Following the 2011 Fall Practices for Auburn Baseball, I had the opportunity to sit down with head coach John Pawlowski to discuss the progress being made for the team, the upcoming season for the Auburn Tigers, and the competition within the Southeastern Conference (SEC) for baseball.
Focuses and Goals of the Fall Practices
One of the most important goals of the fall practices was to assess the new players. Auburn University recruited 17 new players, so evaluating their competitiveness and abilities to play multiple positions on the field was an initial process in the fall. Even the returning veterans didn’t get much experience in the field, simply because of the amount of veterans the team just recently lost in the MLB Draft. So Coach Pawlowski emphasized that each player needed to demonstrate their athletic ability to determine his best fit on the team.
Another one of the biggest things, according to Coach Pawlowski, was trying to build team chemistry and bonding. “When you have that many new guys, it becomes a large very important piece of the puzzle,” says Pawlowski. Team bonding and chemistry proves successful in any ball club, but especially the 2010 Auburn team when they succeeded to win the SEC West championship. Auburn then went on to host a regional, pursuing a hungry rival in the Clemson Tigers, and making an outstanding comeback thanks to a go-ahead three-run home run by Creede Simpson in the top of the ninth inning. That forced the final game of the series for the Tigers, only to have Auburn lose out to Clemson in Game 3.
Coach Pawlowski says he’s anxious to see these guys compete at a high level. The SEC has been one of the best leagues in the country, so the new players have to develop and mature quickly. “There’s no soft weekend in the SEC. Every weekend is a battle.” The new players need to learn how to play at a high level so there will be no surprises when the team gets into the tougher weekends in conference play. Pawlowski seems to truly believe in the freshman and junior college transfers, and he likes the types of players they are.
New Players to Watch
As far as pitching is concerned, Coach Pawlowski mentioned three members of the new pitchers the Tigers have picked up. Daniel Koger is a left-handed pitcher and a freshman out of Huntsville High School. He’s 6’5 and the southpaw will provide more options this year. Trey Cochran-Gill is a 5’11 right-handed pitcher out of Tallassee High School in Tallassee, Alabama. The final freshman named was Rocky McCord, a 6’1 right-handed pitcher from Spanish Fort, Alabama. Pawlowski spoke about how these new freshman will have chances early in the season to show what they can do, and where they will fit in our pitching staff.
As far as position players are concerned, Coach Pawlowski believe Jarred Smith will have a large impact on the team. “He’s somebody whose done a really good job for us,” says Pawlowski. He noted that he especially liked that Smith can play multiple positions. He also mentioned a couple junior college transfers who are believed to provide an impact to the team. Ryan Tella is a junior college transfer from Ohlone CC. He’s a 6’ outfielder providing speed to the lineup. Garrett Cooper is a first baseman junior college transfer from El Camino CC.
At the beginning of the fall practices, Coach Pawlowski told the team, “It is wide open. Every position on the field is open.” So the players had a lot to compete for, and the Tigers will probably see a lot more new faces in the lineup this season. We hope these new faces will play aggressive with little adaptation and room for error, but Pawlowski seems to believe in them and their talents. According to him, “You’ll need a roster when you come see us play.”
On the Returning Players
Coach Pawlowski briefly discussed his excitement for senior players returning. Creede Simpson was a versatile player who bypassed the MLB Draft to finish his degree, and returns as a senior available to play multiple positions. He originally played second base before he was moved to the outfield and continued to demonstrate great athletic ability there.
Also named was senior right-handed pitcher Derek Varnadore, who was drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, but chose to return to Auburn to finish his senior year. Varnadore was the team’s most reliable pitcher in the 2011 season, so Pawlowski expects him to be a leader in the pitching staff.
With so few returning players that have extended experience on the field, the Tigers are going to be relying a lot on the new players and returning players that didn’t get much playing time in the past. These leaders, such as Simpson and Varnadore, will need to step up in their senior years to teach the freshman everything they need to know about the SEC. Even the junior college transfers, who have been playing in the college atmosphere for a couple years, need to be taught the different style of play that the SEC brings to the field. It is always a learning experience in the SEC. It’s up to the new players to seek the information they need, but ultimately it’s up to the returning veterans to provide that information with the success they retrieved in the past.
The second part of this interview will run tomorrow with Coach Pawlowski’s thoughts on the SEC, areas for improvements and other information on the Tigers program.