The 2021 SDS All-SEC baseball team, award winners
This weekend marked the end of the SEC baseball regular season, but we can’t wait anymore. We can’t even wait for the end of the season, because it’s time to recognize the best of a stellar SEC baseball season. As we look forward to the start of postseason play, beginning Tuesday with the SEC Tournament, here’s where we see the best of the SEC.
First our All-SEC squad, and then our final superlatives. Buckle up.
Catcher: Logan Tanner, Mississippi State
Tanner has had a nice season at the plate, checking in at .286 and with 11 home runs. But where he really stood out from other impressive players like Alabama’s Sam Praytor or Ole Miss’s Hayden Dunhurst is his work shutting down the running game. The Bulldogs were No. 2 in the SEC in gunning down attempted base-stealers, and Tanner played a significant role in that solid work by throwing out 10 runners.
First base: Will Frizzell, Texas A&M
The Aggies had a rough season, but it certainly wasn’t big Will’s fault. The massive mauler hammered opposing pitchers to a .343/19 homers/50 RBI pace, which landed him near the top of the SEC leader board in both power categories. There was plenty of competition at the spot, with Vandy’s Dominic Kegan, Auburn’s Tyler Miller, and Kentucky’s T.J. Collett among the deserving possibilities who came up just short.
Second base: Robert Moore, Arkansas
There were other players with worthy numbers (like Alabama’s Peyton Wilson, for one), but this was a two-man race between two players who were the heart and soul of the league’s division upstarts. Tennessee’s Max Ferguson seemed to always make a big play for the Vols, but Moore did the same for the Razorbacks. An unlikely power source (13 homers, 46 RBIs) for the Razorbacks, Moore is a solidifying influence on what has been the nation’s top team. Good enough for us.
Shortstop: Ryan Bliss, Auburn
There might have been more competition at this spot than any other. UT’s Liam Spence was an on-base machine. Georgia’s Cole Tate has similar skills. Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez is the future at this position, and Vandy’s Carter Young has the power (15 homers, 47 RBIs). But Bliss, perhaps more than the rest, is the total package. Hitting .367 for a bottom-dwelling Auburn team, Bliss doesn’t lack for power either (14 homers, 43 RBIs), and his defensive numbers are solid as well.
Outfield: Christian Franklin, Arkansas; Tanner Allen, Mississippi State; Enrique Bradfield Jr., Vandy
There were many great SEC outfielders who didn’t make the cut. Florida’s Jud Fabian finished 2nd in the SEC with 20 home runs, for instance. LSU’s Dylan Crews, Ole Miss’ excellent duo of T.J. McCants and Kevin Graham, etc., were outstanding as well.
But there can only be 3.
We did get the league’s leading hitter (Allen, .387), best base-stealer (Bradfield, 42 … and he won the title by 20), and emotional center of the top team (Franklin). Let’s start with Tanner Allen. Hitting .387 will get some attention, particularly in the SEC. Allen has power though (8 homers, 53 RBIs, tied for 5th in the SEC) and can swipe a base or two (8 SB on the year). Meanwhile, Bradfield has manufactured runs for the ‘Dores as needed. His .366 average is a plus, but not as much as going 42-for-47 on stolen bases. Franklin, along with Robert Moore, simply brought to the table whatever Arkansas needed. His stats are worthy (.293, 12 homers, 50 RBIs, 9 stolen bases), but anybody who watched him come up with clutch hits and catches week in and week out understands why Arkansas is the lone SEC team to not lose a series this year.
Designated hitter: Wes Clarke, South Carolina
Beast mode. Clarke won the SEC home run title (21) and finished 7th with 52 RBIs. Being a power hitter is when everybody knows you can hit it into the parking lot and you do it anyway. It’s hard to imagine how good Clarke’s numbers would be if he had adequate line-up protection.
