Slater: It's My Job to Make Tigers Better

A disappointing season came to an end last weekend but Auburn baseball coach Tommy Slater is looking for better things next season.

Auburn, Ala.--It was a far cry from what he had hoped for this season and for Coach Tommy Slater and his staff all they can do now is work towards 2007 with the hope that with a new season will come improvements for the Tigers.

Ending the season on a 10-game losing streak after showing a lot of promise in the middle of the SEC schedule, Slater and the Tigers have plenty of work to do before next season if they hope to put Auburn back among the elite in the Southeastern Conference.

"I think if you look at what will be returning next year and you look at some of the guys that led our team offensively and some of the guys that led our team pitching-wise, you see those guys are returning," Slater says. "That is a lot different from this year when everybody that was out there with the exception of a couple of guys, were not returning."

The Tigers were expected to face potential struggles in 2006 because of a lack of returning experience across the board, both in the field and on the mound, but in the end the lack of quality depth caused Auburn to have one of the worst seasons in school history.

The Tigers finished the year 22-34 overall and 9-21 in SEC play. After working all the way back from a 1-5 start in league play to get to 9-11 following a Saturday night victory over Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Auburn lost its final 10 games to finish the season on a sour note.

Slater says that while many things went wrong this season ultimately it's up to him to get the job done and he won't stop working until that happens.

"I put everything on myself," he says. "I'm the head coach. Everything in this program is my responsibility. Recruiting, wins and losses, how we pitch, how we hit, how we defend, everything is my responsibility.

"We had a bad year and that's on me. It always will be. What I do at the end of every season, be it an Omaha year or be it a year like this year, is do my player meetings. We did player meetings all day Sunday and Monday morning. After I get through those I'll be on the road recruiting, so there really isn't any rest. But, as you get farther away from the season, I think what you need to do is take time to reflect on that season.

"I look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do better? How can I help us be better? Can I do something different with practice? Can I do something different on game days?'

"Do I think we've got some young, talented players? Absolutely I do. Do I think we're bringing in another really talented recruiting class? Yes I do.

"The first recruiting class was ranked 10th in the country and I think the second recruiting class may be better than the first. Whether it will be rated that way I don't know, but I think with each successive recruiting class we'll continue to build our talent base. But it's just not about building your talent base, it's about reflecting on what I can do better to help as well."

Freshman Evan Crawford was Auburn's most consistent starter this season.

Something that Slater and his staff of Matt Myers and Butch Thompson are known for is being tireless on the recruiting trail. This season's freshman class of Mike Bianucci, Justin Bristow, Luke Greinke, Evan Crawford and Paul Burnside turned out to be one of the most productive in school history as a group. While the season didn't turn out as hoped, each had their ups and downs, but in the end played well.

Next season there could be just as many freshmen and newcomers on the field for the Tigers as Slater seeks to keep improving the talent level of his team. Signees such as Cory Rasmus, Caleb Clay, Taylor Thompson, Joseph Sanders, Robert Brooks, Austin Hubbard, David Cunningham and several other players should make the Tigers a more talented team in 2007 as long as the Major League Draft doesn't hurt Auburn too badly. While that is a concern with Clay, Rasmus and to a degree Thompson, Slater says that's a chance you have to take in order to make large improvements in your team.

"We stay in touch with all of our guys constantly and all of our signees have had good springs," Slater says. "That's a good thing and a bad thing. The good thing is they're all doing well, but the tough thing is that if they do too well you've got a chance to maybe lose a guy.

"Recruiting life at the SEC level is knowing that we're going to lose some guys. If you're not signing guys that you may lose, then you're not recruiting the right kids to play in the SEC. Every kid we sign is a draftable-type player, you just have to wait to see what happens on draft day.

Coach Tom Slater

"I guess the tough thing is all it takes is one club. If one club values that kid in a certain round or with a certain amount of money and that's the kid's bottom line, then that's a kid you may end up losing. That's why you never stop recruiting and always have the next guy to go to.

"When Jake Peavy signed back in the summer of 1999, Coach (Hal) Baird didn't throw a fit he just said, ‘Who's next?' It was Levale Speigner. That's where you have to be. You always have to have that next guy ready."

If the Tigers get the influx of talent that most are expecting for next season, then there's a good chance the results will be much different than the 2006 season because in baseball from one season to the next can be as different as night and day. Take this season in the SEC for example. Last season's conference champion and NCAA runner-up Florida finished 11th in the league and failed to make the conference tournament. The same goes for College World Series team Tennessee.

Meanwhile Kentucky shared the league title with Alabama after winning just seven games in 2005. Alabama won just 10 the season before. Things have a way of changing drastically in the world of Southeastern Conference baseball and don't be surprised if people are talking about Auburn this time next season for totally different reasons.

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