyams (.333 BA, 4 HR, 32 RBI), junior outfielder Peter Verdin (.307 BA, 7 HR, 27 RBI), sophomore outfielder Robert Shipman (.263 BA, 4 HR, 25 RBI), and junior outfielder Colby May (.176 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI).

The major issue last season with the Bulldogs was the pitching staff which finished with an ERA of 8.51. It was the worst in the SEC and 276th in the entire nation out of 292 programs. The good news is they will have to rebuild the starting rotation as these lose Justin Grimm to the MLB Draft and Jeff Walters to graduation. They do return junior RHP Michael Palazzone who went 4-6 with a 8.66 ERA in 16 appearances (13 starts). He struggled mightily as he had opponents hit at .361 off of him.

The other two pitchers returning to make four starts are junior LHP Chase Hawkins and sophomore LHP Blake Dietrich. Hawkins went 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA in 20 appearances with four starts. Dietrich went 0-2 with a 14.23 ERA in 17 appearances (four starts) for a total of 24.2 innings. Sophomore Cooper Moseley returns after leading the Bulldogs with four saves but went 0-5 with a 6.59 ERA.

Kentucky (31-25 overall, 13-17 SEC)

The Kentucky Wildcats are coming off a 31-25 campaign in 2010 while going 13-17 in SEC play as they missed out on the postseason SEC tournament.

Gary Henderon (UK Photo)

The Bat Cats finished last season with a .302 batting average, which was fifth best in the SEC. They will return two of the top six hitters from last year in Braden Kapteyn and Chad Wright. Chad Wright comes back for his junior season after hitting .316 with two homers and 37 RBI. The other key returnee is junior two-way player Braden Kapteyn after hitting .294 with six homers and 19 RBI.

Kentucky’s pitching staff had a team ERA of 5.85 which was the fourth worst in the SEC last season. They return three out of the top four starting pitchers from last season. They end up losing top pitcher Logan Darnell who went 5-3 with a 5.62 ERA in 14 appearances (11 starts). The top returning pitcher is sophomore RHP Jordan Cooper who went 4-5 with a 5.71 ERA in 20 appearances (eight starts). He ended up pitching a total of 58.1 innings but gave up 71 hits which had opponents hitting at .303 off of him. Sophomore LHP Taylor Rogers was 4-7 with a 6.40 ERA in 14 starts. Alex Meyer is the other returnee as he went 5-3 with a 7.06 ERA in 12 games (11 starts).

The Wildcats will need to replace saves leader Matt Little, who left school after 2010 as he had seven saves while going 2-2 with a 4.93 ERA. Braden Kapteyn is the returning saves leader after making 18 appearances, going 2-0 with two saves and a 4.09 ERA in 22 innings.

Kentucky has a couple of incoming impact players this year in freshman LHP Corey Littrell, freshman corner infielder Dallen Reber, and transfer from Oregon Thomas McCarthy.

Littrell is a 6’3 lefty out of Trinity High School and was regarded as the top prospect in the state of Kentucky. Coach Henderson stated the following after Littrell signed “Corey has an advanced ability to pitch for his age. He can already command his fastball and he has a very good change-up that he can throw for a strike. We expect him to pitch early and often during his UK career. He is a serious competitor that we have a chance to build a staff around. He will need to make the same adjustments that they all do but I expect him to compete for innings immediately.”

Dallen Reber is out of Dixie High School in St. George, Utah, where he was a power hitting infielder. Head Coach Gary Henderson said “Dallen brings a winner’s personality and a lot of athleticism. He is an absolute winner with very good baseball skills. He is the type of kid that other kids like to be around. He has a combination of strength, speed and skills that we are very excited to bring to our program.”

South Carolina (54-16 overall, 21-9 SEC)

The South Carolina Gamecocks finished second in the SEC Eastern Division behind the Florida Gators, but were able to win the 2010 NCAA Championship. They went a disappointing 0-2 in the SEC Tourney, with a 3-0 loss to Ole Miss before dropping a 12 inning game to Auburn 3-1. The Gamecocks were selected to the host the Columbia Regional in which they swept through in three games. The victories were over Bucknell (9-5), The Citadel (9-4), and Virginia Tech (10-2). South Carolina was sent on the road for a Super Regional against Coastal Carolina. In two one run games, the Gamecocks came out on top with 4-3 and 10-9 victories to advance to the College World Series. They lost the first game of the College World Series 4-3 before going on a six game winning streak to win the National Championship with victories over Arizona State (11-3), Oklahoma 3-2 innings), Clemson (5-1 and 4-3), and finally defeated UCLA 7-1 and 2-1 in 11 innings to win the national championship.

Jackie Bradley Jr. (S. Carolina Photo)

The South Carolina offense finished seventh in the conference with a .300 team batting average, but ended up leading the conference in runs scored. They return three of their top five hitters including one of the top players in the country for the 2011 season in Jackie Bradley, Jr. Last season, he hit .368 with 13 homers and 60 RBI which was the team high in each category. Christian Walker also returns after hitting .327 with nine homers and 51 RBI. The other key returnee is Adam Matthews who hit .308 with seven homers and 31 RBI.

The South Carolina pitching staff had the best team ERA in the conference in 2010 at 3.45, which was also the seventh best in the entire country. They lose their top three starting pitchers from last season in Blake Cooper, Sam Dyson, and Jay Brown who all leave for the minor leagues or graduated from the program. They do return their top two relief pitchers in Michael Roth and Matt Price. Roth appeared in 37 games (two starts) while going 2-1 with a 1.34 ERA in 40.1 innings of work. Price went 5-1 with a 2.26 ERA while accumulating ten saves.

