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January 21, 2006
HOW THEY'LL FINISH
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface
Projected NCAA Teams (9): Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
C—J.P. Arencibia, So., Tennessee (.322-14-71). 1B—Matt LaPorta, Jr., Florida (.328-*26-*79). 2B—Adam Davis, Jr., Florida (.306-12-63, 24 SB). 3B—Chris Coghlan, Jr., Mississippi (.364-6-57). SS—Zack Cozart, So., Mississippi (.281-9-46). OF—Julio Borbon, So., Tennessee (.350-3-42); Michael Campbell, Sr., South Carolina (.315-8-42); Joseph Hunter, Sr., Mississippi State (.348-1-31). DH—John Shelby, Jr., Kentucky (.344-10-52, 23 SB). P—James Adkins, So., Tennessee (10-5, 3.32, 127 IP/135 SO); Wade LeBlanc, Jr., Alabama (5-5, 4.09, 88 IP/108 SO); David Price, So., Vanderbilt (2-4, 2.86, 69 IP/92 SO). RP—Sean Watson, Jr., Tennessee (7-3, 2.85, 8 SV, 79 IP/82 SO).
Player of the Year: Matt LaPorta, 1b/3b, Florida.
Top Newcomers: 1. Justin Bristow, ss, Auburn. 2. Reese Havens, ss, South Carolina (Fr., 29th round/Rockies ‘05). 3. Justin Smoak, 1b, South Carolina (Fr., 16th round/Athletics ‘05). 4. Josh Lindblom, rhp, Tennessee (Fr., 3rd round/Astros ‘05). 5. Pedro Alvarez, 3b, Vanderbilt (Fr., 14th round/Red Sox ‘05).
PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006 Draft
1. Matt LaPorta, 1b/3b, Florida.
PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2007 Draft
1. David Price, lhp, Vanderbilt.
Best Pure Hitter—Chris Coghlan, Mississippi. Best Raw Power—Matt
LaPorta, Florida. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Chris Coghlan,
Mississippi; Brian Jeroloman, Florida. Best Athlete—John Shelby,
Kentucky. Fastest Runner—Julio Borbon, Tennessee. Best Baserunner—Adam
• The SEC earned a record-tying nine NCAA tournament bids for the second year in a row in 2005, and the third time in conference history. It’s projected to have nine again this year.
• While there are no new coaches in the SEC this year, Mississippi State’s Ron Polk seeks to become the eighth coach in Division I history to top the 1,300-win mark. Polk, who turned 62 on Jan. 12, has a career mark of 1,275-512 in 32 seasons, 26 at Mississippi State. Despite a 13-16 conference record in 2005, Polk led the Bulldogs to their first conference title in 16 years by going undefeated in the SEC tournament. This year’s team returns almost intact. “This will be one of my most experienced teams since I have been at Mississippi State,” Polk said, “with every position player starter returning except Brad Corley (.316-5-40 and a second-round pick of the Pirates).”
• Tennessee extended the contract of coach Rod Delmonico through the 2010 season after Delmonico led the Volunteers to their third College World Series trip in 16 years in 2005. Delmonico’s son, Tony, will step in at shortstop this year after accelerating his academic calendar at Knoxville’s Farragut High, graduating a year early and forgoing the draft last June.
• The younger Delmonico will be one of five freshmen scheduled to start at shortstop in the SEC this spring. The others are Georgia’s Gordon Beckham, Auburn’s Justin Bristow, Vanderbilt’s Ryan Flaherty and South Carolina’s Reese Havens. All have impressive credentials. Beckham led the East Cobb (Ga.) Yankees to the 2005 Connie Mack World Series crown and was named the event’s MVP; Bristow was a projected first-round pick in last year’s draft before sliding to the 22nd round when teams determined he was unsignable; Flaherty led his Portland, Maine, team to the 2004 American Legion World Series crown; and Havens turned down a reported bonus of $1.35 million from the Red Sox to honor his scholarship to South Carolina.
• Mississippi State will also have a first-year starter at shortstop in senior Thomas Berkery (.302-7-55), who will be playing his fourth different position in four years. He has previously started for the Bulldogs at catcher, third base and second base. He was drafted by the Rangers in the 46th round last June.
• Alabama will be without the services this season of Cale Iorg, one of the nation’s top freshmen shortstops a year ago. Iorg, the son of ex-major leaguer Garth Iorg and younger brother of former Tennessee OF Eli Iorg, a supplemental first-round pick of the Astros in the 2005 draft, is on a Mormon mission. He is one of six regulars the Tide must replace.
• RHP Josh Lindblom, the highest unsigned pick from last year’s draft attending a four-year college, has the unenviable task of replacing Tennessee All-American RHP Luke Hochevar, who tied for the national lead with 15 wins and was second in the country with 154 strikeouts. Hochevar remained unsigned after being drafted by the Dodgers with a supplemental first-round pick but did not return to school. Lindblom, a third-round pick of the Astros, has been penciled into the Tennessee rotation behind sophomore LHP James Adkins, who went 10-5, 3.32 with 135 strikeouts in 127 innings in 2005.
