SEC Baseball 2010 Preview – Western Division

February 15, 2010
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National Champ LSU And Arkansas Look For CWS Returns

2009 Eastern Division Champion:  Florida

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2009 Western Division Champion:  LSU & Ole Miss Tied with 20-10 records

2009 SEC Tournament Champion:  LSU

Banner Year:  Teams outside the SEC often complain the conference gets too much respect when it comes to NCAA Tournament bids, but the SEC lived-up to its lofty status last year.  Eight SEC teams received NCAA bids in 2009, with half of them, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida, and Arkansas, advancing to at least a Super Regional.  Arkansas and LSU both made it to Omaha, while the Tigers winning the 2009 National Championship.

Big Crowds:  The SEC drew a record of nearly 1.9 million fans to its on-campus ballparks in 2009, the fourth year in a row to draw over 1.6 million. Seven SEC teams drew in excess of 100,000 fans to their parks in 2009. The SEC averaged a record 4,689 fans per game in 2009, the third straight year to exceed the 4,000 mark.

2010 SEC Western Division Preview

Alabama

2009 Record:  (37-21, 18-11)

Mascot:  Crimson Tide

Head Coach: Mitch Gaspard

Location:  Tuscaloosa, AL

Vitals:  .330 BA, 107 HR, 60 SB, .415 OBP, .971 Fld%…5.13 ERA, 4 CG, 11 SV, 487 K, 182 BB, .277 opp. BA

New Head CoachMitch Gaspard took the reigns of the Alabama program after long time skipper Jim Wells

Ross Wilson (ESPN.com)

retired last summer.  Gaspard served two stints as an assistant to Wells, including the last two seasons as Alabama’s recruiting coordinator.  He was the head coach at Northwestern State from 2002-2007.  Prior to that he helped Wells take Alabama to the College World Series three times as a Crimson Tide assistant.

Solid Returns:  Preseason All-American 2B Ross Wilson (.353, 9 HR, 57 RBIs) is one of four returning players who started at least 49 games last year.  Senior Jake Smith (.359, 18 HR, 54 RBIs), Freshman All-American Taylor Dugas (.352, 13 SB) and Josh Rutledge (.305) are back as well, as is Clay Jones (.331, 7 HR, 39 RBIs), who started just 35 games last year.  The biggest loss to the line-up is OF Kent Matthes (.358, 28 HR, 81 RBIs), who tied for the NCAA home run lead.

Pitching Questions:  Alabama loses starters Austin Hyatt (8-3, 3.76 ERA) and Del Howell (5-3, 6.33 ERA).  Those two combined to make 26 starts & tossed three of the staff’s four complete games.  With nine starts last year soph. LHP Adam Morgan (4-2, 4.17 ERA) is the team’s most experience returning starter.  Redshirt soph. reliever Tyler White (1-0, 2.28 ERA, 2 SV) and Jr. Nathan Kilcrease (4-4, 4.11 ERA, 2 SV) are among the top returning relievers.

Arkansas

2009 Record:  (41-24, 14-15)

Mascot:  Razorbacks

Head Coach:  Dave Van Horn

Location:  Fayetteville, AR

Vitals:  .273 BA, 80 HR, 67 SB, .368 OBP, .968 Fld%…4.67 ERA, 1 CG, 16 SV, 511 K, 245 BB, .267 opp. BA

Andy Wilkins

All-American Trio:  Juniors Brett Eibner (.231, 12 HR, 54 RBIs) & Andy Wilkins (.319, 19 HR, 58 RBIs) and sophomore Zach Cox (.266, 13 HR, 39 RBIs) have all received preseason All-American recognition.  Arkansas, LSU and Texas are the only three schools in the country to have three players receive All-American recognition.  Cox was a Freshman All-American last year as well.

Two-Way DuoEibner and Cox are pitchers as well.  Eibner (5-5, 5.00 ERA) tied a team-high with 17 starts last year with the staff’s only complete game.  Cox (5-1, 4.82 ERA, SV) mad all 14 of his appearances out of the bullpen.

