AUBURN | Will Davis Daniel take a big step forward in his development next season?
Butch Thompson certainly expects him to and there’s plenty of evidence that supports the Auburn right-hander becoming a more consistent and even dominant SEC starter in his sophomore campaign.
“I think if you compare the numbers between Casey Mize's freshman and sophomore years, it may not have been any better than Davis Daniel,” Thompson said. “Did Casey Mize give us (three) quality starts in SEC play that Davis Daniel did?”
Mize was 2-5 with a 3.52 ERA as a freshman. He was 1-4 with 4.68 ERA in five SEC starts with just one quality start, allowing a run on four hits in a 6-5 loss at Ole Miss.
Just one year later, Mize was a third-team All-American with an 8-2 record, 2.04 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 83.2 innings.
Wade Rackley/Auburn athletics
Davis was 4-3 with a 5.89 ERA as a freshman last season including quality starts against Georgia, Tennessee and Ole Miss. He shutout the Bulldogs on four hits in 6.0 innings, shutout the Volunteers on three hits in 8.0 innings and allowed a run on four hits in 6.1 innings against the Rebels.
“The last two starts was not what we wanted, but his freshman year, man, he lost a 3-1 game at Texas A&M, pitched his heart out, and he battled. When I look at the whole year as a freshman I think it's better than a lot of great pitchers I've had,” Thompson said.
Even in the preseason, Thompson said Daniel might have the best stuff on the team and that’s a big statement when comparing him to Mize and Keegan Thompson, who was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the third round.
The comparisons don't end there. Butch Thompson also mentioned two of his former Mississippi State pitchers and current MLB players — Chris Stratton and Kendall Graveman — as players that stepped up after inconsistent freshmen seasons.
Stratton, the SEC Pitcher of the Year in 2012 and first round draft pick by the San Francisco Giants, was 5-3 with a 5.29 ERA as a freshman. Graveman, the Oakland A’s opening day starter in 2017, was 2-4 with a 7.02 ERA as a freshman before going 5-0 with a 3.65 ERA as a sophomore.
“I think they just start pitching,” Butch Thompson said. “I think they command the ball better. I think going off to the Cape Cod and being with all these other guys you pick up a lot of things because you're going to play with 10 other pitchers that are from other schools. I just think you learn and mature a lot and I think now he's not going to be shocked. He's gone through those 10 SEC weeks, he's stood on that mond in a Regional, I don't think he'll be as spooked. Once you do something a second time, you have a better feel. You're not as surprised as much.
“I think the biggest benefit for Davis Daniel is he won't be surprised, he knows what's expected, he knows how long that season is and he'll be better prepared by all those experiences he went through this year.”
Both Mize and Daniel will return as weekend starters next season but Thompson will be looking to fill the void left by Keegan Thompson, who signed with the Cubs last week.
Butch Thompson expects one of his true freshmen — Tanner Burns, Cody Greenhill or Ryan Hoerter — to step into that role.
“We will have more pitching depth than we had,” Butch Thompson said. “We will have young pitchers on the mound next year. What does that do? That always gives a coach pause, but I know the quality and the depth has been improved. I was always worried about the depth and length of the staff last season.”