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A way, way too early look at Texas Tech baseball in 2018

The Red Raiders' 2017 season has been in the books for a few weeks now, but it's never too early to take a peek into the crystal ball and run down what the 2018 version of Tim Tadlock's team could look like.

So, with eight months between now and another journey to try and reach Omaha, let's break it down...

WHAT DO YOU LOSE?

The players that were on Tech's 2017 team that either graduated or will leave for pro baseball are:

RF Ryan Long (Graduation)

1B Hunter Hargrove (Graduation/Pro Baseball)

SS Orlando Garcia (Pro Baseball)

OF/DH Tanner Gardner (Pro Baseball)

LHP Parker Mushinski (Pro Baseball)

LHP Jacob Patterson (Pro Baseball)

DH Anthony Lyons (Graduation)

C Kholeton Sanchez (Graduation)

Of those eight, you lose four every day starters in Long, Hargrove, Garcia, and Gardner, your two best relievers in Mushinski and Patterson, and two contributing seniors in Sanchez and Lyons.

For many teams, this would be a major setback for the coming season, as those losses account for a whole lot of production to replace, and veteran production at that.

The good news for the Red Raiders is that they had arguably the best group of freshmen and young core players in college baseball in 2017. As a result, the defensive play will likely stay steady and the lineup will still be extremely potent, though it may take a step backwards.

So, let's take a closer look at the lineup for 2018...

Way Too Early Look At the 2018 Lineup
POSITION PLAYER

Catcher

Fr. Cordell Dunn OR So. Clay Koelzer

First Base

So. Michael Berglund

Second Base

Fr. Gabe Holt OR So. Brian Klein

Short Stop

Sr. Michael Davis

Third Base

So. Josh Jung

Left Field

So. Grant Little

Center Field

Jr. Cody Farhat

Right Field

Sr. Connor Beck OR Jr. Cam Warren OR So. John McMillon

Designated Hitter

So. Clay Koelzer OR So. John McMillon OR So. Brian Klein

ITALICS = Newcomer. BOLD = 2017 Starter

As of today, it appears that the Red Raiders will return at least five everyday starters in the field and lineup, and it could be six depending on what role Brian Klein - who started at second in the postseason with Michael Davis out - ends up taking on.

There are two position moves of note I think are very likely to come down the wire: I believe catcher Michael Berglund will slide out to 1st, as he was actually an infielder coming out of high school and only started catching this last year as a freshman at Tech. It's a natural move that will help Tech stay solid at 1st defensively while making room for the talent at catcher, whether that be stud incoming freshman Cordell Dunn or sophomore Clay Koelzer, who showed power at the plate and a cannon when attempting to pick off runners.

The other interesting position move I've accounted for is Michael Davis sliding over from 2nd to short stop. In fact, the swap almost happened this year, as there was some thought before the season began about moving Garcia to 2nd and Davis to short in February.

That obviously didn't happen, but with Davis set to return for his senior season, and with some real range and an absolute rocket arm, it's a move that makes sense.

I have no doubts that Cody Farhat will be arguably the best centerfielder in college baseball next year with his insane range, Josh Jung will continue to be special at third, and Grant Little will likely remain out in left.

But, it will be curious to see if Little gets a chance to claim the short stop or 2nd baseman job, too. He's a natural infielder out of high school that can excel in those spots if called upon.

For now, I expect Klein and newcomer Gabe Holt to battle it out for the starting job at 2nd. Klein has a chance to be dangerous at the plate, but he did admittedly make some crucial errors at 2nd this year. So, that race could come down to how well Holt handles the bat early and how much better Klein gets defensively. Either way, I expect it to be close.

In right and and DH, you're going to have a small battalion of players competing for two jobs.

In right, I think you'll see the trio of Beck, Warren, and McMillon fight it out. Injuries early on in the year to both Beck and Warren seemed to hamstring them from progressing at the rate they both would've liked, and McMillon was extremely up and down at the plate in DH duties last year. Yes, he's a ton of fun to watch and has insane power, but he's got to find more patience and learn to hit breaking balls if he's going to continue to get more chances.

At DH, McMillon will likely factor in as well. Depending on how the battle at catcher and 2nd shake out, Koelzer and Klein could see themselves trying to win the DH battle, too.

