The 2021 season is going to be one with many uncertainties. Teams expect a number of different departures such as graduation or the draft. There are even signees that are not expected to make it to campus. However, 2020 was cut short by COVID-19 shutdowns and the draft was only 5 rounds instead of its customary 40-50. With that in mind, there are a lot of talent still in college baseball.
Auburn has the same delima. The Tigers lost Tanner Burns, Bailey Horn, Ryan Watson, Connor Davis, and Matt Scheffler. All were key contributors to the 2020 team and the 2019 run to Omaha. One would think that losing this much talent would create a depth problem, but that was the issue last year. This year the problem is an abundance of depth.
Auburn returns most of its position players with Judd Ward, Kason Howell, and Steven Williams in the outfield with Preseason All-SEC Rankin Woley, Preseason All-SEC Ryan Bliss and Brody Moore in the infield.
The pitching staff will look different as the biggest changes occurred there. Cody Greenhill, Auburn’s closer of the past two years, will get a shot at starting and most likely take the ball Fridays early in the season. Richard Fitts, the big 6’3 215lbs right hander, should get the start Saturday nights. Jack Owen, another returning starter, will begin the year on the bench as he is still recovering from a dislocated finger.
Some familiar faces like John Samuel Shenker, a Tight End on the football team, could get more playing time possibly starting at first base or designated hitter. Several non starters returning are Garrett Farquhar, Nate LaRue, Johnny Ceccoli, Brayton Brown, Seb Thomas, Carson Skipper, and Garrett Wade.
A player to pay attention to this season for the Auburn Tigers is Cam Hill. He’s a 6’3 210lb freshman who is the first two-way player at Auburn in a long time. As a pitcher, Cam is mid 90’s from the left side and as a hitter he’s had an exit velo no less than 100mph.
A dark horse player to be excited about is Josh Hall. Josh is the nation’s leading high school stolen base leader with 224 in his career. He set the single season record with 81 as a sophomore, then broke that record as a senior with 82. He may not start, but he will most likely get in late to pinch run. He may be the reason for multiple wins just because of his base running skills.
According to Auburn Head Coach, Butch Thompson, there could be several different lineups during the preconference schedule. One such line up could be this.
- Judd Ward LF
- Ryan Bliss SS
- Cam Hill 1B/DH
- Rankin Woley 3B
- Steven Williams RF
- John Samuel Shenker 1B/DH
- Brody Moore 2B
- Nate LaRue C
- Kason Howell CF
SEC coaches pick Auburn to finish 6th in the West and 11th overall. This projection along with others putting AU at 25 is a motivating force for Thompson and the Tigers. He often tells them that everyone thinks they aren’t good enough; an us vs the world attitude. He gives them several projections and throws in an over the top ranking just to get the team to a fever pitch.
The 2021 season is less than a week away and the SEC will have a normal 56 game schedule. Auburn will have 30 conference and 26 non conference games with 35 at home, 18 away and 3 at a neutral site. Auburn will begin by hosting a three game series with Presbyterian en route to opening the season with 13 games in 16 days.
Auburn’s SEC schedule will include home series with Kentucky, #7 MSU, #1 Florida, LSU and Texas A&M. They have road conference series with #6 Ole Miss, #7 Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia and Missouri. Auburn avoids #4 Vanderbilt, #18 South Carolina and #24 Tennessee all who are ranked in the Southern Slams preseason poll.
Highlights of the non conference schedule include a midweek at #14 Georgia Tech and #25 Oklahoma at the Round Rock Classic. The home and home midweek games versus Samford are always a challenge.
Overall this season will be filled with unknowns as the Tigers navigate the 2021 season in hopes of returning to Omaha for unconventional back-to-back appearances.