Honorable mention also to Tim Elko, who is now playing again on a torn ACL. He had not missed a substantial chunk of the season, he’d definitely be on this list. As it is, honorable mention for him, and if we can use the trick from The Babe of letting him crush balls and have somebody else run for him, he’s still in the line-up for us.
Starting pitchers: Jack Leiter, Vandy; Doug Nikhazy, Ole Miss; Kumar Rocker, Vandy
Why 3? If our all-league team plays a series, we need somebody on tap for 3 games. Plenty of guys could have been here. LSU’s Landon Marceaux is deserving, as was Gunnar Hoglund before an injury ended his season prematurely. Arkansas’ Patrick Wicklander also should get more credit.
But at the end of the day, the 3 guys who stood about the rest were the 2 Vandy Boys and Ole Miss’ Nikhazy. Each is among the league leaders in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Leiter was literally unhittable for part of the season (opponents hit just .128 against him, best in the league), Rocker has been the league’s most consistent arm and led the league in wins (11) and strikeouts (129), and in Nikhazy, Ole Miss has had the ace who has kept them competitive in the SEC. That’ll do.
Relief pitcher: Kevin Kopps, Arkansas
Huge credit to Mississippi State’s Landon Sims, who has the bad luck to be 2nd both for this honor and for our Freshman of the Year. Sims doesn’t get as much ink as Kopps, but he’s been dominant for MSU (3-0, 0.50 ERA, 8 saves, 72Ks in 36 innings) and could come up big in weeks to come.
But the relief ace of the year is Arkansas’s Kopps. Whether it’s 3 outs or a multi-inning stint, he’s been lights out (10-0, 0.76 ERA, 8 saves, 97 Ks in 60 1/3 innings), and it’s been key to keeping the Razorbacks on top of the SEC. Should either of our trio of stars above falter, Kapps would lock down the late innings.
And now the big trophies …
Hitter of the Year: Christian Franklin, Arkansas
The top hitter on the top team seems like a good compromise. It could have been the top hitter (Tanner Allen), the big power guys (Wes Clarke or Jud Fabian), or the SEC’s RBI leader (Auburn’s Tyler Miller), but in a league full of deserving hitters, Franklin’s clutch game is strong. How strong? In Arkansas’s 3-game sweep of MSU, which made the difference in the West division (and SEC Tourney seeding), Franklin delivered 3 homers and a double. He got the biggest hits at the biggest time … and that probably matters more than the most hits. He finished the regular season with an OPS of .995 to go with 12 home runs and 50 RBIs.
Pitcher of the Year: Kumar Rocker, Vanderbilt
It’s been an odd year for Rocker, falling occasionally into the shadow of Jack Leiter and having periods where his world-class heat was a bit lacking. But at the end of the day, he delivered on expectations. He entered the season as the projected No. 1 overall draft pick in June and dominated throughout. He led the SEC in wins (11), strikeouts (129), finished 6th in ERA (2.45) and 3rd in batting average against (.160). He’s the most consistent pitcher in the game, with the possible exception of Arkansas’ Kevin Kopps. The last time we had a College World Series, Rocker was key to Vandy’s triumph. Don’t bet against him again.
Freshman of the Year: Jacob Gonzalez, Ole Miss
LSU’s Tre Morgan and MSU’s Landon Sims were both given strong consideration, but Gonzalez has been an up-the-middle star in the making for the Rebels at shortstop. His offensive numbers are superb (.349, 10 homers, 48 RBIs) and should only get better over the next few years.
Coach of the Year: Tony Vitello, Tennessee
Tennessee won the East and is expected to host an NCAA Tournament regional. It’s been a while since UT has been anywhere near this good, and Vitello has taken the Vols seamlessly from the lower echelons of the East into being a legitimate top-5 team in the sport.
How will it go in Hoover and beyond? Very much to be determined.
And yes, Arkansas’s Dave Van Horn was entirely deserving of this honor. But Vitello’s squad has exceeded the sum of its parts by more than Van Horn’s, which was enough to give Vitello the award.