Feb. 17, 2010
Baylor baseball enters the 2010 season unranked for just the second time in the last decade, but head coach Steve Smith isn't concerned with preseason rankings.
"There's a lot less hype, and I don't know if it's good or bad," Smith said. "All that hype comes with expectations that are put on you from the outside. I can't remember the last team we had a team that didn't have pretty high expectations, so right now it looks like the only people who have pretty high expectations are those of us inside the program.
"We lost some very productive offensive players, but at the same time we've got a pretty good nucleus back," Smith added. "We've played the last couple of years with guys that were all in one recruiting class. We've continued to build around that over the last couple of years, and that will be evident with some of the players that people see this year that they haven't heard from before."
While the Bears lost three starting position players who were drafted in the top six rounds, the team returns 10 of 13 pitchers from a season ago.
"We've got veteran guys on the mound, but none of them are coming off of exceptional years," Smith said. "All of them have been exceptional at times, but we're working hard at getting consistent. The talent is there, they've got the ability to do it, and I'm looking forward to seeing how we throw."
While the offense has plenty of holes to fill, the pitching staff is the most experienced group Baylor has had in quite some time.
The Bears return six pitchers who made at least four starts a season ago, giving them plenty of options for the weekend rotation.
Anchoring the rotation is senior captain Willie Kempf (5-5, 5.22 ERA, 61 K), who has appeared in 53 games and made 22 starts in his first three season at Baylor.
Junior Shawn Tolleson (1-2, 4.50, 41) looks to rebound from a disappointing sophomore season in which he was hampered by lingering injuries. Fellow junior Craig Fritsch (4-5, 5.09, 50) showed signs of promise toward the end of last season, most notably when he allowed just one earned run in 9.2 innings over three postseason appearances.
Other returners who could join the weekend rotation are junior Jon Ringenberg (2-0, 5.70, 32) and sophomore Logan Verrett (7-1, 5.13, 64). Ringenberg was dominant through his first six innings in his start against No. 21 Minnesota at the Baton Rouge Regional, while Verrett turned in one of the most impressive freshman seasons in program history.
In addition to leading the team in wins and saves (3), Verrett walked just 19 in 54.1 innings. It didn't take long for him to get used to college baseball, as he notched either a win or a save in each of his first eight appearances, all of which were one-run games. For his efforts, Verrett earned an invite to the USA National Team Trials.
Verrett was used out of the bullpen 15 times, last season, but all five of his starts came against Big 12 opponents.
Sophomore Trent Blank (1-1, 9.36, 22) also returns after making 15 appearances, four of which were starts.
Freshman lefty Josh Turley could also vie for a spot in the weekend rotation. He posted a 35-7 record with a 1.43 ERA and 452 strikeouts in his four-year high school career.
The Bears should have plenty of bullpen depth with the help of any of the previously mentioned pitchers who don't start on the weekend, along with two sophomore position players who are capable of pitching.
Joey Hainsfurther (0-0, 2.70, 8) has electric stuff, as evidenced by his eight strikeouts in 6.2 innings last year, and is expected to see an increase in time on the mound this year.
Brooks Pinckard (3-0, 5.91, 7) doesn't have quite the same strikeout numbers, but threw 21.1 innings over 13 relief appearances in 2009. He and Hainsfurther are both candidates to close games in 2010.
Also returning to add bullpen depth are sophomores Ross Speed (0-1, 5.52, 13), Max Garner (0-0, 9.31, 8) and Kevin Winter (0-0, 12.46, 2). All three pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2009, with Speed making 14 appearances and Garner pitching in 12 games.
Though Baylor returns just five position starters from last season's team, three of those players give the Bears a wealth of experience on the infield.
Shortstop Shaver Hansen is gone, but his replacement, junior Landis Ware (.272, 1 HR, 10 RBI), is hardly lacking in experience. Ware came off the bench in 2009, but started 40 games as a freshman two seasons ago.
Ware is the clear favorite to start, but the Bears have four young players who could gain experience at shortstop throughout the season.
Ware's partner on the left side of the infield is the Bears' most experienced returning player. Senior Raynor Campbell (.243, 8, 31) has 147 starts in his first three seasons at Baylor.
He looks to return to the form of his first two seasons after struggling in his junior campaign. Campbell hit .321 and .311, respectively, before dipping to .243 last season.
On the opposite side of the field, a pair of sophomore starters return after posting impressive numbers as freshmen.
Dan Evatt (.308, 7, 31) started 33 games a season ago, but he's expected to be an everyday starter in 2010. Many of those starts will likely come at first base, but Evatt could also see time as a designated hitter or outfielder.
Should Evatt play a position other than first base, the Bears could turn to a pair of highly-regarded true freshmen Max Muncy or Able Baker. Both were ranked in the top 50 prospects in the state of Texas by Perfect Game Cross Checker prior to enrolling at Baylor.
Hainsfurther (.322, 1, 28) is expected to start at second base. He began the 2009 season on fire, hitting .455 (48-for-149) through the first month, but later struggled and saw his playing time reduced. He also made five appearances out of the Baylor bullpen last season, and is expected to see even more action on the mound in 2010.
Ware, Campbell, Langford, Vick, Muncy and DalPorto are all candidates to step in for Hainsfurther at second base.
Baylor's biggest question mark entering the 2010 season is in its outfield, where a host of players will battle for the playing time left behind by three departed starters.
The Bears return a pair of players who split time in center field as redshirt freshmen last season. Pinckard (.255, 1, 9) started 26 games in center, while Don Lambert (.190, 0, 6) started there 16 times, including all six of Baylor's postseason games.
Veteran Chris Slater (.417, 0, 2) has played in 35 games in two years at Baylor, though he's started just four times.
Like Slater, fifth-year senior Kenton Gedwed has plenty of experience with 47 games played, but has only started five times. He's also a valuable asset as a pinch hitter, as he led the Big 12 with 10 pinch hits last season.
Evatt could see time in the outfield, but if the Bears look anywhere else for outfielders, they'll be looking at freshmen.
Tyler Collins joined the Bears after a standout high school career at Northwest High School in Trophy Club, Texas. He was rated the nation's 579th-best prospect by Perfect Game Cross Checker.
A trio of freshmen infielders could also see time in the outfield. Vick, Towey and Muncy have all practiced in the outfield and should be ready to step into starting roles if called upon.
Turley is also a capable outfielder. He was rated the 49th-best prospect in Texas by Perfect Game Cross Checker after a four-year career at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas.
Redshirt freshmen Wes Mercurio and Browder could also see time in the outfield.
The 2010 Bears return plenty of experience behind the plate. Senior captain Gregg Glime has started 94 games over the past two seasons, and he's expected to continue to handle the pitching staff in 2010.
Behind Glime, the Bears have sophomore Josh Ludy (.280, 2, 8), who saw action in 21 games as a true freshman last season. Though he only started twice, Ludy showed promise with six extra-base hits in 25 at-bats.
Though Glime and Ludy are expected to see the majority of playing time behind the plate, Baker is primarily a catcher, and could become an everyday starter in the future.