BWG: As the primary Longhorn Network baseball play-by-play announcer, you've seen the last 2 disappointing seasons up close & personal. What do you think the primary focus of Augie's squad needs to be to turn things around this season?
KD: I think it's an attitude & cultural change as much as talent and the reality is both were not where they needed to be the last two years. Texas got killed in the MLB draft & that was a big part of the offensive problems. Then you have entitlement issues that every UT coach deals with, but UT in baseball is thought of as the Yankees of college ball. There is a lot of pressure on these kids to live up to program standards & it's different than most other programs. Multiple big leaguers have told me that they were treated much better at UT than the minors. Not even close! You have to be careful of taking that for granted. They brought an amazing group in & finally won a battle against MLB. I think the talent & attitude will be drastically different.
BWG: So what was it that caused the drop in talent? Was the recruiting focus that different than previous years? Texas always seems to have a couple MLB defections here and there, what was it about the last couple of years that hurt more than normal?
KD: The focus was different. I don't know of a harder sport to recruit than college baseball. Identifying the top talent is obviously key, but finding those guys who have a shot to land on campus is as important. Andy McGuire is a great example; his bedroom in Virginia is painted burnt orange. Augie told me the Barrera house has more burnt orange than the UT locker room. But once you sign them it doesn't stop there. Re-recruiting the guys when MLB rolls around is where they really have stepped it up. Give your side of the story & why 3 years at UT is a BETTER option for their future money wise & developmentally & then mix in the Zane Gurwitz/Mark Payton guys who aren't sought after by MLB coming out of high school but are ball players. It's hard balancing it out with the ridiculous 11.7 scholarships they are given. But I think they have found a formula that is much more productive to winning games.
BWG: It seems as though Augie Garrido is the 3rd UT coach in the space of a year to have a 'make or break' season staring him in the face. Mack Brown didn't make it, Rick Barnes seems to be in the process of making it; what do you think Augie has to do to stick around for another year? Or, if the rumors are true and he's considering retiring, maybe the better question would be what level of success does Augie need to have this season for the retirement choice to be his and not someone else's?
KD: I don't think he is retiring soon. He is a baseball coach, it's his entire life & his mind is as sharp as ever. He doesn’t play golf, he coaches baseball. He puts more pressure on himself than any boss could. If he was his own school, he would be TIED for 3rd in NC's. His legacy is sealed, but he wants to go out winning & I've never seen him as dialed in as he is now. He was in the Valley the day before the draft to see Tres Barrera & his family & let them know how badly they wanted him & why it would be beneficial to come to UT. The re- recruiting after signing them 5 months earlier is the key to getting these premium prospects on the 40 acres. UT knew they'd lose Trey Ball, but Skip Johnson still was going up to Indiana to remind him you have options. You have to give the signees the reality of their next 3-5 years if they do go pro.
BWG: So if he's not retiring, what do you think the benchmark is for 'success' this season? And as much as I should've learned my lesson making predictions for the basketball team, do you think he reaches that benchmark?
KD: First off, find an identity with team. That could take a few weeks or more. But it's UT baseball. They've won 78 Conference championships. So win a conference series first! But realistically finishing in the top 3 in Big 12, getting to a Super Regional would be a great benchmark and then build from there. Omaha would be gravy. But also the eyeball test: will they look like a typical Longhorn team?
BWG: It seems like Augie's best teams tend to have a veteran catcher (Taylor Teagarden, Cameron Rupp) to help manage the pitchers in-game & provide clubhouse leadership. Is Jacob Felts that guy for this team, and if not is there somebody else filling those roles?
KD: Great observation & question. Teagarden & the home plate umpire were tight friends by the 3rd inning usually. But I think with catchers who lack experience it will be crucial to have Payton, Nathan Thornhill, etc. provide that much needed leadership. How Barrera & Jeremy Montalbano adjust to handling a staff will be key. I think you'll see Skip Johnson control that early in the season. But the leadership from the vets will be instrumental.
BWG: Since we're discussing players, let's talk about the pitching & hitting. As usual, Texas is pretty loaded with quality pitchers. Who do you expect to see have the most sustained success, and who do you see being an unexpected breakout pitcher? As for the hitters, are Mark Payton & C.J. Hinojosa going to be the bell cows or are any of the heralded freshmen going to pace the offense? And is my man crush on Brooks Marlow going to be rewarded this year?
KD: First question is tough. I think Dillon Peters is going to have a huge year. Parker French is a close second but must stay healthy. As for a break-out? Morgan Cooper looked great in the fall & has good stuff to go with good command. I think Blake Goins will be a factor later in the season, he has sick stuff. The HUGE x-factor is John Curtiss. IF he is healthy this may be the best staff in the country. Mark & CJ should have help this year. Tres Barrera, Andy McGuire, Zane Gurwitz, Kacy Clemens, & Bret Boswell should really give this offense some options and provide Mark & CJ w more hittable pitches. And yes; from all I've seen & heard, Brooks Marlow has improved tremendously. He has to stay with the same approach at the plate: level swing & stay up the middle. Don't try and show your power. I think his role is huge this season.
BWG: Switching gears to the broadcast, you're going to be joined by Keith Moreland in the booth this year. What are you looking to glean from him during a broadcast, and what is it he brings to the booth that's different from your other partner, Greg Swindell?
KD: I'm very excited to work with Keith, we've been broadcasting together since I was 18. As a catcher, he knows hitting & pitching equally well. It's why so many great managers are former catchers. As a Cubs fan I know he played every position outside of pitching. Greg is also a college baseball HOF but really knows pitching & how it correlates to the whole game. Both are great guys to work with & they are prepared, that’s all you can ask for as a pxp guy.
BWG: Is there anything subtle you can tell the readers to look for within a broadcast they might not otherwise notice? Like watching fielding alignments, the way pitchers work a strike zone, or something of that nature.
Finally, before I let you off the hook to go ice your thumbs after writing 1200 words entirely on an iPhone, I'm giving you the chance to talk about anything you want. Expound about the program, talk about the LHN, put out a hit on Scipio, whatever you want. The floor is yours.
KD: I said on 104.9 the Horn last spring: while the baseball team was a dumpster fire, I felt like the baseball program had identified its problems the quickest & was closer to winning a National Championship than the other big 2. Pitching was a major part of that. That really surprised a lot of people & I think some wondered which team of therapists I was using. Tweet me if you need them. (ed: His handle is @KevinDunnLHN & he has several blank prescription pads.) But in all seriousness I was being objective. As for the broadcasts, not that my musings aren't Carlin-esque, I'm really excited about this season & what we have in store. We have an incredibly talented crew who have years of experience & work national telecasts for a living. Both Greg & Keith bring so much knowledge & experience, not only as college legends, but as longtime big leaguers. When I was working with Keith early on in my career, he would point the hidden things out of the game so well. Why doesn't Tommy Harmon pick up the foul ball that is rolling slower than I-35 traffic? Always give the pitcher a new baseball. He may have been working on that baseball for 7-10 straight pitches. Greg does the same thing. I just need to be Steve Nash in Phoenix back in the day & give lobs to Stoudamire & Marion. Our producer, Ken Menard, & our director, Brad Sheldon are really good at what they do & we're all communicating throughout the game. They know baseball & 95% of the time I say someone, Brad is on it. I think you'll see more all-access elements this year that really take you inside the program. We'll let the game & season tell the story. I woke up the other day & just smiled knowing its baseball season. I think, much like the basketball team, people will like watching these guys play & getting UT baseball back to where it needs to be.