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Texas baseball preview Part One: Pitchers

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What should Texas fans look for from their young pitching staff in 2020?

Texas will look to SP Bryce Elder to set the tone for the Longhorn staff in 2020
Texas Sports

Welcome back, everyone! Baseball season is once again in the near horizon on the Forty Acres. It’s been a while since we last talked America’s pastime on this site, so let’s get into a quick recap and synopsis of where the team is at the time of this writing.

The Texas Longhorns will be playing for redemption in 2020. After starting off last season with a bang sweeping LSU and winning the series over Texas Tech at home, the Longhorns looked poised to return to the College World Series. Or at the very least, be in the center of the mix for the Big 12 Conference title.

Of course, neither of those things happened — heck, Texas didn’t even qualify to play in the Big 12 Tournament after finishing dead last in the conference. Once the dust had settled on season, the .500 overall record of 27-27 and dismal finish left Longhorn nation in a state of bewilderment.

But, that was last year. There’s reasons for optimism this year, as Texas tries to turn the page on last season. The 2019 Longhorns were a young team, going through the visible and countless behind-the-scenes growing pain of playing through a whole season. Head coach David Pierce has a sterling track record at manager, and word out of the Texas camp this winter (which also added former MLB star Troy Tulowitzki to its coaching staff) has been mostly positive.

But the biggest causes for optimism come from the Longhorn players themselves. As a unit, Texas will carry a number of intriguing arms to go with what projects on paper to be a balanced group of hitters. This team is still relatively fresh and raw in places, but with the coaching pedigree on staff, many experts view Texas as a contender for a top half finish in the Big 12 and a return back to the NCAA Tournament.

Enough about the team — let’s get into the pitchers preview.

Starters

Potential Weekend Starters

Player ERA WHIP W-L APP-GS SV IP H R ER BB SO AB B/AVG
Player ERA WHIP W-L APP-GS SV IP H R ER BB SO AB B/AVG
Elder, Bryce 2.93 1.24 2-4 13-13 0 83.0 70 34 27 33 86 300 0.233
Madden, Ty 3.40 1.47 4-1 15-8 0 42.1 38 19 16 24 37 154 0.247
Cobb, Coy 3.45 1.32 1-3 13-10 0 44.1 37 20 17 21 23 162 0.228
Quintanilla, Cole 4.05 1.18 2-1 22-0 5 33.1 30 17 15 9 44 120 0.250
Kubichek, Kolby 6.50 1.83 0-1 14-2 1 18.0 21 14 13 12 15 71 0.296

The staff, and team, looks up to junior right-hander Bryce Elder as the best player wearing the Longhorn uniform. Last season’s breakout was one of a few diamonds in the rough of a lost season, where Elder out-pitched eventual early-round MLB draft pick Blair Henley almost every weekend. Elder’s low-90’s fastball, paired with a filthy cutter and decent changeup, should provide Texas a rock-solid ace to rely on every weekend series opener.

The rest of the staff is more up in the air. After Elder, a trio of young standout pitchers from last season will vie for the remaining two weekend slots.

Both Ty Madden and Coy Cobb had promising debut seasons on the Forty Acres that yielded similar results. Cobb showed better control over the course of a season, limiting opposing batters to a .228 BA and recording a WHIP of 1.32. On the other hand, Madden showcased a dangerous arsenal at times that resulted in 37 strikeouts, but also 24 walks. If he’s able to improve on his pitch location, his stuff is good enough that Texas could easily find itself with an overpowering 1-2 punch combo in the rotation.

While most college teams rely on a standard three-headed starting rotation, and utilize a rotation of players to fill in for weekday games, another name to watch out for this season is Cole Quintanilla.

Quintanilla, a Redshirt Sophomore, served exclusively in a reliever role last season, making 22 appearances and recording five saves. But he was also by far the best reliever Texas had last year. Don’t let the high ERA fool you — instead, let his other stats do the talking. Quintanilla had the second lowest WHIP on the team last season (1.18 WHIP), as well as the best strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.1), and K/9 (11.89). Given the three names listed above, he’s likely to be used primarily as a reliever this year, especially given how much experience he gained last season. But with a low-90’s fastball and excellent breaking pitches, if he’s able to improve his delivery, timing, and consistency, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to see CQ make a few spot starts here or there.

