Keegan Thompson (above) is a current Auburn player who could be drafted.
Auburn, Ala.--One of the most important times of Butch Thompson’s first year as Auburn’s head baseball coach takes place over the course of the next three days with the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft starting on Thursday evening.
Needing all the help he can get to put the program back among the elite in the Southeastern Conference, Thompson will be keeping a close eye on key players beginning in the first round.
There is almost one sure thing and that is junior Anfernee Grier likely won’t be returning following an All-American season for the Tigers in 2016. That is not something unexpected by Thompson and his staff, but losing Grier will be a blow when you talk about replacing one of the best players in the country.
Elsewhere on the Auburn roster, outfielder Josh Palacios, first baseman Niko Buentello and pitchers Ben Braymer and Gabe Klobosits are all players off the 2016 team who could hear their name called this week in addition to position player turned pitcher Daniel Robert, but perhaps the most important guy is one who didn’t see a single bit of action this season.
One of the top players in the league as a freshman, pitcher Keegan Thompson continued that as a sophomore in 2015 until an injury late in the season forced him to have Tommy John surgery. Now throwing and looking very good, Keegan Thompson is a wild card for pro teams and there is really no telling when he will hear his name called after sitting out a full year.
For Butch Thompson, watching Keegan Thompson throw as he rehabs has already shown him just how important his return could be for the future of the program.
“For a player to not be in a game all year and still command the respect of everybody in the locker room has been amazing to me,” Auburn’s head coach said. “I can see him in the locker room and interacting with our team and I can see the respect that he commands. That's hard for anybody to do, but he's got it. I've seen that.
“I've seen his body change and he has looked so healthy in all of the throwing opportunities he's gotten," Thompson said. "He's up on a mound now. He's in the 80 percent category of throwing.
"I think Sean Stryker, our trainer, has done an unbelievable job with him," the coach pointed out. "I think he's going to be fully ready and as good as he's been. I think he has a chip on his shoulder that can make him even better.
“I would be remiss to not say he might be our biggest recruit in our whole class for somebody that's already here.," Thompson added. "I believe that. He doesn't have to come in and get anybody's respect. I'm already seeing it. Because of his track record, it wouldn't be coach-speak to say that everybody feels like he's a proven SEC rotation guy to immediately insert.”
While Thompson may be the most important of the returning players, the coaches will also have to worry about several signees as well with pitchers Alex Speas from McEachern High in Powder Springs, Ga., Davis Daniel and infielder Joshua Anthony out of Western Oklahoma State all possible draft choices with pitcher Trevor Hillhouse from Woodstock (Ga.) High a late possibility as well. With Speas expected to be picked perhaps as early as the first round and a likely sign, Daniel could be the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Tigers as far as the high school guys go.
Davis Daniel is a very promising pitching prospect.
A standout at St. James in Montgomery where he threw a pair of no-hitters as a senior, Daniel has the ability to reach the mid 90’s with his fastball and knows how to pitch. His big senior year has pro scouts taking a closer look, including throwing for the Chicago Cubs last week at Wrigley Field.
Now prepared to see what his future holds, Daniel told Inside the Auburn Tigers no matter what happens he is secure in his ability to pitch for the Tigers if pro baseball doesn’t work out right now.
“It’s a good problem to have,” Daniel said. “There’s no bad situation here. Either way I’m playing top-notch baseball with some of the best coaching in the country. SEC baseball is the mecca of college baseball, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Excited about the direction of the program under Thompson, Daniel said for him the decision to ultimately be a Tiger comes down to money and fit in whatever big league club picks him this week.
“A little bit of it will depend on the situation,” Daniel said. “Obviously, things just have to fall into the right place. Me and my family have come up with a number to place a value on my education and the opportunity I have at Auburn. The number that we came up with, somebody has to match that in order for it to happen.”
Just as important may be getting Anthony on campus next season. With Grier very likely gone and with the possibility of losing Palacios and Buentello to go along with seniors such as Jordan Ebert, Melvin Gray, Jackson Burgreen and Cody Nulph, Auburn will need help at the plate. It just so happens that’s Anthony’s specialty. As a sophomore the Columbus, Ga., native hit .444 with 25 home runs, 84 RBI, 112 runs scored and 49 stolen bases. Those kinds of numbers make him a player who could hear his name called early.