Bigger Cooper Excited About Fall Baseball

Auburn first baseman Garrett Cooper talks about the fall practices for the Tigers, getting bigger and stronger, newcomers and much more.

Auburn, Ala.—Coming off a 31-28 season that saw the Tigers' run end at the SEC Tournament in Hoover with a loss to South Carolina, the Auburn baseball team entered fall practice with plenty of experience returning in some key spots.

Veterans such as Garrett Cooper, Ryan Tella, Dan Glevenyak, Cullen Wacker and Blake Austin are back for the Tigers to form a formidable offensive group for coach John Pawlowski.

Hitting .324 last season in his first year at Auburn out of junior college, Cooper is one of the leaders on this year's team. After a season of learning what the SEC is all about on the diamond, Cooper said this fall has been good for the team to see what newcomers will be able to help the Tigers next spring.

"We just started fall practice a few weeks ago so all these scrimmages are to see what the freshmen and juco guys can bring," Cooper said. "It's been real nice. We've got some pitchers coming in that throw over 90. We didn't have much of that last year.

"It's fun to get back out there," he said. W"e've been in the weight room three or four days a week in the morning and that helps build team bonding."

A solid defensive player at first base last season, Cooper went into the offseason with the goal of becoming bigger and stronger for his senior year. Now checking it at 6-6, 235 pounds, Cooper said he feels more explosive at the plate and is excited to be the run producer the team needs in 2013.

"I had about four or five scouts tell me that to play first base on the next level you need to be bigger than I was," Cooper said. "I worked hard this summer. I took it off after my oblique injury last season. I spent five or six days a week in the gym with our strength coach and it helped.

"I have put on about 17 or 18 pounds in about three and a half months," he noted. "It's nice to add more strength and power to my game after only hitting five home runs last year."

Garrett Cooper is bigger and stronger this fall

Returning the top four hitters from last season, Auburn's offense should be a strength of the team, but without Derek Varnadore, Slade Smith, Jon Luke Jacobs and Justin Bryant, the pitching staff will need plenty of newcomers to step up this season. Cooper said newcomers such as junior college pitchers Conner Kendrick and Michael O'Neal as well as high school pitchers Trey Wingenter and Rock Rucker have shown the ability to help out immediately this season.

Rock Rucker has swung the bat well in the fall and could also help some on the mound for the Tigers.

Even with that help the success of this year's team will ultimately come down to how well the veterans play and how much leadership they can display. Facing a tough schedule in the best college baseball league in the country, Cooper said he's just excited to see what the future holds for this team.

"All you can ask for is to have veterans back with that leadership," Cooper said. "There are only a few spots left open. Creede (Simpson), Gonzo (Jay Gonzalez) and Zach Alvord aren't back so there are three spots. The rest of the guys have been here. Everyone knows each other and have played together. That's really nice.

"You're expected to win playing in this conference and after last year finishing down the line, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth," he added. "It's tough watching SEC teams and Pac 12 teams going to the championship and you're sitting at home. It's good to be back for my senior season because I want to hopefully make a Super Regional and the College World Series."

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