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BON Round Table: 2019 Texas baseball preview

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Ready or not, the baseball season is just two days away

Texas Sports

College baseball season is finally here. The long offseason is over at last, and Texas baseball fans have plenty to look forward to. We last saw the Longhorns completing a season that included a Big 12 title, hosting (and winning) a Regional and Super Regional, and making an NCAA-leading 36th College World Series Appearance.

But before you reintroduce yourself to the “ping” sound of the metal bats and the sweet aroma of freshly laid field turf in February, let me first inform you that this season will include unprecedented coverage of Longhorns baseball here at Burnt Orange Nation. Check in here for game previews and recaps, analysis, and updates throughout the season.

In this year’s baseball round table we’ve got a nice blend of veterans and freshmen stepping up to the plate to give their thoughts on the Texas baseball program. I asked questions to BON Contributing writers Anthony Rizzo (great baseball name) and Peyton Burton, and a couple of longtime baseball writers in Kameron McAfee and Abram Orlansky, as we discussed several aspects of Texas baseball in order to get you ready for the 2019 season.

Despite losing five players to the MLB draft, including Golden Spikes Finalist Kody Clemens, Texas enters 2019 returning seven starters, a strong stable of pitchers, and is ranked No. 23 in D1 Baseball’s preseason poll. Following last year’s run to the CWS, what should Texas fans expect out of this team this season?

Anthony: A tough non-conference schedule which includes matchups against No. 2 LSU, No. 12 Stanford, and No. 16 Arkansas will give us a dose of where this team stands right away. I’d say competing atop the Big 12 and grabbing a No. 1 regional seed is the most realistic expectation.

Peyton: Texas opens the season with a few ranked teams. LSU at home for a three-game set will be a good indicator of where this team is at before conference play. I believe the four-game series at Stanford will be a good test for conference play and should allow some experience for the pitching staff away from Disch-Falk. Winning a Big 12 championship will be tough, but doable. Expect a late-season surge and a dangerous squad in regional play.

Kameron: I don’t think it’s wrong for fans to expect another Big 12 championship. I honestly believe that Texas will find themselves in the conversation for a national seed come late May. Once you make it to Omaha, the expectation becomes returning the following season. No matter who you lose to the MLB draft. That’s what elite programs do. David Pierce knows that, and he is exactly the guy that can lead this team there again. Will it be easy? Of course not, but that’s the beautiful thing about baseball. Everything is earned.

Abram: I have for years been of the opinion that the preseason-expectation machine in college baseball should be focused not on where a team’s tournament run will end, but where it will begin. That is, any team can get hot and make a run to Omaha and any team can go cold and get swept in a regional. The only fair standard for a program is the regular season, with its large sample size and whatnot. So I’d say a fair expectation for this team is to host a regional, with nabbing a national seed an aspirational goal.

What are the biggest strengths/weaknesses for this team?

Anthony: Starting pitching depth behind Blair Henley is probably the biggest concern entering this season. We’ll see who emerges as consistent weekend starters as the season goes on. Guys like Kody Clemens and David Hamilton are irreplaceable pieces up-the-middle, senior Masen Hibbeler and freshman Lance Ford/Bryce Reagan will have big shoes to fill on the defensive side of things.

Top-to-bottom the lineup should be similar to last year’s group, which remains the team’s biggest strength as of now. David Pierce’s aggressive style of play works so well with a gritty offensive lineup like Texas has.

Peyton: The starting rotation may be a struggle early on. Losing Nolan Kingham and Chase Shugart leaves the younger arms with big shoes to fill. The lack of experience up front in the rotation could be the achilles heel. Losing David Hamilton also hurts from a defensive standpoint and that must be addressed. Hitting will clearly be a strength throughout the season. The horns have a lot of depth in the lineup and that will keep them in many games. The outfield may turn out to be one of the elite groups in conference play.

Kameron: The obvious strength of this Texas team will be the offense and the veteran hitters that are returning to the lineup. Given the overall inexperience of the pitching staff, this team will rely on the bats to carry them early on in the season. Developing and fine tuning your pitching staff takes some time when you have this many new faces, so patience will be key with this group.

