Before I start, I need to get on my soapbox for a few items to keep in mind for the upcoming season.
The first item to keep in mind this season - it is incredibly hard to make it to Omaha.
Getting to Omaha requires a team to play consistently good baseball all season, peak at the correct time and then be able to play their absolute best baseball through a grueling postseason tournament. A few lucky breaks aren’t bad things to have, either.
Second, please keep in mind before you swear, criticize, or set those twitter fingers on fire - this team is made up of athletes who are not on full scholarship.
Unlike the perennial bottom-of-the-Big 12-finishing football program, Baseball is given approximately 12 full scholarships, which usually is divided among the entire team.
This is a stark contrast from football, where nearly 95% of the roster is made up of athletes who have a full ride scholarship (just to yield approximately 4-5 wins a season and no postseason play or conference championship to speak of).
With that established, this team has the overall talent level on offense and versatility on defense that is something I don’t believe this program has ever seen before with a collection of arms and pitching depth on this team could place them among the nation’s elite.
However, there are a lot of newcomers filling impact roles this season. Tech is also facing what has the potential to be the toughest schedule in the nation facing them this season. So, there might be rough times during the season, but as a wise man once said, “that’s the way baseball go”.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to make some hotel reservations in a famous town in Nebraska for around the middle of June for a “work trip”.
The biggest key I see with this team on the position side is the versatility of nearly every position player on the roster. It’s full of guys who can play multiple positions at a high level, which is something you’ve seen recently in successful programs like Vanderbilt, Virginia and Florida.
Texas Tech saw it last year when Josh Jung, fresh off being named one of the best third basemen in the country, switched positions to shortstop and the team didn’t skip a beat. Kurt Wilson, who might be one of the most talented players this campus has ever seen, can pitch lights out on the mound and hit game-winning home runs.
This versatility will come to play late, when the grind of the season can take its toll and the depth of your team is shown. Guys who aren’t starting in February and March, may be the ones filling in roles in late April and May to help with a potential postseason push.
My projected Opening Day lineup looks like this:
1. Dylan Neuse, 3B
2. Dru Baker, OF
3. Brian Klien, 2B
4. Cole Stillwell, 1B
5. Braxton Fulford, C
6. Cody Masters, OF
7. Cal Conley, SS
8. Tanner O’Tremba, DH
9. D. Carter, OF
Easton Murrell, INF/OF; Jared Cushing, SS; Bo Willis, OF; Max Marusak, OF; Jace Jung, 2B/SS; T.J. Rumfield, 1B; Nate Rombach, C; Kurt Wilson, OF
- Dylan Neuse is the true definition of versatile player, which is being recognized as Neuse was recently named to D1 Baseball’s 2020 top 150 College Prospects. Evidence from fall ball suggests Tadlock is tasking Neuse with replacing Josh Jung at third base, which is a position Neuse played in the Cape Cod league this past offseason. Easton Murrell should also see some time at third.
- Dru Baker is also potentially working on a new position in the outfield. Baker is fantastic athlete with a premium bat. Baker’s bat will dictate where he plays and how often.
- Preseason All-American Brian Klein is coming off a season that saw him hit for a .315 average and start all 66 games at second base. Newcomer Jace Jung could see time as his backup. Jung isn’t quite what his brother Josh was, but the guy can play and it looks as to be a contributor this season.
- Note: Do not sleep on catcher Braxton Fulford. From fall reports, he has stepped up his offensive game and has really come into his own behind the plate. I really feel as though Braxton could be on the verge of a breakout this season. If not, freshman Nate Rombach is certainly a “start from day one” talent and could see time behind the plate this season.
- Newcomer Cal Conley, who is a transfer from the University of Miami that couldn’t play last season, was holding his own at the shortstop position during fall ball. It looks as if the switch hitting Conley will be the team’s starting shortstop on February 14th.
- My breakout player for this season is outfielder Dillon Carter. The Argyle product was once a TCU commit and switched to Texas Tech last year. When I was at Frisco this fall, I was immediately impressed with his defensive ability in centerfield, using some elite speed to track down some hard hit balls. He also flashed great bat speed and a really good approach from the left side of the plate.
Offense has never been much of an issue in Lubbock in recent years, and make no mistake a great offense can take you to Omaha. But winning in Omaha requires great pitching and great defense, and there is no exception to that rule.
This season has a chance to see some of the most prolific and loaded pitching staffs that Texas Tech has ever seen. Every single arm has the ability to his high-90’s consistently, with great secondary stuff that will keep batters on their heels in the box. This staff has the ability to truly be elite.
Bryce Bonnin, RHP; Micah Dallas, RHP; Hunter Dobbins, RHP/John McMillon, RHP
Mason Montgomery, LHP; Clayton Beeter, RHP; Eli Riechmann, LHP; Austin Becker, RHP; Ryan Sublette, RHP; Jon Barrera, LHP; Ryan Keesee, LHP; Riley Ramsey, RHP; Tyler Hamilton, RHP; Steven Vazquez, RHP; Derek Bridges, LHP; Kurt Wilson, RHP; Connor Queen, RHP; Jakon Brutoski, LHP
- A name to remember is Clayton Beeter. Like Neuse, Beeter was named as one of D1 Top 150 College Baseball prospects, after missing all last season while undergoing Tommy John surgery. His fastball is extremely explosive and he could be a really good high-leverage situation weapon.
- Fans will be glad to hear John McMillon has decided to return after being drafted by the Detroit Tigers last season. Evidence from fall ball suggests the flame-thrower is going to be a starter this season, which I think is a very good fit for him.
- Also back are Bryce Bonnin and Micah Dallas. Both have Big 12 and postseason experience on the mound and give Tech two talented starters in the weekend rotation. Tech fans were also introduced to Hunter Dobbins last season. Dobbins has continued to improve this fall and will look to challenge for a weekend rotation spot.
- Lefty Mason Montgomery started the season in the rotation, but faded to midweek starts last season. By all accounts, he has worked on his command this fall and has been a pleasant surprise.
- Freshman Andrew Devine is another versatile guy who can play the field, but definitely projects more as a pitcher. Surprisingly for his 5-foot-9 180 pound frame, Devine can hit 95 mph on the gun consistently with a very smooth delivery.
- Interesting pieces to watch will be former Vanderbilt transfer Austin Becker, who is another elite arm with 92-95 mph range on his fastball and can pair it with excellent secondary stuff. I’m willing to bet Becker gets in the weekend rotation before the season ends. Juco transfer Jakob Brustoski is reportedly a bit of a project, but with a fastball that reaches 98 mph from the left side, he gives the Red Raiders a perfect weapon out of the bullpen.