DALLAS, Texas - Oklahoma head baseball coach Sunny Golloway and the rest of the coaches in the Big 12 conference commented on the upcoming 2006 season on Thursday in the Big 12 baseball coaches’ preseason teleconference.
Oklahoma Coach Sunny Golloway:
"We are really looking forward to this season with 12 seniors and eight returning position starters with the exception of Eric Thornton. We did rotate some other people who started at times in 2005, and we have recruited some good lefthanded arms for the bullpen. We have returning starters in Daniel McCutchen, Steven Guerra and Brad Burns who pitched on Sundays in the Big 12 last year. We spoke last year about the character of our club, and we have two youngsters who decided to stay for their senior year in McCutchen (21st round draft choice) and Ryan Rohlinger (21st round). Having this many seniors changes our dynamics for the season, and it also allowed us to start on one of the earliest dates in school history - Feb. 3. We have some sophomores who are actually seasoned veterans, and that helps our seniors, too. We have had 12 student-athletes in our program who have been drafted by the majors, and Daniel McCutchen has been drafted three times before this season as a fifth-year senior. I'm proud of your young men and the way they responded under adversity last year. We tried to handle things in a class manner, and I have a great support staff. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes people who really help this program."
Baylor Coach Steve Smith:
"We have been practicing for three weeks, and the weather has been very good for us. We are trying to replace a large number of players from the most experienced team in 100-plus-years of Baylor baseball, and we'll have to see. We feel good about our team at this point. It is important to rebuild the pitching staff, and you're only going so far as your pitching staff and defense will take them. I like our defense, and you have to catch the ball. I like our returnees Cory VanAllen, Ryan LaMotta and Jeff Mandel. We just asked our starters last year to give us six innings, and then we got to Abe Woody and LaMotta in the late innings. The quality of the pitching we all face makes you look at playing smaller baseball, and we have a little more foot speed this year. Going into the season, we have expectations of not trying to hit the long ball and use our defense and speed to win games. The game many times is played between your ears, and I can sense there is a mental intensity with this year's team. We were fortunate late in the year in 2005 ns and to have the bullpen holds. This year's schedule is a little different in that we open with Stephen F. Austin, which is playing baseball for the first time in 10 years, and then it gets much tougher."
Kansas Coach Ritch Price:
"We feel better about the program this year and have some experience at key positions. I feel good about the progress that we've made, but there is no one in this conference who has more respect for Big 12 baseball than I have. We like our chances and have tried to use a four-year plan - trying to sign high school talent and getting some junior college transfers. It has been awesome to watch my sons develop as college players - IF Ritchie and Ryan Price - and you spend a lot of time working with your family after practice when they are younger. We have been short one rotation pitcher in recent years, but now we have Kodiak Quick, Sean Land and probably Ricky Fairchild (transfer from Tulane who pitched 20 innings in 2005 after recovering from Tommy John) as our top three rotation as our weekend top three. We did lose A.J. Van Slyke to pro signing last summer, but we think Gus Milner and our other outfielders will rise to the occasion. We are experienced in the field, and we feel our pitching will be better with seven guys who threw some last year and addition of youngsters like Fairchild and some other key recruits. This is a very important year in our building process, and we're excited about starting at Hawai'i-Hilo next week."
Kansas State Brad Hill:
"Quite honestly, we have been outside three days and hopefully more. The last two years we haven't been to get outside to practice before the season started. We're very fortunate to have 20 returning lettermen and three rotation pitchers. We need to replace the starting outfield, but it's nice to have a few more voices out on the field to take leadership roles in fall practice. We played a lot of games in 2005 where we were knocking on the door, and that makes you hopeful. We took it on the chin pretty good against Baylor and once in the Texas series, and then we lost our other games by four runs or less. We have two freshmen pitcher who may be a notch above the rest in (LHP) Ben Hornbeck from Arizona (48th round draft pick by the Phillies in 2005) and a local kid from Manhattan named Justin Murray. Murray only gave up one earned run in fall ball. We have a freshman centerfielder in Byron Wiley, who will challenge for a starting job in centerfield month. The quality of baseball in the Big 12 is the coaches in this league are so good, and no program is getting worse. You are trying to fight your way up from the bottom, but there are no Big 12 teams backsliding. That's the real challenge for us is to make the move up the ladder."
Missouri Coach Tim Jamieson:
"We are obviously excited about the beginning of the season and with the degree of talent we have returning, we are ready to take the next step higher in the NCAA. I'm not overly concerned about (RHP) Max Scherzer getting the media attention and scouting he will receive because of the year he had in 2005 and then playing with Team USA. My biggest concerns about this year's team are the high numbers of draft-eligible players we have this year, but I'm not concerned about Max and his ability to handle the pressure. He is very level-headed. We don't focus on batting average and individual achievement, but we do try to get runners on base, get them in position to score and use good discipline at the plate. That forces the other starting pitchers to work, and we like to score as many runs as possible without hitting a lot of homers. We have had good success with that. (OF) Hunter Mense also played on the national team, and it was my first experience with Team USA (assistant coach). I think our kids spoke with other players, and they saw how our program stacked up against some other national programs. We talked about the preseason recognition with our players in the fall, and it's not something we need to discuss."
