Coming off a season filled with high expectations dashed by two losses to open the College World Series, the Texas Longhorns enter the 2023 season with a significantly reduced profile — the D1 Baseball preseason rankings released on Tuesday do not include the Longhorns among the top 25 teams in college baseball.
And while that may provide some mental relief for returning players who clearly surfaced under the burden of a national championship-or-bust season and a brutal schedule, the standards are higher than missing out on a preseason ranking on the Forty Acres.
But the departures do loom large.
First baseman Ivan Melendez, the consensus National Player of the Year after hitting .406 with a .522 on-base percentage, a school-record 96 home runs, and nation-leading .903 slugging percentage and 196 total bases, is off to play professional. So are breakout star utility man Murphy Stehly, steady third baseman Skylar Messinger, slick-fielding shortstop Trey Faltine, high-quality catcher Silas Ardoin, and speedy center fielder Douglas Hodo III.
From the pitching staff, No. 1 starter Pete Hansen signed after the 2022 MLB Draft, as did hard-throwing reliever Jared Southard. “The Fireman” Tristan Stevens exhausted his eligibility. Several pitchers departed via the NCAA transfer portal, including one-time closer Aaron Nixon and promising right-hander Joshua Stewart.
Texas head coach David Pierce did make some quality additions from the portal and there is some incoming talent that didn’t defect for professional baseball, but the departures and remaining question marks with the current roster on campus mean that Longhorns will start the season fighting for respect.
Perhaps that will allow Texas to play more freely and have a little more fun than the team did in 2022.