Baylor hopes to meet expectations
Baylor hopes to turn the page and make last season a distant memory.
The Bears entered the 2008 season with high hopes and a team loaded with talent, but when Selection Monday arrived they were nowhere to be found in the NCAA’s field of 64.
Still cognizant of how last season ended, the Bears have extra motivation this spring.
The Bears, as with most teams, aren’t in perfect shape entering the spring, but have plenty reasons for optimism.
BU welcomes back an experienced offensive lineup, three weekend starters and a closer. They also have veteran leadership, a good attitude and something to prove this season.
While experience at key positions and good starting pitching are strengths for the Bears, there is some uncertainty surrounding the bullpen with three players expected to serve dual roles.
If Baylor’s offensive lineup performs like veterans and the weekend rotation meets expectations, this could be a very good team.
The Bears finished last season with a .285 batting average, but should be much better at the plate this season.
BU welcomes back five of its top six hitters from last season, including leading hitter Shaver Hansen.
Hansen had a solid ’08 campaign, hitting .326 with six homers and 47 RBIs. He also recorded 16 doubles, six triples and 118 total bases. Additionally, he had a .534 slugging percentage and a .413 on-base percentage.
The Bears also welcome back Dustin Dickerson, Raynor Campbell, Aaron Miller, Ben Booker and Gregg Glime.
Dickerson batted .313 with four homers and 44 RBIs last season, while Campbell batted .311 with four homers and 26 RBIs. Miller, meanwhile, has the potential to be a big-time power producer again this season. The talented junior finished last season hitting .295 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs.
Booker also has the potential to be a good hitter after batting .286 with seven homers and 44 RBIs last season. Additionally, keep an eye on catcher Gregg Glime, who hopes to improve after hitting .209 in ’08.
While the Bears currently don’t have an elite hitter, there are several players capable of earning that label this season.
Barring a surprise, this unit will be Baylor’s strength this season.
The BU weekend rotation still has room for improvement, but the potential to have a dominant rotation certainly is present.
Junior right-handed pitcher Kendal Volz, who will be a top-round draft pick in June, spearheads Baylor’s weekend rotation.
Volz made 12 starts last season, had a 3-6 record and had a 4.20 ERA in 70 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 85 and walked 28, while opponents hit him at a .274 clip.
Sophomore right-handers Shawn Tolleson and Craig Fritsch round out the weekend rotation.
Tolleson sat out his first season because of Tommy John surgery, but returned to the mound last season, where he had a 5.06 ERA in 78 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 63 and walked 35, while opponents hit him at a .259 clip.
Fritsch redshirted his first season but earned a key role on BU’s staff last season. The righty made four starts and had 19 appearances and a 4.80 ERA in 54 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 49 and walked 21, while opponents hit him at a .270 clip.
I think Volz is going to have a stellar season, while the jury still is out on Tolleson and Fritsch.
The biggest concern for the Bears is the bullpen.
Though the bullpen has some talent, it also has a wealth of inexperience, leading with sophomore Jon Ringenberg, junior Aaron Miller and freshmen Logan Verrett and Brooks Pinckard.
Ringenberg, who currently is slated to be the designated hitter, also will be a significant contributor on the mound. The sophomore hit .277 in 47 at bats last season, but didn’t record a mound appearance.
Miller’s role this spring will be interesting because he’s slated to be a full-time offensive contributor. Miller appeared in just six games last season and had a 14.40 ERA in five innings of work. He also struck out eight and walked four, while opponents hit him at a .462 clip.
Verrett was a high school All-American and is expected to be a significant contributor as a freshman this season. He likely will serve as a reliever on the weekend and starter in mid-week games. Pinckard, meanwhile, is slated to be a full-time position starter, so his role likely will vary.
Junior right-hander Willie Kempf leads Baylor’s bullpen.
Kempf made 10 starts and appeared in 16 games last season. He also had a 3.69 ERA in 68 1/3 innings of work. Additionally, the veteran struck out 48 and walked 33, while opponents hit him at a .263 clip.
The Bears are in excellent shape if the bullpen steps up.
Shoes to Fill
The Bears have few holes to fill this season.
Shortstop Beamer Weems headlines BU’s list of departures, but it also must replace pitchers Mace Thurman, Randall Linebaugh, Tim Matthews and Nick Cassavechia.
Weems, a preseason All-American last season, actually had a less than stellar ’08 campaign. He batted .267 with seven homers and 30 RBIs.
Thurman had a 3.18 ERA in 39 2/3 innings of work, while Matthews made 18 appearances and had a 4.91 ERA in 51 1/3 innings of work. Cassavechia, meanwhile, had a 5.54 ERA in 26 innings and earned five saves, while Linebaugh appeared in 17 games and had a 6.27 ERA in 37 1/3 innings of work.
The departures certainly will affect the bullpen, but that should be the extent of the damage.
Must Step Up
I believe the Baylor offense and weekend rotation are in good shape, but starting outfielder Aaron Miller and pitchers Shawn Tolleson and Craig Fritsch must step up if the Bears plan on going the distance.
Miller was a big-time power producer last season, but certainly left something to be desired in the batting average department. If Miller can emulate last season’s power production and also increase his batting average, he could become one of the nation’s best hitters this season.
Tolleson has had to deal with injury issues in the past, but it’s his turn to step up and become a front-line pitcher. In his first season back from injury, Tolleson had a 5.06 ERA in 78 1/3 innings. Those numbers must improve.
Fritsch was thrown into the fire last season and performed at a high level at times. He also was inconsistent on some occasions. Fritsch limited opposing teams to a .270 batting average last season, so there’s something to build on.
Baylor won’t have to rely on too many newcomers this season, but is hoping for big things from freshmen Joey Hainsfurther and Logan Verrett.
Hainsfurther impressed the coaching staff during fall workouts and will take over at second base this spring, while Verrett is expected to be the Bears’ mid-week starter.
Also keep an eye on redshirt freshmen Dan Evatt and Brooks Pinckard.
Evatt currently is in a hotly contested battle with veteran Ben Booker for a starting job in the outfield, while Pinckard is expected to a significant contributor in the field and on the mound.
This year’s class of newcomers could bring the Bears some stability.