It’s August and that can only mean one thing – Longhorn Football Baseball. It's been a big week of news for Augie Garrido's Horns and while that will never compete with practice notes from across I-35, we strive to provide Carnival-goers a little of everything.
Scipio already provided the news that Cole Green and Tant Shepherd return to the team this season. Neither player signed an MLB contract prior to the deadline earlier this week.
Both players will play critical roles on the 2011 team. The addition of Green to a weekend rotation that already includes Taylor Jungmann is cleardiculosity. Getting Shepherd back may be even better than that.
The return of Green leverages wins beyond his starts. Better said, the luxury of having Green return to the weekend rotation allows the Texas coaches to be more selective with their deployment of arms. Rather than being forced into finding multiple starters and a closer, Skip Johnson and Augie Garrido can now be more careful in their decision-making. It’s the difference of "fit" versus "need" and should not be underestimated.
Arguably more important though is the return of Shepherd. Pitching and defense wins games. Balancing the two with timely offense wins championships.
The Longhorns now have a Senior at a key infield position and last year’s team-leader in batting average. Having Shepherd in the middle of the lineup transforms 2011’s biggest question mark into "at least as good as 2010".
Offense was the culprit in the team failing to meet their goals. The return of Shepherd gives the offense another opportunity to wilt under pressure and haunt the team. If he signed though, fans are looking at a completely different set of goals in 2011.
Kevin Keyes, Kyle Lusson, Russell Moldenhauer, Connor Rowe, Chance Ruffin, Cameron Rupp and Brandon Workman all signed with MLB teams. Ruffin and Workman worked out last minute deals with the Tigers and Red Sox respectively.
Mike Foltynewicz was the lone high school signee that Texas lost to MLB. A RHP from Illinois, Foltynewicz signed with the Astros after being selected in the first round. His plus fastball and changeup would have been a major boost to the Texas staff – not to mention that I wanted to listen to Keith Moreland stumble over his name.
Cole Green opted to return to Austin for one final season and another run at a title.
Way-too-early 2011 projections
INFIELD: The only contested spot will be at 3B, since Jonathon Walsh should step into the catcher’s role. Walsh and Shepherd will bat in the middle of the order and can be even better offensively in 2011 with some protection from their teammates. I expect Jordan Weymouth to get a long look at third.
Up the middle, Jordan Etier and Brandon Loy anchor the team defensively. Both are much more capable at the plate than their 2010 numbers suggest. The departures of Workman and Ruffin means that Etier and Loy will need to be even better defensively next Spring.
Texas needs to find some offensive pop in a designated hitter. An interesting prospect for the role will be Ryan Hornback (San Jacinto C.C.). Ryan Ford (Plano, TX) also has a chance, but will need to transition to college pitching quickly.
OUTFIELD: Kevin Lusson figures to remain a fixture in a corner spot. An increase in offensive production would not surprise me at all. Lusson has a chance to be a team leader next Spring.
Cohl Walla was tough to keep out of the lineup last season, so look for an increased role in 2011. With that larger role, fans can expect even more production out of Walla.
The third outfield spot will see more faces than the hot corner. Paul Montalbano is more dynamic than Tim Maitland, but it will not surprise me if both are supplanted by a freshman. Dex Kjerstad (Canyon, TX) and Mark Payton (Orland Park, IL) are the two most likely candidates.
STARTING ROTATION: As discussed, Jungmann and Green make this team an automatic 30-game winner. How far beyond a conference championship they go can be largely determined by how good Sam Stafford, Andrew McKirahan and Hoby Milner are this year. All three are Lefties, so any combination balances nicely with Jungmann and Green. The wild card here is Austin Dicharry.
RELIEVERS: The pen figures to be embarrassingly deep, but Texas has shown a tendency to rely on 3-4 arms rather than a large group. Obviously replacing Ruffin is impossible. The goal will be to identify the right mentality for the closing role early in the season and then let that player transition over course of the Spring.
I expect Kendal Carrillo, Kiefer Nuncio and Stayton Thomas to have the first opportunities to cement relief roles. Also look for Kirby Bellow (Nederland, TX - LHP) and Clayton Crum (Spring, TX – RHP) to figure into the mix.
If forced to make an early guess, I think Josh Urban earns the closer’s role. Even though he didn’t see many innings last season, he’s a kid that is consistently named as one of the toughest to hit by his teammates.
And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming...