Auburn Softball Retools and Looks to Reload
Auburn Coach Mickey Dean has a lot of players to replace for next season (photo: Auburn media file)
It was unfortunate how Mickey Dean’s second Auburn squad limped down the stretch of the season before postseason play ended with a thud. Its fans, who love the program deeply, know just how far from the top the softball Tigers have fallen in a short period of time. And the bloodletting didn’t end in regional play when Auburn was sent home. Several players didn’t even unpack their bags and headed directly into the transfer portal.
The first player to transfer did so mid-season. KK Crocker, who had been a part-time starter, quietly left the team and joined UAB’s program. She joined former Tiger Jenna Olszewski, who became an immediate starter for the Blazers. Olszewski is the only Blazer to start all 50 games for UAB as she hit .303, tied for second on the team in hits with 46, was third in slugging, while hitting two homeruns. That average would be good for fifth on Auburn’s roster and would have been a better bat than two of Auburn’s starting outfielders. Crocker, in the meantime, didn’t record an at-bat in 2019, though she hit .338 in 77 at-bats in 2018, good enough for second on the team. What changed for Crocker from 2018 to 2019?
Flying under the radar was the transfer of Tate Moseley to Troy. Moseley redshirted this season after playing five years of varsity softball, including four as a starter for Hewitt-Trussville. The young outfielder hit over .400 with 11 homers in her senior season to become second team All-State. She couldn’t crack Auburn’s lineup with the outfielders in front of her. However, if she had stayed there would be openings this coming season.
Carmyn Greenwood, like Crocker, was a part-time starter for Auburn over the last two years. She started 52 games in her sophomore season with a .250 average in 50 at bats. That batting average was above at least two of Auburn’s outfield starters and on par with Alyssa Rivera in right field, even though no one was going to touch her. Greenwood faced several injuries in her time at Auburn before staying healthy this year. She elected to transfer and join her sister at Louisville.
Joining Greenwood will be pitcher Chardonnay Harris, one of the hardest players to replace. Harris started the year seemingly buried in the pitching rotation. The unquestioned ace was Makayla Martin, who played a close second to Kaylee Carlson. Behind Martin was Ashlee Swindle, Auburn’s frequent game-two and midweek game pitcher. Waiting in the wings was lefty hurler and transfer, Lexi Handley. Harris was nothing short of fantastic in her limited outings. Her 121 strikeouts led the team by a wide margin. It’s likely Chardonnay would’ve become Auburn’s ace next season had she not elected to transfer with Greenwood to Louisville.
When Martin broke her hand in the back half of the season, Mickey Dean leaned on Swindle to take the load. Swindle struggled mightily in the circl eand had a .286 opponent batting average, the worst among the pitching staff.
To make matters even worse, Auburn lost shortstop and day-one starter Taylon Snow. Snow came to Auburn as one of the highest recruited players in the country and immediately locked down shortstop. She took over leadoff duties when Victoria Draper graduated. She hit .324 with a .359 onbase percentage. While those numbers were in the top half of the team, she never became a true leadoff hitter for the Tigers. Snow had just four errors at short in 2019 and elected to transfer to powerhouse program, Oklahoma.
With Auburn’s program floundering, no one can fault Snow for a move to a program that is almost a lock to play in the Women’s College World Series every year. Snow was recruited to play at that level, and one must wonder if she questioned ever getting there with Coach Dean.
Though it would seem that Auburn is losing half its players and that other programs don’t seem to experience this type of turnover, Dean was …
quick to point out in a recent news article that the sky isn’t falling just yet.
“When you look at the transfer portal, I mean, gosh, I can’t tell you over all the sports how many kids, but I think there’s close to 700 just in softball. So it’s just a, it’s thing where we opened a can of worms, and I don’t think anyone has a good grasp on it.
“You know, because some kids have legitimate reasons. I mean, you know, they’re legitimate. But then some, you know, they just, it’s easier to transfer I guess.”
To be sure, Dean has faced a very difficult situation, and the transfers are likely making things more vexing. After all, half of coaching at this level is recruiting, with development coming second and on-the-field coaching running a distant third. Fans can understand when the situation presented is due to just the last coaching staff, but development and on-the-field coaching have become an ever-present concern, exacerbated by the transfers and lack of recruiting at the level of the Myers’ regime.
That isn’t to say Dean isn’t addressing some of these issues. It took more than a full season, but he moved on from assistant coach and hitting instructor Ed Ketlehut. It was a long overdue move followed by Dean’s hiring Eugene Lent, who led DePaul to the WCWS four times in an eight-year span.
“I’m looking forward to having him on staff,” Dean said. “Eugene and I had an opportunity to coach together with the Chicago Bandits. I like his hitting philosophy, and I like what he teaches. I’m real excited for our kids to be able to experience that. Just to be able to bring in his experience as a coach. He’s a Hall of Fame coach and it’ll be nice to have him on the staff.”
Perhaps the hitting aspect has been addressed. Can Dean bring in the rest of the pieces to make Auburn a national contender?