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2013 CBD Season Preview: SEC West

SEC Circle Gold Letters on White BackgroundThe SEC’s reign atop college baseball came to an end in 2012, as South Carolina fell to the Arizona Wildcats in the championship series in Omaha. Still, though, the conference scored a big victory with the addition of Texas A&M, who provides immediate strength to the conference.

Last year we saw Arkansas rise to national contention as well as push the Gamecocks to the brink of College World Series elimination.  We saw Mississippi State conquer the conference to win a NCAA berth by virtue of winning it all in Hoover.

But that’s not to say that the conference didn’t have its fair share of disappointments last year. Auburn failed to find a NCAA seed in the postseason, LSU lost in a home Super Regional by virtue of two losses to cinderella Stony Brook, Alabama got rolled in conference play, and Ole Miss missed out on baseball after the SEC tournament.

With 2012 behind us, 2013 offers some promise for the SEC as a whole, and it looks to be competitive. Now we take a look at the SEC West, give a preview of all of the teams in the division, and offer our predictions or the final standings.

 

Alabama Crimson Tide

(21-34, 9-21) in 2012

Coach Mitch Gaspard’s squad has plenty of room for improvement after the down year they saw in 2012, and youthful enthusiasm may play a large role for the Crimson Tide this time around. Alabama has 17 freshmen on the roster (compared to seven seniors), so much of the expectations for the Tide is simply guess work.

Freshmen Kyle Overstreet and Mikey White are projected to start up the middle in the infield for Bama, so growing pains may be an issue for the Tide who overall anticipate starting either four or five underclassmen any given day, depending on who starts on the bump.

 

No. 1 Arkansas Razorbacks

(46-22, 16-14); CWS Appearance in 2012

Could it be time for college baseball to Call the Hogs? Dave Van Horn’s club opens as the national favorite in several polls after making it to Omaha last season, but they were bounced in the semifinal round by the South Carolina Gamecocks. This time around, they have to break in four new position players, but enough veteran leadership should be enough to power the Razorbacks back to where they left off.

Arkansas boasts two of the top pitchers in the conference in Ryan Stanek and Colby Suggs, who are both draft-eligible at the end of this season. Van Horn also returns some of the top hitters in the SEC, with Dominic Ficociello and outfielder Joe Serrano returning. All in all, the ceiling on this Hog team is endless.

 

Auburn Tigers

(31-28, 13-17) in 2012

The Auburn Tigers’ 2012 season ended when they got bounced from the SEC tournament, but that doesn’t mean 2013 looks bleak on the plains by any stretch. Auburn returns a team deep with talent and strong in experience, and they appear poised to return to the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Expect big seasons out of outfielders Ryan Tella and Cullen Wacker, who posted unconscious .360 and .350 averages last season, respectively. The infield could be carried by shortstop Dan Glevenyak and third baseman Damek Tomscha. At the same time, the Tigers have no seniors projected to start on the bump on weekends, so offense will be at a premium for John Pawlowski’s team.

 

No. 3 LSU Tigers

(47-18, 19-11); Super Regional Appearance in 2012

LSU is coming back with a bitter taste in its mouth from the way 2012 ended, losing at home against cinderella Stony Brook  by dropping their final two games of the season by a combined 10-3. As is the case most years in Baton Rouge, LSU appears poised to return to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha with one of the most talented teams in the country.

Arguably the best hitter in the country, Raph Rhymes is poised to star again in the LSU lineup after posting a .431 average in 2012. Rhymes tallied 100 hits and 53 RBI last season, and he is joined by two of the top prospects on the team in JaCoby Jones and Ty Ross to round out a star-studded infield.  LSU also can lay claim to one of the best one-two punches in weekend starters in the country, marching out Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades to the mound on Friday and Saturday nights.

 

No. 16 Mississippi State Bulldogs

(40-24, 16-14); SEC Tournament Champions in 2012

The postseason didn’t last long for the Bulldogs last season. After winning the SEC Tournament to claim an automatic NCAA berth, MSU was shipped to the Tallahassee regional where the Bulldogs promptly dropped two of three games, both losses coming against mid-major Samford.

Adam Frazier highlights the returning players in Starkville, but the MSU team won a handful of awards over the summer. Wes Rea and Hunter Renfroe also are primed for big years, and they will have to come through if Mississippi State wishes to build on its success from last season. Kendall Graveman looks to keep rolling after a strong year last year which included two complete games in his team-leading 16 starts, with a 2.81 ERA and only one home run allowed.

 

No. 25 Ole Miss Rebels

(37-26, 14-16); Regional Appearance in 2012

There’s more to Ole Miss baseball than beer showers and solo cup mascot races. After a year of exclusion from the NCAA tournament, the Rebels returned to the postseason with a berth in the College Station regional last year.

With that said, the Rebs did lose some serious players since last year, but they make up for the losses with added and returning talent. Two weekend pitchers return in Bobby Wahl, one of the top pitchers in the SEC, and Mike Mayers. Outfielder Tanner Mathis is poised for another great season by The Grove, and closer Brett Huber also comes back for coach Mike Bianco’s squad, who looks to make a deeper run in the postseason this time around.

 

No. 24 Texas A&M Aggies

*(43-18, 16-8); Hosted a Regional in 2012

The Aggies are in uncharted territory for their largely successful baseball program in 2013 as they prepare to begin play in the Southeastern Conference. Texas A&M was booted from the Big 12 tournament last year by Missouri (who also joins the SEC this year), and they failed to advance through a home regional in postseason play.

Texas A&M remains deep in talent, though, and looks to contend immediately with SEC powers. Ross Stripling, Ryan Wacha and Tyler Naquin were all taken in the first round last year, but the team returns their fair share of talent. Junior Rafael Pineda may step up as the Friday night man for the Aggies after an impressive 5-1 showing in 15 starts in 2012, posting a 2.71 ERA along the way. Offensively, look for the Aggies to be led by senior Mikey Reynolds, who batted .306 last year.

*Record includes Big 12 conference record.

 

CBD SEC West Prediction

1. Arkansas

2. LSU

3. Mississippi State

4. Texas A&M

5. Ole Miss

6. Auburn

7. Alabama