College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches from across the country today with Baylor head coach Steve Smith. He is entering his 16th season in charge of the Bears where he has a career record of 588-387-1. Last season saw Baylor go 36-24 while going 12-13 in the Big 12 Conference. They qualified for the NCAA Tournament where they went 2-2 with victories over Lamar and Arizona while losing to the Wildcats and TCU to end their season.
CBD: Baylor is coming off a 36-24 campaign while finishing with a 12-13 record in the Big 12 Conference. What are your expectations heading into 2011 and will be your biggest challenges to this year’s squad?
SS: The biggest challenge will be to replace the innings that we lost from last year. Replacing (catcher) Gregg Glime will also be a challenge. I expect that we will be a very competitive team. We’re talented across the board and we’ve got a lot of experience with position players. We’ve got to replace some innings on the mound, but we’ve got some guys in the pipeline that are ready to get after it.
CBD: Logan Verrett is the only returning weekend starter from last year’s squad and had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League where he was named an All-Star. Who do you see filling out the weekend rotation?
SS: There are several candidates. We’ve got Jon Ringenberg, Trent Blank, Tyler Bremer and Josh Turley all in the mix. Those are probably our strongest candidates.
SS: He’ll definitely pitch. I would like to have the option, and I’ve been trying to train and prepare him to be a starter. We’ll just see how that plays out, but I would like to have that option. If he became a starter, our closer would be whoever the best available guy is on any given day. In a perfect world, I’d take Verrett out of the rotation and make him the closer, but I doubt that will be able to happen. We’ve got a couple freshmen who could handle it. Trae Davis could close, Brad Kuntz could do it, but it’ll just fall to whoever is not starting. We play a three-game playoff series every weekend, so roles in a bullpen are not like roles in a bullpen in professional baseball where you’re playing every single day and you’ve got to stick to those roles because you’ve got all these games to play. If you’ve got somebody like Verrett that is clearly your best guy and you put him in the bullpen, then he becomes your guy, but if we don’t do that then it becomes whoever is your best available guy.
CBD: The Bears offense last year finished with a .304 batting average. Baylor returns seven of their top nine hitters from last year’s squad. Who do you think fills into these openings?
SS: If we were starting today, we’d have Logan Vick in left, Brooks Pinckard or Chris Slater in center, Cal Towey in right, Max Muncy at first, Lawton Langford or Steve DalPorto at second, Landis Ware at short, Jake Miller at third, Joey Hainsfurther catching and Josh Ludy as DH with a few other options there.
CBD: Do you see any of the incoming players making an impact in the starting lineup or rotation?
SS: I definitely think so in the rotation. Dillon Newman, Trae Davis, Brad Kuntz and Tyler Bremer will all make an impact.
CBD: What team(s) is your biggest competition to winning the Big 12 title this season?
SS: When the season was over last year, I thought Oklahoma was the best young team. I thought they were a really talented young team with their position players. Texas has still got a good bunch of guys coming back and they’ve still got a real thing going on down there with pitching, so that will definitely put them in the hunt. Kansas State is also returning a bunch of guys off of maybe one of the best teams they’ve ever had. I suspect Texas A&M will be pretty competitive again, but I don’t know that there’s any team that’s just clearly separated from the rest. It’ll be very competitive from top to bottom.
CBD: This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?
SS: We played the last four intrasquad games in the fall with the new bats, and we’ve been working with them since then. Personally, I really like them. We’re a Louisville Slugger team, so we’re not one of the teams that was using a composite bat, and I think the teams that are going to experience the biggest change are the ones that were using composite. Going from that to this is going to be a change. It’s a change even for those of us that weren’t using composite. It’s more wood-like, but the way I look at it is that it gives us our game back. It becomes a game now, not just a two-man show between a pitcher and a hitter and who can win that matchup. It becomes more of a complete game, and I’m actually looking forward to it.
CBD: We have now been through three seasons with the Uniform Start Date being in effect. What is your opinion on the rule change? Has it been a good move?
SS: It’s been a great move. I have no qualms about it at all. The next thing to come is going to be a close look at a reworking of the NCAA tournament. There are some good options there. The single biggest concern I have about our game is the regionalization of the tournament. We need to fully seed our tournament. We don’t necessarily have the eight best teams in our country advancing in our tournament, we have the best team out of a certain area of the country that survives that region, but there may be two or three or more teams in that area of the country that are among the best eight in the country, but only one can go because of the way the tournament is seeded. I hope in the process of reevaluating the tournament that issue will get addressed. If it does, the competition will only get better.
CBD: Would you be in favor of going to a tournament format with each round being a series, as opposed to four-team regionals?
SS: I probably would. Any time you can make the game a series sport, a competition between two teams, that’s what baseball is to me. Baseball is not a tournament sport, at least as it’s defined by professional baseball. If we use professional baseball as the barometer of how the game should be played, which in many way we do, our game is a series sport. We’re following that model throughout the regular season, and then we get to postseason play and now we’re in a tournament. As many times as you can play a three-game series, or more, the better. I think that’s why our championship series is setup that way and that’s how we define our final champion. It would make sense if that’s how we decide who gets to play for it.
College Baseball Daily would like to thank Coach Smith for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Special thanks to Baylor Media Relations Assistant Director David Kaye for setting up the interview and sending us the photos. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email.