For once, there’s more construction going on around the stadium the Texas Tech baseball team plays in than with the actual team itself.
Such is the case when there’s $5 million worth of renovations being done to what is now called Rip Griffin Park while the Red Raiders themselves return enough players from last year that only a few questions had to be answered going into the season. The goals of fourth-year head coach Dan Spencer during fall scrimmages was to find a left-handed hitter for the middle of the lineup, replace a gold-glove-winning shortstop and figure out who would play in the corner outfield slots.
Today, the annual Red-Black series begins with Spencer getting one final look at answering those questions, some of which he’s already pretty sure about.
“It’s by far our most talented group offensively and on the mound,” Spencer said. “We feel good about the left-handed bats in the middle of our lineup, we feel good about our outfield defense and we feel good about what we can do behind the plate. The key is can we do it when the lights are on?”
The biggest question that will remain regardless of what happens over the next week will be how Spencer will fill the hole at shortstop left after Kelby Tomlinson turned pro. The answer will come from three freshmen — Tim Proudfoot from North Bend, Washington, Bryant Burleson from Midland and Matt Eureste from Houston. Spencer said each one has shown solid defensive prowess and at times have hit the ball well. The key will be finding the one who can do both on a consistent basis.
Senior third baseman Reid Redman, one of the Red Raiders’ six returning position starters, has been impressed with that the rotation to his left has done so far.
“Everybody’s coming out like this and doing extra work,” Redman said. “I remember back whenever I was 18 years old I wouldn’t have been able to do half the job these guys are doing. The fact that they’re coming in and working hard to get better every day is very encouraging.”
It will likely be a familiar face anchoring the middle of the order as outfielder Scott LeJeune has returned to the team after missing all but the season opener last year, leaving the team for personal reasons. LeJeune, listed as a redshirt junior, could give Tech quite some pop in the middle if he returns to the form he displayed his first two seasons.
In the outfield, junior Barrett Barnes is locked in at center while newcomers Zach Reding, a freshman from Dallas, and Grayson County College transfer Brennan Moore, a junior, appear to the frontrunners at the corners, but both have battled nagging injuries off and on this fall.
Spencer feels not only will Tech’s offense be more talented and versatile ion 2012, but also able to better withstand injuries.
“With the things that happened to us offensively last year we were average as a club,” Spencer said. “We did some things well and could run and had some speed. Now we’re really good offensively as far as depth goes and we’ve got 12-14 guys who can hit, and we’ve had competition at every spot. The other thing is I think we will be good defensively and at times we’ve played well, but it depends on those young guys playing short. (The three) are the right guys and all will be good players.”
Maybe more importantly than anything, however, has been the depth Spencer feels has been developed on the mound.
Weekend starters Duke Von Schamann, a redshirt sophomore, and Trey Masek, a true sophomore, have been joined by newcomer Shane Broyles, a junior transfer from Seminole (Okla.) State and left-handed junior Rusty Shellhorn, who sat out last year after transferring fro Washington State. Spencer also expects left-hander Daniel Coulombe to be back in from by the spring after undergoing reconstructive elbow surgery last season.
Then, at the end of the bullpen are returning closer John Neely, who led Tech in wins and saves last season, while Friday starter David Paiz could serve as a set-up guy.
“I feel like we look a lot better this year, more experience and more guys,” Masek said. “The freshmen have looked good and we’ve all thrown a lot more strikes, commanded the zone better and gotten hitters out. Our depth is a lot better this year and we’ve got more guys who can come in and get guys out. As a whole we have good stuff and good command and can get guys out.”
The Red Raiders have spent all fall short one member of the coaching staff after Trent Petrie was fired on Sept. 12.
Because the move happened just prior to the start of fall scrimmages, Spencer said he has not been able to put his full attention on hiring a replacement, but feels he is close to doing so. He said Thursday he was hopeful to start making it known by the end of the week the direction he wanted to go with it, but no announcement has been made.
“This issue ... is timing and it’s not good, and I haven’t had a lot of time to really get locked in and try to spend a week getting it figured out,” Spencer said. “We’ve piecemealed it together.”
Director of operations Jimmy Webster has taken over most of Petrie’s duties in the interim.
Spencer said senior right-hander Brennan Stewart, likley Tech’s most consistent pitcher last season, has been bothered by a lower back injury and that he is concerned about that injury as fall camp closes. Stewart is not listed on the roster for the Red-Black series. ... Senior RHP John Neely was named the No. 88 Player to Watch on College Baseball Daily’s Top 100 this week. ... Construction of the new suites and press box facilities at Rip Griffin Park is reportedly about two weeks ahead of schedule, according to Tech officials.
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