The Auburn University baseball team began their first fall season practices on Wednesday, September 21st, with much anticipation and excitement for their future. After coming off a second straight SEC Tournament appearance in the 2011 season, the Tigers lost most of their starters to the MLB first-year player draft. While some may consider this a devastating loss for the team, the Tigers managed to recruit 17 newcomers–12 incoming freshman and 5 transfers–to pick up the slack.
Prior to yesterday’s practice, the Collegiate Baseball newspaper ranked Auburn’s baseball recruiting class 23rd with the amount of talent they pulled in. Auburn assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Scott Foxhall said, “We believe that these student-athletes will have a positive and immediate impact on Auburn baseball as we continue to compete for SEC championships and trips to Omaha.” And when he said immediate, he meant immediate.
From the first pitch, these freshman proved to be right on target with the veterans. Freshman RHP Caleb Smith from Austin, Texas, threw off everyone’s timing (including my own trying to take pictures) with a fastball that seemed spot on. Once they got a hold of him, however, OF Ryan Tella, transfer from Ohlone CC, showed his promising impact for the team on the base paths. With speed comparable to former Tiger leadoff hitter, Justin Fradejas, Tella shows his worth to the team in just the first day running out infield base hits.
Freshman OF Colton Davis, from Lake Whales, Florida, swung his bat and swung it hard, showing off his power with a home run similar to Alvord’s. Though he seems to be an all-or-nothing kind of hitter, he quickly proved useful with sacrifice flies and multiple RBIs in the scrimmage. Similarly, freshman IF Jarred Smith, also from Lake Whales, Florida, gave his contribution to the team mostly in small ball. Smith got the job done as far as moving players up, hitting a double here and there, and impressive base running techniques to allow runners to score. Though the box score might not show exemplary performance, the kid is smart in baseball.
With several players returning to the Tigers, a lot of the veterans played across the country in summer leagues. Sophomore infielder Zach Alvord had the opportunity to play in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Bourne Braves, mainly as a designated hitter, and returned to Auburn with proof that his power at the plate had improved. In just his second at-bat of the scrimmage, he hit a towering home run to left field over Auburn’s “mini-Green Monster.”
Other players returned from places like the Valley League, where sophomores outfielder Jay Gonzalez and catcher Blake Austin learned some new techniques. Gonzalez’s speed has always been an asset to the Tigers, but he definitely picked up the pace with his bat, along with Austin. While Austin had been successful behind the plate in spot-starts with the Tigers last year, he showed his improvement primarily in the batting order. He’d struggled with that last year, but he had no problem hitting extra base hits this afternoon.
Probably the most anticipated return for the Tigers was that of Justin Bryant, a utility player who missed most of last season because of surgery. You could see from his appearance at the plate that he was excited to get playing again. He certainly looked comfortable hitting doubles and stealing bases all afternoon.
Overall, the practice scrimmage showed every aspect of Auburn baseball. From its newcomers to the returning veterans, the boys showed off their best abilities as if it was Scout Day at the ball park. And with practices running until November 3rd, I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of the talent from the new players, along with hidden tricks the veterans learned in summer leagues.