As the Texas Tech baseball team is about to open tonight’s season against Arkansas, it’s clear that this team has more than enough offense to pave the way for Omaha again.
Back in the halcyon days of the Mike Leach era of Texas Tech football, a t-shirt with the text “Texas Tech Football: We Score A lot!” was popular with Red Raider fans. But now a days, the double entender more appropriately applies to the Texas Tech baseball program, and in 2021 there is a chance that Tim Tadlock’s team can take that saying to a whole new level.
That’s because the latest version of the Red Raiders returns four hitters from last year’s primary lineup that hit over .300. Between them, Tech got 12 homers and 81 RBI in just 19 games in 2020.
Junior Dylan Neuse is back to lead this year’s team, and with the departure of 2020 fan favorite Brian Klein, Keller natives will likely be the next face for the Texas Tech baseball program. Coming out of a season where he hit .355 and drove in 12, he enters this year as a pre-season American in the field, and he will likely be the catalyst on or near the top of the lineup.
With elite speed, Neuse is an idea that leads here if Tadlock chooses to use him in that role. In fact, last year he led the Big 12 by 22 points.
In the meantime, it would not be right if Texas Tech did not have a slugger at first base, and this year this role is likely to be fulfilled by Cole Stilwell. The freshman from Rockwall, Texas struck. 345 in 2020 with a pair of homers and 18 RBI. And when the season closed for COVID-19, he was in the middle of a 16-game series to reach the base safely. Now he looks set to return to that form in 2021 where he could be the next huge bat to play the first base for the Red Raiders following in the footsteps of boys like Cam Warren and Eric Gutierrez.
In the meantime, keep an eye out for a couple of potential Red Raiders breakout stars on the plate. Nate Rombach is a name that the most avid Texas Tech baseball fans know, but when this season is over, he may be a household name around the Big 12.
Last year, as a freshman who was Tech’s primary designated hitter, Mansfield beat the Texas product. 308 and went deep six times while driving in 27 races. He also led the team with a .667 slugging percentage.
In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Dru Baker takes a step forward this season. The first-year student from Tomball, Texas was modest. 266 last year while going over to the field, but he reached the base safely in 16 of 17 appearances. He may be ready for a big step forward this season, and if that happens, he could add some serious pop to the second half of the lineup.
However, a large bat that can be slow to get out of the gates is the short stop Cal Conley. According to Tadlock, the dynamic redshirt novice who hit a robust .371 last year with 24 RBI, is not entirely healthy to start the year and has not participated in any of the team’s intrasquad scrimmages.
That will throw Kurt Wilson into the starting job for the time being. A two-way player for Tech, he started as an outfielder, but was primarily used as a reliever last season. But early this year, he needs to focus on playing the game’s most demanding defensive position in Conley’s place.
It will be interesting to see what his bat looks like this weekend, because we did not see him get a single bat last year. But of course, his heroic game-winning 3-run homer in the 8th round of Game 3 of the Super Regional 2019 against Oklahoma State is a reminder that he has some thunder in his bat and a flare for the dramatic. But now Tech needs him to be steady and consistent in the middle of the field while keeping himself at bay.
Overall, this is a team that has everything a head coach could want in an offensive attack. When Conley returns to form, he and Neuse should fly around the bases ahead of the power provided by Rombach, Stilwell and the rest. It’s a series that will strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers and one that is more than powerful enough to carry the Red Raiders back to Omaha.