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2014 Baylor Baseball Preview: To All Our Fallen Homies

This is part one of a three part introduction to the 2014 Baylor baseball team. In this post, I’ll focus on the bad news: players who have moved on and a question that needs to be answered.

Baseball is back!
Baseball is back!

If you've been following our baseball team for the last couple years, you've seen some pretty uneven results. In 2012, the Year of the Bear, our team ran a twenty-four game win streak and came within a single out of the College World Series. It was a magical season by any standard. Last year, in 2013, our team hung around .500 most of the season before sweeping UT in late April and surging toward the top of the Big 12 standings... then they got swept by Kansas and lost 8 of their last 10 games to finish 27-28 overall.

Now we come to 2014, and I have very little idea what to make of this team.  We have plenty of good ballplayers coming back, and a few blue-chip prospects coming in, but I'll save them for the next two posts. Today, I'll focus on the players from last year who have moved on.  Let's talk baseball!

Key Losses:

Nathan Orf - rf - .377/.470/.470 - It's nice to have a guy who gets on base every other time he comes the the plate! Orf never had any power to speak of, and his base stealing left something to be desired, but his hit tool and on-base skill will be sorely missed by this year's squad. Orf was snagged by the Brewers as an undrafted free agent and went on to hit .312/.448/.413 in the Rookie Pioneer League.

Cal Towey - 3b - .291/.429/.457 - With his team leading .130 ISO Slugging percentage, Towey will be missed for both his on-base skill and his power.  When he left, he took half the 2013 team's triples and almost a third of their homeruns with him.  Ouch. That speaks more to how little power last year's team had than it does to Towey's monster numbers, but Towey was probably the best all-around offensive threat.  Towey was drafted by the Angels and destroyed the Rookie Pioneer League to the tune of .317/.492/.543.

Jake Miller - ss - .286/.330/.362 - Miller, our long tenured shortstop, will be dearly missed as well. This probably doesn't need to be said, but it's hard to find good shortstops at any level of play. Finding someone who can man the position and not be a total liability at the plate? Well, that's a thing of beauty.

Max Garner - rhp - 3-6 Record/ 4.46 ERA/ 84.2 IP/ 64/23 K/BB - Garner was a workhorse weekend starter, even if he wasn't our most effective pitcher. His loss is muted somewhat by the return of our other starters, but I'll save that for another post. Garner went to the NYPL after being drafted by the Marlins and put up a sterling 1.62 ERA over 14 starts.

Bullpen - Kolt Browder and Crayton Bare combined to throw 71 extremely effective innings out of the Baylor bullpen. That's basically the same production as a talented starter. Both were drafted and are now working their way up through the minor leagues. In addition, Sterling Wynn, the talented 2013 freshman left-hander, will not be back in a Baylor uniform.  He has transferred for reasons unknown. I've read rumors in a few different places, but I have no way to test their veracity, so repeating them would only be conjecture.  Suffice it to say, Wynn was a personal favorite, and I'm not pleased that he's gone. He didn't have a breakout campaign last year, but lefties with good frames and future plus fastballs are like baseball gold in my mind.

So there we are.  Last year's team underperformed, but it wasn't a particularly young team, so we still lost a metric ton of good ballplayers. What does that portend for this coming season? Well, we're going to need improvements from our returners and heavy contributions from some freshmen if we're going to return to Regional play.

The Biggest Question Mark

The biggest factor - and if you've read my posts from the last two seasons, this will sound very familiar - will be power.  Where will our power come from?  It's a well-established fact that power numbers have been down all over college baseball since the BBCOR bats were introduced a couple years ago.  In fact, next year, the NCAA is introducing a new flatter-seemed ball to add more offense back to the game. However, even factoring in the new bats, Baylor's 2013 power numbers were sad and paltry.

Here are two numbers that stick out to me: 15 and 16.  15 is the number of homeruns hit by the entire 2013 Baylor baseball team.  16 is the number of homeruns Josh Ludy hit by himself in 2012.  The team as a whole hit 46 homeruns that year and ran a .133 ISO versus a .076 ISO the next. Blech.

Steve Smith's teams pretty much always get on base, so the effects of a slightly lower team batting average can be overcome, but without some power, it's incredibly difficult of manufacture runs on a consistent basis. So I leave this question open for discussion: Where will the power come from this season, if it does at all? Let's discuss.