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Unleash the Freshmen! (And Texas State Preview)

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Texas heads to San Marcos for a midweek tilt that begins a stretch with seven of eight on the road while this esteemed blogger looks at some freshmen who may be ready to contribute more.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns baseball team travels just up the road tonight for a 6 p.m. CT game against Texas State. The Bobcats are pretty mediocre, so this should be a nice tune up game for the Horns prior to heading on the road against Nebraska and Oklahoma State in the next two weekends.

It'll be Josh Sawyer on the mound as the talented sophomore tries to regain some of his mojo after losing the Sunday spot to an improving Kacy Clemens. The theme of today's post, however, is "It's Time to Trust the Freshmen."

First off, here's a quiz for you to take (no cheating!)

Can you name who leads Texas in ERA (minimum 10 innings)?

Who is tied with Parker French in strikeouts?

Who (regardless of innings thrown) leads the team in opponent batting average?

Who has drawn the most walks for Texas?

Who decided to graduate a year early thereby leaving all his friends and skipping the chance to be a student during the 2005 football season?

Now for the answers:

Freshman Connor Mayes leads Texas in ERA and has a team-leading 20 strikeouts in 17 fewer innings than French. Freshman Jake McKenzie leads the team with an opponent batting average of .115 in eight innings pitched. Freshman Michael Cantu is hitting seventh in the order, has played two fewer games than everyone else but has drawn a team-leading19 walks.

Finally, it was Abram who decided to skip his senior year and miss out on the 2005 football season.

The reason I'm bringing all this up is in the interest of setting the freshmen loose. Kacy Clemens is clearly improving as a pitcher, but his ceiling appears to be solid long reliever or above-average fourth starter -- that's really useful to have in the postseason. However, Josh Sawyer's ceiling is higher, he just isn't improving as quickly as Clemens is improving. If Texas wants a dominant rotation to go with its improved offense then Connor Mayes may need to become the Sunday starter.

Augie bringing the freshmen along slowly isn't a new feature for fans who remember Taylor Jungmann being a midweek starter his freshman year or Brandon Loy starting games at third base before his sublime defense made him a mainstay at shortstop. Collin Shaw can bunt better than Cantu, but he leads the team in strikeouts and is forming a top of the lineup with Ben Johnson that has drawn eight walks combined through 24 games (with 10 HBP). CJ Hinojosa is a veteran with high upside that is hitting .216 in the three hole.

An optimized lineup would have a guy batting second that is a heavy contact hitter that draws lots of walks. Two guys in the Texas lineup really fit this mold: Tres Barrera and Michael Cantu. Both are hitting above .300 and both have more walks than strikeouts. Barrera's obviously not moving from the fourth spot (and rightly so), but the lineup may be better served with Johnson leading off, Cantu hitting second, Shaw hitting third, Barrera fourth, Marlow fifth and Hinojosa sixth. Just typing that sentence and realizing that every one of those first five guys is hitting .290 or better was really exciting.

Of course there are other reasons Augie is batting Shaw second. He's a lefty, he's a veteran, he's having a really good season at the plate and he's a fairly good bunter for those few occasions Ben Johnson gets on base via a non-extra base hit. If/when CJ turns it on he should be hitting higher than sixth, but right now he's hitting .216 through 24 games and hasn't been all that much better of late (.220 BA the last 15 games, .250 the last seven games).

The roster and lineup are coming along nicely for this part in the season. Texas will struggle to get far this postseason, however, with Clemens throwing five innings as the Sunday starter and Hinojosa batting third while hitting .216. Both would be expected to improve as the season goes along, but it seems that the sooner the training wheels start coming off some of the freshman the better it will be for Texas baseball over the long run.

This'll be your open thread. Hook 'em.