Baseball preview: New-look Cougars look to pick up offensive production
With fresh faces on the roster and a strong emphasis from coaches and players on defensive play, curiosity and intrigue surround what the UH baseball team will look like at the plate.
“We are always looking forward, and we feel like we have a good ball club,” said head coach Todd Whitting. “We have a lot more new players that are very athletic. Offensively, we should be solid at the plate.”
The plethora of names include freshman first baseman Justin Montemayor, while senior first baseman Casey Grayson will sit out this season after MRI results showed a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
“We’re going to add a lot of pop to our lineup,” Grayson said. “We’re going to be able to go out there and put up a lot of runs and help our pitchers out.”
Last season, the Cougars struggled offensively and finished last in Conference USA in batting average (.271), on base percentage (.351) and runs scored (226). In response, Whitting’s offseason regimen focused just as much on mental preparation as it did physical.
“One thing I knew is that we had to become more physical, and we have seen massive gains this year,” Whitting said. “When you become more physically able, you become mentally able and more confident to add a little swagger to the team.”
In its preseason predictor, Baseball America and Easton Baseball picked UH to finish eighth for the second consecutive year. Both publications acknowledged that the Cougars would take another step back before moving forward. The doubters refuse to faze redshirt sophomore Chris Waylock, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College.
“A lot of other people out there and a lot of other teams and coaches, they doubt us,” Waylock said. “We have great chemistry as a team, and we set high goals. One of our goals is to come out and win 30 games more than we did last year. That’s a big goal but to have big risk, you’ve got to have big goals too.”
While Whitting acknowledges that his first two seasons in charge have not produced the winning results he wanted, UH has the right man in charge to revitalize the program.
“I knew when I took over the job we (needed) mass overhaul, not only in players but the way we operate,” Whitting said. “From a recruiting stand point to the fans, from a donor involvement standpoint, everything involved with the baseball program needed to be fixed. I expect it (to) take huge leaps forward this season.”
After an offseason theme of developing a bigger, stronger squad, it is anyone’s guess as to where the team will be in the C-USA pecking order by season’s end. If preparation has anything to do with it, expect the new-look Cougars to see new-look results.
“From this point, I don’t know how we are going to do this season,” Whitting said. “But this is the hardest working team I have ever had.”
Editors Note: An earlier version of this article said phase instead of faze and regiment instead of regimen.