The UH baseball team began its fall practice Sept. 12 in preparation for their spring campaign.
They will hold four practices a week during the next six weeks to get ready for the 2013 season. The team will get a break from the practice routine when they suit up Oct. 7 against Rice University at Reckling Field.
“Our staff is very anxious to get our squad out on the field. We have a tremendous core of players returning from last year,” said Head Coach Todd Whitting.
The Cougars have five starters returning from 2011’s position players, including junior outfielder Landon Appling. Appling led the team in batting average (.324), home runs (3) and runs scored (32) last season while splitting time between centerfield and second base and primarily batting leadoff.
“Last year’s team was really young, and it showed on the field. This year we have a veteran ball club coming back,” Appling said.
Additionally, there are 17 new faces to the Cougars. Houston will arguably bring in its most talented pitching class in years and some high quality junior college transfers will be competing for spots in the infield.
“I’m really excited about the 17 new players. The tremendous incoming class that we have, along with the talented returners, should lead to a really good team,” Whitting said.
Perhaps the top of the line for the new players will be junior transfer starting pitcher Daniel Ponce de Leon. Ponce de Leon comes in by way of Cypress College in Cypress, Calif. and brings with him a mid-90s fastball and quite a pitching repertoire.
“(Ponce de Leon) has all the tools to come in and compete for a spot in our rotation right away. We are very excited to add someone of his ability and experience to our club,” Whitting said.
In 2012, Ponce de Leon compiled a 3-3 record with a 3.05 earned run average last season with the Chargers, while striking out 53 batters and walking just 32. He joins the staff ready to contribute to what should be an already deep rotation. But behind the confidence he brings from the West Coast, Ponce de Leon knows there is plenty of room for improvement.
“I don’t want to walk many people. I want to pound the strike zone. Getting the first pitch over is a big deal. I want to compete and work on my attitude. If anything goes wrong I just want to keep it the same level the whole time,” Ponce de Leon said.
When it comes down to it, one of the most important signees for the Cougars will not ever take the field. The program added a collegiate baseball legend to their staff, announcing that Frank Anderson would be taking over as pitching coach.
“Coach Anderson is well regarded in Division I baseball as one of the premier pitching coaches in the nation. This is a tremendous hire for our program and I am very excited for our players to have the opportunity to work with him,” Whitting said.