"TEXAS A&M WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO COMPETE IN THE SEC!" If you had a dollar for every time you heard that in the last year or so, how many dollars would you have? Could you pay for a suite at Olsen? Maybe pay for the naming rights to Kyle Field? Sure, this may have most often been said in reference to football but you have to think that there may be some SEC teams who aren't taking Texas A&M Baseball seriously.
Having said that, there is absolutely no doubt that the Southeastern Conference is the best league in the country when it comes to college baseball. In fact, I think the gap between the SEC and the rest of the country is even greater in baseball than (gasp!) football. Yes, we all know that SEC football teams have won the past 7 national championships, but let's take a look at the case for dominance on the diamond. 10 of the 14 SEC schools this year made the NCAA postseason in 2012, 9 of the last 22 national championships were won by SEC teams, and 6 of those 22 times an SEC team finished runner-up. Put a different way, only 7 times in the last 22 years has the National Championship game not featured an SEC baseball team. In every single preseason poll for 2013, the SEC has eight teams in the Top 25 - and 3 others, including Texas A&M, are either ranked or just outside of the Top 25 in at least one poll. Ladies and gentlemen, those numbers do not lie. SEC Baseball is the definition of dominance, and that will be no different in 2013.
So will the Aggies be able to survive the gauntlet of playing an SEC schedule? How does the nonconference portion of the schedule stack up for A&M? I will be doing a weekly article that previews every opponent throughout the season, so in today's preview I'm going to focus on the most important conference and nonconference series for the Aggies. I'll give some predictions for each series that we look at, but take those with a grain of salt knowing that a lot can change between now and the time these match-ups happen.
Key Nonconference Opponents
University of Illinois-Chicago
Date: February 15-17
Location: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park
2012 record: 23-34
The Flames (yes, a team from Chicago where the weather is currently frigid is called the Flames. I'm surely not the only one who saw this as ironic, right?) return their top 5 hitters from 2012 along with 2 of their 3 main starting pitchers. Then again, this is a team that was swept by the Aggies to open the 2012 season and outscored 26-2 in 3 games. Their best starting pitcher is Charlie Weinberg who finished 3-3 with a 3.75 ERA in just 36 innings for UIC in 2012. Senior 1B Alex Grunenwald hit for a .345 average and is a member of the 2013 preseason All-Horizon League team. At the end of the day, not starting the season with a series sweep would be a disappointing result for the Aggies.
Date: February 22-24
Location: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park
2012 record: 36-23 (made NCAA Regionals)
The Pepperdine Waves will come to College Station looking for revenge after the Aggies swept them in Malibu last season, and they will do so with a trio of talented junior pitchers. Scott Frazier (7-5, 3.93, 69 K) is an outstanding MLB Draft prospect who throws in the mid-to-upper 90's (can hit 97) and has improved his command. Corey Miller logged 101 innings for the Waves in 2012 and posted a 8-3 record with a 3.38 ERA and 67 strikeouts. Lefty Matt Maurer only threw in 65 innings for Pepperdine last year, but finished 6-1 with a 3.56 ERA and is likely to see more action this season. The Waves' biggest challenge in 2013 will be replacing their 4 leading hitters from last year - OF Bryan Langlois (.310, .393, .370) is their best returning player this season. Keep an eye on 1B Sam Meyer (.276, .389, .344) who is capable of hitting for power and doing some damage to opposing pitchers. Pepperdine was actually a better team last season (they won the West Coast Conference), but this still will not be an easy series for the Aggies. I would look for A&M to take 2 games out of 3 from the Waves at Olsen.
Houston College Classic
Date: March 1-3
Location: Minute Maid Park (Houston, TX)
As if Pepperdine wasn't a good weekend test for the Aggies, the Houston College Classic will be an excellent measuring stick for A&M fans to see where their team stands relatively early in the season. The Houston Cougars went 18-35-1 in 2012 and return leading hitter OF Landon Appling (.324, .399, .410) and their most used pitcher Austin Pruitt (3-4, 4.25, 57 K). This is a game that A&M should win, and is definitely the most winnable game in this tournament.
