Tigers Preseason Ranked #21

TUCSON, Ariz. - The University of Texas has been ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball newspaper's Fabulous 40 pre-season poll. <BR>

The Longhorns, which finished second in the nation last year behind Cal. St. Fullerton, return five position player starters and nine pitchers off a team that rolled to a 58-15 record. Only three other teams in the nation had higher winning percentages than the Longhorns last season.

Considering Texas plays in the rugged Big 12 Conference, the won-loss percentage last season is even more remarkable. Texas features four Louisville Slugger pre-season All-Americans in C Taylor Teagarden (.273, 10 HR, 17 2B, 51 RBI), CF Drew Stubbs (.301, 8 HR, 16 2B, 47 RBI, 28 SB), RHP Sam LeCure (9-3, 2.34 ERA, 113 K, 34 BB) and closer J. Brent Cox (6-2, 5 SV, 2.12 ERA, 63 K, 19 BB).

Three of the four (Teagarden, Cox and Stubbs) played for Team USA during the past summer and have improved by the experience. One year ago, the Longhorns ranked second in the nation with a team ERA of 2.66. Pitching again will be the strength of this ball club. Defense was a hallmark of Texas last year with the Longhorns ranked 10th in the nation (.974 fielding percentage).

"We will have a good team," said Texas Head Coach Augie Garrido. "There is a lot of senior and junior leadership on this team, and we are in the midst of seeing where our new players will fit in." Texas brought in the nation's third ranked recruiting class last fall which will add quality depth to many positions and immediate help in others.

"Several of the new guys will play important roles. We have a lot of experienced players who have waited patiently for their turn to start as well. It will be interesting to see if our second place finish at the College World Series will have a positive effect on the team. Sometimes that can be a tremendous motivating force.

"One great sign with our practices is that everybody is having a lot of fun playing together. Sometimes when you have a lot of experienced players coming back, you have some negative baggage. But I don't sense that at all about this team. They are having fun and like each other."

Texas did lose some tremendous talent off last year's team with three quality pitchers in All-American RHP Huston Street (12 SV, 6-1, 1.58 ERA), All-American LHP J.P. Howell (15-2, 2.13 ERA, 166 K) and LHP Justin Simmons (10-3).

MIAMI (FLA.) LOADED
The Hurricanes, ranked second in the pre-season poll, finished fifth in the nation one year ago despite being hit with a rash of injuries as Miami rolled to a 50-13 record.

Five position player starters return along with five key pitchers. Miami was sixth in the nation last year with a .330 team batting average and seventh in scoring with 8.6 runs per game. The Hurricanes' slugging percentage was .525 - fifth in the nation. On the base paths, Miami stole 134 bases in 63 games to rank ninth in the nation.

"I feel very good about our team," said Head Coach Jim Morris. "We have some experienced players back and brought in a great recruiting class (ranked seventh in the nation). We have a lot of depth on our pitching staff but not a lot of depth with our hitters. So we must stay healthy this season."

The pitching staff features Louisville Slugger pre-season All-American RHP Cesar Carrillo (12-0, 2.69 ERA), LHP Brandon Camardese (6-3, 4.20 ERA), RHP Dan Touchet (5-1, 4.81 ERA), RHP Danny Gil (5 SV, 8-0, 3.03 ERA) and RHP Ricky Orta (2 SV, 2-0).

"Dan Touchet was the ace of our team two years ago. Then he underwent Tommy John surgery. He was not quite 100 percent last year when he tried to pitch again. But he will be at 100 percent when the season starts. We have a number of other quality pitchers ready to help."

Two other players who were injured last season include CF Danny Figueroa and Louisville Slugger pre-season All-American SS Ryan Braun. Braun could move to third base this season.

"Two seasons ago, Danny was the best leadoff centerfielder in the country but hurt his throwing arm and missed last season as a result. He should be ready to go when the season starts. Ryan Braun went down halfway through the season last year. He is back and is expected to help us out quite a bit. He has as quick a bat in the country and can launch the ball. Roger Tomas came in and did a superb job for us last season when Ryan went down."

One position that will be watched closely is catcher. Eddie Rodriguez and Louisville Slugger high school All-American Alex Garabedian from Columbus H.S. (.433, 10 HR, 13 2B, 38 RBI) are battling it out.

"Both are superb catchers and can hit. Garabedian is the highest drafted catcher who went to college at 6-foot and 230 pounds. He is stronger than a bear."