Abram: The biggest weakness, or maybe “question mark,” is the pitching staff. Talented but unproven, whether they can rise to the occasion after losing Nolan Kingham and Chase Shugart will go a long way toward deciding what kind of season this is. And, of course, the season-ending injury to David Hamilton is brutal. Assuming the returning position players improve with an extra offseason under their belts, power hitting should be a strength even without Kody Clemens.

What/ Who should Texas fans be most excited for this season?

Anthony: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma all come to Austin this season. That says enough.

The two-way pitcher/outfielder Kamron Fields should take on a bigger role on both sides this season. His growth and development at both positions will be exciting to watch going forward.

Peyton: The LSU series at home, along with Texas A&M, and a trip to Stanford should be exciting. Zach Zubia should provide a lot of pop from the plate. It’ll be fun to watch him grow even more as a hitter. Matteo Bocchi could be a big asset on the pitching staff, he’ll provide leadership for the others.

Kameron: I’m really excited to see another season of Duke Ellis. With the loss of David Hamilton, Ellis is my vote to be the catalyst for this offense. We got a glimpse of just how dangerous he can be at the plate as he put together a team high 16-game hitting streak, coupled by a 23-game on base streak. I expect to see him finish with a batting average north of .300 and I believe he has a great opportunity to finish with 20-plus stolen bases. He will be fun to keep an eye on all season long.

Abram: The March 1-3 home series against preseason No. 1 LSU. I say that not because I grew up an LSU fan, but because it provides an opportunity to show, in front of the home fans, where the Longhorns stand against what is supposed to be a national title contender a couple of weeks before conference play begins.

Texas yet again exceeded preseason expectations last season, winning the Big 12 Championship after starting the year projected to finish third in the conference. With Texas projected behind four other Big 12 schools this season, what will it take for Texas to repeat as Big 12 Champions?

Anthony: If veteran players such as Tate Shaw, Austin Todd, Duke Ellis, and Ryan Reynolds are consistent enough with the bats and the starting pitching is figured out by Big 12 play (first three Big 12 series: vs. Tech, @ TCU, @ Baylor), this team will be in the hunt again among many talented Big 12 teams.

Peyton: You can never underestimate health. With the loss of David Hamilton, the defense took a bit of a hit. If Texas can stay healthy and the young arms can come along on the mound, Texas could very well repeat. We’ll have a better sense of the staff following the tough non-conference schedule. Texas Tech and TCU seem like good bets to give the conference problems behind the plate. If the Horns can manage the storm, they’ll be fine.

Kameron: Baseball is a game of streaks. This might be painfully obvious, but it’s as simple as this team needing to play its best baseball towards the second half of the season. Last season was as good of an example of that as any. You will likely see some early season struggles, especially from some of the young arms, but Coach Pierce and his staff are some of the best developers of talent in the country and you will see this team mold into something special by the end of the season.

Abram: It will take the pitching staff’s performance being defined more by its potential than its lack of experience. Texas Tech, Baylor, and TCU should all have tough squads with some pop and if Texas can’t return to one of the conference’s top pitching teams, they’ll struggle to be in the title chase.

Who is your pick for:

  • Offensive MVP
  • Pitching MVP
  • Home Run Leader
  • Freshman of the Year

Anthony: Offensive MVP: Zach Zubia

Pitching MVP: Matteo Bocchi

Home Run Leader: Zach Zubia

Freshman of the Year: Bryce Reagan

Peyton: Offensive MVP: Duke Ellis

Pitching MVP: Kamron Fields

Home Run Leader: Zach Zubia

Freshman of the Year: Bryce Reagan

Kameron: Offensive MVP: Duke Ellis

Pitching MVP: Blair Henley

Home Run Leader: Zach Zubia

Freshman of the Year: Ty Madden

Abram: Offensive MVP: I’ll take a flier on Ryan Reynolds to have a breakout year

Pitching MVP: Blair Henley

Home Run Leader: Zach Zubia

Freshman of the Year: Coy Cobb

What is one word you would use to describe the current state of Texas baseball?

Anthony: Prominent

Peyton: Respected

Kameron: Omaha

Abram: Stable