■ I participated in a Q&A exchange with the manager of PlainsmanParkingLot, an Auburn Baseball blog. You can see my answers to his questions at that site sometime this week. Here are his answers to pretty much the same questions:
1. What should Mizzou fans know about Auburn baseball?Auburn takes its baseball pretty seriously. It will be pretty obvious for fans coming down to Plainsman Park this weekend. We've built that stadium into one of the tops in the nation. A little backstory on the Park. It takes its design from three of the most famous Major League Parks: Fenway (Green Monster) Camden Yards (The Green Chairbacks) and Wrigley Field (Brick Backstop). One of the biggest gripes is that we've missed out on the SEC baseball tournament for the past 6 years; so we've got the gorgeous stadium with an inferior product. If you're one of the bottom 4 teams in your league then changes have to be made, and they were. Coach John Palowski is in his second season, and you can already see progress. We've gone from a masher and whiffer team last year, to a more small ball oriented team. Our biggest weakness is our pitching. We had one of the worst ERAs in the SEC last year (probably the nation too) and we've tried to improve our arms with some JUCO guys like Cole Nelson and Stephen Kohlscheen, who had fantastic debuts last Sunday.2. Who are some players to look for?Probably our biggest name is Hunter Morris. Preseason All American at 1B. He's slimmed down by about 20 lbs and it shows on the field. Great pop, great power, and probably playing his last season at Auburn. He turned down the Red Sox coming out of High School (one of the highest drafted Red Sox EVER to turn them down). Creede Simpson is another guy. Probably a pleasant surprise to be honest. Simpson is a hometown guy who's returned after a JUCO stint and in 3 games has morphed into a clutch hitter.3. Historically, who are some famous players from Auburn?Funny you should ask that because fans going to the game Saturday will get to meet some of Auburn's biggest baseball Alumni. Auburn will be unveiling their inagural Wall of Fame and the four players honored (Tim Hudson, Frank Thomas, Bo Jackson, and Gregg Olson) will all be on hand to participate in the ceremony prior to the Mizzou/AU game (http://auburntigers.cstv.com/sports/m-basebl/spec-rel/021610aac.html). Some other MLB guys are Gabe Gross, Mark Bellhorn, and Chris Bootcheck.4. What's the outlook for the team this year?Going in we had high expectations. A ton of returning starters, a full year under Palowski, and an added confidence and do or die attitude. Now, after some injuries, and a season opening loss to SEMO, we're kind of tempering those expectations a bit.5. What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses for this team?Offensively we should still be fine. We still managed to average 8 runs a game this past weekend, despite only hitting 2 HRs. Our pitching staff is the biggest question mark. Sunday was good, but our starts Friday and Saturday left a lot to be desired
6. What will qualify as a successful season for Auburn?We have to make it to the SEC this year. Anything less will be considered a disappointment. It doesn't seem like much of the writers and coaches are giving us a chance though. That's the most pressing issue. We make the SEC then we'll make an NCAA Regional. Simple as that. Considering that the majority of our team next year will be drafted or graduating, it's almost now or never.7. You've had some injuries to key playres just before the season. How will this impact the team?The injuries are already being felt because we don't have an stability at SS and CF right now. Creede Simpson has been doing a good job in CF in place of Trent Mummey, but he doesn't have the jump that Mummey has. Justin Bryant has been filling in for Casey McElroy at SS. He made huge strides from Saturday to Sunday so that's a huge positive. Another huge positive will be the possibility of Casey McElroy (a guy who started every game for the Tigers last year) could return this weekend. The injuries led to knew faces at new positions, which led to a new problem for the Tigers: Errors. For some reason this first weekend we were very Error prone. Something that was unlike Auburn last year. Definitely something that has to be fixed before the games this weekend.
■ Morris trimmed down, fired up for baseball season (AuburnUndercover.com)
Morris’ signing class was rated among the nation’s best, but so far, they’ve been unable to get the Tigers into postseason play. They’ll try again in John Pawlowski’s second season as coach. “It’s huge for this university and for this baseball program,” Morris said. “The people of Auburn deserve a lot more than what we’ve given them. For us as a group coming in, there obviously was a lot of expectations, a lot of talent.■ There's another Tiger Baseball Blogspot site out there: Plainsman Parking Lot, a blog devoted to Auburn Tigers Baseball. Our two blogs will be trading Q&As about our respective teams sometime this week.
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There has been a major improvement, Morris says, in pitching depth, a major problem last season. “The guys who were here last year did a great job,” Morris said. “They competed and we did the most with what we had. The biggest thing I can see is the depth in the bullpen, the ability to not have to leave a starter out longer than he needs to be there. That has been a big problem for the two years I’ve been here.”
SNAKE BIT The Tigers will go into the 2010 season already in a hole. Two key players, Trent Mummey and Casey McElroy are lost and their return in unknown (Mummey at least has been rumored to return for start of SEC play). Just how key are McElroy and Mummey?
■ There's an impressive Wikipedia article on Florida Atlantic Baseball. Someone put in some time on it.
■ Check out the Florida Atlantic blog at Sunsentinel.com. Also the same writer has a good season preview on the Baseball Owls.
“It’s all about pitching,” has been his mantra, and that is not a bad way to go. And he is also looking for players who come from winning programs, whether that be in high school or community college.
■ Boston College took 2 of 3 from Tulane in the opening weekend.