Slater, Tigers Expect Improved Pitching

Coach Tommy Slater talks about the prospects for the 2007 Auburn baseball season and the depth of the pitching staff.

Auburn, Ala.--Year three of the Tommy Slater Era for Auburn baseball gets started in just two weeks as the Tigers welcome Hofstra for a three-game series at Plainsman Park beginning Feb. 9.

When the Tigers step on the field Slater says the team will be a lot different than the first team he put on the field at Auburn and also significantly different than last year's squad.

One of the biggest differences, in addition to an increased talent level, is the make up of the roster. When Slater arrived many of the top players on the team were from outside Auburn's normal recruiting areas. Changing that was one of the first goals for Slater and his staff as they immediately began to hit the road in search of top local prospects.

Two years later Auburn's team is built largely of players from Alabama and neighboring states and Slater says he believes that is a key for success for Auburn baseball.

"I think that there are a number of significant differences," Slater says comparing this year's team and his first Auburn squad. "There are a number of kids on the roster from the states of Alabama and Georgia. That jumps out at me immediately. I said that the number one thing that I wanted to do when I got back was to build this team from the inside out. That meant to try and recruit the best players from the states of Alabama and Georgia to build our roster with in-state kids.

"When we were at our best in the 1990s, we had local kids. If I could go to Virginia and bring a kid like Mike Bianucci here then I am going to do that, but we are going to start first and foremost with in-state kids like Josh Donaldson and Evan Crawford.

"We've recruited well," he adds. "We've had back to back Top 20 recruiting classes. The bulk of those kids have been from Alabama and Georgia. To me the most significant thing is that Josh and Adam Stacey were the only two kids in the lineup every day from those states. No there will be quite a few more than that. We have good high school baseball in this state and Georgia, and we are committed to getting the best kids in here."

Evan Crawford will be counted on to do big things for the Tigers this season.

Another difference Auburn fans may see this season is that the Tigers should have significant pitching depth for the first time since the Hal Baird Era on the Plains. In addition to number one starter Crawford, a sophomore from Prattville, fellow sophomores Paul Burnside and Bryan Woodall are the favorites to win the other two starting spots in the rotation the opening weekend.

Last season Crawford, Burnside and bullpen aces Luke Greinke and Johnny Thompson were essentially Auburn's only good options for much of the season with junior Chris Dennis not back to top form after Tommy John surgery. That's not a concern this season as Dennis throwing well after having a full year of rehabilitation on his arm.

Throw in former shortstop Justin Bristow and true freshmen Taylor Thompson, Austin Hubbard and Scott Shuman and you have a pitching staff that the coaches say they believe is a solid 10-men deep. Slater says that gives the team a huge confidence boost heading into the season.

"I think that the other big difference is pitching depth," Slater says. "That is the hardest thing to build. We feel good about it. It's nice to be going into weekends with set starters and midweek games. It is nice having more than two guys in the bullpen that you feel confident in. It is still a young club, but I like our talent and I am not going to hide from that."

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