Texas Tech baseball coach Tim Tadlock sat before the media prior to the first team practice of the fall on Friday and didn’t have to look far to express one of the biggest differences between this fall and his first in 2012.
They were sitting just to his left in the form of three of his 20 veterans returning from last year, which is more than double what he had in hand this time a year ago.
“Just to have three guys that can come and speak to (the media), we’re ahead of the game last year,” Tadlock said. “Last year at this point we really didn’t have anybody we knew just knew what was going on.
“I think time will tell. Today starts the time where we kind of see how we’re going to develop and where we go from here.”
Where Tadlock hopes the team goes is up, way up from where the Red Raiders ended last year — a 26-30 record and 9-15 mark in Big 12 play. Tech finished with a losing overall record for the third time in five years and finished below .500 in league play for the ninth straight season.
But the Red Raiders were playing some of their best baseball toward the end of the year last season, winning eight of their last 14 to qualify for the Big 12 Championships and ending the year with a win over Baylor, beating the Bears three out of four games on the season.
That was with a bunch of freshmen and junior college transfers. Now, after surviving the Major League Baseball draft in fairly good position, the Red Raiders come back experienced with every returning position player back as well as nine pitchers, eight of whom were used as a starter and six of whom threw at least 25 innings.
One of those returning starters, junior right-hander Dominic Moreno, said he learned a lot from watching last year’s ace, Trey Masek, and expects the whole staff to take a step forward this season.
“If we can take what he developed and keep going, then our pitchers are going to get exponentially better, and that would be huge,” said Moreno, who was 3-4 while battling injuries and posted a 3.86 ERA with 54 strikeouts in 60-plus innings.
Pitching, however, wasn’t the Red Raiders’ biggest shortcoming in 2012. That would belong to the offense, which ranked next to last in the Big 12 in batting average (.259) and second from the bottom in hits (482) and by far had the most strikeouts in the Big 12 at 407.
The good news for Tech is that every position starter except designated hitter Jarrard Poteete is back (Poteete transferred to Connors State in Oklahoma), plus Tadlock is excited about the new crop of hitters in the 2013 signing class he expects to make an impact this spring.
“We’ll see,” Tadlock said. “We’ve got some young hitters and one guy that’s a little bit older, but we definitely have some guys that we feel that can hit. Now, creating offense is a different story.”
Tech got a gift in the summer when last year’s leading hitter, senior third baseman Jake Barrios, was passed over by the draft after hitting a team-high .297 with three home runs and 48 RBIs, possibly giving him some motivation for the 2013 campaign.
“I’m happy to be here,” Barrios said. “I’m ready for another year getting to play in the Big 12. That was an awesome experience and I feel confident with the team we have coming back. I’m excited to see where we go.”
Just a year without major upheaval could make a huge difference.
Both the young players and new coaching staff were learning on the fly last year, and it took awhile for things to come around. But with the staff almost in tact — Russell Raley left to take a job at Incarnate Word and was replaced by former LCU assistant Matt Gardner — the Red Raiders are already ahead of this point last year.
“It’s a lot different,” junior second baseman Bryant Burleson, a two-year starter, said. This year we know what to expect and how it’s going to be run and we’ll be able to teach the younger guys the way I was taught when I was a freshman. We know what to expect and we’re going to get right after it.”
And with the talent and experience levels raised, Tadlock is ready to raise the expectation level as well.
“What do I want?” Tadlock was asked. “I want a big ol’ fat (championship) ring.”
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