Aggie Baseball - Who's hot? Who's not?

Who's killing the ball? Who's looking good on the mound? Who should Aggie baseball fans keep an eye on? Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp gives the progress report for Aggie Baseball as Big 12 Conference play begins this weekend at Olsen Field.

The Texas A&M baseball team has seen the non-conference portion of their season come and go, and while there have been a couple of speed bumps along the way, the Aggies survived the first season of a condensed schedule fairly nicely.

But where do the Aggies stand going into conference play this weekend in a three-game series against everyone's friends—Texas Tech? Aggie Websider takes a look.

Who's Hot?
Dane Carter, Senior, 3B – Carter is one of the hottest hitters in the Big 12, heading into conference play with a 14-game hit streak. Carter is batting .492 on the season and has already doubled the number of hits he had in 37 games last year, when he hit .203 for the season. Carter has reached base in each of the Aggies first 16 games of the year and leads the team with three homeruns.

Jose Duran, Junior, SS – Duran looked good during fall ball, and his quick bat at the plate has allowed him to fill in for the departed All-American Brandon Hicks from a year ago. He's hitting .381 for the season, with two homeruns, four triples and three doubles to go along with a .923 fielding percentage and a team-high 18 RBI. His homerun to straight away centerfield on Tuesday night still hasn't landed.

Carson Middleton, Soph, P – The sophomore transfer from McLennan College has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season. He's got a team-high ERA of .55, with a 3-0 record in three appearances (two starts). He's allowed just 10 hits in 16.1 innings of work, striking out 16 and walking just three and an opponents batting average of .175. He's a solid mid-week pitcher for the Aggies and will be called upon for middle relief on the weekends.

Shane Minks, Soph, P – Minks didn't have much of a role last year, working a total of 3.2 innings the entire season and posting an ERA of 9.82. My how things change. Minks leads the Big 12 in wins with a 4-0 record and he's done it in style with a 1.93 ERA in a team-high 18.2 innings of work. He's another solid mid-week pitcher who can clean things up if needed on the weekend.

Travis Starling, Soph, P – He leads the Big 12 with five saves in seven appearances. When he comes into the game, it's typically over in three batters or less. His knuckle-change is absolutely wicked and really isn't even fair to opposing hitters. He's struck out 13 of the 30 batters he's faced, and opponents are hitting just .166 off of him.

Who's Not?
Blake Stouffer, SR, 2B – Stouffer turned down big money to come back to A&M for his senior season, but so far, it's not paying off for the All-American. He's hit just .245 so far this season, but fortunately for Aggie fans, he's hitting the ball well most of the time, just not finding the gaps. He's also being pitched around, but if Duran and Carter continue to hit .400 or better in front and behind him, he'll start seeing better pitches to hit. If he can find his groove while Duran and Carter remain hot at the plate, the Aggies' offense could be extremely fun to watch.

Darby Brown, SR, 1B – Brown has struggled at the plate as well, hitting just .182 after batting .311 in 14 Big 12 games a year ago. If he can get things going offensively as well, Duran, Carter and Stouffer will see even more good pitches to hit. If those four can consistently produce in the middle of the lineup, it will make it hard for opposing pitchers to go around them.

On the Mound
Texas A&M head coach Rob Childress is a pitching man. It's what he does. That's why the Aggies have assembled one of the best pitching staffs in the Big 12 in just his third season at A&M.

When you interview pitchers at A&M practices, they talk about the tweaks that he makes. The minor change in arm motion here, the slight adjustment in footwork there. Childress sees it all.

That's why the Aggies' pitchers have totaled eight or more strikeouts in all but two games—one of which was the seven inning game one of a double header against Northern Colorado on opening weekend. It's why the staff has an overall ERA of 2.84—compared to 6.57 for their opponents. It's why the unit has nearly a 3-to-1 strike out-to-walk ratio, with 149 strikeouts in 16 games (9.3 per game).

If the A&M pitching staff can continue to put up those kinds of numbers—or even just close to those kinds of numbers, they'll be looking for a national seed when May rolls around.

The Starters – The seven main starting pitchers for the Aggies have combined to go 11-2 so far this season, striking out 96 batters and walking just 39. Carson Middleton (2 starts), Kyle Thebeau (1 start) Brooks Raley (1 start) and Shane Minks (three starts) all have ERA's below 2.00 in 65.2 combined innings on the mound. They've provided lots of quality innings for Childress and the Aggies. With an extremely talented bullpen, if the starters can just go five to seven innings on a regular basis, the Aggies should be in great shape on the mound.

The Aggie Bullpen – The Aggie bullpen has stranded 23 of 29 inherited runners on the year (79 percent) and boasts a 2.11 ERA with a 5-2 record. Jordan Chambless has made two relief appearances this season as well, and if he's able to get back to 90-100 percent of what he was before shoulder surgery, look out. With Travis Starling, Kevin Cravey, Kirkland Rivers and Chambless, this unit could really shorten some games for Childress and the Aggies.

Keep Your Eye On
Barret Loux, FR, P – The true freshman has shown flashes of brilliance on the mound and has earned one of the spots in the weekend starting rotation for the first weekend of Big 12 play, which says a lot.

Brooks Raley, FR, P – The other true freshman. Raley has posted a 1.80 ERA in five appearances (1 start), with a 2-0 record. He's

Kevin Cravey, FR, P – This redshirt freshman is one of my favorite pitchers out of the pen. He's got some nasty stuff and has really gotten off to a great start with a 1.59 ERA and five strikeouts in 5.2 innings of work.

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