Coming off a disappointing season in 2003, the newly revamped Red Raiders enter the 2004 season on a mission. A mission that Tech hopes will bring them back to the top of the Big 12 and make for an extended run in the post season.
Texas Tech Head Coach Larry Hays has made it abundantly clear that the memories of 2003 are long forgotten and that is time for his team and the program to move on to better things. The rebuilding process began immediately and this year the Red Raiders return just 10 letterwinners from last season but bring in a new crop of 26 players that the coaches feel can get Tech back to its usual contender status.
"There was a lot of things about last year that none of us liked," said head coach Larry Hays. "It is tough to go through those kinds of years but with the success we have had here in the past we know how to get back to where we want to be. I think my coaching staff really did a nice job of going out and evaluating talent and brought in some players who are going to help us."
Possibly one of the most notable changes in this year's team will be a change in the dugout instead of on the field. Greg Evans, who coached the Tech infield for nine seasons, left at the end of 2003 to join former Texas Tech and Texas pitching coach Frank Anderson at Oklahoma State. Anderson was named the Cowboys head coach over the summer and hired Evans to coach his defense. Despite Evan's departure, the Tech coaching staff has not missed a beat as Hays made two big additions to the staff that has already shown signs of great things to come.
Travis Walden joined the program over the summer becoming the first full-time pitching coach on the Tech staff since Frank Anderson left in 1999. Walden joined the Red Raiders after serving one season as the pitching coach at Texas State. Prior to his year at Texas State, Walden coached at Texas A&M, Monterey High School in Lubbock, Hardin Simmons, Vernon Junior College and in the Texas Rangers organization. He was also part of Hays' 1983 NAIA National Championship team at Lubbock Christian University.
"We are really excited to have Travis on our staff," said Hays. "He is someone that I have known and respected for a long time and I think he will make a big improvement in our pitching staff. Our guys have responded to him well over the course of the fall because he is such a competitor and really gets you fired up to play the game."
With the loss of Evans, Hays also had to find someone to come in and coach the infield and he didn't have to look far. Serving as the volunteer assistant this year will be former Red Raider All-American Joe Dillon. Dillon, who lettered at Tech in 1996 and 1997, hit a school record 33 home runs his senior year and was a first-team All-American at first base. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Kansas City Royals in 1997 and retired from baseball two seasons ago.
Daren Hays returns for his fifth season and will continue to serve as the hitting and outfielders coach.
At second base, Jose Delgado has all but wrapped up the position after having a stellar fall practice. Delgado, a native of San Juan, Puerto Rico and a transfer from Porterville College, showed great range at second as well as a hot bat. Delgado was the leadoff hitter for the black team during the fall Red & Black series and paced the team with four triples. Cameron Blair, Josh Brady and Sean Iverson all got time at second base this fall and could factor into the equation.
The shortstop position has generally been Tech's strongest point on the infield and this year looks no different as Cameron Blair will most likely get the early season nod. Blair, a junior transfer from Grayson County Community College, had a stellar fall defensively for the Red Raiders and looks to be a threat for Tech in the spring.
"Cameron (Blair) really had a good fall," said Hays. "He plays with a lot of spirit and never lets up out there and that's the kind of guy you want up the middle. He is also one of our top hitters and will most likely stack up in the front four."
Blair hit .396 in 2003 at Grayson C.C. and finished the year with 16 home runs and 30 stolen bases as his team finished fourth in the Junior College World Series.
Over on the left corner, senior Josh Haney will get the nod at third base as the Tech coaching staff decided to permanently move him from second. Haney started all 55 games last season for the Red Raiders including 45 starts at second but late in the year he was moved to third where he played the final 10 games.
Cooper Fouts looks to be the general behind the plate in 2004 as he is coming off a great fall. Fouts, who emerged as one of the Big 12's best defensive catchers last year, has shown no signs of letting up as he displayed some big-league moves behind the plate during fall practice.
"You just can't say enough about a guy like Fouts," added Hays. "He is a take charge kind of player and has really been impressive throwing out runners. Last year he was gunning people down with a hurt shoulder so we are excited to see what he can do with a healthy arm. We have a couple of other guys in Jacob Jones and Matthew Coco who give us some offense back there so hopefully between those three guys we will be pretty good at that position."
While the talent is there, none of the positions have been set in stone but Tech fans should be able to fill good not only about the quality of offensive players in the outfield but defensively as well.
Josh Brady joins the Red Raiders from the Community College of Southern Nevada where he helped his team to a title at last year's Junior College World Series. Brady hit .346 last year with 16 doubles, two triples, six home runs and 29 stolen bases.
Michael Mask, a junior transfer from Galveston College, could play in center or right field and will most likely have the job as clean up hitter in the Tech lineup. Mask hit .452 last year with 10 home runs and 17 doubles that landed him both all-conference and all-region honors.
The Red Raiders also get some needed experience in the outfield this year as Madison Edwards and Cody Fuller return for their junior campaigns. Cody Fuller made 45 starts in center field last year for the Red Raiders and finished with a .326 batting average and a team-high 29 stolen bases. Edwards made 43 starts last year (mostly in right field) and concluded the year with .271 average, five doubles and 22 RBI.
"Talent wise we are pretty solid in the outfield but we still have a lot of new faces out there," added Hays. "I am counting on Cody Fuller and Madison Edwards to come in and bring some leadership out there. Madison (Edwards) had his best fall since he has been here, but the new guys really performed well to - so there should be some good competition for starting spots."
THE PITCHING STAFF
Steve Gooch returns for his senior season in 2004 after logging a team-high 105.2 innings last year and a team-best 4.00 ERA. Gooch has pitched over 200 innings in his two-year career and will move into the Top 10 on the Texas Tech all-time career innings pitched list early on this year.
"We have a lot of new faces and a lot of guys that have never pitched at this level," said pitching coach Travis Walden. "That always makes you a little nervous but I like the way they responded in the fall and I think we will be pretty solid before it is said and done. Steve Gooch is a senior that is coming back and he has logged a lot of innings in his career so hopefully he can help mold this new group into a pretty decent staff."
Left-hander Dallas Braden impressed the Tech coaching staff over the fall and will most likely fill a slot in the weekend rotation. Braden transferred to Tech from American River College where he won 12 games last season. He picked up all-conference honors both seasons at American River.
Also in the mix for the Red Raiders will be spring transfer John Milton, redshirt freshman Randy Gattis, senior Juan Razo and juniors Tanner McElroy, Michael McGowan, Barrett Pliler, Joel Clark, Joel Evans, Corey Gerstner, Steven Thomas and Blake Renner.
The Red Raiders will be tested by a challenging regular-season schedule that will have Tech facing off against 11 NCAA Tournament teams from 2003, including five teams that played in the NCAA Super Regionals as well as defending national champion Rice. The Red Raiders will play in a total of four professional baseball stadiums (Dell Diamond - Round Rock, First American Bank Park - Midland, Isotopes Park - Albuquerque) during the regular-season including Minute Maid Park which is home to the Houston Astros. Should Tech qualify for the Big 12 Tournament, the Red Raiders will play in two MLB stadiums as this year's tourney will be held at the Ballpark in Arlington.
Tech will play a total of 35 games at Dan Law Field this season including a key non-conference series against the Clemson Tigers March 19-21. The Big 12 home schedule includes Texas (April 2-4), Kansas State (April 16-18), Oklahoma (April 23-25), Missouri (May 7-9) and Baylor (May 21-23).