Coming off the first NCAA Tournament appearance in five seasons, Auburn is looking for help in all areas, but that is especially true at the plate. After hitting just 18 home runs last season as a team, the Tigers are hoping to get hard-hitting infield Niko Buentello through the draft and into Auburn this fall, but it may not be without some anxious moments.
A 6-3, 225 left-handed hitter for Grayson County College in Texas, Buentello originally signed with Golloway and Oklahoma out of high school and played his freshman season with the Sooners before seeking a fresh start. Hitting .276 in 2014 with two home runs and nine doubles in 123 at-bats, Buentello had no problems adjusting to life in junior college this past year.
Playing in 49 games in 2015, Buentello hit .394 with 10 home runs, 66 RBI and 19 doubles. That not only got Golloway excited about bringing in a big bat, it also got pro scouts on his case to check out his progress as well. While that could make things interesting, Buentello said at the moment his heart is set on Auburn and playing for Golloway.
“I’m really looking forward to getting up there and producing for Auburn next year,” Buentello said. “Coach Golloway recruited me out of high school and I really clicked with Coach. Unfortunately it didn’t work out so I could play for him my freshman year and he contacted me when I got to Grayson in the fall. I knew it would be a good fit. I felt like it would be a good fit the first time around and I’m looking forward to finally getting to play for him.”
Unable to visit Auburn for a football game last fall because of a car accident, Buentello said he made a trip to the Plains during basketball season and “fell in love with the place.” That love and the chance to play in the SEC is something he said will make it difficult for him to turn down if and when pro baseball comes calling this week in the draft.
“The SEC is the best baseball in the country,” Buentello said. “The Big 12 is a real talented league, too, but it has nothing on the SEC. Just being able to play in the SEC alone makes passing up pro baseball and waiting for another year or two that much easier.
“Because I had such a good year and the resume I had at Oklahoma, I have talked to probably seven or eight teams about it,” he added. “But, my number would be pretty high just because of the opportunity I have for next year. It’s really hard to pass that up. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play in the SEC.”
Here are Auburn's signees and current players who are most likely to be selected in the draft that starts on Monday night and runs through Wednesday.
Grayson Jones, 6-1, 185, RHP, Shelton State--Drafted in the 14th round last year after going 5-2 as a freshman for Shelton State, Jones is ranked fifth in Alabama by Baseball America and No. 284 nationally heading into this year’s draft. With a ton of potential and a power arm, he could be a player to keep an eye on during this year’s selection.
Gabe Klobosits, 6-6, 275, RHP, Galveston College (Tex.)--Perhaps Auburn’s biggest worry in this year’s draft other than Jones, Klobosits was taken in the 25th round last year by the Boston Red Sox after going 8-0 in 16 appearances as a freshman with an ERA of 0.85. Adding a 6-0 record this season with an ERA of 1.65, Klobosits could see his name called even earlier this time around.
Ben Braymer, 6-1, LHP 9-1, 2.57 ERA--He set the school record with 138 strikeouts (13.12 per 9 IP) to help LSU-Eunice to national championship. While he’s got huge numbers, Braymer is rated as the No. 25 player in Louisiana and if that number holds it should be good news for Auburn.
Daniel Sprinkle, 6-4, 245, RHP, Arkansas--Also a tight end prospect who turned down a chance to walk on at Arkansas, Sprinkle is a power arm who is rated as the No. 3 player in Arkansas this year and 262nd overall by Baseball America. With several workouts this spring and some growing interest, it’s a matter of when he’s selected not if.
Casey Mize, 6-3, 175, RHP, Springville--With a fastball in the low 90’s, Mize is a player who should hear his name called at some point during the draft. Just how early that happens is anyone’s guess, but he’s ranked as the No. 9 draft prospect in Alabama this year by Baseball America.
Jesse Scott, LHP, Cullman--He is ranked the No. 25 prospect by Baseball America in Alabama, but could see a boost in his draft status following a huge senior season. Going 14-1 with an ERA of just 1.05, Scott set a state record with 33 consecutive scoreless innings as a senior and won all five opening round playoff games for the Bearcats. He finished the season with 119 strikeouts.
Jack McPherson, 5-11, 190, C, Mountain Brook--A very good defensive catcher, McPherson is ranked as the No. 22 prospect in Alabama by Baseball America. He could be a late round selection, but is expected to be at Auburn in the fall.
Yomar Valentin, 5-7, 165, INF, Puerto Rico--The son of former major leaguer Jose Valentin, he’s a talented middle infielder with a strong glove. Ranked the No. 3 Carribbean prospect by Baseball America and 330th overall, he is very likely to get drafted because of the family connections, but without much power it probably won’t be early enough to keep him from attending Auburn.
Trey Wingenter, Junior RHP--Ranked the No. 7 prospect in Alabama for this year’s draft, Wingenter struggled at times out of the bullpen this season, finishing with a 1-6 record and an ERA of 4.28. Drafted in the 36th round coming out of Bob Jones High School, Wingenter’s velocity and upside make him a guy some pro scouts will likely take a chance on early.
Justin Camp, Junior RHP--Ranked as the No. 14 prospect in Alabama, Camp had a solid year in his second season back from Tommy John surgery. Finishing this season with a 2-1 record, eight saves and a 2.33 ERA, Camp held opponents to a .229 batting average. With the ability to also be a starter, Camp should get a shot to play professionally and may not be back next season if the money from the pros is right.
Cole Lipscomb, RS Soph RHP--Also coming back from Tommy John surgery, Lipscomb had a huge season for the Tigers after making just two short appearances a year ago. Earning Auburn’s Friday night starting role, Lipscomb went 8-2 with a 2.53 ERA in 12 starts to earn All-SEC honors. He struck out 91 and walked just 24 in 92 2/3 innings, showing he has the ability to be an everyday starter. Lipscomb could be a wildcard selection in this year’s draft if a team's executives try to offer enough to sign him away from his final two years with the Tigers.
Cody Nulph, Junior SS--The No. 27 prospect in Alabama according to Baseball America, Nulph makes up for a lack of pop in his bat with a very solid glove in the middle infield. Throw in a strong arm and you have a player that could be intriguing to teams later in the draft. He hit .258 this year with three home runs, but was second on the team with 33 RBI. He could be a late round selection.