If things had fallen into place for Coach Butch Thompson’s Auburn University baseball team, the Tigers might have been in Omaha today preparing for the opening game of the College World Series.
After making the trip to that event last year and losing both games, returning this year and making a better showing was the goal for a group that included many of the key players from the 2019 team.
Unfortunately, the 2020 season was cancelled by the coronavirus scare not long after it got started. Combine that with an NCAA ruling that allows all of the players to return for the 2021 season with an extra year of eligibility and many college programs around the country are scrambling to figure out how to deal with a numbers crunch and just 11.7 scholarships for an entire roster that includes 40 or more players in some cases.
Auburn is no exception in facing this problem because the Tigers promised scholarship aid and roster spots to more than a dozen 2020 signees. Making the issue potentially a more difficult one is Major League Baseball cut its draft from 40 rounds to five rounds this year. That will add plenty of incentive for potential pro signees to return to college and wait for a more normal draft in June of 2021.
Adding more numbers to college rosters is the likelihood that graduating high school seniors who would normally be chosen in the 2020 draft won’t be selected in a five-round draft that is scheduled to conclude Thursday evening and will decide to play collegiately.
More incentive for baseball players to attend college is that there is a good chance that most 2020 minor league seasons will be cancelled, especially with the news that hundreds of players on those teams have been cut in recent weeks.
While not dealing with the uncertainty surrounding college baseball, two other Auburn teams with very high expectations would have likely just wrapped up their schedules without their seasons being cut short. The women’s golf team was one of the favorites to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament Final Four and the men’s squad, which made the Final Four in 2018, featured the talent to make another run this year.
Fortunately for coaches Melissa Luellen and Nick Clinard, their teams are expected to have all of the key performers back for the 2020-21 season. If that happens each would have one of the more talented rosters in program history.
From the Notebook:
• A sign that offensive linemen are again a priority for Auburn’s 2021 football signee class is that four of the team’s nine verbal commitments will play in those positions. The group includes AU’s most recent verbal commitment from Texas, Jaeden Roberts out of Northshore High in Houston. A big guy at 6-5, 340 pounds, he chose the Tigers over Oklahoma State, Alabama and LSU.
• Auburn’s current football players returned to campus last week for physicals prior to beginning strength and conditioning workouts that resumed on Monday. There is still no word yet from the SEC and NCAA when the coaches can begin football practice.
Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter