The last nine months for Texas Longhorns baseball and head coach David Pierce have been nothing short of a roller coaster. After signing the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in November, Pierce saw his Longhorns begin the 2020 season with a solid 14-3 record before COVID-19 cut their season short, robbing any hope of a 37th appearance in Omaha. Then last month’s MLB Draft saw Pierce lose four signees to the big leagues along with Bryce Elder and Duke Ellis.
But there’s a silver lining to everything, even to this. With the MLB Draft shortened from 40 rounds to five, the losses for the Longhorns could have been substantially worse. Instead of losing six players, Texas may have ended up losing others such as signee Tanner Witt (Episcopal HS/Houston, TX), Austin Todd, D.J. Petrinsky, and others.
Of course, you might ask, “Why waste a spot in the class for a player who will probably make the jump the majors?” Answer: Tanner Witt.
“Tanner is a perfect example of why you put stock in four or five guys that may get into the top rounds in this draft,” Pierce told Craig Way and Jeff Howe on “Light the Tower.” “Because if you get one of those guys it’s a bonus... I think the strategic part is we constantly have to be aware of is your recruiting class cannot consist of 100 percent of that type of player or you’ll get blasted.”
One of the benefits of signing a 14-player class is even with four players departing, Pierce was prepared for a few departures and ended up with a potential three-year or four-year starter in Witt.
Another reason for offering highly ranked prospects is because you never know when one might slip through the cracks, such as Witt. Some also might have a strong spring season and sky-rocket up the draft boards, such as Carson Tucker or Petey Halpin.
“A lot of these kids keep getting better and better,” Pierce said. “They put themselves in a category that we can’t control.”
“We have everyone back with some great additions and we’re still not done,” Pierce said. “We’re still trying to take a peek and see what’s out there.”
A few weeks later Texas announced the addition of two graduate transfers and a late commitment to the 2020 class. St. John’s Mike Antico will provide much-needed depth to the outfield and UTSA’s Palmer Wenzel will provide another arm in the bullpen. Pierce also added right-handed pitcher Lebarron Johnson from Florida.
You could also count Tanner Witt as an addition considering the two-way Houston prospect was projected to be drafted in various mock drafts.
“[Witt’s] going to have a chance to play for us every day for us if he keeps developing,” Pierce said.
The multi-sport athlete and three-time all-state volleyball selection (somebody call Coach Elliot) stands at 6’6 and ranked as the No. 1 shortstop in Texas and No. 18 overall prospect in the country, per Prep Baseball Report.
“There were a lot of teams that reached out to with a lot of interest,” Witt told the Houston Chronicle. “But from the get-go, it was going to take a lot to get me away from the University of Texas.”
In his 14 games at Episcopal High School, Witt averaged .512 while his fastball reached the mid-90’s, offering Pierce flexibility with how to use him. Pierce told The Horn he sees Witt playing in the infield but could all see him as a “Sunday-Tuesday type starter” on the mound.
While Elder and Ellis will set their eyes on the big leagues, the Longhorns will have valuable experience returning. Catcher D.J. Petrinsky will return for his sixth year at Texas along with outfielder Austin Todd and first-baseman Zach Zubia.
“There’s a fine line between how many seniors you want or need back talent-wise because you want them to be good enough to get drafted,” Pierce said. “It’s really good to have those kids back but unfortunate because the draft was taken away. At the same time they’re gonna continue to play baseball.”