2008 SEC Baseball Preview: Auburn

Coming off a disappointing 31-25 season, including a finish 10-20 in SEC play, Auburn and coach Tommy Slater are looking to get the program back among the elite in 2008. Thanks to the return of several key performers in the field and on the mound, and the addition of a talented group of newcomers, Auburn could be a team to watch this year in the Southeastern Conference.

Led by a strong pitching staff that finished with a 4.59 ERA last season, the Tigers should have plenty of depth on the mound led by junior starter Paul Burnside. Before an injury put a premature end to his year, Burnside was 7-1 with a 3.06 ERA in 2007 in just 11 appearances and 67 total innings. Experienced returnees Bryan Woodall (2-3, 4.84 ERA), Evan Crawford (5-6, 5.91), Luke Greinke (0-0, 2.61), Taylor Thompson (5-2, 5.91), and Austin Hubbard (1-0, 5.06) are back after combining for 242 2/3 innings.

At the plate the Tigers will be depending on powerful junior Mike Bianucci to carry the load with Josh Donaldson moving on to the Chicago Cubs' organization. As a sophomore Bianucci battled through injuries and still hit .326 with a team-high 14 home runs and 51 RBI.

Perhaps the key to Auburn 's offense will be Greinke. A two-way player, Greinke was named the Baseball America Summer Player-of-the-Year and hit .314 last season with 36 RBI.

Freshman standout Joseph Sanders has made the switch to second base for next season after hitting .333 with three home runs and 33 RBI last year.

With several key players gone from last season the Tigers will be counting on some new faces to give them help in 2008.

At shortstop Arizona State transfer Matt Hall should be a big improvement for Auburn with redshirt freshman David Cunningham available to play both shortstop and third base. True freshmen Hunter Morris and Kevin Patterson should also provide depth on the infield and at the plate. In the outfield fellow freshmen Trent Mummey and Brian Fletcher both had strong fall practice sessions and should play a big part in Auburn 's fortunes this season.

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