With that in mind Auburn Coach John Pawlowski has put a bigger emphasis on that part of the game with the last two recruiting classes and he's hoping this year it pays off for the Tigers with seven experience pitchers returning and a load of talented newcomers ready to take the program back to the postseason.
The starting point for Auburn's staff this season starts with a trio of sophomores that are all expected to play major roles for the Tigers. Following a very good freshman year that saw him lead the team with 15 stars, big lefty Daniel Koger is hoping to build on to a season when he was 4-5 with a 3.19 ERA. Auburn's most consistent performer on the mound in 2012, he says that he, Rocky McCord, Trey Cochran-Gill and the rest of the staff are ready to take their game to the next level.
"I think we're a lot different," Koger says when comparing to last year. "Rocky and Trey both had great summers. I didn't go play, but from what I heard they dominated the whole summer. Hopefully they'll come out strong this season because they have been looking good on the mound so far. It's always good to have a group of guys in the same class together. I think it will be good."
While Koger rested his arm following a taxing freshman year, both McCord and Cochran-Gill decided they needed more experience so they headed off to play summer ball. It proved to be a wise decision for both as they improved and got some innings under their belts.
That was especially the case for McCord. Playing in the Perfect Game League, McCord was dominant for the Amsterdam Mohawks as he was 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA. In 47 innings he struck out 50 while allowing just 29 hits. Showing improved velocity and command. McCord says the experience gave him a lot of confidence heading into this sophomore year with the Tigers.
"It was really important for me," McCord says. "I didn't really do too well my freshman year. I was young and didn't know too much. I got to go to New York over the summer at the Perfect Game League and I was just free to throw and do my own thing. It worked out good for me. I'm definitely more mature this year now."
One of the keys to the season could be the improvement of Cochran-Gill because of his ability to pitch down in the zone with his sinker. That could make his valuable as a starter or out of the bullpen for the Tigers. Last season he was 5-2 with a 3.67 ERA in 34 1/3 innings and six starts.
With all three sophomores feeling stronger and more experienced, McCord says he's just excited about the season because of how well they all get along. He says that chemistry carries over not only to the pitching staff, but throughout the entire roster.
"It's real fun because we're all really good friends," McCord says. "For us to be in the same class is really great. We have good chemistry on the pitching staff and the whole team for that matter. For us to come in as sophomores and potentially be the weekend starters is really big."
In addition to the returning sophomore trio Auburn also has veteran reliever Dillon Ortman back along with Jay Wade. The two combined for 33 appearances last season and both could see an even bigger role in 2013. Just how much may be determined by how many newcomers can get into the rotation.
Three junior college pitchers have been added to the mix this season with left-hander Michael O'Neal a possibility as a starter and reliever coming out of Chattahoochee Community College while Alabama JUCO Player of the Year Terrance Dedrick and former Georgia Tech lefty Conner Kendrick are expected to handle the closer role along with redshirt freshman Justin Camp. Throw in high school standout Trey Wingenter and you could have more talented depth on any Auburn staff in the last decade.
"From what I have seen so far we're going to have a really good bullpen and staff period," McCord says. "We've got a lot of different varieties of pitchers. We have a few more lefties, we have sidearm guys, sinker guys, and we have three good closers. I think we're going to be pretty stacked in the bullpen."
Auburn opens the 2013 season with a four-game series against Maine beginning this coming Friday at Plainsman Park. The Tigers will face the Black Bears in a doubleheader on Saturday with the final game of the series on Sunday.