So, it took me the whole weekend, but I think I’m finally ready to talk about it.
First off, every team and program starts with the same dream or goal, to play baseball in Omaha in June. But for the Texas Tech Red Raiders baseball team, Omaha is now an expectation. This program, which never went to a College World Series until 2014, now has an expectation to be there. Taking a step from the ledge and thinking about that for a few seconds will absolutely blow your mind.
So, if you are in any way disappointed or angry at the play of this Texas Tech baseball team, the following timeline showing improvement in each trip should ease your “pain”.
- 2014: Made CWS – out 0-2.
- 2016: Made CWS – lost first game, but won against No.1 Florida to stave off Elimination.
- 2018: Made CWS – won opening game, eliminated by Florida in a hard fought game.
- 2019: Made CWS – lost opening game, but made it to the Final Four left standing and won 2 games in Omaha.
If you want to go and get petty and win an argument with a coworker, Texas Tech won two games in one week in Omaha. Texas A&M University has won ONE game in Omaha in the entire history of their program, which dates back to 1904. Also, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU did not get to Omaha - Facts only here at VTM.
With all of that being said, it’s never too early to look at what we have coming back and what 2020 may look like. Let’s take the starting lineup for the last game against Michigan as our base.
- DH Easton Murrell
- CF Dylan Neuse
- 2B Brian Klein
- SS Josh Jung
- 1B Cameron Warren
- RF Cody Masters
- LF Kurt Wilson
- 3B Dru Baker
- C Braxton Fulford
Of those nine, two are most certainly not coming back in Cam Warren and Josh Jung, which would be the middle of your lineup. As much as I love Cam and Josh as leaders and their intangibles are among some of the best I’ve ever seen, this is a numbers game so let’s focus on those. That’s a total of 166 hits, 137 RBI and 33 home runs gone from your lineup.
You’re also losing Gabe Holt and his .318 batting average with 83 hits 15 doubles and on-base percentage of .409. For what it’s worth, Gabe Holt batted 261 times this season, most of any hitter on the Texas Tech roster, and only struck out 28 times, compared to 37 walks. When you talk about a great leadoff hitter, this is exactly what you picture.
So, where does Tim Tadlock turn to? Honestly, I think the first three of Murrell-Neuse-Klein may be his starting point. I like what they can bring at the top of the lineup. After that it kind of a toss-up. Does this team find someone who can slug it like Josh and Cam could? It’s extremely unlikely. So, does this team’s offensive focus turn to a more athletic approach and BABIP (Batting Average of Balls in Play, which measure a hitter’s batting average exclusively on balls hit in play excluding any home runs) teams to death. I would lean towards that option but this is got to be the clear cut concern in fall ball for Tadlock.
Defensively speaking, assuming Cody Masters is the defensive replacement for Gabe Holt and Braxton holds down the catcher position for the foreseeable future, what does that do to a guy like Cole Stillwell? It very well could be a possibility to see Stillwell compete for that coveted Texas Tech first baseman position. Wildcard to watch: Freshman TJ Rumfield and Sophomore Kurt Wilson.
As for shortstop and third base, one can assume it will be some sort of duo between Parker Kelly, Dru Baker and Easton Murrell. Without the luxury of having a Josh Jung to slide over to patch the hole in 2020, Tadlock is going to need two of those three to really step up and protect the left side of the infield defensively while also helping replace production offensively. My wildcards to watch: Sophomores Dylan Neuse and Kurt Wilson.
As far as pitching goes, I’m going to assume Caleb Kilian will be accepting his draft slot and will be joining the San Francisco Giants. Game 4 starter Micah Dallas will be back, along with game 3 starter Bryce Bonnin, which gives you a two of the three potential weekend starters with Omaha experience. No one else in the Big 12 will have that. Outside of Dallas and Bonnin, LHP Mason Montgomery could take a step forward and compete with RHP Hunter Dobbins for that last weekend spot. Wildcard to watch: Erikson Lanning. If Lanning comes back and shows us the Lanning of previous years before his injury, Tadlock could potentially have CWS experience in every spot of his weekend rotation. That is something that is so rare in this game and it would certainly be a strength for this club in 2020.
Experienced guys like Clayton Beeter, Connor Queen, Ryan Sublette and Dane Haveman along with lesser experienced guys like Trey Garlett, Carson Carter, Cade Farr and Ryan Keesee will need to plug in to roles to replace bullpen loses of John McMillion, Taylor Floyd and Caleb Freeman, who I all expect to accept their draft slots and go pro next year. Again, Tadlock’s position has largely been stocking arms and finding their roles as the season progresses, so I expect play in fall ball will determine a lot for the pitching staff.
It’s far too early for expectations, it’s been said trying to predict anything about college baseball rosters is like catching jello with a wooden spoon (h/t Chris Snead), but it is obvious this program is now accepted into the unique “Omaha Regular” club. But what if the best player on this team isn’t even on campus yet? Maybe the best pitcher on the staff never got any playing time last season? All we do know is that this is rare air, this is a new age of Texas Tech baseball, and even Texas Tech Athletics. The rest of the programs and clubs in America can talk all day about their expectation is to play in Omaha in June, but for Tadlock’s group, playing in the CWS is now the standard of a successful season.
It’s not crazy anymore to expect Tim Tadlock’s boys of summer to bring a national championship to Lubbock one day.
Now, It’s crazy if it never happens.