The Horns were in great shape entering July, having lost just Corey Knebel and Trey Ball to the draft. Texas lost 3B Erich Weiss as the junior decided to sign with the (hated) Pittsburgh Pirates to the tune of $305,000. Weiss' signing bonus was $205,000 over the slotted value and we wish him well in pro ball.
The big news of Friday, however, came after the deadline when junior outfielder Mark Payton turned down pro ball to return to Texas for his senior year. Payton has shown remarkable improvement at the plate each year, raising his batting average from .263 as a freshman to .322 as a sophomore and .393 as a senior. Payton ranked 12th nationally in batting average, 16th in OBP, and led the Horns in hits, RBI, doubles and triples. Obviously anything less than a .450 batting average as a senior would have to be considered a failure.
Payton's return is huge for Texas in 2014 as he brings senior leadership, an excellent approach at the plate and a good glove in the field. Though we would've loved to have Weiss back in 2014, he may not have had a position given his weakness in the field and the appearance of Andy McGuire and Tres Barrera on the 40 Acres. As it is, Texas enters the offseason with a ton of pitching and infield depth but question marks in center and left field.
Maybe we're ahead of the curve feeling optimistic about 2014, but the Horns will return everyone but Knebel from last season's excellent pitching staff, add several players with actual offensive skill, and have upperclassmen leadership behind the plate, on the mound and in the outfield.
2014 should be a far cry from the last two seasons.