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January 4, 2007
Last season Tom Slater brought in a very strong freshman class and played them. This year, those same players have experience to go with their talent. A solid offense and a pitching staff that is deeper than many realize has the Tigers primed as an SEC dark horse in 2007.
Auburn should have their best offensive club in several seasons thanks to a nice core of returning players. Sophomore Mike Biannuci (.359/8/31) moves to the outfield this year while Josh Donaldson (.276/10/42) is now a full-time catcher after a strong summer at the Cape. DH/OF Russell Dixon (.313/4/31), first baseman Andy Bennett (.287/6/48), and Luke Greinke (.286/1/17) are good offensive players. Newcomers to watch include freshman outfielder Ross Smith and infielders Robert Brooks and Joseph Sanders.
A weak spot last year is much improved. The sophomore trio of Evan Crawford (5-8/4.35), Bryan Woodall (1-4/5.44), and Paul Burnside (2-3/4.91) each took some lumps last year but return improved. A pair of pitchers who missed last season with injury, Cliff Mullins (2-2/3.55) and Josh Blake (2-3/7.24) are back. Brett Butts (3-6/6.40), Chris Dennis (3-7/6.36), and Johnny Thompson (1-1/2.95/2 svs) had key roles a year ago. Freshman Austin Hubbard will push for a starting spot as will last year's shortstop sophomore Justin Bristow. The two-way player Greinke (0-0/3.76/6 svs - another sophomore - will close.
The non-conference schedule is highlighted by a return trip from preseason Pac Ten favorite Arizona State and a three-game series against the Big Ten's Purdue. They also face Jacksonville, Michigan State, and South Alabama in a preseason tournament. Other non-SEC foes include Samford, Mercer, and Troy. In league play, Auburn hosts Florida, Ole Miss, Alabama, Arkansas, and Vanderbilt. They visit Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi State, and Kentucky.
Auburn looks like a much improved team on paper. They'll need to stay healthy but with Bianucci and Donaldson, theyn have their best offensive tandem since Gabe Gross and Todd Faulkner. The sophomore pitchers should poised and confident to go with their talent.
Strengths: Deep, experienced pitching staff; Solid heart of lineup
Weaknesses: Young middle infield; bottom of lineup
The Southeastern 64 is made up of teams from the following conferences: ACC, SEC, Conference USA, Sun Belt, Atlantic Sun, Colonial, Big South, Southern, Southland, Ohio Valley, MEAC, and SWAC. The following schools were also included due to their geographic location: South Florida, Louisville, Louisiana Tech, and Charlotte.