2020 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 13 Auburn
Last season: 38-28 (14-16 in SEC); reached College World Series.
Final ranking: No. 9.
Coach (record at school): Butch Thompson (141-110, four years).
The good news: Auburn last year broke through for its first College World Series appearance since 1997 with a magical run through the Atlanta Regional and Chapel Hill Super Regional. Almost everyone from that team returns next year, including the 1-2 punch atop the rotation of righthander Tanner Burns and lefthander Jack Owen, closer Cody Greenhill and seven regulars in the lineup. Auburn has taken a step forward every year under Thompson, rising to national prominence. With an older, experienced team in 2020, expectations for Auburn are even higher.
The bad news: The Tigers only lost two regulars from last year’s lineup, but they were two important players in shortstop Will Holland and third baseman Edouard Julien. The pair last year was inconsistent offensively, but their dynamism and ability to change the game in one swing will be missed. With Holland and Julien in pro ball, the Tigers will have a new left side of the infield. Sophomore Ryan Bliss will move from second base to shortstop, where his athleticism will play well. Third base is less settled, with both sophomore Brody Moore and first baseman Rankin Woley as options for the hot corner. Replacing the 43 extra-base hits that Holland and Julien provided last year will be important for the Tigers and the whole team will likely have to step up in that regard.
Player to know: Tanner Burns, RHP.
Burns has been a fixture in the Auburn rotation since he stepped on campus and gives the Tigers a bone fide ace on Friday nights. He is, however, entering his junior year with some question marks after he was banged up down the stretch last season and threw just 5.2 innings during the NCAA Tournament. He’s fully healthy now and Auburn believes poor hydration was the root of his discomfort late last year. When he’s on, there are few pitchers in the country better than him thanks to his mid-90s fastball and hard slider. He may also be able to find another gear this spring under the direction of new pitching coach Tim Hudson, whose own game resembled Burns in some respects.
Path to Omaha: Auburn last year went on a magical run to the College World Series, stunning Georgia Tech in the Atlanta Regional and then toppling North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This year’s Tigers shouldn’t need that kind of run to get back to Omaha, particularly if they can avoid the injury big that last year hit the pitching staff and impacted Burns, Owen and Greenhill. If that trio stays healthy, Auburn should be better positioned going into the NCAA Tournament and won’t need to again be road warriors. The offense needs to find more consistency, but with an older, more experienced group, Auburn should be ready for the rigors of the SEC West and anything the NCAA Tournament throws at it.
2020 College Baseball Top 25 Chat (2/17/20)
Our first Top 25 chat of the season has plenty to focus on, including an impressive start to the season by Michigan, Ole Miss and more.
|C||Matt Scheffler, Sr.||.260||.331||.342||2||28||219|
|1B||Rankin Woley, Sr.||.277||.336||.387||3||45||256|
|2B||Garrett Farquhar, Jr.||Transfer -- Shelton State (Ala.) JC|
|3B||Brody Moore, So.||.333||.379||.444||0||4||27|
|SS||Ryan Bliss, So.||.281||.367||.369||3||37||249|
|LF||Judd Ward, Jr.||.272||.377||.393||5||34||257|
|CF||Kason Howell, So.||.262||.340||.307||0||28||225|
|RF||Steven Williams, Jr.||.247||.355||.413||9||36||235|
|DH||Conor Davis, Sr.||.290||.351||.448||8||36||252|
|RHP||Tanner Burns, Jr.||4||4||2.82||80||101||0|
|LHP||Jack Owen, Jr.||4||2||2.75||69||59||0|
|LHP||Bailey Horn, Jr.||4||2||5.97||38||31||0|
|RP||Brooks Fuller, So.||2||2||4.50||44||36||2|
|RP||Cody Greenhill, Jr.||2||3||3.45||57||44||12|