New Wichita State coach Todd Butler’s phone contains about 2,600 contacts, of which he estimates 2,400 are baseball-related. One of his first duties entailed texting them to let people know he switched jobs. He weeded out recruits (texting not allowed) and started his search for future Shockers with his network of coaches and scouts.
“That took an entire weekend, because you can do 10 at a time,” he said with a smile. “That’s the fun part of recruiting, because recruiting is about the friendships and the trust you build throughout the year.”
Butler is almost four weeks into his tenure at WSU, time enough for him to hire his staff, decorate his office and spend most waking moments thinking about the Shockers. The most prominent pictures are taken in Omaha, one on Father’s Day of his daughters at TD Ameritrade Park and one of Rosenblatt Stadium, former home of the College World Series. He is staying at an extended stay hotel while his wife and two daughters wrap up their life in Fayetteville, Ark.
“The first week was a tornado-twister in my mind,” he said. “I made it through all that. I know who to contact on campus. It’s been mainly recruiting, probably 90 percent of it now.”
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Butler has spoken to the returning Shockers and he said he does not expect significant roster turnover over the summer. WSU lost seniors Johnny Coy and T.J. McGreevy and pitchers Brandon Peterson and Albert Minnis to the draft. Outfielder Taylor Doggett, who started 27 games, and pitcher Tobin Mateychick will not return. WSU went 39-28 last season, finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference, and played in an NCAA regional after winning the conference tournament.
“For a team that won 39 games last year, it looks pretty good on paper,” Butler said. “We always like to add pitching depth, maybe an arm here or there to pitch late in the game — that would be important.”
Most of the recruiting efforts are aimed at athletes in the classes of 2014 and 2015. Butler and his staff are trying to make up ground with rising seniors. The Shockers don’t have any commitments from that group; a school such as Arkansas, where Butler coached the past eight seasons as an assistant, might be full of 2014 players and looking at future classes. Under Butler, WSU will offer more scholarships two years out, as is the trend, a practice the coaching staff avoided in the past. His ties to Texas fit an increased desire to recruit the Dallas area.
With nine seniors and nine juniors on the tentative roster for 2013, the Shockers will likely need a large group from the class of 2014. High on Butler’s list is a hitter to help replace the anticipated loss of first baseman Casey Gillaspie, a junior.
“That’s a big concern, big hole to fill,” Butler said. “If we can get at least half the guys out of high school, and what we do not get out of high school, maybe touch it with some junior-college guys this fall.”
Butler came up as a hitting coach. His emphasis when handing out scholarship dollars will be pitching. He points to UCLA, which won the national title after hitting .227 with five doubles in five games at TD Ameritrade. Winning requires pitching, defense and timely hitting.
“The only momentum in the game of baseball is who steps on that rubber the next day,” he said.
• The Shockers will meet on Aug. 18. The next day, they start clean up at Eck Stadium for a few days with mops, paint and mowers. “I want them to take pride in this facility that’s been built for them,” Butler said. “If a door’s been scratched, maybe somebody kicked it, we’re going to paint it. I want them to take care of everything we have here.” Butler hasn’t set a date for practice. He does have his first practices planned. The first two days are the same, then the next two will build on those with a few additions. “Two days in a row, they will retain and go over the same practice,” he said. “That way, they’re going to learn. After about 30 days, we will go back to day No. 1.” Fans can expect a fall scrimmage series similar to past seasons.
• Butler will coach from the dugout when the Shockers bat. Assistant coach Brian Walker will coach third base, as he did the past two seasons while a volunteer assistant at Arkansas. WSU volunteer assistant Jon Coyne will coach first. In the SEC, Butler said several schools place an assistant at third. Butler coached third at Arkansas before requesting a move to the dugout to improve communication with coaches. He wants to be in the dugout with pitching coach Brent Kemnitz and to talk to hitters on their way to the plate. “It’s about management to me, it’s not about waving a guy or stopping a guy,” Butler said.
• Maize South shortstop Wes Phillips and Moore (Okla.) pitcher Austin Bright will join the team as preferred walk-ons. Phillips, an All-Metro pick, hit .463 with five doubles and four home runs. Bright, according to the Moore American, went 0-3 with a 2.53 ERA and struck out 45 in 36 innings. “I can say I was (Butler’s) first guy,” Phillips said. “I don’t take that lightly. I was at Maize South and started something new. I wanted to go to WSU and start that new program. I love making traditions and I love being a leader.”