Auburn, Ala.--This Friday afternoon the Auburn Tigers will hit the diamond for a game for the first time under new Coach Butch Thompson at Plainsman Park. Taking on Sacramento State in the first of three games at Plainsman Park, Auburn has plenty of returning experience and depth in the field and at the plate, but on the mound it’s a much different story.
Losing guys like Rocky McCord and Trey Wingenter to professional baseball, top pitcher Keegan Thompson along with Kevin Davis because of surgeries, and top reserve Dalton Rentz because of a violation of team rules, there is precious little experience on the mound for Auburn heading into the 2016 season.
The guy that will get the ball on opening day is redshirt junior Cole Lipscomb. Making two appearances as a redshirt freshman after coming back from Tommy John surgery, Lipscomb came up huge last season with a record of 8-2 a year ago with an ERA of just 2.53 in 92 ? innings. His starting experience in big games makes him a guy the Tigers will be counting on early in the season, but with other quality arms pushing for time on the mound nothing is set in stone.
A fifth-year senior, Justin Camp also returns after spending time as Auburn’s closer a year ago and finishing the year with a 2-1 record, an ERA of just 2.33, and earning eight saves. While those numbers were good, Camp is a player that has the ability to start games as well and that’s where he starts the season as Auburn’s Saturday starter..
The biggest pitcher on the staff and likely one of the biggest in the country, 6-7, 260 Gabe Klobosits is the final starter to open the season for Auburn. Shut down in the fall to rest a tired arm, Klobosits has been impressive in preseason practices and has the type of stuff to be a Friday night starter for the Tigers. Coming to Auburn from Katy, exas, Klobosits was 15-2 the last two seasons at Galveston College and was picked in the 25th round by the Boston Red Sox following his freshman season.
“With Lipscomb, Camp and Klobosits we’re not asking them to strike out guys,” Thompson said. “We’re asking them to get us started and view the game as nine on one and be down in the zone and throw strikes and get us off to a good start. We want them to roll the lineup a couple of times for us. They are the most veteran guys that have thrown the most strikes for us and have given us the ability to do that.”
Gabe Klobosits is an intimidating figure on the mound
Perhaps the two key ingredients for Auburn’s staff are junior college transfer Ben Braymer and Springville, Ala. freshman Casey Mize. Maybe the two best arms on the staff, Braymer and Mize are expected to start their Auburn careers in the bullpen and Thompson is hoping they can become a closing duo for the Tigers moving forward similar to what he had from Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder. Those two made it a six-inning game for the Bulldogs and put the pressure on opposing offenses to score runs early.
“Just seeing the teams that experience greatness and the teams that win our league or in the big leagues they really learn how and give themselves a chance to master the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Thompson said. “That’s the reason why you put two of your top five arms in the back end of that bullpen. Not only to try to be good late, which is what good teams do, but for the overall morale and strength of our club, which is our position players.”
A transfer from LSU-Eunice Junior College, the 6-2, 222 Braymer is a talented left-hander that should have a great chance to be a weekend starter for Auburn in his first season on the Plains. With a powerful arm and good off-speed stuff, Braymer was 9-1 last season and struck out 138 batters in 94 ? innings to help his team to the NJCAA National Championship. With a record of 19-2 overall in his high school career and a fastball that can top out in the mid-90‘s, Mize combines with Braymer to form what could be a very good one-two punch.
There are several other players that will be counted on this season for the Tigers on the mound including returning left-handed reliever Izaac Yarbrough, junior college transfers Andrew Mitchell and Tavo Rodriguez, graduate transfer Marc Frazier, and high school right-hander Daniel Sprinkle.
A New Orleans native that redshirted his first season at LSU before transferring to Delgado Junior College, Mitchell is a 6-1, 197 left-hander that was 7-2 last season in 13 appearances as a freshman and is another player that has a great shot to work his way into the rotation this season.
A graduate transfer from Nicholls State, the 6-1 Frazier was 5-5 the last two seasons with an ERA of 3.01 in 34 appearances as a sophomore and junior at Nicholls State. A native of Newnan, Ga., Frazier could be a solid bullpen option for the Tigers and adds good depth for the pitching staff.
A 6-4 left-hander, Rodriguez started his career at Oklahoma before transferring to Navarro (Tex.) College last season. Going 5-3 a year ago, Rodriguez was ranked as the No. 34 junior college prospect in the country by Perfect Game.
The younger brother of Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, Daniel Sprinkle is a 6-4, 225 right-hander that has the power to be a force out of the bullpen as a freshman while also being used in a starting role during the mid-week games.
“Tavo Rodriguez is going to be a piggy-back guy,” Thompson said. “Mark Frazier is going to be a piggy-back guy. Andrew Mitchell is going to be a piggy-back guy. These starters are only up to about 80 pitches. We started Jan. 13 and that’s just over a month, so they’re not in midseason form with pitch counts or anything else. Playing all these multiple games in a week, playing Sacramento State three games followed by two mid-week games and then another whole weekend, it forces us to lay all of our cards on the table and that’s a good thing.
“These guys have worked hard and they all deserve a chance and an opportunity. We’ll see these guys in games and then make adjustments, that’s what we’ll do with our pitching staff. That’s still the challenge, are we going to be able to cover our innings that are required to give our team a chance to be a good team, not just a team but a quality baseball team.”
First pitch for Friday’s season opener against Sacramento State is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Plainsman Park. Game times for both Saturday and Sunday are set for 1 p.m.