Auburn baseball opens fall practices today at Plainsman Park, beginning the process of integrating the #6 recruiting class in the nation with a team that's coming off it's third trip to Omaha in the last four seasons. The Tigers set a high-water mark with eight selections in 2022's MLB Draft, so there's plenty of playing time available on head coach Butch Thompson's squad.
(new players denoted in italics, returning starters in bold)
Starter: Nate LaRue, senior
Depth: Ike Irish, freshman; Carter Wright, junior, Ryan Dyal, redshirt junior, Ben Schorr, redshirt sophomore
Auburn returns catcher Nate LaRue, who seized the starting role in midseason and turned down overtures from MLB teams to return to Auburn for his senior season. Batting .211/.272/.382 on the season, LaRue's become famous for his howitzer of a right arm behind the plate, earning him the nickname "Laser LaRue" after catching 12 attempted base-stealers in 2022. Behind him is top 100 recruit Ike Irish, seen as one of the top defensive catchers in the 2022 prep class with good athleticism and a smooth lefty swing. He'll be a candidate for midweek starts and DH ABs on the weekend. Transfer Carter Wright is seen as a solid defender behind the plate. Ryan Dyal has returning experience at both catcher and left field, but his arm is considered a liability by some behind the plate.
Starter: Cole Foster, junior
Competing/depth: Caden Green, junior; Brody Moss, sophomore; Brody Wortham, grad; Gavin Miller, freshman; Cam Hill, junior; Cooper McMurray, redshirt sophomore; Wesley Helms; redshirt freshman; Ty Maudlin, junior; Rom Kellis, freshman; Bryson Ware, senior
Auburn returns only switch-hitter Cole Foster, expected to move from 2B to SS, from last year's squad - the other three infielders were all drafted by MLB teams (1B Sonny DiChiara, Los Angeles Angels - Round 5; 3B Blake Rambusch, Seattle Mariners - Round 15; SS Brody Moore - St. Louis Cardinals, Round 17). Foster is expected to move to SS and there's going to be battles to decide who surrounds him around the diamond: McMurray, a 6'3 258lb transfer from Kansas, appears to fill Auburn's Sonny DiChiara role as an hulking first baseman with tons of power - no word on if he has a walkup song as nice as "Che La Luna" - with Brody Wortham (West Georgia) challenging for 1st or 2nd. Competing with Wortham will be Caden Green (Seminole State), a 3rd Team JuCo All-American in 2022 that is viewed by evaluators as a solid defender with a good righthanded swing. Outfielder Bryson Ware also figures into the mix at 3B, with experience at the hot corner earlier in his career, as does newcomer Ty Maudlin (Snead State). Freshman Gavin Miller is a candidate for early playing time, as well, as he's a good athlete with projetable power.
Starters: Kason Howell, fifth year; Bobby Pierce, senior
Competing/depth: Chris Stanfield, freshman; Justin Kirby, grad; Josh Hall, redshirt senior; Mike Bello, sophomore; Alex Wade, freshman; Bryson Ware, senior
Kason Howell returns for a fifth year as Auburn's centerfielder, looking to get on his horse and extend his streak of 113 consecutive starts in center. Flanking him will be senior Bobby Pierce, who recovered from surgeries on both knees to make 38 starts for Auburn in 2022 and came in second on the team in both home runs (10) and slugging (.562), with a cannon of an arm to boot. The third spot is the most prominent position battle of fall ball, between incoming transfer Justin Kirby (Kent State) and highly-touted freshman sensation Chris Stanfield, the Top-100 recruit who spurned overtures from MLB to come to Auburn. Kirby played primarily right field at Kent State, while Stanfield's blazing speed allows him to be a plus defender anywhere in the outfield and has solid bat-to-ball skills, but needs to add power to his 6'1 frame. Look for the veteran Kirby to have the early edge on this competition. Hall, who suffered a season-ending injury vs LSU, and Bello bring experience to the competition, having started 6 and 27 games in 2022, respectively. Bryson Ware, primarily a defensive specialist, is a depth option both here and at third base, if needed.
Rotation: Joseph Gonzalez, junior; Tommy Sheehan; sixth year
Competing/depth - Left-handed pitchers: Zach Crotchfelt, freshman; Will Turner, freshman; Tanner Bauman, junior; Jackson Hilton, freshman; Tommy Vail, sixth year; Drew Nelson, freshman; Konner Copeland, senior
Competing/depth - Right-handed pitchers: Trevor Horne, redshirt freshman; Caleb Pittman, freshman; Parker Carlson, sophomore; Elliott Bray, freshman; Christian Herberholz, redshirt junior; Carson Swilling, junior; Will Cannon, sophomore; Ben Bosse, sophomore; John Armstrong, sophomore; Chase Isbell, senior; Ryan Olson, freshman; Chase Allsup, sophomore; Cameron Keshock, freshman; Jordan Armstrong, fifth year; Hayden Murphy, freshman
Auburn sent three of their top four starters to MLB after the season, with Mason Barnett (Kansas City Royals, Round 3), Trace Bright (Baltimore Orioles, Round 5) and Hayden Mullins (Boston Red Sox, Round 12) all getting their named called. Auburn's top two relievers, Blake Burkhalter (Atlanta Braves, Round 2 - Compensatory) and Carson Skipper (Colorado Rockies, Round 11) were also drafted. To reload the rotation, Auburn's welcoming back Notre Dame transfer Tommy Sheehan for a 2nd year on The Plains and mining for transfer gold, with newcomers Tanner Bauman (St. John's River State) and Christian Herberholz (Southern Union) competing with internal options Jordan Armstrong, Konner Copeland, and others for the 3rd starter role and midweek work.
Tommy Vail (TCU), a former teammate of Sheehan's at Notre Dame, and Will Cannon (NW Florida State) look to join a bullpen in flux after losing their top two options in Burkhalter and Skipper. Chase Isbell, Chase Allsup, and John Armstrong all look to be key pitchers in the back-end of the rotation, with Isbell the early favorite for the closing role as we enter fall camp.
Something to watch for: Thompson likes to give freshman pitchers chances early, with freshmen John Armstrong, Garrett Wade, and Cade Granzow all getting early innings in 2022's week one action at the State Farm College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, TX - fall ball is where you earn those opportunities.
Auburn baseball begins fall practice on Wednesday, September 22nd at Plainsman Park. Auburn will play two scrimmages, open and free to the public, against Louisiana Tech on Saturday, October 15th and against Alabama on Friday, October 28th.
Stay tuned to Auburn Daily for full coverage of Auburn baseball through fall practice as we prepare for the 2023 season!
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