Weekend 2 Featured Series: Auburn (4-1) at UCF (4-0)
Where: John Euliano Park, Orlando, FL
RHP Tanner Burns (0-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. LHP Grant Schuermann (0-0, 1.50 ERA)
LHP Kyle Gray (0-0, 0.00 ERA) vs. RHP Trevor Holloway (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
TBD vs. RHP Jordan Spicer (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Backdrop: It's the SEC (#1 RPI in 2018) vs. the under-appreciated AAC (#4 RPI), featuring two programs with 2019 post-season aspirations.
In the season's first week the AAC made made national noise as Connecticut won a neutral-site series against #12 (Baseball America) Louisville, followed by USF beating #4 Florida Tuesday night. This series offers the Knights a chance to join the AAC party in hosting #18 Auburn.
While unbeaten to date (sweep of Siena, Tuesday win vs Stetson), the Tigers are a big step up in competition for the Knights. They are looking to rebound from 2018 when they lost 6-of-9 to close the season, missing a Regional. Head Coach Greg Lovelady candidly termed the season an "underachievement" and took full responsibility. Hear more in our Fall Ball Podcast with Coach Lovelady here.
Auburn has been on the upswing in the three years under Butch Thompson. After reaching a Regional in 2017, last year heard the Tigers knocking on the Omaha door, taking defending champion Florida to the brink before losing the Super Regional in heartbreaking fashion (Coach Thompson elaborates in this Fall Ball Podcast). The 2019 Tigers scuffled a bit over the first weekend, winning a series vs. Georgia Southern despite being forced into two 13-inning affairs. They took care of business earlier this week, sweeping an overmatched Alabama A&M in two games. They too face a much more challenging foe in UCF, on the road no less.
Three Things to Watch:
1) Pitching Staff Depth
Both teams will be without top weekend starters. UCF's Friday guy Chris Williams is out due to a 9-game suspension for playing club baseball at UCF in 2015 after not making the squad. In addition the Knights lose 5 MLB-drafted arms from a year ago. Taken together and new pitching coach Nick Otte has his work cut out this weekend.
He's fortunate to have graduate transfer LHP Grant Schuermann (Furman) now in Orlando, along with senior RHP Jordan Spicer. The third starting role will belong to JC-transfer Trevor Holloway, who won a JC National Title a year ago pitching for Chipola College. It will be interesting to see which other UCF arms step up in facing quality hitters after collectively yielding only 5 earned runs in their first four games
Meanwhile, in addition to losing the "1-1" pick in last years MLB draft in RHP Casey Mize, Auburn will also be without last Friday's starter, RHP Davis Daniel, who was lifted after just two innings due to tightness in his right forearm. An MRI showed no UCL damage and Wednesday famed orthopedist Dr. James Andrews examined Daniel further and determined some rest as the best remedy. He'll be out indefinitely, however.
This Friday the ball goes to "super-soph" RHP Tanner Burns, who starred last spring as a Freshman All-American and over the summer for Team USA. He possesses electric stuff and can mix his delivery at times, messing with opposing hitter's timing.
Saturday's start goes to redshirt-junior LHP Kyle Gray, a transfer from Blinn JC. He tossed three innings last Sunday without giving up an earned run.
Three freshman are worth a look. One is 6-3, 195-pound LHP Carson Skipper, who's been terrific over two appearances & 7 innings (0.00 ERA, 9K, 1BB, .192 BAA). LHP Garrett Wade, Perfect Game's #7 ranked freshman in the country, is a physical 6-2, 205-pounder with powerful, swing & miss stuff and seems destined for a starting role at some point. RHP Richard Fitts impressed these eyes in a Fall Ball start vs. Sanford, showing a lively fastball and good command. He also looks the part with a projectable 6-3, 195 lb frame.
Finally, much is expected of the fierce sophomore RHP Cody Greenhill, a 6-4, 216-pounder who offers elite stuff & competitiveness, either as a closer or in a starting role.
2) Elite base-stealers of UCF vs. a new Auburn catcher
CF Ray Alejo and 2B Michael Mika stole a combined 61 bags last year, while only being caught 11 times. So far this year the Knights are a perfect 10-10 in stolen bases. Coach Lovelady loves to put pressure on the opposition and he has the racehorses to do just that.
CoachThompson had to replace 2018 catcher Brett Wright, who opted for pro ball after just one year on the Plains. In his place is another JC-transfer, the uber-athletic Matt Scheffler, all the way from the state of Washington and Pierce CC. Thompson has called Scheffler the best catch-and-throw backstop he's had in 15 years of coaching. Scheffler has some pretty good bloodlines as his cousins Steve (NBA) and Tony (NFL) both played professional ball at a high level.
3) The Battle of the Sophomore Bats.
UCF's 3B Griffin Bernardo and RF Dalton Wingo didn't gain much experience last year as freshman, combining for only 155 at-bats while getting their feet wet. However, they both ooze athleticism and power, with high ceilings. They're off to hot starts, collectively going 12-31 with 3 doubles, two homers and 7 RBI's thus far. With proven table-setters ahead of them in the order, UCF's offense needs these two to produce. We'll see how they fare against talented SEC arms.
Last year Coach Thompson plugged freshmen lefty hitters Steven Williams and Edouard Julien right into the lineup. Bang! They responded with Freshman All-American seasons, combining for a ridiculous 29 homers & 120 RBI. With fellow sophomore LF Judd Ward and junior All-American SS Will Holland hitting at the top of the order, there will be amble opportunities for them to match those RBI numbers. Julien has started ablaze, launching 3 homers and driving in 9 so far. Williams has yet to get untracked (3-19, .158).
Notes: The Tigers top two hitters are newcomers in freshman CF Kason Howell (9-20, .450) & JC-transfer (originally at LSU) 1B Rankin Woley (9-21, 3 doubles & a triple)......Holland is among the top SS prospects in the upcoming MLB draft....... LF Ward gunned two Georgia Southern runners down at the plate....... 2018 2nd Team All-AAC members C/DH Dallas Beaver (6 HR, 30 RBI) & 1B/OF Tyler Osik (9 HR, 56 RBI) are proven sticks and key cogs in Lovelady's lineup........ Fellow Knight Chandler Robertson leads UCF in hitting (6-13, .462) and hit the ball hard several times against Stetson