Auburn, Ala.--Heading into the MLB Amateur Draft this week, Coach Butch Thompson and the Auburn Tigers were prepared to take at least a few big losses with outfielders Anfernee Grier and Josh Palacios along with RHP signee Alex Speas expected to be headed to professional baseball.
After all were drafted very early that certainly appears to be the case with all three and includes junior left-hander Ben Braymer (18th round), but overall the Tigers came out very well considering what could have been.
There are still some questions about first baseman Niko Buentello (18th round by the Detroit Tigers) and junior college slugger @Josh Anthony (16th round by the Atlanta Braves), but with junior Keegan Thompson (33rd round by the Detroit Tigers) and RHP signee Davis Daniel (34th round by the Chicago Cubs) both likely headed to the Plains to join forces with talented freshman Casey Mize, Thompson said next season’s staff already looks to be in a good position.
“I’m thankful for the hard work that Brad Bohannon has done since we’ve been here,” Thompson said. “We only had three weeks to get an early signing period put together and he was constantly recruiting and connecting with players that would have an interest in Auburn. It’s impressive.
“I’m so happy for Anfernee Grier for believing in Auburn and having such a great year, being the Arizona Diamondbacks’ first pick, that’s special. Then the other component is how many guys, and I’m speaking specifically of Keegan Thompson, believes in what we can do at Auburn and loves Auburn.
“Along with Davis Daniel, for those two they are investing in us. They are believing in us enough to turn down six figures to part of our program. It’s a belief and an investment that their best route to the big leagues is to be at Auburn.”
With Grier and Palacios both gone that means the lethal one-two punch at the top of Auburn’s order is gone and the top two hitters in terms of average from last season. Now the question that remains is will the the Tigers have either Buentello or Anthony in the lineup next season.
One of the top power hitters in the league, Buentello hit .332 with 11 home runs and 55 RBI in his first season at Auburn out of junior college. Signing with the Tigers out of junior college this year, Anthony had a monster sophomore season at Western Oklahoma State, hitting .444 with 25 home runs and 84 RBI while adding 49 stolen bases.
Making it a guessing game right now for the Tigers is the fact that neither guy has been offered a contract yet. The way the draft works the teams work on higher draft picks first and that often determines how much money is available to offer later picks. Thompson said they would love to have both guys playing in the orange and blue next season, but no matter what happens he feels good about the direction of program.
One of the reasons for that is the return of Daniel Robert. Moving into a relief role late in the 2016 season and showing some promise out of the bullpen, the big senior will be counted on to handle that role again after pitching this summer in California.
In addition Robert gives the Tigers the option to play either first base or right field while also a possibility to be the designated hitter. Bringing back to the two-way player is something that is in the plans for Thompson and Robert could be one of the keys to bringing Auburn baseball back next season.
“We see a loss in potential power,” Thompson said. “But I don’t think anybody can question that we got better on the mound. There’s a lot of SEC teams that would like to go Thompson, Mize, Daniel, (Gabe) Klobosits or whatever. There’s a lot of teams in the SEC that would take that, so that’s the positive.
“Plus, D Rob is going to pitch,” he added. “He’s going to do both. Because of our scholarship challenges compared to the rest of the SEC, when Auburn has been at its best it has had a premium dual player or two.”