It’s hard to ignore a .591 batting average, eight home runs and 50 RBIs. College scouts would have to go out of their way to overlook such august statistics.
In Eric Gutierrez’s case, they did.
Despite proving himself as one of the most productive high school hitters in Texas his senior year at Sharyland High School, Gutierrez was not heavily recruited. In fact, his only scholarship offer from a Division I school came from Texas Tech.
To say Gutierrez has rewarded the Red Raiders’ faith in him a little would be akin to calling the Grand Canyon a pothole.
The sophomore first baseman made a lot of scouts look silly for passing him by this year, hitting .312 with a Big 12-best 12 home runs, 56 RBIs, 123 total bases and a .567 slugging percentage. Now he’s being honored as the Player of the Year on the Tribune-Herald’s annual All-Big 12 Baseball Team.
Pretty heady stuff for a guy most recruiters considered too short to play first base at the Division I level, given his 5-foot-8 frame.
“That’s what I heard from my high school coach, that they said I was too short,” Gutierrez said. “They wouldn’t really say it to me. But I heard that stuff. Everybody just figured I’d end up playing juco ball. Thankfully, Texas Tech gave me an opportunity.”
Gutierrez has always been willing to work at the craft of hitting. He said he inherited his work ethic from his father Rigo, a former professional ballplayer in Mexico. When Eric was a boy, the two spent hours nearly every day just swinging away.
How many swings exactly? Too many to count.
“A bunch, a ton of swings really,” Gutierrez said. “We had one of those (playground) swings in our backyard, like you get at Wal-Mart, you know? My dad threw a fishing net over it, and that’s where we would do soft toss. We’d swing all the way until dark. We just had two little cheap light bulbs out there. But we’d keep at it — just soft toss, soft toss, soft toss.”
The fruit of that labor is apparent whenever Gutierrez steps into the batter’s box. He turned in a robust debut as a Red Raider freshman in 2013, clubbing seven home runs and 29 RBIs while earning Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America honors. But this season he’s shown a more discerning eye, which has resulted in increased production across the board, including a 70-point rise in batting average.
“Being more mature and more disciplined, I think that’s helped me a lot,” Gutierrez said.
In another year Gutierrez will be eligible for the draft. Again, he’s vastly undersized compared to the prototypical corner infielder, which could prompt a change in position.
As always, Gutierrez prefers to let his bat do the talking.
“I don’t think that’s an issue anymore,” he said. “I think at the next level, if you can hit, if you can pitch, get guys out, you’re going to play.”
Pitcher: Preston Morrison, TCU
TCU junior Preston Morrison was durable and dominant all year for a Horned Frog team that went into the league’s final weekend with a chance for the Big 12 title. As such, Morrison was an easy choice as the Trib’s Big 12 Pitcher of the Year.
Morrison doesn’t exactly look the part of an overpowering pitcher. He’s a slender 185 pounds with a wispy, incomplete mustache, and he tends to baffle batters more with guile than with velocity. But he’s certainly plenty beguiling, tallying a 9-3 record with a league-leading 1.25 ERA and five complete games.
“Preston is incredibly consistent and throws strikes with all his pitches,” TCU catcher Kyle Bacak said.
Morrison’s latest complete game played out in TCU’s 6-2 win over West Virginia in the Big 12 tournament Thursday. Asked by a reporter if his performance showed why he’s the top pitcher in the conference, the unassuming ace said, “Not really. I’m not here to show why any accolades are given to me. I’m just out there trying to compete and win games for my ball club.”
In just his second year on the job, Oklahoma State’s Josh Holliday masterfully juggled the Cowboys’ roster. In the process he restored the luster to a program that hadn’t seen that kind of glory since Holliday’s own freshman year playing for the Cowboys.
The Trib’s Big 12 Coach of the Year, Holliday directed OSU to wins in their final seven series of the year and the Cowboys’ first conference title since winning the Big 8 in 1996.
“He’s done a fantastic job,” Cowboys outfielder Zach Fish told the Oklahoman. “He’s used guys in perfect situations, where he knows they’re going to do something to help the ball club.”
