The Auburn Tigers are coming off a season which most Auburn fans would unilaterally consider to be a disappointment. Indeed, the team managed a 31-25 record overall, but most of those wins came against a relatively soft non-conference schedule. Once SEC play began, and the caliber of opponent ramped up accordingly, the team struggled mightily. Indeed, in conference play, Auburn only managed a record of 11-19, good only for 10th overall within the conference.
One of the biggest reasons for the struggles that Auburn faced last season was the youth of its pitching staff. In fact, while the offense was among the better ones in the SEC in terms of run production, the pitching staff was erratic and inexperienced in coach John Pawlowski's first season. However, with one more season of development under its belt, this pitching staff should be more than capable to hold its own this season.
Key Departing Players:
Despite the poor 2009 showing out of the team, there is some reason for optimism entering 2010. One of the most significant causes for optimism is the fact that nearly every key player from the 2009 season is returning this time around. However, there are some players who will not be back. The two most valuable members of last years squad who will not be returning, at least from an offensive standpoint, are outfielder Ben Jones (.274 batting average, 10 home runs, 50 runs batted in) and third baseman Joseph Sanders (.320 batting average, 19 home runs, 55 runs batted in).
Among the pitching staff, the only player that will be gone from last year's team is right hander Paul Burnside. However, he was not a significant factor last season, and should be easily made up for by he returnees.
Key Returning Players:
Virtually the entire 2009 Auburn roster will be returning to compete in 2010 with the exception of the players noted above. Among the most significant members of the team returning this year is second baseman Justin Hargett, who batted .330 last season behind 4 home runs and 31 runs batted in, outfielder Brian Fletcher, who batted .301, hit 17 home runs, and knocked in 54 runs, and speedy centerfielder Trent Mummey, who batted .289, hit 15 home runs, and drove in 42. He also stole 17 bases in 20 attempts.
As discussed above, virtually the entire pitching staff from last year is returning. And while they were not terribly successful in 2009, there is reason to believe that another year of maturity and development may be just what these young hurlers need. Indeed, many do have the raw skills that would seem to indicate a big year may be on the horizon, perhaps as quickly as this season. Right hander Austin Hubbard looks to have significant potential. Last year he was among the better performers on the staff with a 3-3 record and a 4.20 ERA. Hubbard also had 12 saves as he emerged as the closer for the team. Lefthander Sean Ray may potentially be the gem of this pitching staff. He was 2-0 with a 1.59 ERA for the Tigers last year, and is expected to be a valuable component of this years team.
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