Tech Baseball Season Preview
Jan. 4, 2005
Perhaps the most difficult coaching job in all of college athletics belongs to the baseball coach. NCAA limited scholarships and recruiting classes that are affected by the Major League Draft each year are enough to keep any sane individual out of the profession. Texas Tech Head Coach Larry Hays can tell you all you need to know about that and then some.
Hays and his assistants never dreamed they would be starting over with a brand new team in 2005, yet, here they are. A year ago, Hays and his staff assembled one of the top teams in the Big 12 Conference and following a difficult year with the Major League Draft, they have been forced to start all over. The June 2004 Major League Draft took away four of Tech's top players - Josh Brady (first base), Dallas Braden (left-handed starting pitcher), Jose Delgado (second base) and Michael Mask (left field). To make things even worse, the draft took away Tech's top pitching recruit Danny Vais and top infielder Nick Evans.
But, Larry Hays has never been one for excuses and he and his 2005 squad are out to prove to everyone that this team is not about excuses. In fact, quite the opposite - these Red Raiders are looking for championship hardware.
The Diamond Raiders of 2005 will certainly have a new look about them, but the Tech coaching staff is quietly optimistic that this group can be an exciting one. Despite all the negatives of the MLB Draft, Texas Tech dodged a bullet with senior shortstop Cameron Blair as he decided to return to Tech for his senior season despite being taken in the 18th round by the St. Louis Cardinals. Blair was a Third-Team All-America selection by Collegiate Baseball Magazine last year and figures to be a strong candidate for preseason Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
"You never really know what your team is going to look like once the season begins," said head coach Larry Hays. "You spend a lot of time preparing and sorting through the mix in the fall and you hope that when the spring comes around you don't have to go back and revisit some of those things. We were expecting to get more guys back from last year so we have had to scramble getting guys at positions that we didn't think we would have to until after this year. But, with all that said, I am really proud of what we have and the kind of work ethic that these new guys have shown. If we have guys that decide to step up in the spring, I am excited about the kind of club we could be."
There will be another new face around the Tech dugout in the spring as former Lubbock Christian University head coach Bobby Sherrad has joined the team as a volunteer assistant coach
There is no doubt that the infield will be anchored by Preseason All-America and Big 12 Player of the Year Candidate Cameron Blair who returns to his duties at shortstop. Blair made his case last year that he wanted to be remembered as one of the best shortstops in school history (and that is saying a lot) as he garnered All-America honors after just one season. Blair ended his 2004 season with a team-high .371 batting average and tallied 23 doubles, 14 home runs, 81 RBI and had 19 stolen bases. He was a First-Team All-Big 12 selection by the coaches and by virtually all publications covering Big 12 Baseball.
"Cameron is an outstanding player and we are certainly glad he stuck around here for another year," said Hays. "He has a lot of fire about him and we need him to step up and lead this team through example."
The only other returning player in the Tech infield will be senior catcher Cooper Fouts. Fouts, who just wrapped up his second season as Tech's starting catcher, will get the starting nod early but will have plenty of competition from freshman Matt Smith. Smith joined the Red Raiders this year out of the high school ranks where he was a standout catcher at McKinney High School in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Smith was ranked as one of the top 100 high school prospects according to Texas Baseball News after wrapping up a solid year with the Lions last Spring.
With the departure of First-Team All-American Josh Brady to the professional ranks, Texas Tech will now have to replace its first baseman and four-hole hitter. The leading candidates to take over for Brady are freshman Josh Wilson from Midland High School and Drew Roberts from Mesquite Poteet High. Both Wilson and Roberts have shown good offensive punch since arriving on campus but as always the top defensive guy will get the nod from Hays.
Moving on over to second base, it looks as if the battle is coming down to Joseph Callender, Travis Young and Trey Stewart. All three players come from the junior college ranks and all have shown promise to take over one of the middle infield positions. Over at third, Travis Young, Carey Avants and Brian Capps have factored into the mix but the position still remains wide open.
"We are going to have to wait until the Spring rolls around before we can start thinking about starters at most of these positions. The important thing is that they are all up for grabs and our guys need to understand that and battle hard. David Steffey is a guy that I haven't mentioned but he has been out with an injury and we hope he will be ready to go when January gets here."
Heading back to his duties in center field will be senior Cody Fuller. Fuller emerged last year as one of the top defensive outfielders in the Big 12 Conference, and for that matter, the nation. Fuller made 52 starts last season and hit .302 with two home runs and 27 stolen bases. Joining Fuller will be senior Madison Edwards who returns to the Tech outfield as an everyday starter for the fourth consecutive year. Edwards, a native of nearby Midland, has played in 166 games in his career (which ranks sixth all-time in Tech history) with 126 starts and has a career batting average of .291.
"Having guys like Fuller and Edwards make really makes things better for us," said Hays. "Both of those guys play hard every play and we will look to them for leadership in their senior year."
THE PITCHING STAFF
"I was really proud of how our new guys really began to step up during the Red & Black Series back during fall practice," "It took them some time to finally settle down and start pitching and stop worrying about the things they have no control over. Travis (Walden) has a done a great job with them but we need each guy to keep up that effort."