Plenty More Pitching:  Senior Mike Bolsinger (6-4, 2.99 ERA, 2SV) is among the top returning pitchers to the Razorback staff.  He picked-up the only save at last year’s College World Series.  Drew Smyly (3-1, 4.66 ERA, 14 starts).  Dallas Keuchel (9-3, 3.92 ERA) and Stephen Richards (6-2, 2.19 ERA, 9 SV) are the biggest staff losses

Auburn

2009 Record:  (31-25, 11-19)

Mascot:  Tigers

Head Coach:  John Pawlowski

Location:  Auburn, AL

Vitals:  .286 BA, 103 HR, 40 SB, .381 OBP, .969 Fld%…6.12 ERA, 0 CG, 12 SV, 411 K, 228 BB, .321 opp. BA

Notable Drought:  Since going to the NCAA Tournament five times from 2000-2005 Auburn has missed the tourney the last four years.

Mound Presence:  Junior LHP Grant Dayton (2-6, 5.92 ERA) and soph. Jon Luke Jacobs (3-4, 5.74 ERA) are back to lead the weekend rotation.  They are expected to be joined by 6’7 lefty Cole Nelson, a junior college transfer who was drafted in the 48th round by Tampa Bay last year.  Austin Hubbard (3-3, 4.20 ERA, 12 SV) and Bradley Hendrix (7-3, 5.09 ERA) are back to lead the bullpen.  Hendrix’s 7 wins led the staff as did his 24 relief appearances.  Another juco transfer, Stephen Kohlscheen, helped lead Cowley College to last year’s Junior College World Series.

A Lot In The Line-Up:  Auburn returns seven of its top nine hitters from 2009.  Justin Hargett led the Tigers in average (.330) and on-base percentage (.426).  He’s joined by Brian Fletcher (.301, 17 HR, 54 RBIs), Casey McElroy (.286, 7 HR), Hunter Morris (.282, 12 HR), and Tony Caldwell (.281, 9 HR).

No Mummey…For Now:  Auburn recently announced that centerfielder Trent Mummey (.289, 15 HR) will miss at least a month with a severely sprained right ankle.  Mummey had 17 of Auburn’s 40 stolen bases last year.  He was also named to the SEC All-Defensive Team.   Junior college transfer Justin Fradejas will fill-in until he returns.

Desert Challenge:  The Tigers go to Tempe, AZ for a 3-game series with Arizona State March 12-14.

LSU

2009 Record:  (56-17, 20-10)

Mascot:  Tigers

Head Coach:  Paul Mainieri

Location:  Baton Rouge, LA

Vitals:  .315 BA, 107 HR, 114 SB, .405 OBP, .974 Fld%…4.02 ERA, 679 K, 186 BB, .257 opp. BA

Anthony Ranaudo (ESPN.com photo)

LSU Line-Up Losses:  The Tigers lose four of their top five batters from last year’s National Championship team.  D.J. LeMahieu (.350, 12 SB), Ryan Schimpf (.336, 22 HR, 70 RBIs, 18 SB), Sean Ochinko (.333, 9 HR), and Jared Mitchell (.327, 11 HR, 36 SB) are all gone.

Top Bats Back:  LSU still returns the like of Sr. Blake Dean (.328, 17 HR, 71 RBIs), Tyler Hanover (.321), SEC Tournament MVP Mikie Mahtook (.316, 7 HR), Leon Landry (.300, 12 HR), and slick fielding Austin Nola, who didn’t join the starting line-up until LSU’s 40th game of the season last year.  He did not commit an error at shortstop in 24 chances at the College World Series.

On The Hill:  While they lose top overall pitcher Louis Coleman (14-2, 2.93 ERA, 142 K), the Tigers return several top notch pitchers to carry the load.  The group is led by junior Anthony Ranaudo (12-3, 3.04, 159 K).  He’s joined by Austin Ross (6-8, 5.18 ERA), soph.closer Matty Ott (4-2, 2.68 ERA, 16 SV), Daniel Bradshaw (4-0, 3.04 ERA), Paul Bertuccini (2-0, 3.86 ERA, 3 SV), and Chris Matulis (6-2, 4.82 ERA).

On The Bayou:  LSU plays its first 21 games of the season in Louisiana.  The only road game is at Northwestern State in Natchitoches.

