That’s the list — among the five infield positions for the Texas Longhorns, the junior shortstop is the only returning starter as head coach David Pierce’s program lost four regular starters to the 2022 MLB Draft in addition to breakout do-it-all star Murphy Stehly.
Gone is the consensus National Player of the Year in first baseman Ivan Melendez. Gone is slick-fielding shortstop Trey Faltine, who also slugged 15 home runs. Gone is Kansas transfer third baseman Skyler Messinger, who was fantastic at the hot corner in addition to hitting .364 with 11 home runs. Gone is catcher Silas Ardoin, who managed the pitching staff so well over his three seasons on the Forty Acres while improving tremendously at the plate with 12 home runs of his own. Gone is Stehly, who was one of the nation’s most surprising standouts.
The centerpiece of the new infield is Daly, who will step into a larger leadership role while doing his best to replace the fielding ability of Faltine. Anticipated dropoff in that area is less about the capabilities of Daly, a strong defensive player in his own right, and more about the Major League-quality glove that Faltine brought to the position.
Texas will have to live with the margin there, but desperately need Daly to resemble the freshman who hit .316 at the plate with 15 doubles and an inside-out, opposite-field approach. When Daly tried to retool his swing to generate more power to the pull side, he lost his previous identity and struggled mightily, hitting .213 at the start of Big 12 play and never getting higher than .257 before finishing at .237.
Stehly’s emergence afforded Daly some time out of the starting lineup last season. This season, similar struggles would strike a major blow to the program’s much more modest aspirations.
Junior Vanderbilt transfer Jack O’Dowd will receive the first opportunity at second base. And while O’Dowd was considered light on his feet for his size in high school, he’s a bigger middle infielder at 6’2 and 200 pounds, so there are some questions about his range defensively. If the former top-100 prospect hits well, he’ll render that potential critique moot, but based on the limited sample size last season, it’s tough to project O’Dowd — he hit only .231 from the left side last year, albeit in only 39 at bats.
If O’Dowd struggles in the field or in the batter’s box, freshman Jayden Duplantier could step in as the top-ranked second baseman in the state of Texas. Or former Texas Tech signee Cade O’Hara could receive an opportunity — the Mater Dei product only made one error in 98 attempts as a junior.
In the short term, O’Dowd has significantly higher upside offensively, especially in terms of power potential.
Replacing Messinger is freshman Jalin Flores, considered by some a top-100 prospect in the 2022 MLB Draft. Flores was intent enough on coming to Texas that he fell out of the draft entirely and brings some power to the position after hitting seven home runs as a junior. While Flores projects as a future star for the Horns, he’ll almost certainly go through some growing pains this season and how Pierce manages those will have important short-term and long-term implications for the program.
On the other side of the diamond is another legitimate MLB prospect who opted for Texas over professional baseball in left-hander Jared Thomas, the top-ranked first baseman in the state who is known as more of a contact hitter after batting .484 as a junior while also stealing 22 bases. The floor for Thomas is likely higher than that of Flores this season because he’s a left hander with excellent bat-to-ball skills.
Providing depth behind Flores and Thomas is senior Long Beach State transfer Tanner Carlson, who hit .291 over 105 games with the Dirtbags, including .345 last season. There’s not much pop in Carlson’s bat, but he could compete for time at designated hitter and fill in for Thomas if he struggles against left-handed pitching or Flores if he hits the type of ruts that require some days off for his mental confidence.
Redshirt junior Peyton Powell could also vie for time at designated hitter, although it’s fair to wonder at this point if a breakthrough to contributor status will happen for a player with 30 at bats over three seasons.
Behind the plate, Pierce brought in junior USC transfer Garret Guillemette, a two-year starter for the Trojans who batted .292 with 20 doubles, eight homers, 46 RBI, and 47 runs scored over 92 starts. Freshman Ryan Galvan will battle with Guillemette for playing time after enrolling as the state’s top-ranked catcher. Junior A&M transfer Kimble Schuessler is expected to miss most or all of the season after undergoing surgery on his index finger.
Overall, it’s daunting to think of how much the Longhorns have to replace at these five positions, but the task for this group is not to try to match that production, but maximize their talent, which is significant in their own right.