Preview: Auburn baseball 2020

Photo Credit: Steven Branscombe

In an interview right after Auburn was eliminated from the 2019 College World Series, coach Butch Thompson was already looking at his 2020 roster to make a strong push back to Omaha.

“This 2020 roster, its got to be one of the top five rosters ever assembled in our 100-plus years of Auburn baseball,” Thompson said.

This Auburn Tigers roster is headlined by its outfield and its bullpen. Both project to be near the top in the SEC, which has had teams win five out of the last 10 national championships.

Junior Tanner Burns is the pride of the bullpen, as he was voted to the Preseason Second Team All-SEC by the Southeastern conference earlier this year. Burns is returning from a sophomore season where he posted a 4-4 record and had a 2.82 ERA. He did battle injuries in the latter part of the season, however he still managed to strike out 101 batters. He became only the second player since 2000 to strike out 100 batters or more, joining former Tigers’ pitcher and former No. 1 overall pick Casey Mize.

Cody Greenhill, aka “The Bull,” was also named to the Preseason Second Team All-SEC. Greenhill had a team high 12 saves over 28 relief appearances. His 12 saves were tied for second in the SEC this past season.

One interesting thing about this Auburn team is the fact that they return seven starters in the field this season. That is something you normally don’t see in a team that just went to the College World Series the year before. The Tigers lose Edouard Julien at third base as well as Will Holland at shortstop. Both of them are currently in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Even with losing Julien and Holland, Auburn’s field players look to be near the top of the SEC.

Auburn’s third player to be named Preseason Second Team All-SEC is Rankin Woley. Woley, a senior first baseman, transferred in from Chattahoochee Valley Community College and made an impact right away. Woley lead the team with 17 doubles as well as ranking second in RBIs with 45. He also was second on the team with 71 hits. There is the chance that he could slide over to third base this season as that is a position of need with Julien departing.

The outfield is returning all three starters which is in large part why the Tigers have such high preseason rankings. Juniors Judd Ward and Steven Williams are joined by sophomore Kason Howell. Ward led the SEC last season with nine outfield assists while Williams is most remembered for his walk-off homer in the elimination game of the Atlanta regional against Georgia Tech. Williams was also second on the team with nine home runs this past season.

Howell had a great freshman campaign, as he posted a batting average of .262. He also was second on the team with 14 stolen bases on 16 attempts.

There is some talk that sophomore Ryan Bliss will move over to shortstop after Holland’s departure. Bliss started all 66 games at second base last season but has been called a natural shortstop, as that is what he played in high school. Bliss was second on the team with a .281 batting average while also ranking third for the team with 37 RBIs. He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team this past season.

While there is talk that Bliss will make the move to shortstop, many are looking to junior college transfer Garrett Farquhar to take that spot. Farquhar, a transfer from Shelton State, sparked Auburn’s offense in their scrimmage against Columbus State this past October. He went 2-2 with four RBIs, including a three-run homer to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning. If Bliss does transition to shortstop, Farquhar will definitely get a look at second base.

Senior Conor Davis will be back for Auburn as their DH. Last season, Davis started 62 games for the Tigers where he led the team with a .290 batting average, 73 hits, and 113 total bases. If Woley moves over to third base, expect Davis to get a look at first base this season. During his freshman year at Auburn, Davis started several games at first base and performed well.

Auburn opens the season with 23 straight home games. Coach Thompson will be using these games to round out his starting lineup and to see what his newcomers can do against live competition.

Overall, the Tiger’s 2020 roster has a wealth of veteran experience with a great mix of young talent. Look for Auburn to make a strong push not only in the SEC, but in their goal to return to the College World Series for the second year in a row.

Auburn starts their season off this Friday against the 2019 Horizon League champs, the University of Illinois-Chicago. The game starts at 5:00 PM at Plainsman Park in Auburn, Alabama.

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