Tennessee (30-26 overall, 12-18 SEC)

The Tennessee Volunteers finished last season with a 30-26 overall record while going 12-18 in SEC conference play, missing out on the postseason conference tournament.

Chris Fitts (Tennessee Photo)

The Vols finished with the seocnd worst offense in the conference hitting at a .293 clip. They return only two out their top five hitters from last season in Matt Duffy and Josh Liles. Duffy finished last season with a .304 batting average while hitting three homers and 29 RBI. He spent the first two years of college with the Vermont Catamounts where he was the America East player of the year in 2009. Josh Liles hit .298 with three homers and 29 RBI. Both of these players will need to lead the lineup in 2011 as they lost their top three power hitters in P.J. Polk, Cody Hawn, and Blake Forsythe.

The Tennessee pitching staff finished tenth in the SEC last season with a 5.88 ERA. They lose three of their top four pitchers from last year in Bryan Morgado, Stephen McCray, and Steve Crnkovich while Steven Gruver is the other key returnee, he went 4-4 with a 6.21 ERA in 2 starts.

Vanderbilt (46-20 overall, 16-12 SEC)

The Vanderbilt Commodores went 46-20 while going 16-12 in SEC play. They were the number 5 seed in the SEC Tourney as they went 1-2 with a 2-0 victory over Arkansas before losing to LSU 7-5 and Florida 5-2. They received an at-large berth to the NCAA Tourney getting placed in the Louisville Regional. They went 4-1 in the regional with 8-7 victory over Illinois State to open the Regional round before dropping a 7-1 game to Louisville. They bounced back with three straight victories over Illinois State (10-4), and Louisville twice (7-0 and 3-2 in 10 innings). They then went to the Tallhassee Super Regional where they dropped game one 9-8 before winning game 2 6-2. In the winner take all final game, they lost 7-6.

The Commodores finished the 2010 campaign with a .310 batting average, which was the third best in the heavy hitting SEC, but finished with the second lowest amount of team homers with 63. They return seven out of nine position starters from last season.

Leading the position players returning is sophomore shortstop Anthony Gomez. He finished last season with a .379 batting average with two homers and 30 RBI as he was named a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.

The best pro prospect from the Commodores is junior third baseman Jason Esposito, who had a .359 average with 12 homers and 64 RBI. He spent the summer with the USA Collegiate National Team as he appeared in 14 games (12 starts) as he hit .272 with a homer and six RBI.

A couple of other key returnees are Curt Casali and Aaron Westlake. Casali is a senior catcher from New Canaan, CT, who hit .309 with eight homers and 42 RBI last year. Westlake is a junior first baseman from Redding, California, as he hit .308 with 14 homers and 61 RBI. He played the summer of 2010 in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Chatham Anglers as he hit .292 with five homers and 10 RBI in 32 games.

Vanderbilt finished last season with a team ERA of 3.69 which was the second best mark in the SEC last season. They return their top three starting pitchers from last season but end up losing save leader Russell Brewer.

The top returning starting pitcher is junior Sonny Gray, who is considered one of the top RHP prospects in the country. Last season, he went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 108.2 innings while striking out 113 batters. He spent the summer with the USA Collegiate National Team going 3-0 with a 0.38 ERA in 24.0 innings. He ended up striking out 37 batters while walking only four.

Senior RHP Taylor Hill finished last season with a 6-5 record while accumulating a 4 .46 ERA in 20 appearances (17 starts). He ended up pitching a total of 107 innings while striking out 74 and walking 27.

The other starting pitcher to return is junior RHP Jack Armstrong who went 7-4 with a 4.71 ERA in 16 starts. He ended up pitching in only 78.1 innings while striking out 50 batters while walking 39. He spent the summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Wareham Gatemen as he went 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA in 45.2 innings.

Junior LHP Grayson Garvin made 13 appearances (2 starts) going 1-1 with a stellar 1.25 ERA and a save in 36 innings. He had a great summer as a starting pitcher in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Bourne Braves. He made six starts as he went 5-0 with a 0.74 ERA in 36.2 innings pitched. He was named the BFC Whitehouse Pitcher of the Year given to the top pitcher in the year.

Freshmen Kevin Ziomek and T.J. Pecoraro could have an impact on the pitching staff as each of them were drafted in 2010. Ziomek was 13th round selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks from Amherst MA. Pecoraro was selected in the 48th round by the Houston Astros out of Half Hollow Hills West HS.

Predictions
1. Florida *
2. Vanderbilt *
3. South Carolina *
4. Kentucky *
5. Georgia
6. Tennessee
* NCAA Tourney Participant

Projected Top Pitcher: Sonny Gray (Vanderbilt)
Projected Top Position Player: Jackie Bradley Jr. (South Carolina)
Projected Top Freshman: Karsten Whitson (Florida)

  • Tim B.

    Hey Brian,nnLove your stuff. One point, UKs Chris Bisson was a 4th round pick last spring and has moved on.

    • http://collegebaseballdaily.com Brian Foley

      Hey, when your writing so much you mess things up…I will correct it when I get a chance!rnrnThanksrnBrian FoleyrnSent on the Sprintu00ae Now Network from my BlackBerryu00ae