After over seven months of waiting, college baseball is finally back! First pitch on Opening Day at Plainsman Park is set for 5:00 against Longwood and Auburn has a lot of positives to take from last year when they were one win away from going to a super regional for the first time since 1999. This team is clearly on an upward trend under Head Coach Butch Thompson, who is entering his third season as the Tigers skipper.
One bright spot from last year was the current Tigers ace, Junior Casey Mize. After a less than stellar freshman season, Mize burst on to the scene posting an 8-2 record with a 2.04 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) for the Tigers in 2017. After the season Mize was awarded second team All-American Honors by Rawlings and his 109 strikeouts was good enough for third in the SEC and the most from an Auburn pitcher since Brent Schoening and Chris Bootcheck in 1999. The Tigers right hander has a strong fastball that tops out at 96 mph, a nice upper-80’s splitter, and occasionally breaks out a low 80’s curveball.
Mize will be asked to lead a staff that will also consist of sophomore Davis Daniel and true freshman Tanner Burns. Davis Daniel finished his freshman season in 2017 with a 4-3 record and a tough 5.89 ERA in 17 games (16 starts). Daniel shows a lot of potential with a mid to high 90’s fastball, but needs to continue to develop the rest of his arsenal to pitch off his fastball. With his freshman season under his belt, 2018 could potentially be Daniel’s breakout year. After Daniel in the rotation is true freshman Tanner Burns from Decatur High School in Decatur, Alabama. In high school, Burns showcased a fastball that tops at around 96 mph with very impressive breaking stuff including a slider, a very hard curveball, and occasionally a changeup. The transition from high school to college baseball is never an easy one, but Burns has the ability to be a productive starter this season that will only continue to develop.
The batting order for Auburn will be looking a little different this season after losing seven position players to either graduation or the 2017 MLB Draft, but there are still some players that can build on a strong 2017 at the plate. Senior infielder Jay Estes will be looking to build on a strong season last year where he finished with a .276 batting average, 29 RBI, and a team best 19 doubles. Estes will likely move toward the three or four spot in the lineup this season where Auburn hopes to see more clutch hitting and increased productivity from him. Senior third baseman Josh Anthony had a great year in the field and batted a respectable .266 at the plate with 39 RBI. Anthony is a very athletic player with a tremendous arm at third. Hopefully Anthony’s power stroke will come around this season and he can become a more consistent hitter.
A big hurdle that Auburn will need to overcome this season is the loss of many of their core players from last season including the team’s ace Keegan Thompson (7-4, 2.41 ERA), RBI leader Daniel Robert (42), batting average leader Jonah Todd (.376), and closer Cole Lipscomb. Head Coach Butch Thompson has shown how good he is at developing young talent and that his team can be extremely competitive in the SEC. Friday’s game will be the beginning of a new chapter for Auburn Baseball, and the future is very bright for Coach Thompson’s Tigers in 2018.