Nebraska Coach Mike Anderson:
"We have people in our pitching staff who are accustomed to filling their roles, and we have pitchers Johnny Dorn, Joba Chamberlain and Brett Jensen who are back for us. That is comforting, but we have some position players who are going to have to come through early. Joba stepped into a starting role immediately for us last year and showed a lot of the kids in the program good work habits. Johnny didn't get his first start until mid-March, and we know we can count on him now. (LHP) Jared Cranston has a chance to play for us immediately, and then you start to look at guys like (IF) Ryan Wehrle and (IF) Jake Opitz who will have to produce for us at the plate. Last year they were in the Nos. 8 or 9 spots in the order mostly, and they do have the experience. I couldn't be happier for Rob Childress (Texas A&M head coach and longtime NU assistant), but I'm just as happy for the staff we have this year. It's kind of strange for us to be outside in January this year. The biggest change in the new start time for the 2007 season is that we have had to go down and play teams that had 15-16 games under their belts. We have good facilities for practice here. We lost (3B and Dick Howser Trophy winner/consensus National Player of Year) Alex Gordon, and that's baseball. We have some good possibilities at that position."
Oklahoma State Frank Anderson:
"Sunny Golloway is in charge of weather up here as we hope that future cold front won't hit us. Offensively, we're going to be okay. Defensively, we might need some work, and our pitching staff has some unknowns. We have some good young arms, and (LHP) Brae Wright is healthy again. I like the new format of the (Phillips 66) Big 12 tournament since we don't get into situations where you are having to pitch some kids late in the tournament. That makes it tough for everyone. The new format I think will help us with NCAA invitations. Being a new head coach like Rob Childress at Texas A&M can be difficult, and the practices aren't that hard. The game situations can be challenging, but we all have great assistant coaches. We have some tough games early such as playing Arkansas down in the South Alabama tournament and Pepperdine and San Diego State, but you have to establish some confidence prior to Big 12 play. You want to win as many games as possible, but you also want to establish a program for the long run. You have players at schools like Texas who have high school people who stay for four years. This good weather has been great for us since we have been able to get outside and get things accomplished."
Texas Coach Augie Garrido:
"The expectation always is high here, and we just have to get back together and get going again for 2006. We have to replace three infielders this year, and we have the most confidence in some of our pitchers in championship play - notably, Kyle McCulloch, Adrian Alaniz and Kenn Kasparek, along with Randy Boone. We may have to tinker around with the pitching staff at first and let some of the older players close some of the games after the signing of J. Brent Cox. We have worked out Nick Peoples at second and third base since he played the infield in high school. We have brought in some talent and new energy in the younger players, and we need to refocus. In the past, you had to watch for junior and senior players who were more aware of individual accomplishments after you win a championship. I don't think that will occur this year. The mission of our university is to produce national leaders and programs, and the athletics department gives us the resources to meet these high expectations. I don't see our program as a total pitching and defense effort, but defense is the key to winning championships. Not giving away runs is the key to winning. The bat rules have had a lot to do with it, and the coaches are developing better pitchers."
Texas A&M Coach Rob Childress:
"To say we've been busy for the last seven months is an understatement. We had two coaches and wives who had children since that time, and another got married. We hit the ground running Monday (Jan. 23), and we have a tough series right from the start against Northwestern State and coach Mitch Gaspard. We need to worry about what we can worry about, and we have to stay focused every day. We're going to run the same type of offense as Nebraska with the high-pressure offense and let pitching and defense work for us. Our goal every year is to get to Omaha and to win the national championship. You look at the Big 12 and all the Top 25 recognition and the College World Series success, and it's a pretty tough conference. We have five guys back on the mound who have been through the Big 12 rotation, and Jason Meyer won as a freshman. He has this to do, but we feel good about how things have gone in practice. Our catchers' situation is the best I've had in 15 years of coaching. We have Josh Stinson, who caught every day at San Jacinto JC last year, and Craig Stinson, who was hurt and didn't sign. They are great receivers. We have a couple of transfers who have NCAA experience and several guys who are just two years removed from a NCAA Super Regional team at A&M in 2004. That will help."
Texas Tech Coach Larry Hays:
"I'm happy to still be here. It's going to be a year where we are depending heavily on junior college transfers and freshmen as position players. We will an almost total new outfit in the field. Joey Callender will be at second or third base for us, and Matt Smith started at catcher in 13 games for us, and we have a couple of other kids who played in some games. It's a new bunch that we like, and we have an obvious weakness in experience. We are really counting on these new people, and we like our schedule, too. We also have a semi-local kid from Clovis, N.M., in (IF) Jason Seefeld, who transferred from Arizona. We have a group of 3-4 players who we could count on as a starting rotation. We have a freshman lefthander Cory Large from Hurst (Texas) L.D. Bell High School, who looks like he's going in to figure in well. Dustin Richardson appeared in 12 games last year and has looked good as a pitcher in practice. Miles Morgan from Lubbock was redshirted last year, and we probably could have used him at some point, but he has looked good on the mound. We'll see how these young kids react to adversity, and you just don't know until you get into that situation."