• Mississippi also has a pair of promising freshman arms in RHPs Cody Satterwhite, who is a scheduled weekend starter, and Lance Lynn, who has been thrust into the closer’s role. Satterwhite slid to the 37th round of the draft after being viewed as a possible first-rounder while Lynn, who went 16-0, 0.71 with 180 strikeouts in 99 innings for undefeated Brownsburg (Ind.) High, went in the sixth round to the Mariners.
• Vanderbilt’s 2006 recruiting class was ranked best in the nation by Baseball America, and the Commodores will start three freshmen: Flaherty at short, Pedro Alvarez at third base and Diallo Fon in left field. Auburn also will start two freshmen on the left side of its infield, with Bristow at shortstop and fellow Virginia high school product Mike Bianucci at third. Bianucci auditioned for his role by hitting .347-12-31 during the summer for Reston of the Clark Griffith League. He was the only high school player to rank among that league’s top 10 prospects.
• Mississippi’s strength is the left side of its infield with the return of junior 3B Chris Coghlan (.364-6-57) and sophomore SS Zack Cozart (.281-9-46). Coghlan is the SEC’s top returning hitter and won the Cape Cod League batting title in 2005. “He is the best hitter I have ever coached,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “His defense is also outstanding.”
• Louisiana State, which won five College World Series between 1991 and 2000, has won only one SEC title since 1997—in 2003. The Tigers are hoping for bounce-back years from C Matt Liuzza, who hit .328-9-45 in 2004 but slumped to .251-3-24 a year ago, and 3B Will Harris, who slumped to .213-4-20 in 2005 after hitting .329-7-39 a year earlier. They are also counting on more production from OF Quinn Stewart (.250-3-13) after he led the Alaska League last summer in home runs and RBIs. The three seniors will be joined in the starting lineup by three freshmen: 2B Jason Ogata, the top high school player in Oregon; OF Jarred Bogany, a 15th-round draft pick of the Pirates; and DH J.T. Wise, son of Sonny Wise, the longtime coach at national prep power Apopka (Fla.) High. “Combining the young guys with our veteran players provides a nice blend of youth and experience,” Tigers coach Smoke Laval said. “We’ll be exciting to watch. You’ll see more running from us this season than in the past.” While junior LHP Clay Dirks (10-4, 3.24) returns as the team’s ace, the second and third spots in the rotation are expected to go to sophomore RHP Michael Bonura (4-0, 4.46 in 2004) and junior LHP Daniel Forrer, both medical redshirts a year ago.
• Florida 1B Matt LaPorta, who led the nation with 26 home runs last year as a sophomore, earned all 12 votes of the SEC coaches for having the best power in the conference in BA’s best tools survey. LaPorta, who enrolled at Florida as a catcher, played exclusively at third base during the fall and might see some time there as a junior.
• 2B Warner Jones, who led the nation with 111 hits while batting .414-11-74 as an All-American sophomore second baseman for Vanderbilt in 2004, played most of his junior season with ligament and cartilage damage in his left wrist and slipped to .290-6-35. He won't play as a senior.
• While Alabama junior LHP Wade LeBlanc (5-5, 4.09) hopes to rebound to his Freshman of the Year form of 2004, when he went 8-4, 2.08, the Tide won’t be able to count on another promising junior lefthander, Brandon Belcher, who went 5-0, 4.37 in 2005. Belcher had Tommy John surgery and will miss the 2006 season on the mound though will take a regular turn in left field, where he hit .219-0-3. Junior RHP Bernard Robert, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana who went 9-4 and led the Southland Conference with a 2.43 ERA, replaces Belcher in the rotation. Robert also pitched the championship game during the summer as the Maryland Orioles won the 2005 All-American Amateur Baseball Association championship in Johnstown, Pa., for the third straight year.
• South Carolina's freshman class boasts the state's 2-A high school player of the year in Havens, the 3-A player of the year in LHP Will Atwood and the 4-A player of the year in 1B Justin Smoak. Smoak and Havens will start as freshmen while Atwood will play a secondary role on a pitching staff led by sophomore RHP Wynn Pelzer (1-2, 4.34), a possible first-round pick in 2007, and junior LHPs Arik Hempy (2-1, 2.63) and Forrest Beverly (1-0, 4.50), who were both drafted last June despite being limited to 51 innings between them because of injuries.
• After spending most of his first two seasons at Kentucky in the outfield, John Shelby (.344-10-52) will move to second base full-time as a junior. He’s the son of former major league outfielder John Shelby, now a coach with the Red Sox.
• RHP Charley Boyce, who finished in double digits in` both wins (11) and losses (10) for Arkansas a year ago, returns to the Razorbacks rotation after having a bone spur on his elbow shaved down. Sophomore RHP Lee Land (1-2, 4.07) also should be at full strength for the Razorbacks in his second season after having Tommy John surgery. Land was drafted in the 13th round by the Pirates out of a North Carolina high school in 2003. The ace of the Arkansas rotation, however, will be sophomore LHP Nick Schmidt, who earned a Team USA invitation last summer after going 8-2, 2.80 as a Freshman All-American.