Coming off an up and down season in his first as Auburn's head coach, John Pawlowski said so far fall practice has gone well as the staff looks to fill several key spots.
"I think the fall has gone very well," Pawlowski said. "I'm real pleased with the progress these guys have made, especially in the leadership. The older guys have been through the fall and a number of years in the SEC. I think those guys really need to continue to emerge. You look at a guy like Corey Luckie. We're excited to have him back and he's making progress. I think he's going to be a great addition to our staff. In this league you've got to have pitching. That's one of the main things we've worked on this fall is putting a lot of emphasis on our pitching. I think we have more options this year."
That's not a surprise with the problems Auburn had on the mound in 2009. Finishing 31-25 overall, but just 11-19 in SEC play, the Tigers had a team ERA of 6.12 and allowed opponents to hit for an average of .321 on the season. Because of that Pawlowski and his staff went out and signed several junior college players that have the potential to make an immediate impact on the program.
Perhaps the top two are left-hander Cole Nelson from Des Moines Area Community College and right-hander Stephen Kohlscheen from Cowley College. Both have the potential to add a significant amount to the Tigers on the mound. The same can be said for sophomore Corey Luckie. The Prattville native has returned to throwing on the mound after missing the entire 2009 season after Tommy John surgery. Pawlowski said the newcomers on the mound this fall have already made an impact.
"When you're looking at some of the new faces that you'll see then Cole Nelson is one of the guys that comes to mind," Pawlowski said. "He's a big 6-8 left-handed pitcher who has done a good job for us. I think he's really started to come into his own here in the fall. He's done a really good job. Stephen Kohlscheen is another right-handed pitcher who has done a good job. Justin Bryant is a reliever who pitched some in junior college last year and was also a position player. He has shown some really bright spots for us."
While the newcomers are getting plenty of work, so are returning pitchers Grant Dayton and Jon Luke Jacobs, both of which have a chance to stay in the rotation next spring. Pawlowski said the good thing is now the coaches have some options on the mound.
"When you look at experience you look at the way Jon Luke Jacobs pitched last year coming down the stretch," Pawlowski said. "I thought did a very good job. He knows how to pitch and he's been out there. He knows how to handle himself. Grant Dayton has done a really good job. You have Corey Luckie and Dexter Price. Those guys have all gotten some experience. Then you kick in Kohnscheen and Cole Nelson. I think both of those guys have a chance. I don't know if we'll see three new ones, but you may see two on the weekend."
Jacobs gets the call on Thursday night to open the series.
Thursday night at 6 p.m. the world series will get underway with Jacobs and Nelson facing off on the mound. Friday night at 6 p.m. will be Kohlscheen against Dayton, which Sunday's noon start will have Luckie against newcomer Slade Smith.
The pitchers will face a veteran core of experienced and talented players for the Tigers. Outfielders Trent Mummey, Brian Fletcher and Kevin Patterson are back as are infielders Hunter Morris, Justin Hargett and Casey McElroy. Throw in catchers Ryan Jenkins and Tony Caldwell and you have a solid foundation to build on.
"I think that's key," Pawlowski said. "This league will bring you down pretty quickly. There are guys that have been through the battles. Those guys like Kevin Patterson, Ryan Jenkins, Trent Mummey, Brian Fletcher, Hunter Morris, the core of the team has done a really good job in leading some of the new guys. We just have to find more ways to score offensively. Last year we were a one-dimensional offensive club. We need to multi-faceted scoring runs. We have a few more options this year."
One of the biggest position battles is at third base where the Tigers shuffled guys around last season when Joseph Sanders was injured. Now that Sanders is gone the job is wide open with returners Dan Gamache and Wes Gilmer in the mix for the job along with newcomer Crede Simpson.
Simpson is also a threat for the other open job in right field along with fellow newcomer Justin Fradejas. Both bring a speed element to the game and are playing well according to Pawlowski.
"Crede is a local kid from Auburn and he's done a good job," Pawlowski said. "We've put him at third base and right field. Right field is a position that I think is wide open. Kevin Patterson has done a good job. You've got Crede Simpson and Justin Fradejas. The biggest thing we've tried to do in recruiting is to create more options. I think we've got more options than we certainly did last year."
All games this weekend are free of charge and open to the public at Plainsman Park.