Once again, Auburn baseball had a great year in 2022. The Tigers hosted a regional at Plainsman Park, defeated Oregon State in the Corvallis Super Regional, then went three games deep from Omaha in the College World Series, finishing with a final record of 43-22 .
However, Auburn lost eight players from that roster to Major League Baseball, including 3/4 of the starting rotation (Trace Bright, Hayden Mullins, and Mason Barnett), back end of the bullpen (Blake Burkhalter and Carson Skipper), and 3 / 4 parts from the starting ground (Sonny DiChiara, Brody Moore, Blake Rambusch).
To reload the roster, Auburn relied on a strong freshman class and key additions from the transfer gate. Over the next few weeks, we’ll introduce you to the new faces on the list.
Let’s get to know the newcomer:
Justin Kirby, Kent State
Grad transfer with one year of eligibility remaining
Kirby was recognized as the all-MAC team’s top performer in 2022, leading the Golden Flashes in home runs, doubles, RBI, and hits while leading in stolen bases.
He entered the outfield returning longtime RF veterans Bobby Pierce and CF Kason Howell, as well as backups Mike Bellew and Josh Hall. Real freshman Chris Stanfield, one of the top 100 dynamic employees, is an option to play for 2023 as well as being Howell’s heir in CF.
In fall action, Kirby was patrolling LF for the Tigers, giving Auburn above-average fielding as well as defense at all three positions with Howell at CF and Bobby Pierce at right. He has excellent readability, trajectory and reactions to the ball with a strong and accurate arm.
D1 Baseball, write in “25 Things to Look Forward to During the 2023 SEC Season” Series ($), was higher than Kirby’s offense. One point of discussion was about “finding the next Sonny D” – the next transition from an average major to enter the SEC and become an absolute offensive powerhouse. When discussing the candidates, writer Joe Healy identifies Kirby as one player who could have an “influence,” teaming him with Mississippi State’s Colton Ledbetter (Samford), Arkansas State’s Jared Wegner (Creighton), and Southern’s Ryan Waldschmidt (Charleston). Mississippi.
When digging into the advanced stats, it’s easy to see why. With the exception of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Kirby has always been an offensive player, with two WRC+ seasons of 145+. (Weighted runs created is a plus statistic that measures runs created by an individual player compared to the league average. 100 av., so 145 is 45% better than the average player on a park-adjusted basis). Kirby’s two seasons with a slugging percentage of over 60,000, his junior and senior seasons, coincide with his highest home run percentage thanks to a hitting percentage of over 50%.
As Auburn prepares to start full team practices next week, it will be interesting to see where Kirby slots are in the lineup. He finished fourth in the fall exhibition against Louisiana Tech and fifth against Alabama, and his combination of power and speed made him a perfect five holes as a “leading man of the second half” once he got past the top of the lineup. It wouldn’t be an absolute surprise to see him step up, either, since he’s shown the wheels needed to put shooters on edge with a running game.
Auburn welcomes back former pitcher and #1 overall in the MLB draft to select Casey Mize of the Detroit Tigers to attend the Auburn Diamond Club’s 21st Annual Gala, which takes place Saturday, February 4th at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are available at auburndiamondclub.com. The 2023 season begins with a three-game series against Indiana, starting Friday, February 17th.
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