A former Auburn assistant in the 1990's under Hal Baird, Slater was present at the peak of baseball success on the Plains and says he hopes to get back there again soon. Returning just four position starters from last year's 32-24 team, he says that the team has put in a lot of work to get ready and he's seeing improvement daily.
"It feels great to be out on the field having full squad practices," Slater says. "We went Sunday and Monday and both intra-squads have been real clean. We swung the bats well and our pitchers have thrown strikes and we've defended the field well. All the four-on-one work between the end of fall practice and Christmas and the four-on-one work we did last week has really paid off. The guys have made some adjustments and it's paying off for them now."
Leading the way for the Tigers is the trio of Clete Thomas, Josh Bell and first baseman Karl Amonite. Returning from an injury that kept him out all last season, Amonite has been cleared to play this spring and has looked good in practice so far this year. That's good news for an Auburn team hoping to solidify the middle of the order with a big bat.
Clete Thomas will be a key player for the Tigers this season.
Injuries also kept junior college transfer Tyler Johnstone out last season, but he has returned this year with a vengeance. Expected to be Auburn's leadoff hitter as well as starting second baseman, Johnstone should give the Tigers some pop and speed at the top of the order. Also breaking into the playing rotation should be Tulane transfer Phillip Stringer at shortstop, junior college transfer Adam Stacey at third base, junior college transfer and former Vanderbilt player Jeff Boutwell in left field and sophomore Bruce Edwards in center. Edwards' improved play allows Thomas to move to right field and give the Tigers better defense.
"Clete Thomas and Karl Amonite and Josh Bell are really the three that have played at this level and played successfully," Slater said. "Karl is the only All-SEC performer we have and it has been very nice to have him back out there with us the last two days. He's rehabbed through that (his injury). Tyler Johnstone has been practicing full speed the last two days and he's got some real athleticism both defensively and on the basepaths. Bruce Edwards continues to get better every single day."
On the mound Auburn returns senior Arnold Hughey as well as junior Chris Dennis and both look to be potential starters for the Tigers. Also sophomores Mike Felix and Jared Shore have been impressive on the mound heading into the season. The biggest surprise has been the pitching of junior Josh Sullivan. A former Auburn quarterback, Sullivan's work with new pitching coach Matt Myers has him throwing well and he's expected to be in the rotation for the Tigers to open the season.
The Tigers face a schedule of mythic proportions as 32 NCAA Regional teams from last season appear on the slate including a trip to Florida State and a home series with Clemson. Slater says that playing the best is what it's about and he's anxious to see how his team stacks up after the work they've put into improving since last fall.
"The work ethic has been outstanding and the energy has been outstanding," Slater said. "I think anyone that has been around our practices or around our four-on-one's has seen these guys have a lot of life. They've been upbeat, positive, and it has gone really well. I can't say enough about how hard the guys have worked."
Auburn opens its season on Friday Feb. 4 with the first of three games scheduled against Hofstra for the weekend. The first pitch is set for 4 p.m.