Welcome to another season of Texas baseball on Burnt Orange Nation. When we last left you the Horns were winning the Big 12 Tournament only to get a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament and a quick exit. This season we will have an unprecedented amount of coverage as we've added Jack Keyes to the mix of Jeff Asher, Abram Orlansky and Michael Pelech. All four of us chatted very briefly to set the stage for the 2016 season, so enjoy this roundtable and we will be back next week with four more previews before the Horns take the field against UNLV next Friday.
First question we've done for a few years now...Abram...The State of Texas baseball is ______________?
Abram: Guys, I just don't know. The state of Texas baseball is complicated the way certain historical events are; if you want to make a case for one view there is plenty of evidence for it, and if you want to make a case for the exact opposite view there's also plenty of evidence for that. The case for things being in a bad place right now is pretty simple: a program like Texas, with one of the most successful coaches in college baseball history, shouldn't go four straight years without even hosting a sub-regional.
All it takes is to be one of the top 16 teams in America for that honor -- and to be honest, if you're Texas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or one of a handful of other schools where crowds actually show up for baseball? If you're anywhere near the top 16, the NCAA will find a way to justify having you host. And that, to me, is the compelling reason to answer the question with "in a slump." The fact of not hosting for 4 straight years, including a 2013 campaign when they were the only team left out of the Big 12 Tournament after a last-place, 7-17 finish, shows the regular seasons just haven't been very good.
BUT. This team is also merely one year removed from a bounce-back season that saw it win 46 games (albeit just 13-11 in the Big 12) on the way to a College World Series appearance, followed by a Big 12 Tournament championship and regional appearance last year. (Of course, last year was another subpar effort that required an unlikely run through the Big 12 Tournament for the right to go 1-2-BBQ in the Dallas Regional, but that doesn't fit with the narrative I'm building here!)
I think ultimately the tiebreaker is this: Texas's recruiting classes since 2012 have been ranked in the top 20, but none has been ranked higher than 15. For most schools, failing to host for four years, but only missing the Tournament once in that stretch and making an appearance in Omaha would be considered "on track." For Texas, it has begun to affect our ability to bring in elite talent. Based on its history, Texas has a reasonable expectation of being a top 10 baseball program. I don't think there's a reasonable argument that we are one of those right now. So Texas baseball right now is "suboptimal."
Next question for Michael: what's the minimum acceptable outcome for 2016?
Michael: I think the minimum acceptable outcome is a showing that proves the 2014 run to Omaha wasn't a fluke. It's hard to count any trip to the CWS as a fluke, especially when the finish was as close as it was, but another mediocre season in 2016 means that run is sandwiched in a lot of bad baseball.
This team can bring have that showing in a few different ways. As Abram noted, hosting some postseason ball would be big. Competing for the Big 12 would be big. I hate giving such a subjective response, but I'd be thrilled to sit here heading into next season saying 2016 wasn't just another stagnant season.
Jack, this will be your first year covering Texas baseball for BON...what do you want to see from Augie's squad this year? MOAR bunting is an acceptable, but probably too obvious, answer.
Jack: It's funny that you mention bunting. When Texas lost their reliable, base stealing star Ben Johnson to the MLB draft, they in essence lost someone who exemplified traditional Texas baseball. Who knows if this is the year the Longhorns finally shed their "small ball" label, but it will certainly be a different team.
As the new guy of BON, I think it makes sense for me to hope the new guys of the baseball team step up. With 15 freshmen on the roster, expect a few fresh faces to make an immediate impact. Kody Clemens could be a very solid middle infielder, and if he hits half as well as he did in high school (.611 OBP his senior year), he'll be a huge help in his first year.
Ultimately, we have a tough schedule and a talented, but very young roster. I could see us hovering around .500 or celebrating a run in the NCAA Tournament. Don't expect any bottles to be popped either way -- Texas has few players of legal age.
Question for Jeff is: who do you expect to be the leader on this year's team and why?
Jeff: Augie will be the leader because he's the head coach.
Nyuk nyuk nyuk.
That's quite the tough question if only because this year's team is devoid of much senior leadership. Only Travis Duke and Ty Culbreth are seniors who are expected to contribute, which is quite a drop from last year's team that had Parker French, Collin Shaw, Brooks Marlow, Ty Marlow and Kirby Bellow all contribute. What's more, this team isn't really thick on juniors playing for their pay day. Really only Tres Barrera jumps out as a "definitely gone" candidate although it's obviously too early to say on any of that.
If I had to name a leader I'd go with Barrera, because he's the team's best chance to have a consistent offensive engine. Another name to consider is Kyle Johnston. He's fiery, will probably be the Friday starter to start the year and has some of the best stuff any Texas pitcher has had in a long time.
Next round, let's go through these rapid-fire predictions with everybody answering the same.
Texas W/L record -
Abram - Hell I don't know; how many games are there? (*Looks up schedule*) Hell, I still don't know. 30-23? (I should note here, although Jack will give us a full schedule preview soon, the number of non-conference Texas schools on the schedule is great. Including an actual, real-live, regular-season trip to College Station.)
Jack - I agree with Abram...most likely somewhere in the "above average" range, but with high variance. Texas has an extremely difficult schedule.
Michael - 34-19.
Jeff - I'll go with 35-18 regular season.
Texas conference finish (ranking) -
Abram - 4th.
Jack - 3rd.
Michael - 3rd.
Jeff - 2nd.
Texas postseason fate -
Abram - Again fail to host a regional. Wash out of the College Station regional as the 2 seed.
Jack - Super Regional.
Michael - Regional.
Jeff - Super Regional loss.
Texas HR champ -
Abram - Barrera, and it's not close
Jack - Barrera. He'll likely be the only player in double digits for HRs.
Michael - Barrera.
Jeff - Barrera.
Texas pitcher with the best ERA -
Abram - Connor Mayes.
Jack - Kyle Johnston.
Michael - Kyle Johnston.
Jeff - Mayes.
Who's coaching the Texas baseball team in 2017?
Abram - Jim Schlossnagle. (A fella can dream, right?)
Jack - Skip Johnson?
Michael - Augie comes back for one last hurrah in 2017.
Jeff - Augie for one last go around.