War Eagle Extra

Former Russell County standout Anfernee Grier laying groundwork for career year with Auburn baseball

Michael Niziolek

mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com

Anfernee Grier will make his 71st consecutive start Friday in Auburn's opener against Sacramento State. (Courtesy of Auburn Athletics)
Anfernee Grier will make his 71st consecutive start Friday in Auburn's opener against Sacramento State. (Courtesy of Auburn Athletics)

Round after round of the 2013 MLB draft came and went without Anfernee Grier hearing his name.

The then Auburn signee was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 39th round, the second to last round of the draft. The former No. 1 prospect in Alabama out of Russell County High School remembers the frustrating three-day wait.

“I wasn’t happy at the time,” Grier said. “I wanted to get drafted earlier, so I didn’t have to go to college. I was upset for a while.”

A series of changes to Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement prior to the 2012 had an immediate impact on high school players being selected in earlier rounds.

The rule changes created a hard cap with a specific amount of money allotted for each pick in the first 10 rounds. The money for that pick is subtracted from the total pool if a player doesn’t sign.

Penalties were also put in place for teams that exceeded the set budget for its draft picks.

With the inability to offer high school players more money to forgo college adding an extra layer of uncertainty over their signability, many teams avoid selecting high school players with their top picks.

Grier’s career might have played out differently had he been a few years older, but the outfielder ended up on the Plains.

“I was thinking about this earlier this week, how much I enjoyed my college experience,” Grier said. “It’s funny how it all ended up working out.”

Grier probably won’t have to wait as long to hear his name when he re-enters the MLB draft pool at the end of this season — Baseball America has him ranked 62nd on its list of top 100 college prospects — ­­­­­­but this time he’s not in the same kind of hurry he was three years ago to get there.

 “We have something to prove this season,” Grier said. 

Not a paper tiger

Grier has a hard time celebrating his standout sophomore year.

The 6-foot-1, 180-pounder led Auburn in batting average (.323), runs (41) and doubles (22). He started all of the Tigers’ 62 games and reached base safely in 52 of them, but the outfielder went into the offseason more focused on a late season swoon.

“Pitchers made adjustments against me and I struggled,” Grier said. “I noticed it, but couldn’t really figure out what to do. Pitchers were throwing me a lot of off-speed stuff. I couldn’t control my body.”

Grier spent the offseason making adjustments to his swing and positioning to “calm everything down.”

He also benefitted from spending three weeks with the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team over the summer, making nine appearances against top international competition including the Cuban national team that played in the World Baseball Classic.

“We were playing guys that were 30 years old,” Grier said. “It was fun to try to go out and compete with them.”

Grier used the time wisely picking up what he could from teammates like Louisville’s Corey Ray. The speedy outfielder was one of the more dangerous players on the base paths in all of Division 1 last season with 34 steals.

Stealing bases is an area Grier believes he can improve considering his average success (16 of 31 in his career) on the base paths.

 “It wasn’t something I would talk to him about, but I just watched him anytime he was on base to see what he was doing,” Grier said.

While Grier isn’t making any promises about matching the 15-game hit streak he opened last season with, he feels good about the changes heading into Auburn’s regular season opener Friday against Sacramento State.

“I could tell during spring practice it helped,” Grier said. “I’m not going to be chasing any kind of streak. I’m going to take every at-bat the best I can.”

The league’s coaches gave Grier a vote of confidence Thursday by naming the outfielder to the preseason All-SEC First Team. He was Auburn’s only player to make the list.

“From my vantage point, this is well deserved,” Auburn head coach Butch Thompson said. “Anfernee is arguably our best player and in the short time I’ve been here, he has been our hardest worker. This is a big year and a great accomplishment for his track record and all the hard work he has put in.”

Mentors new and old

Auburn parted ways with coach Sunny Golloway in the midst of fall practice, the day after the program held its annual “Meet your Seats” event.

Golloway was dismissed “with cause” by the athletic department for allegedly violating team and NCAA rules.

For an Auburn team looking to build on its first NCAA tournament appearance in five years, the timing of the dismissal wasn’t ideal.

Auburn introduced former Mississippi State assistant coach Butch Thompson as Golloway’s replacement in late October.

The off the field drama didn’t spill into the clubhouse where players relied on each other to get through the transition.

“It’s made us hungry,” Grier said. “Anytime you lose a coach in the fall everyone is going to count you out.”

Thompson’s familiarity with Auburn from his time coaching in the SEC gave him a healthy head start assessing the roster. It also freed him up to spend the past few months establishing a rapport with his new players.

“It’s been a really easy process,” Grier said. “We have been learning some new stuff, getting reps and just coming together as a group.”

One voice Grier has always had in his corner and relied on throughout his career continues to be his father Antron.

The former member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization, who spent four years in the minor leagues, has helped his son become the level-headed player he is today.

“All the time he’s giving me advice,” Grier said. “If I go 4 for 4, he’s going to see something, but it’s out of love.”

Anfernee affectionately describes his dad as his “biggest critic and biggest fan.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for me to see, but he’s always told me I get better every year,” Grier said. “It helps having him to talk about the game.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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