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Omaha or bust: 2018 Texas Tech Baseball Preview

Looming questions and high expectations surround team entering season

Nikopoia

After completing an amazing 45-win regular season and earning consecutive conference titles, Texas Tech struggled in both the Big 12 tournament and the first round of the NCAA playoffs.

To say Texas Tech, along with its fans, was shocked at the first round exit at the hands of Sam Houston State would be putting it mildly. After winning the first two games of the Lubbock Regional, against Delaware and Sam Houston State, 5-2 and 6-0 respectively, Tech found itself one run short in each of the next two games against the Bearcats and watching the College World Series on TV.

In the time under head coach Tim Tadlock, Tech’s aspirations for success have grown to “Omaha or bust”. After failing in that pursuit each of the following seasons of their two College World Series appearances, 2018 looks to have the Red Raiders return the heaven that is Omaha.

Nikopoia

Though a consensus pre-season top-10 team, Tech is looking to fill significant voids from last year’s group left by Orlando Garcia (SF), Hunter Hargrove (OAK), and Tanner Gardner (TEX). Because of that, Tim Tadlock will do his usual hat trick of trial and error, plug and play with no rhyme or reason and turn it into a positive. Tadlock is known as one of the best recruiters in the country and has a definite focus on what he wants in a player coming into the program.

So before we get into who I project to be in the opening day lineup, it’s almost guaranteed to be off a bit and will likely look completely different by the end of the season anyway. Such is the life with Tim Tadlock.

Nikopoia

My predictions are based off of what I saw Tadlock do in the Red & Black series and player performance over those five games last autumn.

Catcher - Clay Koelzer - Sophmore
With the transfer of Michael Berglund earlier this year, Tadlock will more than likely have a consistent rotation behind home plate until he finds his guy. The other two candidates on the roster are true freshman Braxton Fulford and junior JUCO transfer, Zayne Willems. While Willems may have more experience, in the past Tadlock has stuck with his younger out of high school catchers and used JUCO products to spot fill. I expect Koelzer, a sophomore, to be the right mix and get the shot early this season.

First Base - Cam Warren - Junior
Last year, Hunter Hargrove moved over from third base to first base, so I expect a similar thing to happen this year with no other strong alternatives out of last fall. Cam Warren is entering his junior year after bouncing around as a backup most of his career. He started 12 games last year, mainly in right field where he should still get a few games, but with the plan to put Josh McMillion in right (when not pitching) the obvious spot for him is a move to first base. He only hit .182 last year, but with such a limited sample size, I expect him to improve on that with more at bats.

Second Base - Gabe Holt - Freshman
This is where it starts to get tricky. Gabe Holt has great speed with a good arm from the shortstop position where he played in high school. Both of those attributes could see him get some time in the OF depending on what Tim Tadlock decides to do with Michael Davis and Grant Little. He has decent exit velocity off the bat that will only improve as he gets stronger. I predict his gets the nod, with Michael Davis at shortstop and Little in left field.

Third Base - Josh Jung - Sophmore
This is a no-doubter in this lineup. Jung was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year last year when he hit .306/.453/.395 in 245 at-bats. We may see him get more time on the mound this year, but after clean-up duty gone wrong last year, most fans wouldn’t mind him just staying at the hot corner and let that be that.

Shortstop - Michael Davis - Senior
As previously stated, I expect Michael Davis to move over to shortstop to start the year. He very well could stay at second, with Little or Holt getting the nod at short, but I like his experience and maturity at that position. There is plenty of time for Holt to come along and take over the shortstop position in the future, and Little gives great flexibility, defensively, to put him in the outfield if needed. Davis hit .269/.446/.346 last year improving on his power numbers. Tech will need him to be slightly more consistent and his batting average closer to .280 to be a viable top of the order candidate.

Left Field - Grant Little - Sophmore
Little was named unanimously to the Big 12 Freshman team and many, many others for his spectacular freshman performance. He started 42 of his 49 starts in 2017 in left field. That’s why he gets my pick here. He has the experience and there isn’t a hole left in the infield by having Michael Davis be at 6. Little hit 335/.476/.405 in 53 games with 34 RBIs. Look for him to improve production across the board.

Center Field - Cody Farhat - Junior
First team All-Big 12 last year hitting .343/.569/.438, while playing stellar defense in center. He’ll be a big table setter at the top of the order and look to have another huge year hitting in front of Jung and McMillon.

Right Field - John McMillion - Sophmore
McMillon burst on the scene last year with his moon shot home runs and triple digit fastball. Though consistency is something he struggled with hitting just .229 for the year. In the fall, he got a lot of playing time in right field. Depending on how it shakes out, he’ll either start in right field or be the DH.

Designated Hitter - TBD

Not sure we’ll have a consistent DH like in year’s past. I think it’ll be dependent on where McMillion is playing that day. If he isn’t the regular in RF, he’ll be the regular DH most likely.

The Pitching Staff

Quick Notes: Dylan Dusek was unreal in 2014. Compiling an 8-0 record and a 1.94 ERA. Earned multiple awards as a freshman and winning 2 games in the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech will look for him to find his form from freshman year to bolster its rotation and bullpen.
I’d like to see McMillon as a closer, but I don’t think he should be converted to a starting pitcher. His stuff is game changing if seen only at the back end of games. Tadlock will try to move him to the starting staff, but it doesn’t fit McMillon’s strengths.

Key Games:

March 9, 10, 11 vs Kentucy (AWAY)
March 13, 14 vs Louisville (AWAY)
April 27, 28, 29 vs TCU (AWAY)
May 17, 18, 19 vs Oklahoma State (AWAY)


Season Prediction: 38-18 (Regular Season)

It’s hard to see this team over-achieving and overtaking last year’s group as far as the regular season goes, especially with the question marks on the back end of the staff. I’m also concerned about their power potential outside of John McMillion. Last year, Garcia, Hargrove and Gardner could blow a game open with their power and on paper, I’m’ not sure who is going to fill that void yet.

I think they’ll be in a great position to make a run in the NCAA tournament, but until that power question is answered, and seeing how the bullpen shakes out, I have them 2nd, behind TCU. Look for Oklahoma State to make another strong push. They have been the forgotten team in the Big 12, but went to the College World Series in 201 along with TCU and Texas Tech.

What’s Up Next:

Day-by-day breakdown of Viva the Matador’s Top 10 players going into the season, as voted by the staff, starting tomorrow.

Baseball podcasts are close to returning. Get your questions ready, because it’s going to be a good time with a new format we’ve been working on.

Texas Tech opens up the season at home against Maine on February 16.

Poll

How many wins do you think Tech will have in 2018?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    30
    (2 votes)
  • 25%
    35
    (35 votes)
  • 52%
    40
    (73 votes)
  • 20%
    45+
    (28 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now

Poll

How will the season end up for the Red Raiders?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Miss NCAA postseason
    (3 votes)
  • 8%
    Win Big 12 Championship
    (10 votes)
  • 16%
    Early exit in NCAA postseason
    (20 votes)
  • 72%
    3rd birth in CWS
    (87 votes)
120 votes total Vote Now