But, the thing Red Raider fans should feel good about is that there's a ton of talent here competing for all these spots. Several players will end up as odd men out here, and it won't be for lack of ability. That's a good thing.

Now, we move on to starting pitching...

STARTING PITCHING
FRIDAY SATURDAY SUNDAY MID WEEK

Jr. LHP Steven Gingery

Jr. RHP Davis Martin

Jr. RHP Ryan Shetter

Jr. LHP Erikson Lanning


So. RHP John Henry Gonzalez

ITALICS = NEWCOMER, BOLD = 2017 Starter

This will undoubtedly be the top strength of this team heading into 2018, as Tech will have arguably the best 1-2 punch on the mound in college baseball with unanimous All-American lefty Steven Gingery returning and Davis Martin back to full health after missing the majority of 2017. That duo can help carry this team early as they figure things out at the plate and in the bullpen, eating up innings as veteran juniors that have seen any player of every ability at the plate in their careers as third year starters.

Shetter continued to flash elite ability as a sophomore, and he had arguably the best outing of any Tech pitcher on the season - including Gingery -against Kansas late in the year. If Shetter takes his next evolutionary step forward, then Tech becomes one of the hardest teams to pick up runs on over a three game set in the entire country.

As for the mid-week, it's a bit of a shot in the dark. However, I think Lanning and JHG will be the two go-to mid-week staters out of the gate. They're both vets at this point, and both have shown an ability to be great pitchers with plenty of talent. Gonzalez will have to make a big leap forward with his command to not be overtaken by one of the incoming freshmen like lefty Richard Gilbert, however.

RELIEF PITCHING
RIGHT HAND RELIEVER LEFT HAND RELIEVER

So. Caleb Kilian

Fr. Richard Gilbert

So. John McMillon

Fr. Kenneth Walker

Sr. Jose Quezada

Sr. Dylan Dusek

Fr. Nicholas Candelari

So. Jake McDonald

Jr. Ty Harpenau

Fr. Ryan Sublette

Fr. Clayton Beeter

So. Caleb Freeman

So. Andrew Davis

ITALICS = Newcomer BOLD = Pitched At Least 25 Innings

Now this is where things are going to get tricky for this team. You lose Mushinski and Patterson as two dominant lefties who were about as good as anyone in college baseball from the pen late in the year. Both were nearly unhittable when they were on.

And looking at the chart, it becomes very clear: While you have a ton of options from the pen, you're low, low on lefties to call on. In fact, unless you move Erikson Lanning from the starting rotation back to the pen, Dylan Dusek will be your only lefty reliever with any experience at the collegiate level, and he pitched fewer than 20 innings as a junior last season. I would guess that means freshmen Richard Gilbert and Kenneth Walker will be relied on from day one. The good thing is both are very talented and can add real value right away if they can learn control and command at the college level out of the gate.

As far as righties go, you've got a warehouse full. Kilian will be the veteran go-to long reliever for this team unless he's moved into the starting rotation, Quezada will be second in line, and McMillon will be the short reliever that gives you an inning or two and could still develop into a closer. Speaking of, I'm not convinced that Josh Jung's days as a relief pitcher are behind us, either.

After that, though, you bring back guys who pitched limited innings and were up and down or complete newcomers. McDonald is the youngster I look to see the most improvement from, while freshman Candelari could be your next major righty find as a reliever.

You have plenty of options at righty. You just need to find more than three to be consistent for you. This bullpen could get to be an adventure after your first line is depleted if that doesn't happen.


SO....HOW GOOD WILL THEY BE?

While we're still eight months out and there's a whole lot of row to hoe before we get there, I think on paper this is still a very, very good baseball team.

I don't think they'll be as good as last year's squad as a whole, simply because you lose your best relievers and some veteran power bats that really had some major moments for you as junior and seniors. I said the same thing about the 2017 team after 2016, though, and we all saw how wrong I was about that.

But again, on paper, I do still think this is a top three Big 12 team that's absolutely going to the postseason and will have a chance to make some noise.

As good as the starting pitching will be, they'll be that at the very least. It'll be up to the newcomers in the field, at the plate, and in the pen that will determine if this is simply a postseason or Omaha-capable team, however.