2015 Conference Previews: SEC
SEC Projected Order Of Finish* Ranking by D1Baseball.com indicated in parenthesis, Bold indicates postseason team, and records are from 2014.
|(5) South Carolina||18-12||44-18|
|(17) Texas A&M||14-16||36-26|
|(18) Ole Miss||19-11||48-21|
Projected Regional Teams (10): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.
Player of the Year: Dansby Swanson, ss, Vanderbilt
Pitcher of the Year: Walker Buehler, rhp, Vanderbilt
Freshman of the Year: Tate Blackman, 2b, Ole Miss
• For in-depth reports on the top eight teams in the league, be sure to check out our Top 25 Breakdowns of No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 2 Florida, No. 5 South Carolina, No. 9 LSU, No. 17 Texas A&M, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 20 Alabama and No. 25 Tennessee.
• Arkansas certainly has some holes to fill entering the 2015 campaign, but this team has a great deal of potential to be a College World Series club by the end of the season. As their young talent matures, the Razorbacks should only get better as the season progresses. Friday starter RHP Trey Killian is an exciting arm who has a good frame and good feel for his fastball and slider. Killian continues to improve his changeup as well. Another high-quality arm, RHP Zach Jackson, will occupy the No. 2 role in the weekend rotation, and is another power arm with projection. No. 3 starter RHP Dominic Taccolini is a physical guy with a good arm who could be primed to take a massive step forward if his command improves. Offensively, this Arkansas club has a chance to make some noise, but it’s not a certainty. This is an athletic lineup, which includes what’s expected to be one of the nation’s elite freshmen in DH/OF Luke Bonfield. Bonfield showed premium power at the Futures Collegiate League last summer, and the Hogs feel he could be a major impact bat from day one. The Hogs also are excited about athletic and vastly improved OF Andrew Benintendi, while there’s some real veteran and experienced leadership in this lineup with the return of fellow outfielders Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano. Neither Spoon nor Serrano will overwhelm opposing teams with their bats, but both are athletic and will have mature approaches . . . In a bit of bad news, the Hogs will be without impressive freshman C Nathan Rodriguez. Rodriguez was expected to make major contributions this season. However, he has since been declared ineligible and will miss the entire 2015 campaign after showing well at the California Collegiate League last summer.
OTHER PROJECTED REGIONAL TEAMS
• Mississippi State, like Arkansas, is another SEC team we could see in Omaha if all the stars align just right. The Bulldogs have the personnel needed to get there, but some less proven players will need to rise to the occasion in big roles. RHP Austin Sexton raised some eyebrows last summer and could be the next premium arm for John Cohen’s club. Sexton sat anywhere from 89-93 at the Great Lakes Collegiate League last summer and has a lot of upside. In addition to a good breaking ball and quality curveball, Sexton shows an advanced feel for his changeup. Fellow righty Preston Brown likely will serve as the Friday starter for the Bulldogs, and sits upper 80s, touching 90, with his fastball. But for Brown, the key is his combination of the slider and changeup to accompany his often-sinking fastball. Crafty LHP Lucas Laster earned some important innings in big situations last season and will be a quality Sunday starter, while the Bulldogs have a terrific duo in the bullpen in LHP Ross Mitchell and RHP Trevor Fitts. Mitchell isn’t an overpowering arm, but has a good trio of pitches, a deceptive, funky low-slot delivery, and the ability to attack hitters in multiple ways. Fitts will sit 88-90 mph with his fastball, along with a low-80s slider and upper 70s curveball. The veteran righty will also utilize a changeup at times. Freshman RHP Jesse McCord has a premium arm, getting up to 93 at times with his fastball, while MSU could get a nice midseason boost from RHP Paul Young. Young was drafted in 2013 by the Indians, and will be returning this season from an injury. The righty could be a surprise arm with a fastball that has been clocked up to 94 in the past. Offensively, C Gavin Collins is expected to have another productive campaign, while a big key to the offense is the potential re-emergence of 1B Wes Rea. Rea showed well two years ago during MSU’s run to the CWS Finals, but struggled mightily last season with a .245 batting average. Rea has good raw power, but is a streaky hitter, thus it’s imperative he get off to a fast start. MSU also has high hopes for Reid Humphreys, a premier talent who has good pop in his bat and finished second on the team in hitting in the fall with a .340 average.
