So, David Pierce is now officially just the fifth Texas baseball coach since 1911. Congrats, coach. But now what? After finishing a dismal 25-32, which tied the most losses in Longhorns baseball history, Texas is shooting for a huge turnaround in 2017.
Texas isn't adding many crucial pieces to it's lineup next year, but they also aren't losing any either. The key will be developing the talent already on the roster. The main blow for Texas will be losing senior pitcher Ty Culbreth, who anchored an unreliable Longhorn bullpen, and slugger Tres Barrera, who provided one of the few pops in the batting order. Barrera recently hit a home run in just his first game in the minors.
Oh yeah, and Texas is going to wish they could've signed Gatorade National Player of the Year Kyle Muller, who forewent playing with the 'Horns to go pro. Things are going well for him so far, to say the least.
Today at Pirate City in Fla., #Braves prospect Kyle Muller debuted in GCL, pitched 3 scoreless inn., allowed no hits, 2 BB w/ 4 K.— David O'Brien (@DOBrienAJC) June 28, 2016
With that said, Texas will have plenty of talent to work with in 2017, and talent that will no longer be overly youthful. Here's a "way too early" look at how I think the lineup will look next spring:
1. CF Zane Gurwitz - Gurwitz may not be fastest guy on the team, but he's the most reliable fielder on the roster. He may not be the best hitter, but he knows how to get on base. I've said it before, but essentially, Gurwitz is the kind of player winning teams simply have. He should be one of Texas' leaders in his senior season.
2. DH Travis Jones - Travis Jones quietly had a very consistent freshman season and was one of only two players to finish at or above .300. In the New England Collegiate Baseball League this summer, Jones has continued to excel, winning player of the week honors.
3. RF Patrick Mathis - Mathis tied a team high six home runs last year, and was tied for first on the team with a conference batting average of .333. Mathis will be a junior next season, and should have the best bat on the team. However, though frequently regarded by Garrido as one of Texas' best outfielder, Mathis struggled at times in the field last year. He had nine often untimely errors on the year, but also made several acrobatic catches. With his speed, Mathis has the potential to be a very solid outfielder, so hopefully it comes together next year. Thankfully, he's had a great summer with the Chatham Anglers in the Cape Cod Baseball League. He's only hitting .241, but has turned many heads nonetheless.
@codball Patrick Mathis just made another absurd diving catch in RF for the Anglers. This kid is legit— Aidan (@ARCurran_10) June 29, 2016
Patrick Mathis yelled "ah" in frustration today at @ChathamAnglers BP after he felt he didn't hit a ball well...it went over the RF fence...— David Souza (@dsouza4717) June 17, 2016
4. 1B Kacy Clemens - Clemens randomly emerged as the best hitter on Augie's squad last season. The junior hit for a .303 average, and added five home runs to his name as well. His average began to skyrocket ever since switching to prescription glasses. Coincidence? Maybe. But Clemens should continue to see the ball and hit the ball in his final year at Texas.
5. 3B Kody Clemens - The younger Clemens bro had an impressive season of his own. The highlight of Kody's season was smashing a walk-off home run against TCU in the conference tournament to force a semifinal rematch against the Horned Frogs.
Now, Kody will be expected to contribute even more heading into his sophomore season. Like Mathis, Clemens made both excellent plays in the field, but also many errors. Clemens had a team high 12 on the year. Additionally, Kody only hit .236 in conference play as he went through a bit of a May slump. That said, look for Kody to flourish under David Pierce.
6. LF Tyler Rand - A speedy outfielder, this freshman was 14 for 15 on stolen base attempts this season. He only notched one homer on the season, but the hitting potential is there if he can develop under David Pierce's powerful offense. Rand hit a respectable .265 on the year, but that should improve should he avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
7. SS Bret Boswell - Boswell had the definition of a sophomore slump in 2016, as he was at one point 1-27 at the plate in conference play. He lost his starting job to Joe Baker, but regained it during the conference tournament. Boswell looked promising at the end of the season, as he went a phenomenal 9-15, and was solid in the field as well. This streak aided Boswell in being drafted in the 40th round of the MLB draft, but the short stop will forego the pros to come back to Austin. Boswell is my breakout candidate for 2017, and could be in line for a rebound junior year.
8. 2B David Hamilton - Last year, Texas started freshman Kody Clemens on opening day, and David Hamilton has all the tools necessary to crack the lineup from day one this year. Drafted in the 28th round, David Hamilton could've gone pro out of high school, but Ryan Autullo reported that Hamilton will likely come to Austin (the deadline for signees to declare is July 5th). Texas recruiting coordinator Tommy Nichols described Hamilton as "one of the most athletic players in the state", and Hamilton's speed and play making ability should serve David Pierce's squad well in 2017.
9. C Michael Cantu - Like Bret Boswell, Michael Cantu also faced his share of struggles last season. Cantu fell out of the lineup in May, and ended the year with a .214 batting average. With the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, Cantu is only batting .200 with a team high 15 strike outs. However, while Cantu won't provide the 'Horns power next year (he's never hit a home run at the college level), he has a fantastic arm at catcher.
