(Photo via Dallas Baptist’s Baseball site, seen here)
Part I of Curtis’ DBU series, focusing on the team’s lively arms, can be found here.
Last week, we looked at what makes Dallas Baptist University’s baseball program a small-school success from the perspective of pitching. This week, we will check out how DBU’s recruiting and powerful offensive output have delivered six 40-win seasons since 2011.
Before jumping into DBU’s offense, what makes the Patriots sustain this much success as a private school in a smaller conference relative to other larger programs in the state of Texas? According to assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Dan Fitzgerald, it starts with fit and development. “I don’t know that it’s so much a sell that it’s a clear picture of who we are and what we’re about,” Fitzgerald said of DBU’s pitch to high school recruits. “We’re a small, private Christian school that’s focused on development as for guys as students, athletes, and people, and it’s just about painting a picture of that plan for a guy.”
Fitzgerald mentioned the word “development” numerous times and attributed that program focus to head coach Dan Heefner, who’s entering his eleventh season as the Patriots’ head coach. Development surfaces everywhere in discussions of DBU’s success, from pitching and offensive philosophies to preparing players for pro ball. “[Seeing players drafted] becomes a pretty good indicator that the program is working,” Fitzgerald said. “The majority of guys are first-time draftees, and they’re getting drafted for the first time in high spots. That program development is taking them to another level”.
As discussed last week, DBU’s gameplan on the mound features power arms, mid-90s heat and a plenty of successful pitchers who now play at the professional level. The same can be said about the offensive side of the program, which was near the top of Division I in numerous offensive categories last season. Led by Camden Duzenak, Matt Duce and school home run record holder Austin Listi, Dallas Baptist posted team offensive statistics that were among the leaders in the country in many categories, helping the Patriots to 42 wins last season.
Among DBU’s impressive core of hitters who posted impressive offensive numbers last season, shortstop Camden Duzenak reflects a prime example of DBU’s program development helping players reach their potential. Duzenak was drafted in the 23rd round in 2016 after he hit six home runs and posted a .438 slugging percentage as a junior. After declining to sign with Arizona as a 23rd round pick, he came back to DBU in 2017 and hit 15 home runs while boosting his slugging percentage to .551. Duzenak’s increased production with another year at DBU certainly helped, as he was drafted in the ninth round by Philadelphia in 2017.
Though a core of powerful offensive bats that includes Duzenak will not return for DBU in 2018, the Patriots still have the potential for another year of impressive power numbers. Assistant coach Dan Fitzgerald attributed Dallas Baptist’s recent offensive success to individuals who have posted big power numbers like Duzenak and outfielder Austin Listi but also to a team offensive philosophy communicated by Heefner. “Since [Heefner] has been here, the offense has crushed. He’s passionate about developing complete hitters,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald says the team offensive motto is ‘Lead the country in doubles’ and mentioned getting under the ball as a key to offensive production. This emphasis on power without trying to hit every ball out of the ballpark resulted in DBU ranking fourth in the nation in team doubles with 143 and seventh in team OPS.
Even if the Patriots’ offensive strategy isn’t always centered around hitting home runs in a hitter-friendly ballpark, DBU ranked third in team home runs with 97 last season. With departures of the aforementioned hitters, Fitzgerald expressed optimism about some returning starters and incoming players to the program to sustain the offense in 2018. “It’s hard to replace an all-time program home run record holder [Listi], and we feel like production overall might not look the same, but we certainly added pieces who could really help us and we’re getting quality pieces back.”
Fitzgerald specifically mentioned incoming seniors Matt Duce and Devlin Granberg as a key returning starters. Duce posted impressive offensive numbers of his own in 2017 (15 home runs, .551 slugging percentage) and turned down a contract after being drafted in the fourteenth round by New York last season. Granberg posted an OPS of 1.002 last season, second on the team to Listi.
Efficiency is at the core of the Patriot hitting approach, instead of a team philosophy geared towards power specifically. “Sometimes a guy gets in the program and develops some power and wants to elevate the ball. Some guys try to elevate too much and need to stay over the ball more.” Fitzgerald said. “We want to see guys change a swing to be efficient and a great hitter.” Even with the loss of some talented hitters, Dallas Baptist should still be able to rely on efficiency to manufacture runs and yet another forty win season, even if end-of-year team totals don’t show power numbers as gaudy as 2017.