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Jun 23, 2017
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  Auburn Baseball Preview

Head baseball coach Butch Thompsonís first season on the Plains didnít go as well as hoped, but Auburn fans are surely hoping Plainsman Parkís new scoreboard wonít be the only thing looking good this spring.

The newly updated scoreboard, which features a state-of- the-art high-definition video board measuring 24x62.3 feet, is aimed to increase fan experience. Itíd be an easy assumption to say Thompsonís second team is aimed to do the same. Also like the scoreboard, the Tigersí 2017 squad will look different than last year to a good extent.

Auburn will open the season on Feb. 17 against George Washington without a host of key players from 2016, including star outfielder Afernee Grier, starting pitcher Justin Camp and position starters Joshua Palacios, Niko Buentello, Jordan Ebert and Cody Nulph. But, depending on your outlook, fresh faces on the field may not be a bad thing after finishing with an SEC-worst 23-33 overall record last year.

Auburn fans will see a host of familiar faces this spring, including pitchers Keegan Thompson, Casey Mize, Cole Lipscomb, Andrew Mitchell and Gabe Klobosits. Thompson is the guy all eyes will be on when the season opens, especially after missing all of 2016 following Tommy John. The RHP spent time as a starter and closer prior to Butch Thompsonís arrival, but heís expected to be starting in 2017.

Mize had a breakout season last spring, finishing the year with a team-best 3.52 ERA over 69 innings. Lipscomb, Mitchell and Klobosits both could improve their 2016 numbers, finishing with 5.10, 5.40 and 4.70 ERAs, respectively, but Thompson is a well-known pitching guru. If development for pitchers has followed the path Thompson created at Mississippi State, 2017 could be a special year for several guys toeing the rubber.

In the field, returners are sparingly. Blake Logan is expected back behind the plate after batting .274 with 36 RBI in 2016, and Damon Haecker will be back in the infield. He batted .284 last year. Theyíll each have big roles returning to a team that will be looking for leadership.

Two other position who could have leadership roles in 2017 are Daniel Robert and JJ Shaffer. Robert returns as a regular starter, batting .245 last season. Shaffer wasnít a regular starter, batting .200 in 16 games, but will have an opportunity this season to find time in the outfield.

Expectations for the Tigers are a tossup. Thompsonís late hire prior to 2016 created a challenge before the season arrived, so itís hard to not be optimistic with him having a full off-season. At the same time, SEC coaches arenít expecting much from Auburn. The Tigers are picked to finished tied for last with Alabama in the West. Florida and LSU tied with six votes apiece to win the conference. Individually, Auburn also didnít get much love. With the loss of players like Grier, the Tigers didnít have a player on the first or second teams for preseason All-SEC, which was also picked by the coaches.

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