Bringing in one of the nation's top players in outfielder Shane Robinson, the Seminoles are a veteran team that return almost the entire starting lineup as well as a deep and experienced pitching staff from last season's Super Regional team. Slater says that this is a challenge that his team is looking forward to and he knows just how tough it's going to be because he's very familiar with the FSU program and its players.
"I don't know if any opposing coach has seen Florida State more than me," Slater tells Inside The Auburn Tigers. "I have seen them 11 times the last three years. Some of the faces have changed for them over the years, but this year they've got a very veteran club. The only guys off last year's club that they don't have are Cheesman the catcher and Lynch, the drop-down right-hander. They return a ton of kids.
"I have a lot of respect for Florida State," he adds. "They've been very consistent over the years and with how they play. They are a very classy program. All of that credit goes to Mike Martin. We're going to continue the series with them. We're not going to play in 2007, but in 08 and 09 we've agreed to play four times a year. The neat thing about it is that each of those years each team will get two home games. We'll play Thursday and Friday at home and then the following year we'll flip that. Each group of fans will get to see each team on their own home field."
Led by Robinson and fellow junior slugger Ryne Malone, the Seminoles boast one of the top batting orders in the country. That begins at the top where FSU's top five got off to a very hot start in the season opening series last week. Robinson, Tony Thomas, Jr., Jack Rye, Malone and Buster Posey combined to hit .528 and slug .745 with 23 runs, eight extra base hits and 19 RBIs.
Robinson rounds the bases last year after a home run against Auburn in the NCAA Regional in Tallahassee.
Robinson, Rye, Posey and Malone each recorded six hits in the series. Thomas slugged 1.200 and scored eight while Malone hit .545 in extending his hit streak to 19 games, the eight-longest in school history. This group combined to score almost 70 percent of the runs in the three games and drive in almost 58 percent. Every one of those players hit .400 or better and they all slugged .500 or above. Slater says that both Robinson and Malone are players he's enjoyed watching grow up while at FSU.
"Each year for the last three years I got to see Shane Robinson and Ryne Malone as true freshmen when I was at Florida and last year as sophomores and now this year as juniors," Slater says. "It's fun to watch the progression and difference you see in guys because as freshmen, no matter how good you are, you're always a little bit tentative and unsure about yourself. As sophomores you feel a little bit better about yourself. As juniors it's just old hat. I'm excited to see those guys and the progress they've made. It's a good Florida State club and it will be a real test for us."
For the Tigers the job this week is to finish. Against VMI time and time again Auburn left runners in scoring position and failed to score runners from second and third with less than two outs. Slater says the team has worked on those situations all week just like they've done since last fall and he hopes it begins to pay off against the tough FSU squad.
"I think if you went back and listened to every interview I've ever done, be it as the head coach at VMI or an assistant at Florida, when it talk about offense it seems like in the early stages of the year I'm never happy with our situational hitting," Slater says. "I think that's just because as the year progresses guys will get more comfortable and get better at it the more pitches they see.
"We had some bright spots," he adds. "Andy Bennett was great with runners in scoring position this weekend. We just need to have more guys to do that. Typically the hard part is getting your guys in scoring position. The easy part should be scoring them once they're there. I think that's something we'll continue to improve on. I really like our position players. I feel like when they get more at-bats under their belt and get more time on the field, I thought defensively we played very well this weekend. We got to a lot more balls on the infield and in the outfield that we got to a year ago. I think you're going to see this club as a defensive unit get better each time out."
In addition to timely offense the Tigers also need an overall better pitching performance from the staff. Other than Friday starter Chris Dennis and a few select relievers, things didn't go as well as planned on the mound against the Keydets. This week Slater says they will do some things different to help solidify the bullpen and make the staff stronger.
"The only thing we're changing is we're going to have Butts (Brett Butts) start on Saturday," Slater says. "The reason for that is that, although I thought Peter (Peter Wiggins) threw fine on Saturday, Peter has the most resilient arm on our staff. After he started Saturday he was out there Sunday before the game long tossing. We need to put him in the bullpen to make us a better club, to have a guy that can throw multiple times in a weekend."
With cold weather expected in Auburn for the series, the game time on Saturday has been changed slightly to accommodate the fans headed out to Plainsman Park. Friday's game is scheduled for 4 p.m. with Dennis facing Bryan Henry. Saturday is set for two o'clock after originally being scheduled for four. That game has Butts against Tyler Chambliss for the Seminoles. Sunday's game has a 1 p.m. start with freshman Evan Crawford on the mound against Barrett Browning.