By Nick Aguilera
Earlier this fall, we previewed some players to watch in the Pac-12 (you can read it here). Now we shift our focus to the southeast. The Southeastern Conference that is. The SEC is packed with talent and, with 10 tournament teams in 2018, will be the most competitive conference in college baseball once again. Here are a few players to keep an eye on in the SEC.
Wil Dalton, Jr., OF, Florida
Florida is one of college baseball’s powerhouses and they wouldn’t be where they are today without Dalton. The sophomore transfer hit 19 home runs in his first season with the Gators last season and will carry more of the load this year with the departures of Jonathan India, JJ Schwarz, Deacon Liput, and Nick Horvath. Dalton had an .880 OPS in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball, but struck out 23.79% of the time. If Dalton wants to lead Florida back to the promised land of Omaha, Nebraska, he will have to tap into his power while also cutting down the strikeouts.
Edouard Julien, So., 2B, Auburn
Julien is one of the best second basemen in the NCAA coming into the 2019 season as his mix of power and vision make him a coveted hitter at a weak hitting position. Julien hit 17 home runs and led the SEC in RBIs with 62 as a freshman last season while hitting .275 with an OBP of .398. With the departure of Casey Mize, Auburn will have a little bit more trouble getting back to the postseason, but if Julien can lead the offense, the absence of Mize will be hardly noticeable. He still has one more year until he is draft eligible, so seeing if he can improve on his incredible freshman season will be a small storyline, but he should be one of the most electric hitters in the NCAA.
Matt Cronin, Jr., P, Arkansas
In October, I wrote about Razorback junior Dominic Fletcher and their heartbreaking loss in the College World Series (Shameless plug!). The guy on the mound for the botched pop up in game two of that series was Matt Cronin. The lefty had 14 saves in 25 appearances last season and had a WHIP of 0.81. The ERA wasn’t as pretty at 3.54, but struck nearly 11 batters per nine innings. Over his first two college seasons, Cronin has 90 strikeouts and 26 walks in 66 innings of work. Now one of the best relievers in college baseball, Cronin will have a lot of weight on his shoulders following that historic collapse in June. With a lot of help around him, the Razorbacks should be yelling “Su-ey!” quite often once again this season.
Cam Shepherd, Jr., SS, Georgia
Shepherd was a first-team freshman All-American in 2017 after he hit .307 with an .806 OPS for the Bulldogs. He didn’t have the sophomore season to live up to his first season, but Shepherd will still be a key part of Georgia’s offense. While some of Shepherd’s offensive numbers regressed, he did improve some aspects of his game. He walked 40 times in 221 at-bats, 27 more than he had during his freshman campaign. Shepard can help Georgia make even more noise in the postseason this year, as the team won 39 games, but were knocked out by Duke in regionals.
Zach Daniels, So., OF, Tennessee
Daniels did not have stats that would wow you in his freshman season. In fact, they kind of make you want to look away from them, much like all of Tennessee’s seasons post-Rod Delmonico (zing!). Daniels hit .161 over 93 at-bats last season, but the tools are there. He flashed a little bit of pop after hitting five home runs in his first year, but in order to become an everyday contributor for the Volunteers, Daniels will need to make contact. Daniels also walked at a 20% clip, but nulled that by striking out 33% of the time. The outfielder will be one of the most interesting breakout candidates in the SEC this year, as his mix of power and plate vision can help him become not only an everyday player for the Vols, but also a legit draft prospect.
J.T. Ginn, Fr., P/IF, Mississippi State
Ginn was both selected in the first round of the 2018 MLB Draft, but didn’t sign after he failed to reach a deal with the Dodgers. Now, he will play two years for the Bulldogs, a team that was already a College World Series semifinalist last season, before being a draft eligible sophomore. First-round high school talents are rare to come across in the NCAA, but the Dawgs landed Ginn who should have an immediate impact on the team. Ginn is a solid piece to add to an already electric lineup. With their scrappy leader Jake Mangum back, Mississippi State already looked dangerous this season, but the addition of Ginn should make them a shoo-in for a CWS berth.