This lineup is really not much different than it was for 2015's opening day. Here's how it looked then:
INF - Joe Baker - It will be a test for Joe Baker to regain his starting spot after being pulled mid-inning against Oklahoma State for Bret Boswell in the Big 12 Tournament and not returning in the three games after. Had a season that started with injury, escalated into solid hitting, but ended with a slump. Had a .325 batting average in March, but ended at .245.
INF - Jake McKenzie - McKenzie was a starter for the Longhorns' final 18 of 19 games, and could easily crack the opening day lineup. The athletic second baseman was well regarded for his hustle plays and 7-19 hitting in the Big 12 Tournament. Still, he only finished the year with a .237 average.
OF - Brady Harlan - Started eleven games last year as a freshman and played particularly well in the non-conference portion of the schedule. Had a solid .305 OBP.
OF - Kaleb Denny - Started four for Texas as a redshirt freshman last year. May get chance to shine since Texas is low on outfielders. Hit .267 in 30 at bats.
INF/OF - Andres Sosa - The incoming freshman was rated as the 392nd prospect in the draft, but didn't hear his name called, perhaps because scouts know he is set on coming to Texas. The versatile player can fare well in the infield and the outfield, which should make him a key sub for 2017.
C - Jaxx Groshans - The incoming freshman wasn't highly touted coming out of high school, but he will need to contribute for the 'Horns as backup catcher. Tommy Nicholson said Groshans has "a chance to hit for power", which may be a skill Michael Cantu doesn't have.
Friday - Morgan Cooper - No Longhorn for next year has a comeback story as rich as Morgan Cooper's. After undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing the entire 2015 season, Cooper resiliently fought back and performed well in 2016. The reliable righty had a 4.03 ERA, and was drafted by the Nationals in the 34th round of the MLB draft. However, Cooper decided to come back for his senior season instead. Expect him to be Texas' anchor to begin the year.
Saturday - Kyle Johnston - Johnston may be the most talented pitcher on the roster, but he will need to cut down on walks in 2017. Johnston had a team high 43 bases on balls for 67.2 innings pitched. However, he still managed a weekend starter best 3.72 ERA, which is a testament to just how good Johnston can be when he has his stuff. His low point of the season was giving up seven runs to West Virginia in only 1.2 innings pitched, but Johnson had more highs than lows overall. Opponents only batted .246 against him, and he was a big reason Texas was able to make a run in the conference tournament,
Sunday - Connor Mayes - After pitching a two hit shutout en route to winning the 2015 Big 12 tournament, Connor Mayes was predicted by many to be the 'Horns best arm in 2016. Though his sophomore year wasn't a step back from his promising freshman campaign, Mayes didn't quite live up to the hype. Mayes was made the mid-week starter after struggling in the weekend spot early in the year. He played well in that role, and again had a great Big 12 Tournament, giving up only one run in six innings to TCU.
Mid-week - Nolan Kingham - Kingham was Texas' most coveted pitcher out of high school in 2015, and he met expectations in his 38 innings pitched this year. The freshman had an ERA of 3.78, and got four starts on the season. Kingham never pitched more than 4.2 innings in a game, but he also never allowed more than three runs in an outing. He should be a reliable mid-week starter, and could thrive to become a weekend option.
Blair Henley - Blair Henley is Texas' highest high school draft pick to not go to the pros. Henley was taken in the 22nd by the Yankees thanks to three consecutive no hitters in his senior senior. The righty has a solid curve and has as high of a ceiling as anyone, but he will probably begin in a reliever role.
Beau Ridgeway - As a freshman last season, Beau Ridgeway wasn't Augie Garrido's favorite option out of the bullpen, but he frequently got the job done. With a 3.31 ERA in 35.1 innings, Ridgeway was a very pleasant surprise for Texas considering he was ranked only as the 500th best player in the high school class of 2015. His fastball in the 90s should benefit the team again in 2017.
Josh Sawyer - Sawyer won't be predicted by many to be one of the 'Horns top options, but I believe he is going to surprise people in 2017. Why? Of the ten pitchers who threw for five innings or more in conference play, only two were lefties. Both of these south paws -- Travis Duke and Ty Culbreth -- are graduating. That leaves room for unsung lefty Josh Sawyer to become a factor in 2017. Sawyer was a weekend starter in 2015, but was demoted after giving up five runs in two innings to West Virginia in March of that year. In 2016, Sawyer battled injury and saw only six innings of work. However, in those six innings Sawyer gave up only three hits, one walk, and no runs. He could emerge to be a vital asset for David Pierce's team.
Closer - Chase Shugart - Shugart had five saves in 2016 after overtaking senior Travis Duke for the team's closer position. Shugart was another freshman contributor, and found his groove in the middle of the season, but tailed off a bit at the end. He finished with a 4.53 ERA, and walked 24 batters in 43.2 innings pitched. Shugart performed admirably for a rookie, but he'll need to step it up even more in his sophomore season.
* * *
In conclusion, Texas doesn't have a lot of known superstar talent on the roster, but they have plenty of depth to be a solid team in 2017. My guess is that David Pierce won't shake up the lineups too much from how they were last year, but there's enough capable players on the team for the batting order and rotation to look completely different if that's what Pierce wants to do.
As for the success of the team, I think even Augie would've won with this roster in 2017, which should be much more developed and mature. My prediction? David Pierce makes his first Super Regional ever in his first year as Texas coach, nearly restoring the Longhorns back to their traditional dominance.