After finishing his first season with a winning percentage of .370 and a last-place finish in the Pac-12, WSU baseball Head Coach Marty Lees is looking to spin the fortune of the program in year two.
Lees and the Cougars brought in a recruiting class ranked 28th in the nation by the Division I baseball website in preparation for 2017.
“I feel like we got a really good class of players that can turn this program around,” Lees said.
In the last five years, the Cougars have failed to place higher than seventh in the Pac-12, and have finished eighth or lower in 13 of the last 16 seasons. WSU has not been considered a baseball powerhouse since former Head Coach Chuck Brayton left the program, but Lees and his staff are looking to change that.
Lees was on the coaching staff for two national championship teams at Oregon State in 2006 and 2007, and spent his final three seasons as an assistant coach at Oklahoma State where he coached 13 infielders who earned All-Big-12 conference honors.
In his second year as head coach of the Cougars, Lees appears to be on the right track toward building a program that can annually contend for a Pac-12 title.
One of the biggest goals Lees said he had during the recruiting process was evening out the ratio of high school recruits and transfers. The 2016 recruiting class totaled 12 players with seven coming from junior colleges.
Lees is focused on the long-term, and the distribution of the class exemplifies the recruiting shift. The diverse class allows the program to blend experience with youth and bridge the gap between immediate and sustained success.
Lees said that evenly distributed recruiting classes promote steady and controlled growth. When one or two classes are heavily overloaded and carry most of the team’s talent, the program’s performance fluctuates with the coming graduations.
The 2016 class filled immediate position needs and features young players set to make a four-year commitment.
Shortstop Andres Alvarez is a sophomore junior college transfer who Lees expects to become a major contributor to the program.
“(Alvarez) can be as elite a shortstop as there is in this league,” Lees said.
Lees said junior transfer pitcher Cody Anderson, a 6-foot-6-inch left-hander, is a versatile pitcher that can fill current needs and plug holes left by graduating seniors.
Lees made it clear that the goal was not to win fast, but to build a strong program.
“Quick fixes usually don’t have as much success in the long run,” Lees said.
Lees referenced the Chicago Cubs’ gradual rise to winning the World Series last week under President Theo Epstein as an example of what the WSU program is trying to achieve.
“They took the time and built it from scratch,” he said, “and now they are built for the long haul.”
The program collectively understands that a “win now” mentality may be difficult to overcome. Lees said that while the improvement may not be immediately apparent in the win column, the way the team is built will push the program.
The Cougars, led by Lees, will play their first game on Feb. 17 at Sacramento State and the team’s home opener will be on March 3 against Stephen F. Austin State University.