Texas Tech’s Adam Kirsch, the Trib’s Newcomer of the Year, won’t soon forget his one season in Lubbock. He transferred to Tech from Florida International with just one season of eligibility remaining, and he made the most of it.
Kirsch, a native of Spring, hit .300 with nine home runs, 48 RBIs and a .550 slugging percentage as the every-day designated hitter for the Red Raiders this year. He clubbed a Big 12-best 19 doubles, 17 of which came in conference games. He’s the first Red Raider player to win the Trib’s top newcomer honor since first baseman Josh Brady in 2004.
TCU pitcher Tyler Alexander claimed the Freshman of the Year award after establishing himself as a splendid Sunday starter in the Frogs’ stout weekend rotation. Alexander went 8-3 with a 2.17 ERA and only 10 walks in 742/3 innings. He bested a number of stellar newbies as the league’s top frosh, including Oklahoma’s hard-hitting but erratic-fielding third baseman Sheldon Neuse.
2014 TRIBUNE-HERALD ALL-BIG 12 BASEBALL TEAM
Pos Player Cl School Avg HR RBIs Other
C Gage Green Jr Oklahoma State .337 3 29 18 stolen bases
1B Eric Gutierrez So Texas Tech .313 12 56 .567 slugging %
2B Billy Fleming Jr West Virginia .351 2 30 35 runs
SS Tim Proudfoot Jr Texas Tech .312 0 18 Only 2 errors
3B Sheldon Neuse Fr Oklahoma .304 7 47 7 triples
OF Mark Payton Sr Texas .318 1 32 45 walks
OF Boomer White So TCU .332 2 41 45 runs
OF Tyler Neslony So Texas Tech .412 4 31 .656 slugging %
DH Adam Kirsch Sr Texas Tech .300 9 48 .550 slugging %
UT Zach Fish Jr Oklahoma State .320 11 44 .534 slugging %
Pos Player Cl School W-L ERA Ks Other
SP Brandon Finnegan Jr TCU 8-3 2.14 110 .209 opposing BA
SP Preston Morrison Jr TCU 9-3 1.25 76 5 CGs
SP Jon Perrin Jr Oklahoma St. 7-4 1.78 76 2 shutouts
RP Brendan McCurry Sr Oklahoma State 5-0 0.43 46 17 saves
RP Josh Michalec Sr Baylor 0-4 3.15 27 21 saves
RP Vince Wheeland Sr Oklahoma St. 9-0 1.49 39 .208 opposing BA
Pos Player Cl School Avg HR RBIs Other
C Ka’iana Eldredge Sr Kansas .285 0 22 19 caught stealing
1B Tanner Krietemeier Sr Oklahoma State .271 9 40 103 total bases
2B Colby Wright So Kansas .320 1 20 33 runs
SS Donnie Walton So Oklahoma State .294 3 32 35 walks
3B R.J. Santigate Sr Kansas St. .335 0 27 15 stolen bases
OF Adam Toth Jr Baylor .296 3 25 13 stolen bases
OF Michael Suiter Jr Kansas .327 3 40 45 runs
OF Bobby Boyd Jr West Virginia .356 1 24 18 stolen bases
DH Connor McKay Jr Kansas .256 9 45 19 walks
UT Ross Kivett Sr Kansas St. .333 4 33 21 steals
Pos Player Cl School W-L ERA Ks Other
SP Frank Duncan Sr Kansas 6-3 2.46 80 1 shutout
SP Nathan Thornhill Sr Texas 6-2 1.62 48 .204 opposing BA
SP Harrison Musgrave Jr West Virginia 5-3 2.62 87 .227 opposing BA
SP Dillon Peters Jr Texas 7-3 2.13 53 0 HRs allowed
RP Chad Hollingsworth So Texas 2-0 1.69 20 .217 opposing BA
RP Riley Ferrell So TCU 1-1 0.84 52 13 saves
Player of the Year: Eric Gutierrez, 1B, Texas Tech
Pitcher of the Year: Preston Morrison, TCU
Coach of the Year: Josh Holliday, Oklahoma State
Newcomer of the Year: Adam Kirsch, DH, Texas Tech
Freshman of the Year: Tyler Alexander, P, TCU