After a rough football and basketball season, baseball is now the last bastion of hope for the big three Texas Longhorns sports. A question on most fans’ minds is — what are the realistic expectations for David Pierce’s team? With only a week to go before opening day, our writers decided to talk it out.
Just as this year will be a transitional season for the Texas baseball coaching staff, so too it will be for our BON baseball writing staff. The legendary “40AS” writing duo of Abram Orlansky and Jeff Asher will be taking on a smaller role this year as they have grown-up stuff such as work and babies to tend to. Their wit and insight won’t be absent, just delivered in less frequent doses.
That means that this will be the year of the young gun writers. I’ll be joined by Max Wildstein in providing the bulk of baseball coverage. For those who are unfamiliar with Max (he’s already posted a few off-season pieces), he’s a student at Emerson University and baseball super fan who founded the Scout site “Hardball Scoop”. We’re excited to have him on board.
For our discussion, we asked our Twitter followers for some questions to discuss. The results were interesting.
This one wasn’t worth answering as the answer is clearly “BEAR GLOVE”. Thankfully, we did get a few, uh, more normal ones.
@jackkeyez what are some real expectations for this baseball season?— Mike Atencio (@Intencio) January 23, 2017
Jack Keyes: It's not unfair to expect big things this year, but I'd be happy with just an NCAA tourney bid. I think Pierce's first year is very similar to Shaka's first season with the 'Horns -- he has an experienced group of players who may not be "his guys", but who have a lot of untapped potential.
Max Wildstein: Top-4 finish in Big 12. NCAA tourney bid.
Jeff Asher: This feels like the first season in several years where the conference isn't there for the taking which is a shame. I'll feel good about Texas baseball if we can finish top 3 in conference and host a regional. I'm not sure if that's realistic but that's the new goal for a positive direction.
Abram Orlansky: Hosting a regional means you are a top-16 team. Maybe that's not a fair standard for Pierce's first year, but what I'd like to see is Texas be in the discussion for a hosting role. That means, basically, being top 20.
What's something you'd like to see in David Pierce that was missing in Augie Garrido?
Jack: This doesn't really have to do with in-game coaching, but I love the recruiting job Pierce has done so far. Garrido pulled in great classes, but Pierce has brought in recruits far more diverse in both skill and background. The dude has pulled in prospects ranging from a lanky pitcher from Parma, Italy to a three-star quarterback with Big 10 offers. Hopefully Pierce can continue hitting the recruiting trail with fervor.
Oh yeah, and less bunts. Hopefully Pierce’s team bunts less.
Max: New style of coaching, new values for Texas baseball.
Jeff: I'd like to see a manager who exists in the 21st Century. I adored Augie, but his style changed little from 1997 to 2016 as the sport of baseball changed dramatically. I'm not expecting Theo Epstein here, but I'd like to believe Pierce is a guy who can embrace some of what we know about baseball that we didn't two decades ago. I really don't know if Pierce is that coach but I hope he is.
Abram: I'm with Jeff on the big picture answer to this one — Augie's style was remarkably successful for a remarkably long time. It's truly incredible that it took this long for the game to pass him by, but pass him by it did. On a specific level, though, I hope Pierce is better at managing the bullpen and pitching staff in general than Augie was the last few years.
Who is Texas' MVP?
Jack: Zane Gurwitz was quietly the Texas glue last season, and was frequently the Longhorns' unsung hero at the plate and in the field. His versatility and consistency make him my pick for MVP, as he'll be a stable presence in a year of unknowns.
Max: Travis Jones...destined for another good season at 40 Acres.
Jeff: Count me in on the Morgan Cooper bandwagon. Two years out from Tommy John surgery and lots of money on the line.
Abram: I'll take sophomore Kody Clemens, even though he’ll be limited by the Tommy John surgery of his own that he’s recovering from. The younger Clemens showed flashes as a freshman and with a year of experience under his belt and good power to the gaps, I like him for a breakout year.
Home runs leader?
Jack: With the fences brought in, we'll finally see multiple players with home run totals in the double digits. This isn't a heavy-hitting team, but Pierce's Tulane unit last year launched 66 homers, so maybe some of that magic will rub off. I say Patrick Mathis leads the ‘Horns — he showcased a lot of power in summer ball in New England.
Max: Kacy Clemens.
Jeff: Patrick Mathis.
Unlikely breakout player?
Jack: David Pierce named sophomore LHP Nick Kennedy as a guy who really impressed him in the offseason. Kennedy finished with a 8.44 ERA in 16 innings pitched in 2016, so I’m not yet sold, but he could be a rare lefty arm to bolster a bullpen that struggled mightily last year.
Max: Jon Malmin. Could be valuable lefty arm out of the pen.
Jeff: Ryan Reynolds has gotten me really excited with really good play the few times I've seen him. Not sure where he fits but I see big things.
Abram: I guess that's also Kody. All in on Kody.
The state of Texas baseball is _____
Jack: Not dominant, but no longer volatile either.
Max: The state of Texas baseball is steady.
Abram: Same answer as I've given the last few years: shruggy-shoulder emoji.
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A few select readings from the off-season:
We should have new baseball preview posts nearly every day this week leading up to Texas’ opener against Rice. Stay tuned and hook ‘em.