BA breaks down the Southeastern Conference, including our projections for player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.
|Baseball Members (First Year): East—Florida (1933), Georgia (1933), Kentucky (1933), Missouri (2013), South Carolina (1992), Tennessee (1933), Vanderbilt (1933). West—Alabama (1933), Arkansas (1992), Auburn (1933), Louisiana State (1933), Mississippi (1933), Mississippi State (1933), Texas A&M (2013).|
|Checking out: None.|
|Team to Beat: Florida. The No. 1 team in the country is teeming with talent and is looking to win it’s first ever national championship coming off an SEC Tournament title and an appearance in the College World Series. The Gators will be fearsome on the weekends, with two Preseason All-Americans fronting their rotation and three more in their lineup.|
|Player of the Year: Nick Senzel, 3b, Tennessee. A consistent performer in the first two years of his career, Senzel broke out over the summer in the Cape Cod League. He won MVP honors after hitting .364/.418/.558 to lead the league in hits (56), OPS (.976), RBIs (33) and runs (34) while finishing second in batting. This spring, he will anchor the Volunteers lineup while moving to third base from second.|
|Pitcher of the Year: A.J. Puk , lhp, Florida. Puk has always had electric stuff, but he was able to harness it in the second half last season and helped push the Gators to Omaha. If the hard-throwing lefty is able to repeat that performance over a full season, he’ll likely be the first pick in the draft.|
|Freshman of the Year: Alonzo Jones, 2b, Vanderbilt. A broken hamate bone hampered Jones last spring at Columbus (Ga.) High, and ultimately helped push him to Vanderbilt. He was perhaps the fastest player in the draft last year and knows how to use it to impact the game. He has a chance to be a dynamic player in the Commodores’ deep lineup.|
|SEC BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter: Nick Senzel, Tennessee.
Best Raw Power: J.J. Schwarz, Florida.
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: JaVon Shelby, Kentucky.
Best Athlete: Buddy Reed, Florida.
Fastest Baserunner: Alonzo Jones, Vanderbilt.
Best Baserunner: Stephen Wrenn, Georgia.
Best Defensive Catcher: Mike Rivera, Florida.
Best Defensive 1B: Evan White, Kentucky.
Best Defensive 2B: Rick Nomura, Arkansas.
Best Defensive 3B: Will Toffey, Vanderbilt.
Best Defensive SS: Errol Robinson, Mississippi.
Infield/Best Arm: Ryan Howard, Missouri.
Best Defensive Outfielder: Buddy Reed, Florida.
Best Outfield Arm: Nick Banks, Texas A&M.
Best Fastball: Robert Tyler, Georgia.
Best Breaking Ball: Alex Lange, LSU.
Best Changeup: Logan Shore, Florida.
Best Control: Logan Shore, Florida.
|Top 25 Teams: (1) Florida, (3) Texas A&M, (8) Vanderbilt, (11) LSU, (20) Mississippi State, (24) Mississippi, (25) Kentucky.|
|Other Projected Regional Teams
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are coming off a College World Series appearance but will have to replace center fielder Andrew Benintendi, the Player of the Year. They’ll likely lean on their pitching staff, led by So. RHP Keaton McKinney and Jr. RHP Dominic Taccolini. Jr. RHP Zach Jackson could be the best reliever in the country or he could give the rotation even more firepower.
Auburn: It was a tumultous fall on the plains, as coach Sunny Golloway was fired by the university in October after allegedly committing several NCAA violations. Butch Thompson, a former Auburn assistant, was hired to take over the program and inherits a club that reached regionals last year. The new staff has had very little time to work with the team, but Much of last year’s team is back and could be dangerous.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks finished last season with a losing conference record and missed the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 1999. That only serves to ratchet up the pressure for this season, when much will be asked of talented young players, such as So. 1B Alex Destino and So. RHP Clarke Schmidt.
|Notable Storylines: After a year of playing off campus at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, Alabama will return to Sewell-Thomas Stadium this season following a major renovation of the facility. The stadium, which will seat 7,000 fans, will debut opening weekend when Alabama hosts Maryland for three games
…South Carolina ranked No. 14 in the recruiting rankings in the fall, but added an important newcomer in December when two-sport standout Brandon McIlwain decided to enroll in school for the spring semester. McIlwain is an elite quarterback recruit, as well as a dynamic outfielder and will play both sports for the Gamecocks.
|Tournament: 12 teams, May 24-29 at Hoover, Ala.|
|TOP 20 PROSPECTS FOR 2016 DRAFT
|1. A.J. Puk, lhp, Florida|
|2. Buddy Reed , of, Florida|
|3. Nick Senzel, 3b, Tennessee|
|4. Robert Tyler, rhp, Georgia|
|5. Bryan Reynolds, of, Vanderbilt|
|6. Logan Shore, rhp, Florida|
|7. Nick Banks, of, Texas A&M|
|8. Jordan Sheffield, rhp, Vanderbilt|
|9. Dakota Hudson, rhp, Mississippi State|
|10. Errol Robinson, ss, Mississippi|
|11. Zach Jackson, rhp, Arkansas|
|12. Jake Fraley, of, Louisiana State|
|13. Stephen Wrenn, of, Georgia|
|14. Kyle Cody, rhp, Kentucky|
|15. Jared Poche, lhp, Louisiana State|
|16. Zack Brown, rhp, Kentucky|
|17. Ben Bowden, lhp, Vanderbilt|
|18. Kyle Serrano, rhp, Tennessee|
|19. Dane Dunning, rhp, Florida|
|20. Wil Crowe, rhp, South Carolina|
|TOP 10 PROSPECTS FOR 2017 DRAFT
|1. Alex Lange, rhp, Louisiana State|
|2. J.J. Schwarz, c, Florida|
|3. Tanner Houck , rhp, Missouri|
|4. Jeren Kendall , of, Vanderbilt|
|5. Alex Faedo, rhp, Florida|
|6. Dalton Guthrie, ss, Florida|
|7. Clarke Schmidt, rhp, South Carolina|
|8. Kyle Wright, rhp, Vanderbilt|
|9. Bryce Montes de Oca, rhp, Missouri|
|10. Jake Latz , lhp, Louisiana State|