Morris said the season will be interesting since the Hurricanes will embark on their first year in the Atlantic Coast Conference. For 60 years, Miami has played as an independent and won four national championships.

"Last year I scheduled as many home games as I could since it was our last year as an independent with 46 out of 56. Normally we would have 40 home games. This year, we have 36 home games and 20 road games. There will be a few more road games but not as many as people might think."

AIMING FOR 2ND STRAIGHT TITLE
Cal. St. Fullerton, ranked third in the pre-season poll, languished with a 15-16 record after 31 games last season and then turned on the afterburners to finish the second half of the season with a 32-6 mark as the Titans won their fourth national championship.

It may have been the single greatest turnaround in college baseball history. Six position player starters return along with several key pitchers coupled with an impressive recruiting class.

Key returnees include pre-season All-Americans LHP Ricky Romero, 1B/DH Felipe Garcia and LF Danny Dorn along with a host of quality position players. However, the heart and sole of last year's championship team are gone in All-American RHP Jason Windsor (13-4, 1.72 ERA, College World Series MVP) and All-American C Kurt Suzuki (.413, 16 HR, 87 RBI).

"We essentially have 20 of 25 guys who went to the College World Series last year," said Titan Head Coach George Horton.

"However, Suzuki and Windsor were the pulse of our team last season and emotional leaders. Without them, it presents a challenge with leadership. We have quality young men who can provide that, but they have never been asked to do that before. So we will see.

"We have four senior leaders this season which should help. Another problem we have is that we lost two coaches off our staff after our national title run in Dave Serrano (now head coach at U.C. Irvine) and Chad Baum, Kurt Suzuki's catching coach. We brought in some great coaches to replace them. But it will be different.

"When you lose two key members of your coaching staff, you go into a season with guarded optimism. One of the reasons we won the College World Series last year was because of great defense. Coach Serrano and Coach Baum did an exceptional job of positioning our players defensively."

With that being said, Horton feels the Titans have a great chance at getting back to the College World Series and possibly winning it all for the second straight year.

"We are extremely experienced, but you never know how that will play out. It is hard to repeat as national champions. Since we won the title, everybody has been patting us on the back and been excited about winning.

"Sometimes players lose sight of the target the following year. Hopefully we can keep them in the right direction. As a team, we will try to capture the same characteristics that allowed us to be so mentally tough down the stretch last year.

"We have a team that could have a lot of drafted players. That in itself causes a problem where athletes play for themselves instead of the team. We want that same hunger they had one year ago. In one way, we are almost too deep in some positions.

"Talented players will have to sit which sometimes causes a cancerous situation with complaining. Hopefully we can keep the selfishness away and have a great season. With all that being said, we have high national aspirations entering the season."

The "Collegiate Baseball" Newspaper poll is the oldest college baseball poll. Its birth took place during the 1957 college baseball season.

Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's NCAA Div. I Pre-Season Poll
(As of Dec. 22, 2004)
1. Texas (58-15)
2. Miami, Fla. (50-13)
3. Cal. St. Fullerton (47-22)
4. Tulane (42-21)
5. Louisiana St. (46-19)
6. Stanford (46-14)
7. North Carolina (43-21)
8. South Carolina (53-17)
9. Georgia (45-23)
10. Texas A&M (42-22)
11. Arizona St. (41-18)
12. Arizona (36-27-1)
13. Georgia Tech. (44-21)
14. Long Beach St. (40-21)
15. Rice (46-14)
16. Mississippi (39-21)
17. Washington (39-20-1)
18. Florida St. (45-23)
19. Mississippi St. (35-24)
20. Notre Dame (51-12)
21. Clemson (39-26)
22. Florida (43-22)
23. Oklahoma St. (38-24)
24. Central Florida (48-17)
25. Baylor (29-31)
26. Wichita St. (49-16)
27. Virginia (44-15)
28. Winthrop (37-23)
29. Pepperdine (30-32)
30. Florida Atlantic (47-17)
31. Nebraska (36-23)
32. East Carolina (51-13)
33. Arkansas (45-24)
34. Coastal Carolina (40-23)
35. Michigan (34-26)
36. U.C. Irvine (34-21-1)
37. Texas Christian (39-26)
38. Vanderbilt (45-19)
39. Stetson (36-23)
40. Tennessee (38-24)

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