Mississippi

2009 Record:  (44-20-, 20-10)

Mascot:  Rebels

Head Coach:  Mike Bianco

Location:  Oxford, MS

Vitals:  .310 BA, 56 HR, 92 SB, .398 OBP, .970 Fld%…4.06 ERA, 4 CG, 17 SV, 623 K, 189 BB, .271 opp. BA

Dealing With Draft Losses:  After setting a school record with 20 wins in SEC play Ole Miss had 11 players drafted last year, including five underclassmen who signed pro contracts.  Jordan Henry (.343, 38 SB), Logan Power (.311, 7 HR, 20 doubles) and Kyle Henson (.338, 8 HR) are the top losses in the line-up.   Scott Bittle (5-2, 2.17 ERA), Phillip Irwin (8-3, 3.84 ERA), Brett Bukvich (9-3, 4.42 ERA), and Nathan Baker (4-3, 3.63 ERA) are all gone from the pitching staff.

Matt Smith (secsports.com)

Bats That Are Back:  The good news for the Rebles is three players shared the team lead with 8 home runs, and two of those players, Matt Smith (.336, 8 HR, 59 RBIs) and Matt Snyder (.298, 8 HR, 31 RBIs) are back this year.  Smith was the team RBI leader.  Snyder and his twin brother, Mike, are expected to share the corner infield spots.  Tim Ferguson (.358, 18 SB) and Zac Miller (.341) are among other top returnees to the line-up.

Mound Returnees:  Junior LHP Drew Pomeranz (8-4, 3.40 ERA) will lead the weekend rotation.  Closer Jake Morgan (4-1, 3.46 ERA, 9 saves) suffered an injury in the off-season, so David Goforth (1-1, 2.80 ERA, 3 SV) is expected to move into that role.   Senior Rory McKean (5-1, 4.53 ERA) is among a handful of other experience relievers who return.

Welcome Back?:  The Rebels will host a 3-game series with reigning Big East Champion Louisville March 12-14.  The Cardinals are coached by former Ole Miss assistant Dan McDonnell and have been to Super Regionals in two of the last three seasons.

Mississippi State

2009 Record:  (25-29, 9-20)

Mascot:  Bulldogs

Head Coach:  John Cohen

Location:  Starkville, MS

Vitals:  .298 BA, 61 HR, 72 SB, .398 OBP, .968 Fld%…6.57 ERA, 5 CG, 12 SV, 365 K, 246 BB, .304 opp. BA

Dogs Absent:  Since making NCAA Tournament appearances from 2003-2007, including the ’07 CWS, Mississippi State has missed the last two NCAA Tourneys.  In fact, the Bulldogs have not been to the SEC tournament for the last two years either.

Big Dogs Back:  1B Connor Powers (.301, 19 HR, 63 RBIs) and DH Ryan Duffy (.339, 10 HR, 33 RBIs) were MSU’s top home runs hitters last year, and they’re both back to lead the offense.  Jet Butler (.335) and Russ Sneed (.333, 9 HR, 43 RBIs) return as well.  Leading hitter Scott DeLoach (.353) and Grant Hogue (.315, 29 SB) are the biggest offensive losses.

Hard Working Dogs:   Nick Routt (5-3, 4.15 ERA, 4 CG) and Tyler Whitney (3-4, 5.18 ERA, CG), who accounted for 24 of the staff’s 54 starts and all five complete games last year, are both back.   The Bulldogs lose saves leader Chad Crosswhite (6 SV, 7.38 ERA).  Routt is expected to lead the rotation, while Whitney could move to the closer role.  Lefty junior college transfer Trey Johnson and freshman Chris Stratton could factor in the weekend rotation.  Johnson hit 19 HR as a two-way player last year at Blinn (TX) CC.

Special Delivery:  For the second straight year Mississippi State players hand delivered tickets in neighborhoods throughout Starkville to local fans who ordered 2010 season tickets.  Head coach John Cohen started the program when he was the head coach at Kentucky.

2010 SEC Western Division Predictions

Top Western Division Player:  Andy Wilkins – Arkansas

Top Western Division Pitcher:  Anthony Ranaudo – LSU

Western Division Champion:  LSU

CLICK HERE to see the Eastern Division Preview & Predictions

2010 SEC Baseball Overall Predictions

SEC Player of the Year:  Preston Tucker – Florida

SEC Pitcher of the Year:  Anthony Ranaudo – LSU

Overall SEC Champion:  South Carolina

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