The 2015 Texas Longhorns baseball squad entered the year with plenty of promise and featured a strong group of veteran hitters looked ready to lead an infusion of young talent following the Horns' deep run in Omaha. And with the NCAA adopting an improved ball with lower seams, everything was set-up for an offensive explosion at Disch-Falk Field.
Early returns on the set-up were promising. In a 17-8 start to the season, the Texas offense showed improvement over the 2014 group with a .280 average and 5.56 runs a game (up from .263 and 4.46). But just shy of the midway mark, the Texas offense fell apart, going .244 and managing 3.94 runs a game while finishing 13-19.
Replacing veteran production
The Horns will need to recover from that collapse while replacing several productive bats. The biggest loss is outfielder Ben Johnson, who left following his junior season after being drafted in the 11th round by the Royals. Johnson led the 2015 team in batting average at .332, runs at 38, and was second in RBIs at 32.
Another early loss to the MLB draft, Carlos Hinjosa, leaves following a disappointing 2015 campaign that still managed to rank fourth on the team in runs (26) and RBIs (30).
Two more difficult losses go by way of graduation. Collin Shaw leaves following a .243 average, 25 runs (5th on the team), and 32 RBIs (t-2nd) season. Brooks Marlow's senior campaign saw the infielder average .251, score 20 runs, and bring in 24 RBIs (t-5th).
Key pieces lead the charge
A 2016 offensive revival tour likely begins with junior catcher Tres Barrera. Possessing the most power in the Texas line-up, Barrera finished third in batting average at .288 and led the teams in runs (38), RBIs (34), and home runs (9). His stable presence at catcher will need to translate to the plate to lead the Texas hitters.
Joining Barrera as an experienced slugger is the steady Zane Gurwitz. After playing 3rd base for the Horns in 2014, Gurwitz's move to the outfield coincided with a solid jump in on-base percentage (.327 to .365). Gurwitz may not be a top-of-the-order run machine, but his solid .260, 32 runs, and 24 RBIs were all good for fifth or better in 2015.
A trio of sophomores look improve upon promising freshmen campaigns. At the front of the class is shortstop Joe Baker, whose .294 batting average was second on the team in an injury-shortened season. For Baker, staying healthy through 2016 (and returning from whatever suspension kept him out of last week's alumni game) will be crucial.
Beside Baker in the infield returns Bret Boswell. The sophomore from Rockwall had a freshman campaign running .253/24 runs/20 RBIs, but his 59 strikeouts led the team. Cutting down on the Ks should help Baker improve upon on already solid .376 on-base percentage.
Another of the returning youngsters is C/DH/1B Michael Cantu. While rotating with Tres Barrera, Cantu posted a solid .249/24 runs/20 RBIs but never really turned the corner on his great potential. Improving on his team leading seven ground-into-double-plays will be important, for instance, and fall and spring reports have him looking primed for a breakout sophomore campaign. In fact, he may very well be the key to the Horns' offense.
Filling out the order
Augie has plenty of options to round out the order. The most experienced option is Kacy Clemens, a stable bat that Augie trusts while pitching and playing first base.
On the shorter end of the experience spectrum resides sophomore outfielder Patrick Mathis, who batted 2 for 3 with an RBI in the Fall Series opener, and freshman infielder Tate Shaw (younger brother of Collin), who went 2 for 4 with a double and a run in the same game. Freshman Chase Shugart, another pitcher/infielder, earned Fall Series MVP honors on the heels of a 6-of-10 showing in the series. Sophomore INF/OF Travis Jones, freshman INF Kody Clemens, and freshman OF Tyler Rand look to work their way into the lineup as well.