AUBURN, Ala. (EETV) - With opening day one week away, head coach Butch Thompson is looking at two upperclassmen to set the standard for newcomers with their leadership and work ethic. Making noticeable impacts are junior shortstop Ryan Bliss and junior right-hand pitcher Richard Fitts.
"They just show up and they've worked hard since they've come to campus," Thompson said. "It's in their DNA. It's how they were raised."
Bliss—who started in all 18 games a season ago—led the team and ranked second in the SEC in hits with 29. He also led the team with nine multi-hit efforts to bring home a batting average of .377 and team-high 21 runs scored.
"Bliss, he adds so much depth," Thompson said. "Him just not being an All-American, he's trying to make somebody else an All-American. That's uncommon, that's refreshing, and that's pretty amazing."
Fitts—a walk-on—does not allow that label to stop him from reaching his goals. Last season, Fitts made six appearances with a lone start in his season debut vs. Illinois-Chicago. Fitts produced a record of 1-0 and 2.77 ERA while striking out 16 batters and walking just five in 13.0 innings pitched.
"I've coached his brother, and it's an amazing family, but Richard's always known what's in him," Thompson said.
"He's worked really hard to grow as about as much as any other player maybe since Casey Mize, coming to campus and that growth over three years. Richard is on that trajectory."
As a walk-on, Fits is able to showcase to the newcomers that they can accomplish anything if they are motivated and have the right work ethic. Thompson spoke on the characteristics that set Bliss and Fitts apart from the ordinary collegiate baseball player.
"They work, work, work, and they're tired when they go home. They drag out of here," Thompson said.
"The guy that hasn't figured it out yet, or hasn't got everything crafted the way he needs to, they kind of drag in and they rush out to go on to something else. These guys are invested in their craft and what they're doing."
A couple of newcomers have invested in that mentality, impressing the coaching staff thus far. Two that have been standing out the most are freshmen Jack Sokol and Cam Hill.
Sokol, a 6'4 RHP from New Albany, Ohio, has been the "most improved player by far." According to Baseball Prep Report, posting a high school career record of 19-1 with 1.50 ERA had Sokol ranked as the No.4 player in Ohio.
"It looks like a completely different guy that came back from the break. We're excited about that," Thompson said.
Hill—a Bob Jones High School graduate—was ranked the No. 8 player in Alabama, according to Perfect Game. The 6'3 LHP/IF finished with a 14-4 record and 1.96 ERA while also hitting 22 home runs and 95 RBIs.
"I would say Cam Hill would be in that category, but we were pretty excited when we finished the fall. Cam started showing flashes of where he's at," Thompson said.
With the first pitch right around the corner, Thompson believes the starting rotation has begun to shape up and is planning to find out more about his team after opening weekend.
The Tigers' opening weekend is a matchup against Presbyterian, with the opener scheduled for Friday, Feb. 19, at 4:00 p.m. CT from Plainsman Park.