Things get more difficult in a hurry for the Aggies on Saturday as they take on a familiar opponent in the Rice Owls. The Owls went 41-19 in 2012, including a 5-4 win over Texas A&M at Olsen, and hosted a regional. The Owls will have a new look in 2013 though as they return just 4 everyday starters from last season's team, although included in that is star 2B Christian Springer (.343, .458, .448). I have to believe that Rice will be favored in this one, but I could see A&M pulling an upset in Houston.
Lastly, the Aggies will face off with the North Carolina Tar Heels who are ranked as the #1 team preseason by Baseball America. UNC comes into the 2013 season expected to make it to Omaha and is considered one of the favorites to win the national championship. If there is any positive for A&M in this matchup it would be that they do get to go against the Tar Heels' Sunday starter, but it would be a relative shocker if the Aggies can win this one.
Cal State Fullerton
Date: March 8-10
Location: Goodwin Field (Fullerton, CA)
2012 record: 36-21 (made NCAA regional final)
The Titans took 2 out of 3 games from the Aggies in College Station in 2012, and A&M will make the return trip to Fullerton this season to take on another strong Titans squad. Fullerton enters 2013 with a solid rotation led by sophomore Grahamm Wiest (5-5, 3.12, 57 K) and returns two-way stud Michael Lorenzen (.297, .435, .353) who plays in the outfield but also features as a closer for the Titans (2-0, 1.23, 16 saves, 22 innings, 17 K). Fullerton presents yet another challenging matchup for the Aggies, and I expect that the Titans will win 2 of 3 games in this series at home.
Key SEC Opponents
Date: March 22-24
Location: Swayze Field (Oxford, MS)
2012 record: 37-26 (made NCAA regional final)
The Ole Miss Rebels dealt the Aggies their first loss in the College Station regional last season, and A&M will make their first trip to Oxford as members of the SEC. Ole Miss was picked by the SEC coaches to finish 4th in 2013, one spot ahead of Texas A&M, so this may be a key series for both teams. The Rebels return 2 outstanding starters for 2013 - Bobby Wahl (7-4, 2.55, 104 K) and Mike Mayers (6-3, 3.50, 71 K) who both feature fastballs in the upper 90's. Leading the Ole Miss offense will be OF Tanner Mathis (.359, .416, .460), and the Rebels are expected to return to the NCAA postseason again this season. I look for the Rebels to win 2 of the 3 games, aided by playing at home at Swayze Field, but I think the Aggies can take a game on the road and avoid a sweep.
Date: March 28-30
Location: Carolina Stadium (Columbia, SC)
2012 record: 49-20 (lost in NCAA Championship Game)
The South Carolina Gamecocks came close to winning their third straight National Championship in 2012, before ultimately falling to Arizona, but they have a number of major contributors to replace in 2013. Names like Michael Roth, Matt Price, and Christian Walker have moved on but the Gamecocks are still a very talented team that can make another NCAA Tournament run. Look for lefty pitcher Jordan Montgomery (6-1, 3.62, 57 K) to step up and have a big sophomore season on the mound for SC, and another sophomore Tanner English (.298, .355, .341) will look to take charge offensively for the Gamecocks. This strikes me as another road series that A&M is going to have a difficult time winning more than 1 game in, and may do well just to avoid a sweep.
Date: April 12-14
Location: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park
2012 record: 40-24 (made NCAA regionals)
This shapes up to be a key series at Olsen Field, perhaps moreso for the Aggies than the Bulldogs, and Mississippi State returns plenty of talent from a squad that won 40 games in 2012. The Bulldogs will have 2 big offensive weapons this season in SS Adam Frazier (.371, .445, .482) and 1B Wes Rea (.300, .500, .417) and will be led by Brandon Woodruff (1-2, 2.38, 37 K) on the mound. Although I think the Bulldogs are the better team on paper and are a team that can make a run in the postseason this year, I'm optimistic that the Aggies can win 2 games out of 3 in this series at home.