THE REST OF THE PACK
• It wouldn’t be ultra surprising to see Auburn put together a good campaign, and get into the NCAA postseason mix in May. The Tigers were in the hunt at one point last season, but were unable to close the deal over the final few weeks of the spring. This team, though, has some real potential, especially on the mound, where it has a trio of starters with real upside in RHP Keegan Thompson, RHP Trey Wingenter and RHP Kevin Davis. Thompson is a two-way talent for the Tigers, serving as a hitter and high-quality starting pitcher. Thompson throws on a downward plane and has good pitchability, while Davis has a low-to-mid 90s type of arm, and is a good candidate to explode this spring. The 6-foot-7 Wingenter made some mechanical adjustments in the fall that helped his stuff take a step forward—he ran his fastball up to 93-94 mph and flashed a good slider and solid changeup. AU also has a quality reliever in RHP Rocky McCord, who possesses a power arm along with a good curveball and slider. The Tigers will be athletic from an offensive standpoint. AU welcomes back consistent corner outfielder Jordan Ebert, who batted .353 last season, while fellow outfielders Sam Gillikin and Anfernee Grier are premium athletes with good speed and intriguing pop, who must be more consistent at the plate . . . The Tigers essentially had what turned out to be a coaching swap during the offseason when assistant coach Scott Foxhall was let go, only to be replaced by Tom Holliday, who was the pitching coach at N.C. State. Ironically, the Wolfpack countered by adding Foxhall to their coaching staff.
• Georgia has been looking for an opportunity to take that big step forward in the Scott Stricklin era, and perhaps this is it. The Bulldogs leave a lot to be desired from an offensive standpoint with few proven returnees. However, look for a big season from sophomore OF Stephen Wrenn. Wrenn, who hit .254 last season, is an athletic outfielder with well-above-average speed, who also showed good gap power during fall workouts. Juco transfers Trevor Kieboom (3B) and Nick King (SS) will occupy the left side of the infield, with Kieboom being a solid defender with power, and King being an athletic player with potential. On the mound, sophomore RHP Robert Tyler is one of the nation’s premier arms with a massive frame and fastball in the mid-90s, while the bar is high for returning RHP Sean McLaughlin, who only appeared in 9 2/3 innings of work last season because of an injury. Closer Jared Cheek is another quality arm to watch. Cheek shined last summer and carried that success into fall workouts. He showcased an electric slider during the fall, and could very well emerge as a strong, consistent bullpen anchor for Stricklin’s club. LHP Jared Walsh is another key returnee. Walsh was injured last season and had very limited action, but is expected to log important innings with a clean bill of health. Meanwhile, utility player Heath Holder will miss the season because of an elbow injury. He saw action, as limited as it was, at first base, pitcher and the outfield last season.
• Kentucky is yet another SEC team that at least has the potential to surprise. The Wildcats, for starters, obviously lost an elite player in two-way star and 2014 consensus national player of the year A.J. Reed, so replacing him seems difficult. However, the offense has some potential with the return of some key cogs, including 2B JaVon Shelby, OF Ka’ai Tom, OF Kyle Barrett and OF Storm Wilson, while physical and talented first baseman Thomas Bernal made a smooth transition from first to third base during fall workouts. On the mound, RHP Robert Zeigler, who only threw 4 1/3 innings last season, is expected to log more innings this year, while UK has one of the nation’s premier arms in RHP Kyle Cody leading the weekend rotation. Cody still needs to refine his stuff a bit, but has a terrific arm. He will sit anywhere from 92-96 mph with his fastball, while also possessing a low-80s slider and mid-80s changeup. Senior RHP Spencer Jack is a hard-nosed, experienced arm to have at the back end of the bullpen, while the Wildcats have one of the more intriguing young arms to watch in Canadian RHP Zach Pop. Pop, who has a good frame, was ranked No. 2 in Canada out of high school, and was drafted in the 23rd round by the Blue Jays. Pop has a quality arm and can get up to 93 mph at times with his fastball, along with a low-80s slider as his best breaking ball option.
• Missouri has been lying in the weeds waiting to make a move in the Southeastern Conference. Finally, could this be the year? Time will tell, but there are some pieces in place that indicate this team could be dangerous. For instance, the Tigers will have one of the SEC’s better young arms in RHP Tanner Houck, who turned down some significant overtures from the Blue Jays in the draft to attend college. Houck showed an uptick in velocity during the fall, getting up to 93-94, along with some deception in his delivery, while Jr. RHP Alec Rash, who has a fastball into the mid-90s, finally appears ready to take a big step forward. Rash threw just 17 2/3 innings last season, but finally appears to be healthy and ready to be in the weekend rotation. Closer and RHP Breckin Williams is another potential mid-90s option for Tim Jamieson’s club. Offensively, SS Shane Benes continues to recover from an ACL injury that sidelined him in high school last year, but the Tigers are confident in his abilities once he’s able to return, perhaps at the midseason mark. Meanwhile, juco transfer and expected DH Chris Akmon could be a key offensive cog to watch. Akmon is a good hitter with some pop in his bat.
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