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SEC Baseball Preview 2014: Auburn Tries Someones Old and Someone New

Sunny Galloway embarks on his first season leading the Tigers after a lengthy drought of success for Auburn. Can they get to the NCAA postseason this year?

Kyle Laferriere-US PRESSWIRE

Preseason Rankings | Baseball America: NR; USA Today: NR

Last Season | The 2013 season was the latest in a long line of disappointments for Auburn, which has been to the NCAA tournament once since 2005. (You have to go back more than a decade, to 2002 and 2003, to find a stretch when the Tigers went to the national playoffs in back-to-back seasons.) Whatever hopes the Tigers had of making it to a regional ended with a one-and-done performance in Hoover. That meant the end of John Pawlowski's relatively unsuccessful tenure at Auburn and the beginning of the Sunny Galloway Era, which if nothing else gave Auburn fans a reason for hope. And given what happened with the football team this year, who knows?

Who's Gone in 2014 | Not much, but the players who are gone are still blows to the team. Garrett Cooper, whose .354/.481/.540 slash line easily led all Auburn batters with regular playing time last season, is gone -- as is Cullen Wacker, who was second or third in average, on-base percentage and slugging with a .320/.383/.420 season in 2013. Cooper also tied for the team lead in home runs with seven. The Tigers also lose Conner Kendrick, arguably the team's best pitcher with a 2.13 ERA over 80.1 innings. Kendrick had one pretty bizarre stat that skews things slightly: He allowed 19 earned runs but 34 runs in 2013, one of the widest splits I've ever seen in baseball. Not that he was alone in that. Tigers pitching allowed 56 unearned runs on the season, in part because of the 66 errors Auburn committed. While that number's not outrageous, it was enough to land Auburn at 11th in the SEC in fielding percentage. (Yes, I know fielding percentage is flawed, but there's not a lot of good sabermetric defensive info on college baseball.)

Who's Back in 2014 | A very experienced starting lineup. In fact, that might be the best hope for the Tigers this year. If Ryan Tella can bounce back from a disappointing 2013 and other returning starters like Damek Tomscha, who shared the team lead in home runs with Cooper, and Jordan Ebert keep up their production from last season, this could be an experienced and potentially potent team. Michael O'Neal, who recorded a 2.73 ERA over a team-leading 89.0 innings, and Terrance Dedrick, who rang up 10 saves, will anchor opposite sides of the pitching staff.

Prognosis | This is a hard team to pin down. Sometimes, experienced teams who had at least a mediocre season the year before can experience huge leaps in their record, and Auburn would fit into that category. And Galloway, who unsurprisingly sounds confident about his team, adds an extra wild card as a well-regarded coach in his first season on the Plains. The Tigers will almost certainly make the SEC tournament, given that the field remains at an absurd 12 teams, and have at least an outside chance of contending for the NCAA tournament as well.