BRENHAM, Texas -- With just five returners from the 2013 squad and 10 sophomores on the roster, the Buccaneers begin their 2014 campaign with 22 freshmen looking forward to their first collegiate ballgame.
“We’re young and I think we’re going to have to deal with some inconsistency, but that’s part of it,” said coach Harvey McIntyre, who is entering his seventh season as the Buccaneers’ head coach. “That’s part of not having 200 at-bats, that’s part of not throwing 50 innings at this level. But I think we’re as talented as we’ve ever been.”
The Bucs’ season begins Friday at Leroy Dreyer Field with a 4 p.m. doubleheader against Frank Phillips College. They’ll close out the three-game series at 11 a.m. Saturday at home.
Of the five sophomores returning, pitcher Robbie Dickey, first baseman Cullen Gassaway and outfielder Nolan Brown were selected to play in the Texas/New Mexico all-star game in October.
“Even though we don’t return many guys, I think the substance of the guys we do return is equal to having 10 guys back,” McIntyre said.
It begins with Dickey on the mound. The right-hander from Austin enters the season as the No. 1 junior college prospect in the nation, per Perfect Game USA, a national baseball scouting organization. Dickey posted a 3.82 ERA and averaged nearly eight strikeouts per game over 73 innings. His emergence solidified a rotation that needed support after sophomore Taylor Cobb went down with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing arm.
Dickey has made big improvements on the mound, including upping the speed of his fastball to the mid-90s.
“He’s emerged as one of the top arms in the state,” McIntyre said. “When we were recruiting him out of high school, we thought he could grow up to be this guy, and he’s gotten there and he’s got a chance to go win for us every day.”
Blinn returns two more experienced arms in Tyler Day and Cole Doherty, who combined to throw for more than 43 innings in 2013. Weston Wick, another top-of-the-rotation pitcher as a freshman, will likely miss the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery during the offseason.
At first base, Gassaway gives the Bucs experience in the infield and a power bat at the plate. Gassaway, who, when healthy, was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter as a freshman, batted .312 with 39 hits, 27 runs scored and 17 RBI. His .417 on-base percentage was among the best on the team.
“He’s a very steady guy for us,” McIntyre said. “He should start to hit for more power and have a big year for us.”
Brown can play any of the three outfield positions and will likely return to the top of the lineup.
“Last year we threw him out there every day in the spring and he got better because of it,” McIntyre said. “This year, he’s got a chance to continue to grow and really be a great player.”
Meanwhile, the freshmen class provides a combination of speed, fielding depth and raw talent.
“Our pitchers have to learn to attack the strike zone and mix up their pitches, our fielders have to make the routine plays and our offense has to understand that moving a runner over can be just as big as hitting a home run,” McIntyre said.
Blinn will play a 40-game conference schedule this season compared to last season’s 32-game slate. Rather than a three-game weekend series like seasons past, the Region XIV Conference is moving to a four-game series split between Thursday and Saturday doubleheaders.
“If you have a bad month, you’re not out of the mix by any means,” McIntyre said. “I think it’s going to come down to how much depth you have on the bump. I think, without a question, your starters are going to have to suck up innings. And if they can, I think you give yourself the advantage moving forward.”
McIntyre has been pleased with the improvements the team has made during the Fall season.
“At the conclusion of the Fall semester, we felt that almost every one of our players made strides in the physical, mental and emotional areas of the game,” McIntyre said. “Our players wouldn't be able to make the strides they have without the countless hours that our assistant coaches Jonathan Ogden and Jordan Kopycinski spent with them each day.”
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