Other names to watch

Kolby Kubicheck should be in line for some weekday starts this year. In his freshman debut season, he made 14 appearances and two starts. Kubicheck experienced some growing pains against tough opponents last season, but the buzz is on him being a favorite for next breakout candidate. An impressive fall campaign saw Kubichek add 25 pounds of good weight and elevate his fastball to consistent low-90’s speed. That all translated to a 0.90 ERA in seven starts, with 34 strikeouts in just 30 innings pitched.

Pete Hansen is an incoming freshman, and therefore isn’t on the chart above. But like Kubicheck, Hansen is also getting rave reviews from his performances this fall. It’s very much in David Pierce’s nature to allow young players to earn valuable playing time and experience via midweek starts and appearances, so look for Hansen to start the season in this role. But be surprised if Hansen, who already has a good arm and throws his fastball at 89-91 mph, to make a jump and transition to a terrific arm Texas can rely on this year. Unfortunately, Hansen will have to battle through mononucleosis to contribute in 2020.

Bullpen

Last season provided a lot of mixed results from the bullpen, making this area a huge point of emphasis for pitching coaches and a spot to watch as the season begins to unfold. Unlike previous years, there doesn’t seem to be a bona-fide closer on the roster going into the year, and many of the key setup relief roles are up for grabs and will be played for as the season goes on. Of course, a few of the names above will also play into this mix, but below I have highlighted two other names to look out for as potential key players that will come out of the pen.

Bullpen Arms to Watch

Player ERA WHIP W-L APP-GS SV IP H R ER BB SO AB B/AVG
Player ERA WHIP W-L APP-GS SV IP H R ER BB SO AB B/AVG
Fields, Kamron 4.26 1.35 1-2 20-0 3 25.1 18 14 12 16 36 93 0.194
Bryant, Mason 11.32 2.67 1-1 13-0 1 10.1 13 14 13 14 15 44 0.295

Kamron Fields is an obvious choice for player to watch. The junior is a fan favorite for playing on both sides of the ball, but projects higher as a pitcher due to his raw arm strength and success on the mound. Fields is one of the hardest throwers on the team, with his average fastball sitting at 93-96 mph. Control is the biggest sticking point of his game — he allowed just a .194 BA against, but posted a high WHIP and ERA that highlights his room for improvement.

Also look out for Mason Bryant. A freshman last season, Bryant struggled last season in limited work, throwing only 10.1 innings and posting a 2.67 WHIP and 11.32 ERA. Those numbers are in no way encouraging, but his size (6’5 and 220 pounds) and potential had Pierce stating he would have a role in the spring if he can continue to put the pieces together.

Other names to watch

Two incoming players — sophomore Dawson Merryman and freshman Andre Duplantier — could find themselves in the bullpen mix this upcoming season.

Merryman spent his freshman season at Midland College, where he won the Western Junior College Athletic Conference’s Most Valuable Pitcher award after posting an 8-6 record with a 3.02 ERA. Merryman also threw six complete games, and struck out 97 batters in 80.1 innings. And most recently, this summer he was a Cape Cod Summer League MVP after posting a 3.52 ERA with four saves in 15 appearances.

Duplantier, meanwhile, projects similarly to Kam Fields as a Swiss Army knife player who can both hit and pitch. It will be interesting to see how Pierce uses the incoming freshman, who was a Baseball America top 300 prospect. But you can bet that Pierce will want to see what he’s got in Duplantier on the mound, especially given his pre-draft profile highlighted his pitching prowess and that his cousin is currently an MLB pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Duplantier recently had surgery on his left hamate bone. When he returns, his focus will be on the mound.

Tune in tomorrow to read the preview on Texas’ biggest question mark going into the season — hitting.