Tim Tadlock has spent more than a quarter century coaching college baseball, 17 seasons as a head coach, and confronts a predicament he’s never faced as he looks toward 2021: how to make a talented, but oversized roster, work.
Texas Tech finished fall baseball with 43 players, Tadlock said, including most of the team that was 16-3 and ranked No. 5 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association when the 2020 season was cut short on account of COVID-19.
Largely because Major League Baseball reduced its annual draft from 40 rounds to five to save costs, the Red Raiders return eight position players who started at least 12 games last season. Second baseman Brian Klein, who signed a free-agent deal with the Washington Nationals, is the only regular not back.
The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted and signed pitcher Clayton Beeter, Tech’s No. 1 starter, and the Cincinnati Reds did likewise with Bryce Bonnin. Versatile reliever John McMillon signed as a free agent with the Kansas City Royals.
First baseman T.J. Rumfield transferred to Virginia Tech and outfielder Tanner O’Tremba to Arizona, both looking for more playing time.
Otherwise, virtually all the names familiar to Tech fans from 2020 are back.
Oh, and the Red Raiders’ incoming recruiting class includes a group of pitchers whom Tadlock views as one of his best collections.
At least the NCAA won’t cap roster sizes in 2021.
“They’ve ruled on it, that it’s unlimited roster this spring,” Tadlock said, “and moving forward I think they’ll probably trim it a little bit each year until it gets back to a normal number. Whether that ends up landing back on 35 or whether it lands on 32 is kind of the debate for now. I really think right now we’re all trying to manage what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the program as far as everybody has more guys than they need right now.”
Tech normally tries to start with 35 to 40 players, Tadlock said.
Tadlock said some young players have agreed to using 2021 as a development year. The Red Raiders ended fall ball with about 25 pitchers, Tadlock said.
“We’ve got some guys that we pretty much communicated with going into the year that they wouldn’t pitch a whole lot,” he said, “but they’d be here with our program and get their feet on the ground and be ready to go the next year. And in the COVID year and dealing with people coming in and out, we figured we needed at least 15 arms to go to.
“We’re going to try to get it down to a workable number, with the understanding that when we’re home and when we’re practicing, those other guys are going to be getting development and getting to (play in) intrasquad, too.”
Among the players who stood out in fall ball, Tadlock said, were third baseman Jace Jung, catcher-first baseman Nate Rombach and utilityman Dru Baker, all of whom found places to play summer ball. Jung, who had four home runs and 23 runs batted in as a freshman this past season, played for the Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters. They won the National Baseball Congress World Series, and Jung made the NBC all-America team, a select group of 13 honorees.
“I would say those guys that played, you could really tell that early on,” Tadlock said, “and they played really good.”
Others who had their moments, Tadlock said, included shortstop Cal Conley, third baseman Easton Murrell, center fielder Dylan Neuse, catcher Braxton Fulford, outfielder Max Marusak and incoming third baseman-outfielder Braydon Runion, a transfer from Walters State (Tenn.) Community College.
In the last full season, 2019, Runion hit .348 with 11 home runs and 44 driven in for a Walters State team that finished 54-11. A right-handed hitter, he’s listed at 6-foot and 220 pounds.
“He’s a kid that’s kind of interesting,” Tadlock said. “Had never lifted a weight in his life. I think the more he got into our strength program, you could kind of tell his body was going through some changes. He probably didn’t finish out the way he wanted to in the fall, but I think it’s going to set him up down the road to really be explosive.”
Outfielder Dillon Carter is expected to be sidelined until April, Tadlock said, after undergoing surgery during the off-season. Tadlock declined for privacy purposes to cite the nature of the surgery, but Carter missed fall ball.
The freshman from Argyle started 16 games last season, played in all but one game and hit .280 with four RBI. He drew 13 walks, contributing to a .448 on-base percentage, and had seven stolen bases in eight attempts.
Pitcher Austin Becker, who began the 2020 season as the Red Raiders’ No. 2 starter, is likely to miss the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery this summer. The 6-5 righthander made four starts and a relief appearance, going 1-0 with a 6.08 earned-run average. He struck out 11 in 13 1/3 innings, but walked 14.
D1Baseball reported last week that Big Ten baseball and softball teams will be limited to conference-only schedules in 2021. That means Texas Tech will lose a four-game series at Minnesota. The teams also lost a three-game series this past season as the Golden Gophers were to come to Lubbock from March 20-22 before the pandemic.
Clemson canceled a 2021 series from March 12-14 at Rip Griffin Park/Dan Law Field, Tadlock said, and a three-gamer with New Mexico also is off. After losing the Clemson series, Tech added one with Connecticut, also at home.
The Huskies, 8-5 in 2020, made the finals of NCAA regionals the two previous seasons, losing to Oklahoma State in the Oklahoma City Regional to cap a 39-25 season in 2019 and losing to Washington in the Conway (S.C.) Regional to end a 37-22-1 season in 2018.
Tech also has home, non-conference series against Gonzaga and Dallas Baptist.
Also still on the Red Raiders’ schedule are the Big 12-SEC Challenge from Feb. 19-21 at Globe Life Field in Arlington and the Shriners College Classic from March 5-7 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
In short, Tech has 49 games scheduled at the moment of the maximum 56. As fall-sports teams have learned, though, it can change drastically.
“We’re really waiting for the word (from the Big 12),” Tadlock said. “When they tell us what we can do, we’ll put our schedule together, kind of like basketball’s had to do.”