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College | Story | 2/10/2011

SEC preview: East takes control

Kendall Rogers        

You can follow college baseball managing editor Kendall Rogers on Twitter @KendallRogersYS and can join the Perfect Game College Baseball Facebook page

HOW THEY STACK UP

Eastern Division

1. Florida
2. Vanderbilt
3. South Carolina
4. Kentucky
5. Georgia
6. Tennessee

Western Division

1. Auburn
2. LSU
3. Arkansas
4. Mississippi
5. Alabama
6. Mississippi State

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM

C James McCann, Arkansas
1B Christian Walker, South Carolina
2B Tyler Hanover, LSU
SS Nolan Fontana, Florida
3B Jason Esposito, Vanderbilt
OF Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina
OF Taylor Dugas, Alabama
OF Mikie Mahtook, LSU
DH Austin Maddox, Florida

SP Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt
SP Hudson Randall, Florida
SP Nathan Kilcrease, Alabama
RP Matt Price, South Carolina

RISING STOCK

Vanderbilt: The Commodores have the highest expectations since entering the NCAA postseason as the top national seed in 2007. The ‘Dores have a solid pitching staff with Sonny Gray, Grayson Garvin and Taylor Hill leading the way. They also have much experience and talent at the plate. The stars seem to be aligning for Vandy.

Auburn: Life suddenly is good for the Tigers. It only was two seasons ago the Tigers seemed to have little momentum, but their situation is now the opposite. The Tigers hosted an NCAA Regional last season and very much expect to accomplish the same goal this spring.

Florida: The Gators reached the College World Series last season, but their trip was hampered by the fact they played a poor brand of baseball once there. Now, with an even more talented and much more experienced team, the top-ranked Gators have their sights firmly set on a national title.

Alabama pitcher Nathan Kilcrease: As with the league’s top pitcher, Sonny Gray, Kilcrease isn’t exactly a physical specimen. But he has good stuff and is one of the most intense pitchers in the SEC. Kilcrease leads the Crimson Tide after compiling a 2.85 ERA in 98 innings last season.

FALLING STOCK

Georgia: We’re back to not being real sure what to expect from the Bulldogs. They are coming off a dismal 2010 campaign, but have enough talent this season to make some big noise in the SEC. But will they put things together?

Mississippi State: You know things are bad in Starkville, Miss., when college baseball fans aren’t sure who you’re talking about when you say “State”. The Bulldogs have yet to get anything positive going their direction in the coach John Cohen era. Could ’11 finally be the year that happens?

Alabama: The Crimson Tide has a solid coach in Mitch Gaspard, but we’re not sure even he can put together an NCAA Super Regional team this season. The Crimson Tide has some huge holes to fill at the plate with the departures of several key hitters. But the one caveat to their situation is the presence of sparkplug outfielder Taylor Dugas.

SEC Western Division: The Western Division has led the way for the SEC the past few seasons, but that changes this season with Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Florida all ranked ahead of every Western Division team. Auburn and LSU are the only preseason ranked teams from the division. It’ll be interesting to see if the division can surprise.

BEST PITCHER

RHP Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt: His physical presence may not dazzle opposing teams, but his stuff is good enough to send them back to the dugout demoralized. Gray is a top prospect and is coming off a year in which he went 10-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 108 2/3 innings.

BEST HITTER

OF Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina: The best thing about Bradley Jr. is that he’s as great of a person off the field as he is a player on the field. He’s a star for the Gamecocks, hitting .368 with 12 doubles, 13 homers and 60 RBIs last season.

