The 2012 SEC baseball tournament has already kicked off. While teams are fighting their way towards an SEC Championship, players can't help but think of the bigger possibilities ahead.
The SEC tournament gives players a chance to prepare for the National Championship tournament in Omaha, which is just a couple weeks away.
These four players need to take this opportunity to prove themselves if their respective teams want a shot at taking home the title in Omaha.
Mike Zunino - Florida Gators
The Florida Gators are led by a very young pitching staff in 2012. Thanks in large to talented catcher Mike Zunino the Gators had a very successful regular season.
But it's not just Zunino's ability to guide the pitcher that makes him so valuable.
Zunino finished the regular season with a .324 batting average driving in 51 runs, while also being one of the best players at the plate in the SEC.
With the Gators being a fairly young team, Mike Zunino's leadership and experience will be key to Florida's success down the stretch.
It will be with the guidance of the 2011 SEC Player of the Year that the Gators will delve deep into both the SEC tournament and the National Tournament.
Solidifying himself as the leader of the team will be Zunino's best shot at avenging their loss to South Carolina in last year's College World Series.
A.J. Reed - Kentucky Wildcats
A.J. Reed was phenomenal in the Wildcats' matchup against Ole Miss. He went 4-4 from the plate, including a home run in the fourth to put Kentucky up 1-0.
Reed was also fantastic from the mound, limiting the Rebels to only five hits in 5 and 2/3 innings.
It was his first start since April 10 and he came though big.
The regular season wasn't so kind with Reed only connecting three times in his last 22 at-bats leading up to the SEC tournament.
The fourth-seeded Wildcats missed their opportunity to secure a first round bye when they were swept by Mississippi State at the end of the season.
That won't matter if Reed produces more of the same numbers he put up against Ole Miss.
The Wildcats already have a premier pitcher in Corey Littrell but if Reed emerges as a force from the mound and behind the plate, things could get very interesting after things kick off in Omaha on June 15.
Raph Rhymes - LSU Tigers
Raph Rhymes notched an impressive .469 batting average with the Tigers on their way to being crowned the regular season champs.
With only 11 strikeouts during the regular season, all signs pointed towards the flurry of hits continuing into the SEC tourney.
Apparently all the signs were wrong.
In the Tigers' second round loss to Mississippi State, Rhymes was 2 of 4 from the plate but failed to drive in any runs or score himself.
Much of the Tigers' success during the regular season can be attributed to pitcher Kevin Gausman and the offense from Raph Rhymes.
If the Tigers want continued success, Rhymes will have to keep the hits coming.
Chris Stratton - Mississippi State Bulldogs
Chris Stratton and the Bulldogs have the most to gain during the SEC tournament. They enter as a possible dark horse candidate and have already surprised top-seeded LSU.
Stratton struck out an impressive 17 Tigers during a regular season matchup with LSU and he flexed his muscles again during the tourney when he struck out another eight batters.
The second round victory over LSU made Stratton the first MSU pitcher to reach 11 wins since Bobby Reed in 1990.
While MSU's hopes of reaching the college world series rest squarely on Stratton's shoulders, that's not the only thing he is playing for.
With a fastball in the low-90s and a nice slider, Stratton is currently a mid to late first round pick in the upcoming draft. With an excellent postseason he could push his draft stock into becoming a top ten pick.
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