Short game drives Baylor offense
Here's an in-depth look at the Baylor Bears, one of the eight teams competing in the College World Series, which starts Friday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Neb.
Bracket 2/No. 4 national seed
Coach: Steve Smith (11th season).
CWS History: Third trip to Omaha (last in 1978), no titles.
How They Got Here: Won the Waco, Texas, regional in three games, beating Stanford in the final. Beat Clemson in three games at home to win super regional.
Players To Watch: Jr. RHP Mark McCormick (8-3, 2.95, 107 SO/101 IP), Jr. RHP Abe Woody (9-3, 2.70, 11 SV), Sr. C/DH Josh Ford (.333-8-40), Sr. 2B Michael Griffin (.292-7-30).
Scouting The Bears: Of course, Baylor's pitching is strong. The Bears have got so many arms down in the bullpen, that they don't have to sit out there and let a struggling guy figure it out. Co-closer Ryan LaMotta is one of the best guys we saw all year. He's tough. His breaking ball goes top to bottom pretty good. Abe Woody is more side-to-side with his breaking ball. Trey Taylor and Mark McCormick are really tough kids. They battle and they fight. The club knows that and plays really well behind them defensively. With McCormick, the fastball touches 98 mph and you have to be concerned with that.
Third baseman Kevin Russo makes the club go. He's the Steady Eddie, who always gets the big hit and doesn't try to do too much. You're not going to beat able to throw a sloppy pitch. You have to pitch to him.
It's definitely an improved offensive club during the year. The numbers aren't great, but they do a good job of working the offense, generating things with stealing bags and the hit and run. Baylor tries to score a couple of runs and hold you. Michael Griffin can open up on you at any time. You can't make a mistake to Josh Ford. He's pitchable, but if you can't pitch in, you're done.
The Bears lost Kyle Reynolds to a broken thumb the last week of the season and he is doubtful this weekend. I thought he was best hitter. Even though he didn't have the best numbers, I thought he was going to break out. Jeff Mandel, who was a reliever but took over at first base for Reynolds, can run. He gets down the line in 3.9 seconds from the left side. He is special. He is unbelievably talented and athletic. He's got some power, especially from the left side.
Omaha Outlook: Steve Smith finally gets Baylor to Omaha after losing in super regional Game 3s in 1999 and 2003.
Josh Ford, who has eight homers and 40 RBI, serves as the main power source in an offense that favors the short game, putting runners in motion and collecting opportune hits. Few hitters have proven more opportune that outfielder Seth Fortenberry, who's batting below .200 on the year but hit three of his home runs in the Big 12 tournament, regionals and super regionals. Jeff Mandel stepped in at first base when Reynolds went down, adding homers in regionals and super regionals.
Still, it all comes back to the pitching, as evidenced by holding Clemson to two runs in the final two super regional games, and a two-headed closer monster of Ryan LaMotta and Abe Woody. Baylor gets Texas first in Omaha. The Bears beat the Horns in all four games the schools played this year, but Texas has loads of CWS experience.
Will Kimmey covers college baseball for Baseball America.
Editor's note: Baseball America contacted college coaches familiar with the teams for analysis. Anonymity was granted in exchange for their candor.