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Auburn's baseball freshmen make strong impression

Sept. 27, 2013

Freshman Keegan Thompson will pitch and hit for Auburn's baseball team next season

By Phillip Marshall

AUBURN, Ala. - With fall practice in full swing, first-year head coach Sunny Golloway still has questions. But he also has some answers.

"We want to be able to establish all our defensive positions," Golloway said. "We want to establish who is the best bunter off the bench, who is the best baserunner off the bench, who are our best right-handed and left-handed pinch hitters. We want to establish when we need to utilize our specialty people. And then we want to know who should be in the starting rotation, who should set up and who should close."

How the pitching staff will stack up is already coming into focus.

Freshman Keegan Thompson, a high school All-American at Cullman and one of the nation's top prospects, already has been penciled in as a weekend starter. He will also likely play first base or be a designated hitter.

"Keegan is going to have to swing it for us," Thompson said. "He's going to have to play first or DH. He's definitely going to be on the mound on the weekends. He's just too talented."

Senior left-hander Michael O'Neal, 8-4 with a 2.73 ERA last season, also is likely to be in the starting rotation. Senior Terrance Dedrick, 4-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 10 saves last season, will likely be the closer for the second consecutive season. Junior Trey Cochran-Gill, 1-1 with a 3.02 ERA last season, is the top contender to be the setup man.

Golloway mentioned junior right-hander Rocky McCord, sophomore right-hander Justin Camp and junior left-hander Daniel Koger as strong candidates for the third spot in the weekend rotation.

Golloway said pitching coach Scott Foxhall, who he retained from former coach John Pawlowski's staff, told him that Camp would surprise him. And he was right.

"He's been throwing the ball awfully well," Golloway said.

Even with 11 seniors on the roster, Golloway said the freshmen, most recruited by Foxhall, have gotten his attention in a big way.

He said Jeff Shafer from Auburn High School and Anfernee Grier from Russell County High School in Phoenix City have made major bids for playing time. Shafer arrived as an outfielder. Grier has been moved to the outfield. Even behind senior Blake Austin, Blake Logan of Muscle Shoals High School, has been a standout.

"Really talented," Golloway said. "Shafer can push bunt, he can drag. He's really stood out. He can fly. Moving Grier to the outfield and taking some of the pressure off him, he's really become electric for us, stealing bases and hitting. Blake Logan has made Blake Austin better. I want to be able to catch him on an SEC weekend. Logan has to keep coming for us."

Golloway said Connor Short of Tallassee, Brett Binning of Danville, Calif., and Daniel Robert of Briarwood Christian in Hoover are contending for infield positions.

"They are all very talented," Golloway said.

More from Golloway:

On overall progress in preseason practice

"Our guys are still learning. The thing I am most concerned about is our baseball IQ, understanding the game and being able to take care of the baseball. ... Overall, I'm really proud of how they've been open. They've been like sponges wanting to learn. It's been good so far."

On senior shortstop Dan Glevenyak

"I think Glevenyak has done a really good job of taking care of the baseball. We are trying to teach him positioning, footwork and just being a leader. I've been proud of him. I know in the past he's had some miscues. When you've been a two-year starter and you come back and nothing is guaranteed, I think there is added pressure. I like the way he has led. He has stood out."

On sophomore Jordan Ebert, the leading returning hitter

"We've moved Ebert from second to left field, back to second. We are still trying to figure out where he fits. That will depend on whether one of those young guys can play second for us."

On players' response to changes

"They are mentally tough. They are not afraid to learn. When they make mistakes, they bounce right back. We are trying to teach them some correct habits of how we play catch every day, how we shuffle our feet in drills. You don't have to keep reminding them. They've done a good job of buying in. It's not a lot different than what I heard Coach Gus (Malzahn) talking about in football. He's proud of the way guys have bought in."


Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for Follow Marshall on Twitter:




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