POSTSEASON CONTENDERS

Omaha caliber: Florida, Vanderbilt, South Carolina
Super regional caliber: Auburn, LSU
Regional caliber: Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Kentucky

TOP PROSPECTS (2011 MLB DRAFT)

Prospect lists compiled by Allan Simpson

1. OF Jackie Bradley Jr., South Carolina
2. RHP Sonny Gray, Vanderbilt
3. RHP Alex Meyer, Kentucky
4. 3B/SS Jason Esposito, Vanderbilt
5. RHP Jack Armstrong, Vanderbilt
6. OF Mikie Mahtook, LSU
7. OF Zach Cone, Georgia
8. C James McCann, Arkansas
9. LHP Nick Maronde, Florida
10. LHP Grayson Garvin, Vanderbilt
11. RHP Matt Price, South Carolina
12. RHP Cecil Tanner, Georgia
13. RHP Navery Moore, Vanderbilt
14. LHP Alex Panteliodis, Florida
15. LHP Adam Morgan, Alabama
16. OF/1B Preston Tucker, Florida
17. RHP/1B Braden Kapteyn, Kentucky
18. RHP Anthony DeSclafani, Florida
19. RHP/C Matt Ramsey, Tennessee
20. 1B/3B Aaron Westlake, Vanderbilt

TOP PROSPECTS (2012 MLB DRAFT)

Prospect lists compiled by Allan Simpson

1. RHP Kevin Gausman, LSU
2. LHP/1B Brian Johnson, Florida
3. 3B/C Austin Maddox, Florida
4. OF Brian Adams, Kentucky (FB)
5. LHP Sam Selman, Vanderbilt
6. RHP/IF D.J. Baxendale, Arkansas
7. SS Nolan Fontana, Florida
8. LHP Taylor Rogers, Kentucky
9. C Mike Zunino, Florida
10. RHP Hudson Randall, Florida
11. LHP Steven Rodriguez, Florida
12. OF/LHP Kamm Washington, Florida
13. OF Evan Marzilli, South Carolina
14. RHP/SS Chris Stratton, Mississippi State
15. LHP/1B Alex Wood, Georgia
16. 1B/RHP Daryl Norris, Mississippi State
17. SS Anthony Gomez, Vanderbilt
18. RHP/SS Michael Heller, Florida
19. OF/LHP Mike Yastrzemski, Vanderbilt
20. 1B/3B Christian Walker, South Carolina

AROUND THE DIAMOND

• Vanderbilt is loaded with prospects and made a change to its weekend rotation this season. The Commodores utilized Jack Armstrong, our No. 5 prospect for the 2011 MLB draft as a weekend starter last season, but Armstrong now is a midweek starter, clearing the way for left-hander Grayson Garvin, our No. 10 prospect in this year’s draft class. That move by coach Tim Corbin shows how much talent the ‘Dores have.

• Look for the Southeastern Conference to announce its future home for the conference baseball tournament later this spring. It was thought the conference might announce the future early this spring, but there have been a few occurrences slowing the situation. There are several options on the table, but Memphis and Hoover, Ala., are the clear-cut leaders in the quest to have the tourney beyond 2011.

• South Carolina suffered a tough loss when Ethan Carter was dismissed from the team after he made 24 appearances for the Gamecocks last season. The Gamecocks’ woes on the mound continued when Nolan Belcher was lost for the season because of a UCL injury. An already-cloudy Gamecocks pitching situation became cloudier with the Belcher news.

• In one of the more intriguing role battles this spring, Florida is still unsure who will be its No. 3 starter in the weekend rotation; former first-rounder and freshman Karsten Whitson or Alex Panteliodis. Both pitchers are fantastic and one will move to midweek starter if they don’t win a weekend spot. In other words, don’t expect UF to lose many, if any, early midweek games.

• LSU will be relatively thin on the mound this season, and there’s a legitimately good reason for that. The Tigers are without pitchers Jordan Rittiner, Joey Bourgeois and Mitch Hopkins. Rittiner and Bourgeois are the toughest losses, and all three are missing the season with elbow injuries.

• Georgia is fortunate it has some talented outfielders. The Bulldogs will miss the services of talented utility outfielder Matt Lowery, who is missing the season because of an elbow injury. Lowery was a Gold Glove recipient at Young Harris JC last season.

Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org

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