Baseball Preview Part III: Defense

Changing things up a bit from our scheduled previews. Part III will deal with defense. You can read the Big Picture preview here and Pitching preview here. Enjoy!

As Tracy Porter's Super Bowl clinching pick six proved, defense can win you a championship (had to have one Saints reference). Regular followers of Texas baseball may remember that the Horns were beyond atrocious with the glove in 2008 but much improved in 2009. How improved? Well, in terms of errors (an imperfect metric of defensive success but the only one we've got), the Horns went from 1.34 errors per game in 2008 to .94 errors per game in 2009, good for 8th overall nationally.

The catalyst for the defensive resurgence in 2009 was quite clearly freshman SS Brandon Loy. David Hernandez produced 20 errors in 2008 (.927 fielding percentage) and played SS through the second Big XII series of the 2009 season. Loy took over midway through that series (previously at 3B) and played the position about as well as any SS in the country, an insanely impressive feat for a freshman. In 27 conference games -- 23 at SS, 4 at 3B -- Loy did not record an error. Throw in an improving bat over the course of his first college season and it's easy to see why Loy is such an important cog for the 2010 Horns.

Continue after the jump for more exciting info on what to expect from the Horns defensively in 2010.

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The biggest story entering 2010 is undoubtedly the giant question mark at first base. Kevin Keyes was supposed to be the answer, now we're being told it'll be Tant Shepherd. The optimist sees this sudden switch as evidence that Shepherd has worked hard to regain his freshman form behind the plate (.357 BA) and is more trustworthy with the glove than Keyes. If that's the case then the move makes sense as it brings an experienced bat to the lineup and brings some stability to the outfield. The pessimist sees the switch as evidence of an impending Keyes disaster at 1B and Shepherd only a temporary placeholder until one of the younger studs claims the position. For now we'll remember that Shepherd has always been a talented player trying to put it all together.

Cameron Rupp enters his third year starting behind the plate for the Horns and we expect another solid defensive performance. Rupp's biggest improvement in 2009 was clearly his ability to throw out base stealers, leading to a marked decline in the number of attempts against him from 46 in 2008 (7 caught) to just 27 in 2009 (12 caught). Rupp is a solid defensive catcher although he suffered more than twice as many passed balls in 2009 than the year before. If there's one position on the field not to worry about defensively it should be the catcher position.

The Horns will have to field two new infielders in 2010 beyond the aforementioned question mark at first base. Sophomores Kevin Lusson will begin the season at third and Jordan Etier will replace mainstay Travis Tucker at second. The younger Lusson hasn't really seen enough game action to know how he'll fare defensively at the hot corner, but Etier has been groomed since day one to take over for Tucker (who was never really the defensive juggernaut you want from that position).

Which brings us to the outfield, where your guess on who'll end the season where may be as good as any. Connor Rowe replacing Jordan Danks in CF worked out about as well as one could hope in 2009 and there's no reason to believe he won't be a stalwart out there once again. Kevin Keyes is back in right and that may mean more defensive replacements late in games. Out in left is scheduled to be Tim Maitland to start the year, but we have a hard time seeing him holding off Cohl Walla, Kyle Lusson or even Sam Stafford (if he goes the non-pitching route) by the end of the year. The outfield will definitely be an interesting puzzle piece for the 2010 Horns.

Texas' best teams over the years have been the defensive juggernauts that can take advantage of the Disch's quite large confines, score a few runs and keep the opponent off the scoreboard. Texas has failed when its defense has failed. This team should have as much potential defensively as anybody in the country but obviously also has some pretty significant question marks. It may be that as the defense goes so do the Longhorns this year.

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