Dugas front and center in 2012

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
12:35
PM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It took a while for Taylor Dugas to become the leading man he is today.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Dugas
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireAll but overlooked four years ago, senior Taylor Dugas now is the focal point of Alabama baseball.
It took time for the right people to take notice.

It started with college recruiters. Maybe it was his less than prototypical 5-foot-7 frame, but not many colleges were hot on Dugas' trail out of high school. The hometown LSU Tigers never offered Dugas, despite his .640 batting average with 10 home runs his senior year. Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard saw something in the obstinate outfielder from Louisiana, though, and offered him a scholarship, which he quickly accepted.

Then came the world of college baseball. Dugas didn't waste any time at UA, setting the SEC on fire in his first season, hitting .352 on his way to a selection to the Freshman All-American team. The next season he performed even better, hitting .395 with an absurd .525 on-base percentage.

Finally, the pro scouts took notice. After he posted a .365 average over three seasons, the Chicago Cubs selected Dugas in the eighth round of the amateur draft. Dugas turned down the offer to return for his senior season, feeling he owed it to the team and Gaspard, whom he said took a chance on him.

Now, after three years of keeping a relatively low profile, Dugas is suddenly everywhere, his perpetual 5-o'clock shadow casting a shade over the entire baseball program. He's on posters, billboards, and he is the only player on the cover of the 2012 media guide.

If Gaspard is talking Alabama baseball, odds are he'll come around to Dugas, no matter the question.

Inexperienced pitching? Dugas has that covered. He'll tell the freshmen when they're tipping their pitches or leaning too heavily on their pickoff move.

Lack of senior leadership? Dugas to the rescue. He's Gaspard's No. 2 in charge, equal parts liaison and enforcer.

Rebounding from a feeble offense in 2011? Well, you get the point. Dugas has that handled, too.

There are few players in the country, let alone the SEC, that can equal Dugas' production at the plate. The word "prolific" is never far from Gaspard's tongue when describing his center fielder.

"Taylor is the model of consistency in a day and age that the SEC is at such a high level, higher than it was 10 and 15 years ago," Gaspard said. "He's been an elite player in an elite league for all three years he's been here up to this point, and I expect this year to be his best year."

If that were to happen, go ahead and throw away your Alabama record books. By the time Dugas is done, they'll be obsolete. The senior leadoff hitter could walk away from Tuscaloosa at or near the top of at least five major statistical categories.

He's two away from tying the career mark in triples, nine away from doubles, 53 away from runs scored, 59 away from total hits and 80 away from career walks. If he maintains his career batting average, he'll finish in the top 10 all time.

So where does he rank among the best to ever wear crimson and white?

"There's no question in my mind -- and I've been fortunate enough to be here through a lot of good years with a lot of great players -- that the longevity, durability and success he's had is really second to none," Gaspard said.

Gaspard didn't flinch when he said it. He didn't need time to think, time to consider any others. It was Dugas, and there was little doubt about it.

"The game moves very slow for Taylor, where most for most guys the game is moving really fast," he said. "That's how most of the good ones see it."

Dugas shied away from getting too far into the record book talk. His focus, as always, is on one column in the stat sheet -- the win-loss record.

"I'm not going to think too much about the records," Dugas said. "All I'm going to think about with this team is winning. My expectations surround wanting to win a lot of games. When the records come up in the season that will be fun and exciting but the main focus is winning.

"When the records get here, maybe I'll have more to talk about."

Dugas' singular focus is to be expected. In three years at Alabama, he has fallen short of reaching the College World Series each time. It's one of the driving forces that led him to turn down good money from the Cubs this past summer and return to make one final run to Omaha.

And with one season left, there's no time to waste.

"There's a sense of urgency, but we know just like (Nick) Saban talks about, it's a process," Dugas said. "We understand that. The first game is Friday. We have to focus on getting better out here. I think if we do that, we have a chance at getting there."

Helping Dugas on that quest will be junior college transfer Kenny Roberts. The newcomer from Mississippi is slated to start at second base for the Tide and hit behind Dugas in the batting order.

While Dugas' been busy praising his new second baseman, Roberts has watched and learned from the team's two-time All-American.

Roberts said he chose to come to Alabama so he could play with Dugas. When Roberts came on his official visits, coaches talked about their potential one-two punch at the top of the order, and when Dugas announced he was coming back, Roberts felt even better about his decision.

"Who wouldn't want to hit behind the country's best leadoff hitter?" Roberts said. "He's always on base, giving me a chance to drive him in or move him over. The pitchers focus a lot on him on the bases, which gives me an opportunity to hit pitchers' mistakes. It's one of the best feelings to hit behind him."

Dugas ought to enjoy hitting in front of Roberts, as well. The depth of the lineup should force pitchers to throw more strikes to Dugas than in the past, where they could walk him with little fear of consequence. That means better pitches and more opportunities at chasing down career records.

While Dugas shied away from the thought of making history, he did lay out one goal that would make another left-handed Hall of Famer proud. Like the late great Ted Williams, Dugas wants to hit .400.

"Since I've been here, I've always strived to hit .400," Dugas said before quickly spinning a personal goal into a team one. "With me hitting .400, it will give us the best chance to win."

And for Dugas, winning is the only stat that matters.

Alex Scarborough covers University of Alabama athletics for TideNation. Reach him at alexscarborough.espn@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexS_ESPN.

Alex Scarborough | email

Alabama/SEC reporter

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