No player on the 2014 Texas Tech baseball team will be named to a preseason all-America team.
Few, if any, will land on any award watch list or even earn a spot on the preseason All-Big 12 team.
Second-year Red Raiders coach Tim Tadlock is just fine with that, because while the Red Raiders may be unknown to the rest of the college baseball community, he knows exactly what he had going into the season.
“I don’t think anybody is saying we’re the best at any one position, whether it’s at shortstop or it’s a pitcher,” Tadlock said. “But we really like our team and we like our toughness.
“Nobody’s looking at us saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to win the Big 12, or you’re going to a regional. You have a first rounder, you have a second rounder, you have the best shortstop in the league.’ Nobody’s saying that about anybody on our field. So what we’re excited about is going out and playing baseball and respecting the game the right way, playing the game the right way, and hopefully things will work out for us along those lines.”
What the Red Raiders do have as they opened official team practices on Friday is experience.
For one of the few times in recent history, Tech returns more letterwinners (18) than it lost (13), and that includes bringing back eight of nine position starters and eight of 13 pitchers, all of whom started at least one game.
Tadlock said, however, that experience won’t necessarily guarantee a starting job as he expects there to be heavy competition for playing time at several positions.
Leading the list of returning starters is senior third baseman Jake Barrios, who hit . 297 with three home runs and led the Red Raiders with 48 RBIs. In the fall, however, Barrios worked both at third and shortstop as freshmen such as Ryan Long out of Crandall and Matt Broadbent out of Cypress Woods pushed for playing time.
The Red Raiders ranked eighth among the nine baseball-playing teams of the Big 12 with a .259 average, ahead of only TCU. Tech actually ranked fourth in runs scored (304), but were seventh in hits (482) and struggled at times to drive runners in.
In the outfield Brett Bell is gone after leading the team with 31 stolen bases last year. But seniors Devon Conley (.283 avg., 15 steals) and Todd Ritchie (.315, 11 RBIs) are back, and they’ll be pushed for playing time by the likes of freshmen Anthony Lyons from Arlington Martin and Stephen Smith from Frenship, both of whom have shown power potential.
Even senior catcher Mason Randolph, who started 42 of 44 games last year, will be pushed by junior transfer Hunter Redman from Midland, the brother of former standout third baseman Reid Redman, and sophomore Tyler Floyd out of McLennan College.
“I think everyone on the team understands that the best people are going to play,” Barrios said. “We have a lot of depth on the mound and the hitters. It won’t affect the chemistry. Our returners are mature enough to understand that if they’re not getting the job done then someone else will play.”
Tech will also have depth returning on the mound, including weekend starters in junior right-hander Dominic Moreno and sophomore right-hander Matt Withrow plus a host of young relievers who pitched numerous innings.
But Moreno, who sat out the fall to strengthen his shoulder after pitching in the Cape Cod League, was in and out of the rotation due to injury, Withrow struggled at times with his command — he led the team with 36 walks last year. After starting out so well, the Red Raiders sputtered to the finish, finishing last in the Big 12 with a 4.86 ERA.
Tech expects the depth of its experience returning to be an advantage. Senior Jonny Drozd, junior Corey Taylor and sophomores Johnathon Tripp, Justin Bethard, Dalton Brown and Matt Custred all had shining moments.
“I think we have a really deep staff this year,” said Moreno, who was 3-4 in 10 starts with a 3.86 ERA. “We have some really good new guys, I don’t know exactly what the starting rotation is going to be so far, so maybe there’s some guys in the bull pen that might come in and start. We have a deeper staff this year, obviously, and maybe we can get through those midweek game and not be as fatigued on the weekends.”
There’s three weeks in between now and the Feb. 14 season opener against No. 7 Indiana, which reached the College World Series last season and boasts four returning Louisville Slugger all-Americans. Tadlock said there’s not any more intensity than normal in trying to get ready for the season opener, but he’s intrigued about the kind of team he’ll be able to put out on the field on a nightly basis.
“We’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts,” Tadlock said. “On any day we could have a different guy playing short, center. But along those same lines we’ve got 35 guys on the roster and every guy is very valuable. As a coach you like having those tough decisions and as we go I’ll like having them and hopefully we can win some games with that formula of playing a bunch of guys. It will sure make it fun.”
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