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Previewing the Texas outfield

Porter Brown leads an outfield for the Longhorns that has to replace Eric Kennedy and Dylan Campbell.

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Mikala Compton/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

As the Texas Longhorns enter the 2024 baseball season with the season opener against the San Diego Toreros, the greatest uncertainty is in the outfield with the departures of two starters and the possibility that Jared Thomas will primarily play first base with Duke transfer Luke Storm stepping away from baseball.

Gone are center fielder Eric Kennedy and right fielder Dylan Campbell. Kennedy, who started five seasons for the Longhorns, led the team with 17 home runs in 2023 and challenged defenses on ground balls with his elite speed out of the left-handed batters box. Campbell emerged as a star during his junior season, setting the school record with a 38-game hitting streak and playing his way into the fourth round of the 2023 MLB Draft by hitting .339 and recording eight outfield assists.

Back, however, is fifth-year senior Porter Brown, who will remain the starter in left field. A San Antonio product who transferred from TCU after playing parts of four seasons in Fort Worth, Brown blossomed into a standout player thanks to his first opportunity as a full-time starter, batting .323 with 14 doubles, one triple, and 12 home runs despite arriving in Austin with only nine career home runs. Brown also drove in 59 runs, second on the team, and scored 46 runs while adding 11 steals and a team-high 40 walks.

Center field and right field are more fluid — Thomas was expected to serve as the regular center fielder this season after moving from first base in the fall, but that plan was upended in late January when Storm announced that his playing career was coming to a close for personal reasons.

The top-ranked signee in the 2023 recruiting class, Will Gasparino, could replace Thomas in center field. The son of the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gasparino was ranked as the No. 44 player in the 2023 class by Perfect Game and the No. 75 player overall heading into the 2023 MLB Draft — it was a surprise for head coach David Pierce and his staff to get Gasparino on campus. A toe injury during fall camp set back his progress, but the 6’6, 210-pounder possesses immense upside, was named Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year, and earned a comparison by Pierce to former Texas standout Drew Stubbs.

“Being in the building, trying to clean up some stuff in his swing — when you’re that big, you’re really still growing into your body and there’s some length that he needs to tighten up,” said Pierce in an appearance on On Texas Football. “But he’s gonna be an exceptional player. He’s got this motor about him. There’s guys that have talent that maybe don’t work as hard or there’s guys that have talent that they feel like they already have things figured out, but he’s wide open to coaching.”

Competition for the other starting spot includes sophomore Max Belyeu, freshman Tommy Farmer, senior Penn transfer Seth Werchan, and junior San Diego and Chabot College transfer Casey Cummings.

One of the breakout candidates on the team, Belyeu was the No. 12 player and No. 2 outfielder in Texas in the 2022 class.

Max is one of the best pure left-handed hitters in the country, he will bring an immediate hit tool to our program from Day 1,” said former Texas assistant Sean Allen when Belyeu signed. “He has good power and can play all three outfield spots. Max checks all the boxes for what we look for in an outfielder at Texas.”

As a freshman, Belyeu only received 20 at bats in 15 games with four starts, hitting .300 with a double and two RBI, but struggled to make contact with a 40-percent strikeout rate.

Afforded a chance to get more at bats in summer league, Belyeu slashed .333/.403/.484 for the Santa Barbara Foresters with four home runs and 24 RBI while cutting his strikeout rate to 24.6 percent.

Continuing momentum from a strong fall, Belyeu showed up in the Alumni game earlier this month with two singles, the latter of which drove in two runs.

At 6’3, 205 pounds, Farmer drew praise from Pierce for his physicality and for looking the part after hitting .357 with four doubles, one triple, and two home runs as a senior at Oaks Christian in Santa Monica thanks to his bat speed and quick hands. During the fall, Farmer was named the surprise standout by his head coach.

An Austin Bowie product, Werchan returns home after hitting .250 with 10 doubles, four homers, nine stolen bases, and 36 runs scored for Penn in 2023.

Cummings is the more intriguing transfer — after playing in nine games as a freshman at San Diego in 2022, the California product transferred to Chabot College and tied for third in the state in home runs (17) while leading the team in batting average (.387), stolen bases (24), slugging percentage (.820), and on-base percentage (.560). In the Fall World Series, Cummings hit an opposite-field grand slam before hitting another opposite-field home run in the Alumni game.