Date: April 19-21
Location: Baum Stadium (Fayetteville, AR)
2012 record: 46-22 (reached College World Series)
The Arkansas Razorbacks enter 2013 as one of the teams expected to compete for a National Championship; the Hogs are ranked #1 in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, and were picked to finish 1st in the SEC by the league's coaches. Arkansas may have the deepest pitching staff in the SEC, if not the country, featuring starters Ryne Stanek (8-4, 2.82, 83 K) and left-hander Randall Fant (2-3, 3.27, 39 K) along with Barrett Astin (3-5, 1.99, 61 K) who could feature either as a starter or in the bullpen. The Razorbacks biggest offensive contributor returning is Dominic Ficociello (.290, .429, .387) who will likely move from 1B to 2B in 2013. I would truthfully not be surprised to see the Aggies leave Fayetteville without a win against an extremely good Arkansas team.
Date: May 9-11
Location: Olsen Field at Blue Bell Park
2012 record: 47-18 (lost in NCAA Super Regional)
The Tigers will look to bounce back from a disappointing Super Regional loss at home to Cinderella team Stony Brook, and there is plenty of talent on their roster in 2013. However, they will have to replace a number of key contributors including star pitcher Kevin Gausman and SS Austin Nola. The Tigers will have pitcher Aaron Nola (7-4, 3.61, 89 K) back on the mound in 2013 to go with 1B Mason Katz (.320, .552, .414, 13 HR) and first-team All-American LF Raph Rhymes (.431, .530, .489) who will anchor their offense. While I am not sure that the Tigers can have quite the kind of regular season that they did last year, I would not be the least bit surprised to see LSU make it to Omaha in 2013 and I think they take 2 of 3 games from the Aggies at Olsen.
Side note - the guys over at And The Valley Shook have done a good job of previewing their team this year and I expect they'll have strong coverage throughout the year, so stop over there if you want to know more about their team.
|Steven F. Austin||2/19||College Station, TX||26-33|
|Texas Southern||2/20||College Station, TX||26-27|
|Northwestern State||2/26 - 2/27||College Station, TX||19-32|
|Prairie View A&M||3/5||College Station, TX||28-25|
|Houston Baptist||3/12||College Station, TX||28-33|
|Georgia||3/15 - 3/17||College Station, TX||31-26|
|Dallas Baptist||3/19||College Station, TX||41-19|
|UT-Arlington||3/26||College Station, TX||36-25|
|UTSA||4/2||College Station, TX||22-32|
|Auburn||4/5 - 4/7||College Station, TX||31-28|
|Sam Houston State||4/9 & 4/16||College Station, TX (4/9) & Huntsville, TX (4/16)||40-22|
|Texas State||4/23||San Marcos, TX||32-24|
|Alabama||4/26 - 4/28||Tuscaloosa, AL||21-34|
|Grambling State||4/30||College Station, TX||22-26|
|Missouri||5/3 - 5/5||College Station, TX||33-28|
|UT-Pan American||5/14||College Station, TX||30-22|
|Tennessee||5/16 - 5/18||Knoxville, TN||24-31|
Aggie Baseball fans have grown accustomed to Rob Childress coached A&M teams making the NCAA postseason with relative ease - 2006, which was also Childress' first season in College Station, was the last time the Aggies missed the postseason. Is that 6-year streak in danger this season? The short answer to that question is probably yes. Having said that...
I am of the belief that the Aggies will indeed make it back to the NCAA postseason again in 2013, although I do not expect it to be an easy road in the slightest. A myriad of young talent, an extremely difficult schedule, and so many unknowns are going to make for quite an interesting, albeit hopefully exciting, season of baseball in Aggieland. I would be surprised if A&M earns the right to host a regional in College Station in 2013, although I certainly hope that I am wrong on that front.
One last thing worth noting is that although the Aggies have a relatively challenging slate of nonconference opponents, things could have been worse in terms of the SEC schedule. A&M manages to avoid 3 of the top SEC East teams in 2013 - Vanderbilt, Florida and Kentucky - and the Aggies also drew LSU and Mississippi State at home. Part of the beauty of baseball is that anything truly can happen throughout the course of a season - if the starting pitchers hold up and a number of young guys make big contributions, A&M could suddenly find themselves making noise in Regionals or Super Regionals.
One of my favorite baseball quotes of all-time comes from Hall-of-Famer Rogers Hornsby - "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring." Get ready, baseball fans, spring is here at last! We're just 2 days away from Opening Day and the return of Olsen Magic.
See you at Olsen and BTHO UIC!