STILLWATER — Jarrett Higgins led Oklahoma State in stolen bases last season.
He's got blazing speed, gap-to-gap defensive ability and a quick bat. And more likely than not, when OSU opens its baseball season Friday at No. 21 New Mexico, he'll be the first player to dig into the box.
But Higgins can't tell you that for sure. Because the coaching staff hasn't told him.
“Nobody really knows (the lineup),” Higgins said. “And I think that's what's making us better. Because if somebody knows, that person may slack off. So it's been good not to know. They really don't tell us at all.”
Welcome to the new era of Cowboy baseball. The Josh Holliday era, complete with a no-nonsense approach, traditional tactics and newfound excitement for a once-proud program.
“They make us more of a team,” Higgins continued. “They make us understand the definition of the team, which make us understand what a team is supposed to be. They give us a reason to be a team, so I like that about them. Everything's really organized.”
But the question, at least in year one, is whether OSU will field a better team.
The Cowboys, under former coach Frank Anderson, finished fifth in the Big 12 last season, missing out on the NCAA Tournament. This season, still largely filled with Anderson-recruited players, OSU was picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll.
Holliday and his stacked coaching staff (including pitching guru Rob Walton) seem to have an effective recruiting plan (with a star-studded class coming in next year).
But 2013 isn't about how he can recruit. It's about pure coaching.
And up to this point, Holliday seems pleased with the initial results.
“I'm starting to get a good vibe from the team, as far as their energy for each other,” Holliday said. “They're anxious to play. I think there's a good mix of some speed in the lineup, some hand strength there where we'll be able to drive some runs in the middle of the order.”
The heavy-lifting is expected to ride on the shoulders of a pair of returners.
Robbie Rea, who will switch from second to third base, led the team with a .324 batting average and 38 RBIs last season. And right-fielder Zach Fish has some of the best power in the Big 12, used best if he can learn to lay off the breaking stuff.
But the eventual barometer for this team, as it almost always is in baseball, will be the pitching staff.
The Cowboys lost a bulk of its production, including ace and first-round draft pick Andrew Heaney. But they return plenty from injury.
Flamethrower Jason Hursh (reportedly hitting in the upper-90s this summer) and lefty Tyler Nurdin both missed last season with arm injuries. Both return and are expected to headline the weekend rotation.
“On the mound, we've made great progress,” Holliday said. “Our guys from the start of the fall until now have come a really long way. We're healthy, which is really important to us.”
Year one won't be a referendum on the Josh Holliday era. Far from it.
It's the opening stage of a rebuilding job, less about wins and more about “building habits.”
But even if the talent level is similar, the interest level certainly won't be. And that, according to Holliday, could go a long way.
“Quite honestly, without that interest level and fan support, that responsibility to play well doesn't carry the same weight,” Holliday said. “And it's important that the players in our uniform know, there's excitement and there's expectations and it's time to get out there and see where our team is at.”