Returning talent to cater high expectations for Cougars
For successful college baseball teams, the Major League Baseball draft always comes with a cost.
After 48 wins and an appearance in the Super Regionals, the Cougars lost of some of the biggest components of the team through the draft. Pitchers Chase Welbrock, Jared West and Tyler Ford were all drafted, as well as first baseman Casey Grayson.
However, head coach Todd Whitting isn’t worried about filling the holes from the Cougars’ playoff team for the squad’s fast approaching season.
The Cougars begin their season on February 13 against Minnesota at Cougar Field. And on Saturday, the Cougars will compete in the annual Alumni Game, where prominent former players will return to take on the current squad.
“We did lose some key components of last year’s team, especially in the bullpen, but I feel like we recruited well enough that hopefully we can make up the difference,” Whitting said.
The national pundits aren’t concerned about the Cougars’ ability to replace its key players either.
The Cougars enter the 2015 season with multiple Top-10 nods from polls across the nation, most recently Baseball America’s and D1basebll.com’s spots of three and seven, respectively. With a well-versed group of returning talent UH hopes to reach its predicted mark.
The team ended last season with a postseason run, concluding in a super regionals loss to the Texas Longhorns after a huge 48-18 season. They tied for most wins in program history and reached a national ranking of No. 5 late in the year that they look to improve upon in the coming games.
“I’m excited about the fact that we’ve got so many returners from what was a really successful 2014 season. That gives us all a little bit of confidence when we have so many guys returning.”
Whitting isn’t the only one looking forward to the opportunity to get a high caliber team back out on the field, as offensive weapon Justin Montemayor returns for the Cougars as their junior first baseman. Montemayor lead the Cougars during conference play with a .322 batting average and looks to bring in the Cougars’ recruits to what could be an even better season.
“We just need to build off last seaon and come in with all these new guys we’ve got, the new team we have and try to get to Omaha,” Montemayor said.
Returning junior infielder Josh Vidales feels the team has already established a strong relationship between its new and old players. The junior started in all of his 65 appearances last season and the adept defender is assured of the Cougars’ coherence going into the season, as well as his own individual performance.
“We came up short last year, but there’s a lot of positives to the season, and I feel like the chemistry between us through the fall has been going really well,” Vidales said.
“I just need to keep playing the game and have fun while I’m doing it because the game’s already stressful enough. From a team standpoint, we just need to play as a team and have fun while we’re doing it.”
Montemayor and Vidales are joined by junior outfielders Ashford Fulmer and Kyle Survance as returning third-year players of Houston, all of which are being looked upon by Whitting to step up and make a difference for the team this season.
“I will expect a lot out of our returning players, especially guys in the middle of the lineup and those that get the ball on the mound on the weekend,” Whitting said. “Hopefully it’s a consistent team effort, and it’s not just one or two guys carrying the load.”