Baylor has long been known not only in the Big 12, but also throughout the nation as a solid baseball school. The great run to the CWS last year was a nice reward for Baylor fans and Coach Steve Smith's team – and they look to continue the success this year. Here's a quick overview of who we lost, who's coming back, and which newcomers to watch for. The Bears first series is this weekend against Stephen F. Austin at the Baylor Ballpark.
Key Player Losses:
Baylor lost a great deal of key players this offseason, including 5 regular position starters (Michael Griffin, Paul Witt, Reid Brees, Josh Ford, Kyle Reynolds), 2 starting pitchers (Mark McCormick, Trey Taylor), and 1 relief pitcher (Abe Woody).
Left-hander Cory VanAllen (expected to start Saturday) returns as the key pitcher this year. He has the most experience as a starter and earned All-Big 12 2nd team as selected by the coaches last season. VanAllen finished last season with an 8-4 record (4-1 in the Big 12) with a 4.02 E.R.A.
Baylor also returns right-handers Ryan LaMotta (expected to start Friday night's game) and Jeff Mandel. Both were in the bullpen last year and played prominent roles at various points in the Bears run to the CWS, LaMotta finishing with a 5-2 record and a 2.12 E.R.A. and Mandel posting a 4-0 record and a 1.91 E.R.A. Baylor will give several new pitchers a look: sophomore transfer Tim Matthews (expected to start Sunday) and sophomore Randall Linebaugh will vie for starting roles, and nine different players will be in the bullpen for Coach Smith to choose from.
Position Players - Returning Starters:
Baylor's returning starters include Zach Dillon, Kevin Russo, Seth Fortenberry, Chase Gerdes, Mike Pankratz, and Kevin Sevigny. Although these players did not start every ball game, they each played a role of varying degrees in the Bears success last season. Dillon hit .304 and batted-in 43 runs as he split time at catcher and DH. Look for more of the same this year, with a few more games spent behind the plate. Fortenberry didn't have the best numbers hitting only .192 with 17 RBI, but he stepped up big for the Bears in the post season on numerous occasions. Russo hit .286 while playing third base last year, but is expected to move over to 2nd replacing the departed Michael Griffin. You can also expect Jeff Mandel to do some double duty again in the bullpen and at 1st base.
Position Players - Key Newcomers:
As is customary in college baseball, Baylor will rely on plenty of new faces in the 2006 season. Beamer Weems, a true freshman out of Virginia Beach, VA won't get long to get used to his new surroundings as he is expected to start at short stop. Redshirt freshman Drew Bias is expected to start the year at 3rd, and 1st base should be occupied by true freshman Ben Booker out of Lorena. More newcomers too numerous to name could see time all over the field – it's such a toss-up right now that we'll just have to wait and see. One more name Bear fans might recognize is Joe Pawelek, a true freshman out of San Antonio who red-shirted this season on the football team. It's unclear at this point how much playing time Pawelek will see in baseball, although word is he can swing the bat.
Look for coverage all spring long of Baylor Bear Baseball right here at TheeBearsDen.com.
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