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Texas baseball writers’ 2018 preview roundtable

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The BON team makes predictions and reflections about the state of the Texas baseball program.

COLLEGE BASEBALL: FEB 25 UConn at Texas Photo by John Rivera/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

In four days, we will begin another season in the over 120 year long tradition of Texas Longhorns baseball, and the second of the David Pierce era.

Texas was gutted by the MLB Draft after last season, but the ‘Horns have what should be a tremendous new group of former JUCO prospects and electric freshmen. This has helped Texas earn a No. 20 preseason ranking, and a No. 3 preseason ranking in the Big 12.

Just as Texas baseball will be bringing in a plethora of new faces for the 2018 season, so too will the Burnt Orange Nation writing team. BON will be four baseball writers strong this Spring, as I’m happy to announce the additions of Will Covey, Evan Kirschner, and Kameron McAfee to the group.

Longtime writers Abram Orlansky and Jeff Asher are too busy being adults and stuff to be able to write this year. Here’s one explanation:

What’s your excuse, Abram?

Below is our discussion on the state of Texas baseball, and our predictions for this team going forward. Enjoy and Hook ‘Em!

What can Texas baseball fans realistically expect this season?

Will Covey: The 2018 version of David Pierce’s team will once again boast a solid and deep bullpen with Nolan Kingham headlining the rotation. Despite losing three starting pitchers to last years MLB draft, the rotation will be one of the biggest strengths for the Longhorns. The road to Omaha is going to be met with a challenging start as the ‘Hotns are slated to have a difficult non-conference schedule. With series on the road against LSU and Arkansas and a four-game series against Stanford, the starting pitching and bullpen have to get out to a fast start. If the bats for the Longhorns can show progression and limit the amount of strikeouts at the plate, then the ‘Horns will be in Omaha in June.

Evan Kirschner: The optimistic UT fan in me thinks we can contend for the Big 12 with the pitching and defense we have, but realistically it’ll be tough keeping up with TCU and Tech. I’ll be looking for progress in the batting department from the Horns from last year — if that shores up even a little UT can be competitive and find itself in a Super Regional come summer.

Kameron McAfee: After reaching postseason play last season, Texas fans should expect the team to not only make it back, but take the next step in advancing to the Supers. I certainly believe that is a realistic goal for the team, as I expect them to be more of a complete team this year with some of the new talent that will be inserted into the lineup. Pierce will have a deep pitching staff that should boost this team and put them in prime position for a deep run.

Jack Keyes: The ‘Horns have lost too many key pieces, such as Morgan Cooper and Kacy Clemens, for me to confidently predict more than another NCAA tournament berth. However, if Texas can find enough depth in the bullpen, and the new JUCO guys in the lineup can replicate even a little bit of the success they had at the previous level, then Texas could certainly take a step forward from a season ago. Pierce is getting his guys in the system, and I think it’s going to be exciting to watch him mold and work with his players.

How will you judge the performance of David Pierce this season?

Will: Coming from Tulane, Pierce was known as a good developer of talent. Now that he is emphasizing recruiting players that are likely to stay in college and develop, it will be interesting to see moving forward how much necessary progression can be made throughout the season. A player like Austin Todd is who I’m watching to see if he makes the necessary strides at the plate. On the other hand, can Chase Shugart show progression by sharpening his accuracy from the mound to mold into a weekend starter? David Pierce has his work cut out for him, but with his track record it’s doable.

Evan: I think given this team and the state of the Big 12 it’s fair to place an expectation on Pierce that if he develops the skills of the players that the team’s record and finish on the season should improve as well.

Kameron: Development is what I am looking for most this season. I want to see some individual growth specifically at the plate. I’ll be happy with Pierce in year two if the lineup can start to produce and if the team can hang and battle in some tough games, even if they don’t walk away with a W. Texas will have a pretty tough 2018 schedule and if this team can just hang tough and keep those games close, the wins will come. DP has always been considered a great teacher of the game and I think we will continue to see that season after season.

Jack: My judgment of Pierce’s performance this season will likely be mostly based on the progress of individual players rather than necessarily the win-loss record. I’m looking, for example, for guys like David Hamilton and Ryan Reynolds to make significant progress at the plate. If Pierce can develop a viable third weekend starter behind Kingham and Henley, then I think that will also say a lot about his ability as a teacher. We don’t really know the ceiling this team yet, so I think it’s unfair to put Pierce on the hot seat if this season is a roller coaster ride. But Pierce does need to make good in-game decisions, and see progress in the development of the roster.

What is the biggest strength and weakness for this Texas team?

Will: Texas’ biggest strength this year will be their arms on the starting rotation and in the bullpen. Their biggest weakness is their lack of power in the lineup.

Evan: Biggest strength is going to be pitching and defense in the field. Weaknesses are going to be their lack of power and the unknown coming from a team asking so many new faces to step up and produce.

Kameron: The strength for this team is obviously the pitching staff. Until they prove otherwise, the glaring weakness for this team is plate production. Last season they struggled to score and produce in big situations, so we’ll see if they can turn that around this year.

Jack: I believe the biggest strength for the team this year will be athleticism, which will manifest itself on defense and the base paths. Players like Duke Ellis are going to cover a lot of ground in the field and will always be a threat to steal. The biggest weakness may be pitching depth. Though Texas has several studs on the mound, I worry that the ‘Horns don’t have enough reliable options to count on. Losing JUCO transfer Donny Diaz to Tommy John surgery for the year is huge, because he was going to play a massive role as closer.

What does this Texas team have that last year’s team didn’t?

Will: This year’s Texas team has a lot more team speed than last season. To counteract the lack of power in the lineup, I look for Texas to take advantage of their athleticism on the base paths.

Evan: This team should be more of a threat to opposing pitching from top to bottom than last year. It’s hard to project how much better we’ll be this year than last year but it’s much harder to be that bad two years in a row.

Kameron: Looking at this team on paper I see more offensive weapons and pure hitters than what Pierce had to work with last season. Definitely expecting a better offensive showing this year compared to last.

Jack: Texas has more position player depth this year. Last season, anytime a starter in the lineup missed a game it seemed like a huge blow. I expect David Pierce will have more position players that he feels comfortable playing this year, which will give him the freedom to play with the lineup a bit more.

Who is your pick for...

MVP Pitcher:

MVP Position Player:

Home Run Leader:

Freshman of the Year:

Will: MVP Pitcher — Nolan Kingham, MVP Position Player —Masen Hibbeler, Home Run Leader — Zach Zubia, Freshman of the Year — Nico O’Donnell.

Evan: MVP Pitcher — Nolan Kingham, MVP Position Player — David Hamilton, Home Run Leader — Zach Zubia, Freshman of the Year — Zach Zubia.

Kameron: MVP Pitcher — Nolan Kingham, MVP Position Player —Masen Hibbeler, Home Run Leader — Zach Zubia, Freshman of the Year — Zach Zubia.

Jack: MVP Pitcher — Nolan Kingham, MVP Position Player —Masen Hibbeler, Home Run Leader — Zach Zubia, Freshman of the Year — Nico O’Donnell.

The state of Texas baseball is _________

Will: Emergent.

Evan: BACK, FOLKS.

Kameron: Positive. I love where Pierce is taking this program and I expect this group to be hungry going into this season.

Jack: Fresh.