Baylor baseball ready for new season

Baylor Baseball during the National Anthem.

Baseball FTWBy Daniel Hill

Sports Writer

Last season, the Baylor Bears baseball team had a 49-17 record and won the programs third Big 12 championship. With 49 wins, the 2012 squad ended just one win shy of the Baylor record. On the diamond, the Bears also won a school-record 24 games.

They also had four Louisville Slugger All-Americans and had six players selected in the 2012 MLB draft.

The 2013 Baylor baseball team has a tough act to follow, but they are confident that they are up to the challenge.

“We didn’t lose everything,” head coach Steve Smith said. “We did take obviously some significant hits. You can choose to focus on that or it’s kind of worthless. What I’m trying to focus on, particularly on the pitching side, is that a year ago two of the guys that started for us in the rotation are back, Brad Kuntz and Max Garner.

A year ago, Trent Blank and Tyler Bremmer were in the bullpen and their success was a surprise to many. I don’t know who I would expect it out of on this team, but I believe that we will have guys that do things positively that we will scratch our heads at the end of the year.”

The starting rotation preliminarily has junior left-handed pitcher Kuntz as the number one starter. Kuntz will be followed by senior right-handed pitcher Garner.

“I expect when we roll it out the first weekend to go Kuntz, Garner and [Dillon] Newman,” Smith said. “Then we’ll just see how it evolves from there.”

Tonight, Baylor opens up a three-game series against University of California, Irvine. The Bears will take on U.C. Irvine tonight and on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

“We’re ready and very excited,” senior outfielder Nathan Orf said. “The weather has been baseball weather lately. It’s just that time of the year and we’ve put a lot of work in to get to this point and I think we’re all ready for the next step.”

Orf had off-season Tommy John surgery on his elbow and will most likely start the year in the outfield, even though his home position is usually catcher.

“I had surgery in June, so it’s been a lot of just getting healthy and getting the strength back and really just preparing the same way kind of we always do. Know yourself, learn yourself and get better at what you’re good at. So for me, it was about becoming more athletic and more quick, better speed, more strength and just be a better overall player.”

Orf will be a key returning player for the Bears.

Orf was the 2012 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Orf played in 65 games last season and started in the top three spots of the lineup in every game.

“Yeah, I think we have a lot of question marks, but I think a lot of the guys that stepped up last year weren’t really expected to do what they did,” Orf said. “{Josh} Ludy had 16 or 17 home runs and no one saw that coming. He had never been a steady starter so I think we have a lot of the same this year and a lot of young guys that have been waiting for their shot and you can see it in their approaches this fall that they saw how we were grinding last year and they really took that into how they were playing this fall. I think they’re ready for their shot.”

“We have our goals set,” Orf said. “The goal is to win a national championship and we fell short of that last year. I think we’re going to go the same way we did last year with our approach, one day at a time, one game at a time. Today is about getting better at our first practice today. Our goal is to win a national championship, to win the Big 12, to win our regional, host superregional and all that but it all starts today so we’re pumped for that.”

Another crucial returning player for the Bears is senior third basemen and outfielder, Cal Towey.

He started all 66 games at third.

“I’m just ready to get started again, especially after the way last year finished,” Towey said. “It’s the best thing to get back on the field and just have fun and grind out all the games and enjoy them all.”

With Josh Ludy playing professional baseball in the Philadelphia Phillies minor league system, the Bears are going to have to find somebody to replace the production that Ludy posted last season. That doesn’t necessarily mean replacing his home runs, but playing a different style of baseball consisting of more bunts, steals and aggressive base running. In other words, the Bears are looking to play more small ball this year.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of guys that are going to step up,” Towey said. “Not necessarily to try to replace Josh [Ludy] with all the home runs and all that, but just a different style of baseball. Probably a lot more stealing and aggressive stuff like that, not a lot of home runs.”

Last season, the Baylor baseball team relied on taking every game one pitch at a time and not getting too caught up with the big picture.

“I’d say we’re fighters,” Orf said. “I really think the competitive attitude that we carry and the way that we grinded out games last year and the way that we won games last year is just really set into our program and that’s going to be the way we play and that’s going to be the way we win. I don’t think we’re going to blow any teams away with 15 runs a game but we’re just going to have to grind-out wins.”

The Bears lost in the NCAA Super Regional in heart-breaking fashion as Arkansas defeated them in games two and three.

“We still ended up losing,” Towey said. “We didn’t get the result we wanted even though we had a great season. We didn’t end up being winners. There’s only one team that ends up being the winner. I’m just ready to get started again, especially after the way last year finished. It’s the best thing to get back on the field and just have fun and grind out all the games and enjoy them all.”

With the loss of several key players from last year, this year’s squad does have a few holes to fill. Some of the question marks lie at catcher, first base and center field.

“There’s really three {question marks} for me,” Smith said. “One is behind home plate, the other is first base and another is center field. I think we have answers for those. One that I think is the grayest right now is probably at first base. Max [Muncy] played virtually every inning of that for about three years. How we line up over there right now remains to be seen and I suspect that will probably change from time to time. Behind the plate, it’ll be a little bit the same way and potentially in center field. The other places, we’re fairly set. We’re fairly confident in what we’ve got but there are those questions that will remain. There are some questions on the mound in terms of the back end, especially the bullpen situation, but I think we’ve got answers there. I really think we’ve got good players and good kids.”

With the breakout season a year ago, the Baylor program is trending upwards.

The program is adopting a new mindset and the expectations are to win.

“Honestly, from the culture of our program and the way that we played the game last year, particularly the whole aspect of playing the whole game just one pitch at a time and all of the things that that involves, we are trying to continue those not just with this team but with all teams in the future. It’s just the way that we want to play the game. As coaches, we have learned better ways to get that message across and I think we’re just doing a better job of preparing our guys. ”