2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 3 Texas Tech
Last season: 16-3
Final ranking: No. 2
Coach (record at school): Tim Tadlock (301-155, eight years)
The good news: After impressing in the early going of the 2020 season, Texas Tech is bringing the bulk of its team back in 2021 and again looks like the Big 12 favorite. The Red Raiders have impressive all-around depth, especially offensively. They return eight regulars from what was a young, but dangerous lineup in 2020. Even with all the returners, Texas Tech has plenty of options around the diamond, from behind the plate where Braxton Fulford and Nate Rombach both are likely to see time, to the outfield, where several players will get in the mix. Fourth-year junior center fielder Dylan Neuse and third-year freshman shortstop Cal Conley keep the Red Raiders strong up the middle. Second-year freshman infielder Jace Jung and Rombach bring power to the heart of the lineup, while outfielders Dru Baker, Max Marusak and Neuse add speed and athleticism. Texas Tech again has plenty of options on the mound, as nearly their entire recruiting class, which ranked No. 15, was pitchers. The newcomers add to a group that still has good depth even after losing power pitchers Clayton Beeter, Bryce Bonnin and John McMillon to pro ball. Third-year sophomores Micah Dallas, Hunter Dobbins and Mason Montgomery all have rotation experience, and the bullpen has no shortage of options either.
The bad news: The losses on the mound sting and Texas Tech will have to replace two members of its rotation. After pitching in the bullpen in 2020, Dallas can reprise his 2020 role as a starter to fill one of those holes. Dobbins is also an option in the rotation, while junior college transfer Brandon Birdsell has the ability to take over as a Friday night starter. Texas Tech won’t be able to call on Austin Becker, who arrived in the summer of 2019 as a high-profile transfer from Vanderbilt, after he underwent Tommy John surgery this offseason. But between Birdsell, Dallas, Dobbins, Montgomery and a cadre of talented freshmen, Texas Tech should have plenty of options on the mound. The Red Raiders must also replace second baseman Brian Klein, who last year led the team in batting and finished his career as a .318 hitter. Jung will move from third base to take over at second, with Kurt Wilson likely getting the first chance to fill in behind him. Wilson has been a two-way player but is now focusing on hitting and has an intriguing skill set. While Klein was a steady presence in the Red Raiders’ lineup, they have the depth to account for his departure.
Player to know: Brandon Birdsell, RHP.
The San Jacinto (Texas) JC transfer has the highest profile of Texas Tech’s newcomers and has the upside of a true Friday starter. He’s a pure power pitcher with a fastball that’s been up to 98 mph and a hard, upper-80s slider, both of which he can throw for strikes. If the Red Raiders are able to plug him in at the front of their rotation, it would be a boost to the staff.
Path to Omaha: Texas Tech has made a habit of reaching the College World Series under Tadlock, making four trips since 2014 and appearing in three of the last four events. To do so in 2021, the Red Raiders will need to sort out their new-look pitching staff and have a couple arms take a step forward. If they can do that and the young hitters continue to develop, the Red Raiders will again be eyeing a deep run in Omaha.
Bracket Busters: Ball State, Central Michigan Series Is A Showcase For The MAC
Ball State and Central Michigan, the top two teams in the MAC, meet this weekend with first place on the line.
|C||Braxton Fulford, R-Jr.||.227||.379||.273||44||0||11|
|1B||Cole Stilwell, R-So.||.345||.500||.564||55||2||18|
|2B||Jace Jung, R-Fr.||.264||.438||.604||53||4||23|
|3B||Kurt Wilson, R-Jr.||1.000||1.000||1.000||1||0||1|
|SS||Cal Conley, R-Fr.||.371||.444||.643||70||3||24|
|LF||Dru Baker, R-So.||.266||.392||.469||64||2||8|
|CF||Dylan Neuse, R-Jr.||.355||.438||.487||76||1||12|
|RF||Max Marusak, R-So.||.286||.318||.286||21||0||6|
|DH||Nate Rombach, R-Fr.||.308||.440||.677||65||6||27|
|RHP||Brandon Birdsell, R-So.||Transfer—San Jacinto (Texas) JC|
|RHP||Micah Dallas, R-So.||1||0||0.57||16||23||3|
|LHP||Mason Montgomery, R-So.||3||1||3.00||18||20||0|
|RP||Jakob Brustoski, R-Jr.||1||1||1.80||10||13||0|
|RP||Brendan Girton, Fr.||HS—Gage, Okla.|