Auburn baseball starts its season this weekend, but even with a full offseason of work, the battle for catcher is just getting started.
Matt Scheffler, who caught two seasons for Auburn, signed with his hometown Seattle Mariners last year, and replacing him won’t be an easy task.
Coach Butch Thompson says he will wait and see who will earn the starting role. Thompson has a few options for where he’ll look behind the plate.
Sophomore Nate LaRue, redshirt freshman Ryan Dyal, and surprise candidate Steven Williams will all have a shot to claim the coveted starting role.
“I think we’re gonna run through and get a feel for all three of these guys,” Thompson said Thursday.
Nate LaRue is the current “Number One” catcher, according to Thompson. He’s the only one of the three to have caught for the Tigers, starting three games in last year’s shortened season. The Mobile native is listed at 6-3 and 210 lbs, with a great build for the catching position. Along with the cannon arm Thompson mentioned, his offensive profile is encouraging, and he batted .294 in his 17 at-bats last season.
“We feel like Nate can handle any situation,” Thompson said. “He has the most experience.”
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Dyal, fresh off his Tommy John surgery, will be playing in his first college games this season. As a lefty hitter in a lineup with only one perennial starter, Judd Ward, being a lefty, we could see him platoon behind the plate against right-handed starting pitchers. He has plenty of power potential, and can hit for plenty of power when he opens up his swing. On defense, Dyal lacks the cannon of LaRue and Williams, Dyal matches it with precision on his throws. But after losing a season due to injury, Thompson wants to take his time.
“Ryan’s one of those where I don’t want to force the game,” Thompson said. “It will be his first games in a Tiger uniform."
The surprise in this catcher battle lies with Steven Williams. Williams, who’s played in the outfield the past three seasons, has a career slash line of .270/.384/.457. Despite being a staple in the outfield, Williams is no stranger to the catcher position. He was the No. 3 backstop in the country according to Perfect Game, leading the Deerfield-Windsor School to back-to-back Georgia state titles.
While his arm and natural athleticism will work wonders behind the plate, the framing and the pitcher relationships cannot be done overnight, but after an offseason of work, the coaches are impressed at his work. In recent practices, he’s been getting a lot of work catching converted closer Cody Greenhill.
“He caught Cody last Friday,” Thompson said. “I think that he’s a guy he matches up well with.”
Look for Williams to catch a number of Greenhill’s starts, and if he performs behind the plate, he may see him stay there.
Auburn’s season starts off against Presbyterian on Friday, at 5 p.m. CST at Plainsman Park.
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